A lot of what goes on at Authentic headquarters in New York is no more glamorous than at any other business—it’s all “process and procedure,” a senior staffer says. But as in almost any trend- or fashion-related business, luck—and being in a position to take advantage of it—is also a major factor. “I’d love to tell you that I knew there was a hit movie coming out last year [My Week with Marilyn] that we were gonna do a collaboration with Smash, that she was gonna be on every magazine cover,” says Salter. “There was definitely some luck involved.”
Salter admits that perhaps 20% of his deals will be thrown into flux by changing fees and strategies. Some are novel bets. “We just did a deal with Marilyn cafés,” says Salter. “It’s a group out of T.O. that wants to franchise high-end coffee shops in shopping districts. Sort of like a Starbucks, but a little more elegant. You know, my wife and your wife go for coffee or a nice lunch. They talk about which Gucci purse they want to buy, which new suit they want to buy. And then they go over to Holts and they go shopping.”
Some projects will fail; others will spin gold. But The Licensing Letter’s Mayer says that the revenue from iconic dead celebrities is remarkably consistent over the long term. “They’re like an annuity,” he says. Audiences don’t grow cold, because the stars never grow old.
ART IS LONG, LIFE IS SHORT AND RIGHTS DISPUTES LIVE FOREVER
Michael Jackson Yearly earnings: $170 million (all earnings according to Forbes) Recent news: His estate is suing Jackon’s final personal manager, Tohme R. Tohme. Tohme charged an official fee of 15% of Jackson’s gross earnings, and apparently skimmed off another $35,000 a month as a retainer, plus expenses, and collected a “finder’s fee” to refinance Neverland. In 2011, Jackson’s estate sued Howard Mann of Toronto, who was selling unauthorized books and calendars endorsed and promoted by Jackson’s mother, Katherine.
Yearly earnings: $55 million Recent news: The Presley estate was sold last year by CKX to billionaire Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management for a reported $509 million. Lisa Johansen, a 43-year-old Swedish woman, filed a $130-million lawsuit in 2011 claiming she was Elvis and Priscilla Presley’s “real” daughter, born in 1968, but shipped off to Sweden at age nine for her own safety, and replaced by “imposter” Lisa Marie.
Yearly earnings: $12 million Recent news: In May, 2008, Yoko Ono went to court to prevent the release of Three Days in the Life, a documentary based on footage shot of Lennon at his rural English mansion in 1970—smoking weed, writing songs, etc. In 2007, Ono teamed up with Al Pacino to promote a new state law in New York that extended the right of publicity to dead celebrities.
Yearly earnings: $10 million Recent news: Einstein gave Hebrew University of Jerusalem his papers in his will, and the university got a trademark on his name in 2003. At the end of 2010, the university sued a New Jersey costume-maker for not coughing up sufficient fees for its Einstein disguise kit. Earlier that year, the university sued General Motors to prevent it from using a magazine ad for the Terrain SUV. The ad featured Einstein’s head on a buff body with an e=mc2 tattoo.
Yearly earnings: $7 million Recent news: In 2010, saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood sued the Hendrix estate for the unauthorized release in 2003 of a song, Georgia Blues, that he claims he co-wrote with Hendrix. In 2009, the estate sued a Seattle businessman, stopping him from selling “Hendrix Electric” vodka and winning $3.2 million in damages. Hendrix’s father, Al, had the rights to Jimi’s music. Al died in 2002, leaving the estate to his adopted daughter, Janie, and excluding Jimi’s brother, Leon. Janie and Hendrix’s cousin, Robert, run Experience Hendrix LLC, which controls the estate. In 2004, a judge ordered Experience Hendrix to make trust payments to 10 other family members named in Al’s will.
Yearly earnings: $5 million (2007) Recent news: Brown died in December, 2006, and a very messy lawsuit filed in 2007 by Brown’s six living children and his widow—his fourth wife, Tomi Rae Hynie—rages on. In a 2000 will, Brown left his 60-acre home in South Carolina and the rights to his music and business assets to a children’s charitable trust. He didn’t marry Hynie until 2002, and she may have still been married to someone else at the time. The attorney general of South Carolina arranged a compromise to resolve the lawsuit in 2009: a 50-50 split of assets between the family and the trust.