“Milton H. Greene Archives Inc. has been in a long-running court battle with Anna Strasberg, widow of Monroe’s acting coach, Lee Strasberg, and her licensing agent CMG Worldwide, which have controlled use of Monroe’s image for years.
In a ruling on Thursday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California backed a lower court decision that allowed Greene Archives to license its images of Monroe.
The legal battle over Greene’s images hinged on where Monroe was living at the time of her death on August 5, 1962. The court ruled Monroe resided in New York and therefore she did not have the posthumous right of publicity based on the state’s law.
‘Because no such right exists under New York law, Monroe LLC did not inherit it … and cannot enforce it against Milton Greene or others similarly situated,’ Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the court.
Wardlaw wrote that the lengthy dispute over Monroe’s persona ‘has ended in exactly the way that Monroe herself predicted more that 50 years ago,’ pointing to Monroe’s quote: ‘I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful, but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.'”
NPR takes a look at Marilyn’s will. Made in 1961, it remains controversial, and it’s rumoured that she had wanted to change it in the weeks before her death.
“Monroe grew up in an orphanage and foster homes. She had no relationship with her father, and her mother spent most of her adult life in mental institutions. In her will, the actress set up a trust to care for her mother until she died; left money to her half-sister, who Monroe didn’t even know existed until she was 12; and made bequests to a poet friend and his wife (she loved poetry, and even wrote some herself) and to others she trusted.
According to Anthony Summers, who wrote a best-selling Monroe biography, the people named in her will got to know her as a real person who loved children, animals and cooking.
‘They took Marilyn under their wings,’ he says. ‘They gave her uncomplicated privacy and companionship.’
Monroe also left a bequest to her psychoanalyst, Marianne Kris.
‘She felt that [Kris] was very helpful and sympathetic,’ says Sarah Churchwell, author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe. ‘She found that [Kris] was starting to help her understand what it was that she was going through.’
After Kris died, her portion of the estate was transferred to the Anna Freud Centre in London, which is dedicated to working with children with mental health problems. Churchwell says Monroe would have approved.
‘That would have made her really happy,’ Churchwell says. ‘She did want to do good, and she wanted to feel as if she had accomplished something.’
But Monroe left the bulk of her estate to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg. He and his wife, Paula, also one of her acting coaches, were like surrogate parents to Monroe. When Strasberg died in 1982, his second wife, Anna, inherited the Monroe estate and eventually hired CMG Worldwide, a company that specializes in managing the estates of dead celebrities, to license Monroe products. That’s when the actress started making big money.
Several years and a variety of lawsuits later, Strasberg sold what remained of the Monroe estate to a new company, Authentic Brands Group, or ABG, for an estimated $20 to $30 million. Strasberg remains a minority partner in the deal.”
Following the controversial recent ‘hologram’ Tupac Shakur show, Digicon Media are planning a similar event featuring Marilyn – but her estate have not yet granted permission, according to the Hollywood Reporter. (Personally, I hope it doesn’t happen – I’m far more interested in the true MM than any cyber approximation.)
“The Hollywood Reporter has learned that a ‘live’ Marilyn Monroe concert is being planned to take place before year’s end with the working title Virtual Marilyn Live — A Musical Celebration of the Birth of the Pop Icon. The concert, which has yet to secure a venue (organizers also plan to stream it on the web), will feature the projected blond bombshell singing and interacting alongside live music stars. Becky Altringer, managing director and co-founder of Digicon Media, the company doing the planning, says the event will employ the technology used at Coachella to launch virtual Marilyn’s new career as ‘a performer, spokesperson, cultural pundit and computer avatar.’
The potential new revenue stream from live holograms could boost an already lucrative business for the estates of some of the most iconic dead celebrities. Jackson raked in $170 million in 2011, according to Forbes. Presley took home $55 million. Monroe, despite having died of an apparent drug overdose nearly 50 years ago, didn’t do badly at all with $27 million. ‘I would say there could be an uptick [in revenue],’ says Mark Roesler, head of CMG Worldwide, an Indiana-based agency representing the estates of stars including Andy Kaufman and Natalie Wood. ‘Whether that is 10 or 30 or 40 percent is hard to tell, but it will be an uptick.’
Despite the enthusiasm, however, it’s far from settled what rights are needed to pull off hologram spectacles.
To adapt a performance from an existing video work, all that is typically required is a copyright on the video. But, potentially, more rights are needed for hologram performances: In many states, including California, celebrities also hold valuable ‘rights of publicity,’ which allow them to protect their images, voices and likenesses from exploitation without consent.
Has a movie star who signed a broad contract given up rights to stop a hologram? Actors and musicians usually allow studios and record labels to use their images to promote a film or album forever. Reality TV stars hand over to producers pretty much all of their rights for a chance to become famous. Some lawyers therefore believe that most existing contracts give studios the rights to create holograms if the technology merely modifies a work covered by a contract. And there are exceptions to publicity rights. They often don’t cover celebrities (like Monroe) who didn’t live in a state with such protections at the time of their death. The law also allows ‘fair use’ for new works that are ‘transformative,’ meaning they use a small amount of a celebrity’s image as part of a larger spectacle.
The coming Monroe concert could signal the type of legal fights to come.
Digicon, which says it has been developing avatars and ‘synthespians’ since 1995, is not working with the Monroe estate, as Coachella producers did with Shakur’s family. The company owns certain copyrights pertaining to Monroe, including a recent grant on her computer-generated persona, and Altringer says that might be enough. ‘We will probably end up cooperating with them, but only when they come to us,’ she explains. ‘We aren’t in a rush to deal with them because they [own] only marketing rights to old photos for merchandise. We will have our own rights for the living virtual Marilyn, who is the pop icon today.’
A rep for Monroe’s estate couldn’t be reached for comment, but it has brought several lawsuits against those who have used her image without permission. Jonathan Faber, chief executive of Luminary Group, has managed deceased celebrity estates including those of Ella Fitzgerald, Ruth and, formerly, Monroe. He says he’s unsure how courts would interpret the issue but adds he wouldn’t ‘hesitate to bring a case’ against someone who used one of his client’s images to create a touring hologram.”
If, like me, you’re perpetually worried about the direction of Marilyn’s estate, this interview with ABG head Jamie Salter (and accompanying photo) probably won’t offer much consolation…
‘“It’s very sad, but Marilyn died at a very young age,” says Jamie Salter. “She’s gonna be 36 forever.”
Salter won’t disclose what he paid for the Monroe estate. He smiles at some of the estimates he’s seen in news stories. “Some people say I paid $20 million. Some say $50 million.”
What did Salter get? That’s still somewhat up in the air. The original dispute between CMG and the Monroe estate remains unresolved, but Salter moved quickly to neutralize the photographers’ claims. Last June, Authentic announced licensing deals with heirs of three of the four: Greene, Kelley and Bernard. In April, it came to an agreement with Shaw’s heirs. Authentic will give the heirs a percentage of perhaps millions in revenue over the next several years. “Now, when you come to the estate, it’s one-stop shop,” says Salter. “You pay x% to the estate for name and likeness, and y% to the photographer for the image.”
Roesler’s CMG is now lined up against the estate and Authentic in court. In March, CMG filed a lawsuit in New York, arguing that at the time of her death Monroe was a resident of New York, where the estate has no right of publicity after death—the right that CMG’s chairman has done so much to establish. But although CMG represents far more celebrities than Authentic, it doesn’t buy their rights or estates; it just manages them.
Contesting Monroe’s right of publicity makes business sense. “We continue to represent various photographers and copyrights associated with Marilyn, and still work with the many licensees that use those copyrighted images,” says Roesler.
Salter is perplexed and frustrated. His message to Roesler: “You could have bought Marilyn Monroe, but you didn’t write the cheque. You had 20 years. You lost.”’ – The Globe and Mail, Canada
A business article about dead celebrities and merchandising at the Daily Telegraph includes a long section on Marilyn’s estate, and the recent break with CMG:
“By testing its rights of publicity claims in court, CMG took a huge gamble – and lost. Sam Shaw’s and Milton Greene’s families seem genuinely saddened at the estate’s reversal of fortune, which they believe was avoidable. ‘If we had all worked as a team there would have been no litigation,’ claims Joshua Greene, who has not been recompensed for the millions of dollars owing to him in unpaid licensing fees. He stresses that with no agents involved, he enjoys very different, relaxed working relationships with the families of such stars as Sammy Davis, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn, John Wayne and Richard Burton.
Although allegations that the Monroe estate is bankrupt have been denied by Strasberg’s lawyers, legal documents indicate that they have spent between $14-17 million in legal fees, although Greene puts it at nearer $20 million. Greene believes the sale of Monroe’s licensing rights to Authentic Brands Group (ABG), which also represents Bob Marley, has not only saved the estate from financial disaster but also her image may go more upmarket. New 2012 products and campaigns involve Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, Gerard Darel and Smash, an NBC TV series about a fictional Marilyn-themed Broadway musical.
One mystery remains: what will happen to the 25 per cent of Monroe’s estate inherited by her Manhattan psychoanalyst, Marianne Kris? When she died in 1980, Vienna-born Kris, a close friend of Sigmund Freud’s daughter Anna, left her share of the estate to London’s Anna Freud Centre for children with emotional needs. In 1990 Anna Strasberg went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to acquire that quarter of Monroe’s legacy. Insiders claim the centre recently experienced a shortfall
in its funding, and statements filed at Companies House record that ‘the centre’s share of royalty income… was allocated to uphold and protect the [estate’s] Rights of Publicity. This licensing income is… expected to reduce significantly in the next several years so the centre is committed to diversifying its source of income to replace these revenue incomes.’ The centre declined to discuss the case or provide a formal statement, suggesting a determination to keep details of current legal negotiations, possibly with Strasberg and ABG, under wraps.”
‘Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul,’ Marilyn Monroe once said. ‘I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.’
Since Canadian businessman Jamie Salter acquired the rights to license Marilyn Monroe’s image for $50 million from Anna Strasberg last week, there has been talk of Marilyn being ‘reanimated’ in future advertising and even movies.
This is not an entirely new idea – footage from Some Like it Hot was used in a Holsten Pils lager commercial back in 1987, replacing Tony Curtis with Griff Rhys-Jones. But Marilyn’s dialogue remained unaltered.
In a 2010 commercial for Citroen DS3, ‘Anti-Retro’, vintage news footage of Monroe was over-dubbed with promotional dialogue. Some journalists mistakenly reported that the lines were Marilyn’s, although the original interview is well-known to fans and has appeared in several documentaries.
In December 2010, comedian and writer Mel Smith spoke of the Hollywood director George Lucas‘s plans to reanimate stars of yesteryear in new movies. ‘He’s been buying up the film rights to dead movie stars,’ said Smith of Lucas, ‘in the hope of using computer trickery to put them all together in a movie, so you’d have Orson Welles and Barbara Stanwyck appear alongside today’s stars.’
A Lucasfilm spokesperson denied the rumour as ‘completely false.’ However, Mark Roesler of CMG, the company that licenses the estates of many past celebrities, including – until recently – Marilyn Monroe, confirmed that he had been approached by Lucas.
MM will now be represented by Authentic Brands Group. ‘I had Marilyn Monroe locked up before he told the world he’d like to do a Marilyn Monroe movie,’ chairman Jamie Salter boasted last week, adding, ‘I’ll make him a better deal then he’d get with Angelina Jolie.’
Salter predicts that the first full-length film featuring a dead celebrity could be released within just two years. He insists that he will protect Monroe’s legacy: ‘When she’s on the set, we’ll manage her. She’s not taking off her clothes, I can tell you that!’
What concerns me most about this development is the distinct possibility that Marilyn’s image will be used in ways that she may not have approved had she still been alive. ‘These celebrities don’t talk back,’ Salter told reporters last week. ‘They don’t go out on the town late. They are ready to film every day.’
In 1962, shortly before her death, Marilyn said, ‘An actor is not a machine, no matter how much they want to say you are…everybody is always tugging at you. They’d all like sort of a chunk of you.’ Her words seem as relevant today as they did nearly fifty years ago.