Dead-Celebrity Dealmaker Salter Buys Marilyn Monroe Name

Dealmaker Jamie Salter, who already markets Bob Marley-themed merchandise, has agreed to acquire the rights to another dead celebrity: Marilyn Monroe.

Salter’s New York-based firm Authentic Brands Group LLC and media company Neca Inc. are buying Marilyn Monroe LLC from the late star’s estate, Salter said. Anna Strasberg, who is the administrator of the estate, will be a minority partner in the venture, which will control, among other things, the actress’s name and images of her lips and eyes, he said.

Authentic brands, which is backed by Leonard Green & Partners LP, is shopping a reality show based on Monroe, who has been dead almost 50 years, and plans to sell makeup, lingerie and other products that carry her name, Salter said.

“Every female celebrity has tried to emulate her in some way,” said Salter, who declined to say how much his firm paid for the name. “Marilyn Monroe is the brand.”

Dead stars and their associated business generated $2.25 billion in North American revenue in 2009, says Ira Mayer, who runs The Licensing Letter, which tracks licensing deals. UBS, PSA Peugeot Citroen and Cie. Financiere Richemont SA’s Montblanc have all hitched their brands to dead icons.

“The interest in dead celebrities by brands is only growing because it’s a known quantity,” said David Reeder, vice president at GreenLight, a unit of Corbis Corp. that represents the estates of Steve McQueen, Johnny Cash and Andy Warhol. “There’s a lot of private-equity money looking to buy entertainment properties.”

‘Face of Marilyn’

Authentic Brands is in talks with mass and luxury retailers to sell a line of Monroe-branded lingerie, cosmetics and home products, Salter said. The proposed reality TV show, “Who is The Next Face of Marilyn,” would feature contestants vying to represent the Monroe brand.

Last year, Salter, 47, agreed to buy TapouT, Silver Star Casting Co. and Hitman Fight Gear, three apparel brands that cater to fans of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the mixed martial arts network.

He got into the dead celeb game in 2009 when he and his former employer Hilco Consumer Capital partnered with the estate of Bob Marley to sell merchandise under the late reggae singer’s name.

Since then, the Marley enterprise has launched a line of earbuds and headphones, featuring collections called “Freedom” and “Jammin,” under the House of Marley brand.

The partners also sell Marley’s Mellow Mood, a "relaxation drink" made from green tea, Valerian root extract and other ingredients by the Marley Beverage Co. It’s for sale in 2,000 U.S. supermarkets, Salter says.

‘Prolong Celebrity Life’

Marilyn Monroe is the latest dead celebrity to launch a new career. A photo of the late actor McQueen appears in UBS’s “We Will Not Rest” television campaign, which celebrates achievers. The John Lennon estate has deals with Citroen and Montblanc. Last year, Fender Musical Instruments Corp. sponsored the “Experience Hendrix” tour, which featured artists performing music associated with guitar legend Jimi Hendrix.

“You want to prolong the life of the celebrity, and licensing is a powerful means of accomplishing that,” Mayer of The Licensing Letter said.

CKX Inc., an entertainment conglomerate that produces “American Idol,” has an 85 percent interest in Elvis Presley Enterprises, which controls the late musician’s estate. Lisa Marie Presley, his daughter, remains a shareholder. New York-based CKX has since signed with Sirius XM Radio Inc. for an Elvis channel, just inked a deal with Liquid Comics to develop an Elvis character and expanded the relationship with International Game Technology for Elvis slot machines.

‘Viva Elvis’

CKX also cut a deal with Cirque du Soleil to stage a tribute show called “Viva Elvis” at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. Since opening last February, the show has brought a new audience to the Elvis brand, said CKX Chief Executive Officer Mike Ferrel.

“The family felt they had taken the brand as far as they could,” Ferrel said in a telephone interview.

Monroe would be 84 had she lived, and her image may not resonate with a younger generation, says Michael Stone, founder of the Beanstalk Group, a New York brand consultant that has worked with Procter & Gamble Co. and Ford Motor Co.

“The people who grew up with Marilyn Monroe are in their 70s now,” said Stone. “How does a Marilyn Monroe compete with a Celine Dion fragrance when Celine can be in the commercial?”

The social media revolution has exposed younger audiences to celebrities, including ones no longer in the public eye -- or even alive -- says Salter’s partner Joel Weinshanker, president and chief operating officer of Neca, which handles licensing for such films as “The Lord of the Rings” and “Twilight.”

‘That Wall’s Disappeared’

“There always used to be a wall between a movie star and a fan, between a musician and a fan,” he says. “In the 21st century, that wall’s disappeared.”

Monroe’s Facebook fan page has about 355,400 friends and features film clips. The two dealmakers plan to devote part of the Marilyn advertising budget to Facebook.

It’s easy to damage the brand of an iconic star of yesteryear, says Mayer. He points to the commercial that ran during the 1997 Super Bowl U.S. football championship, in which Fred Astaire danced with a Dirt Devil, a vacuum cleaner brand since acquired by Techtronic Industries Co. At the time many viewers expressed revulsion, and the spot made worst lists of Super Bowl ads.

Reviving dead celebrities for profit requires taste and authenticity, says Salter. “That’s how we create value,” he says. “Everything we do must have authentic DNA.”

Ultimately, Salter may add to his roster of dead celebrities, he says. Another that may eventually be up for grabs: Hendrix.