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Legacy Licensing Lives On

With various new deals, special anniversaries and strong interest among consumers, celebrity icons are fun, aspirational and a safe bet in today's challenging economic environment. The licensing of celebrity legends, wh

April 6, 2018

7 Min Read

With various new deals, special anniversaries and strong interest among consumers, celebrity icons are fun, aspirational and a safe bet in today's challenging economic environment.

The licensing of celebrity legends, whether building on the charm of Audrey Hepburn, the comedy of Abbott and Costello or the coolness of Johnny Cash, has been heating up as consumers worldwide, faced with tough economic times, embrace larger-than-life personalities to personify their aspirations. i1_583.jpg

Many recently signed deals are still in the initial stages of development but will certainly generate considerable interest among licensees and retailers in coming months.

GreenLight, a Corbis company, for example, signed a deal last month with the estate of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.

Says Diana Brobmann, senior executive of licensing and new business development for GreenLight: "License proposals began rolling in almost immediately after word of the company's arrangements with the Cash/Carter estate were finalized. Initial product categories under development include apparel, posters, gifts, collectibles, dolls, games, puzzles and even lottery tickets."

Other properties represented by GreenLight provide their own particular kinds of excitement. GreenLight is adding 21st century character to Mae West's risqué and earthy persona through the creation of "AniMae."


"She's a really cool animated version of Mae West, who, with her sassy whit and commentary, makes this a unique license," Brobmann says. "Mae West was way ahead of her time. We already have licensees lined up for bags, sleepwear and T-shirts."

Both AniMae and West herself, in her classic black-and-white iconography, will make appearances on products.

Another example from GreenLight's portfolio is Steve McQueen, which has a multi-tiered program that supports the actor's brand. A Hollywood line for mass market has developed a variety of goods—not all of which will be low-priced. The 2008 Ford Bullitt Mustang commemorating the McQueen movie, listed for more than $30,000. A Great Escape collection centered on apparel will hit retail stores by the holiday season with Vintage 55. The Hollywood line complements a racing line, which features Matisse-Motorcycle motocross bikes and a line of apparel sold through Triumph motorcycle dealerships. A Steve McQueen licensed Triumph motorcycle is under consideration. Also, GreenLight is developing a fragrance collection for its upper-end signature line, which already includes apparel from Dolce & Gabana.

GreenLight's Albert Einstein program includes an evolving line of brainteaser games in electronics, gaming and mobile phones, a science line that includes microscopes and space navigators, and a signature line including apparel with fun imagery of the often irreverent scientist. i3_180.jpg

Brand Sense Partners' goal for its newly acquired Marlon Brando property is to establish a solid brand foundation for a program based on characteristics such as honesty, grittiness and forthrightness associated with the actor's image, says Ramez Toubassy, president.

"Brando plays well to long-time fans and a new generation of consumers, who have come to identify with him only recently," he says, adding that Brando attributes can play beyond the traditional apparel and home segments and plans for the licensing program include real estate and restaurant deals.

Toubassy says products in more traditional categories could roll out within several months, but for the non-traditional items, plans call for launches beginning in the second half of 2010. "We want to do those right, and that requires a longer lead time," he says.

The 83-year-old Tony Curtis, appointed Fame Farm in March as his exclusive global consumer products and promotional licensing agency. The actor and agency plan to develop an international brand that will include a wide assortment of products including published materials, apparel, fashion accessories, home products, gifts, novelties and collectibles.

The Fame Farm deal is a first for Curtis. "We began working on the license in April," says Michael Feder, chief executive officer of Fame Farm. "We're unveiling it at Licensing International Expo for first time. He'll be there on June 3, which happens to be his birthday, and he'll celebrate with cupcakes made with his art in icing." i4_136.jpg

Curtis has become a prolific artist selling paintings worth more than $1 million during personal appearances last year. In addition to conventional licensing arrangements—a sweater line is among the elements initially planned—Fame Farm plans to feature his paintings in designs that will adorn products ranging from greeting cards, calendars and posters to napkins, rugs and wall paper. Scarves, bowties, cummerbunds and fragrance also are in the works.

Appointed exclusive agency for the Ray Charles estate, Act III Licensing is working with the Ray Charles Marketing Group on a program celebrating the 80th birthday of the Grammy Award-winning musician. It will include the launch of a new digitally remastered album Genius-The Ultimate Ray Charles Collection, Yes Indeed!, a limited-edition Ray Charles photo book and Ray's Greatest Television Performances DVD, as well as hundreds of the musician's never-before-seen photographs available for licensing. Categories will include apparel, stationery, wall decor and collectibles.

LicenseBox, a Moda Entertainment Company, announced in March that it added comedy duo Abbott and Costello to its roster of Hollywood legends that also include Duke Ellington, Great Garbo, Eartha Kitt, Marlene Dietrich and Edward G. Robinson.

"We are extremely excited to be able to work on the ever-popular comedy duo Abbott and Costello," says Richard Zampella, chief executive officer of Moda Entertainment. "We look forward to introducing this beloved American comedy team to a whole new generation through new media."

Abbott and Costello collected a variety of work in radio, film and television between 1940 and 1956 and made 36 films together. They are featured in the Baseball Hall of Fame and were inducted this February into the New Jersey Hall of Fame. i5_106.jpg

In February, Hilco Consumer Capital struck a deal with the family of Bob Marley to develop a new comprehensive licensing program that also revolves around an important anniversary of the legendary Jamaican musician. In addition to overall brand development and expansion, Hilco will license a 2010 Bob Marley 65th Anniversary program that will include accessories, apparel, footwear, food and beverage, collectibles, luggage, musical instruments and promotions/entertainment, stationery, plus the hospitality segment covering restaurants, cafes, hotels and resorts/spas.

Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart undoubtedly will garner interest as Sean Ferrer and Luca Dotti, Audrey Hepburn's sons, recently formed a company, Licensing Artists in Santa Monica, Calif., to represent not only Hepburn but also Bogart after recently acquiring image and trademark rights for the renowned actor.

Signatures Network is gearing up for a big year with a legendary rock 'n roll band. "It's going to be a great year for the Beatles," says Steve Glasenk, Signatures Network vice president of licensing. On Sept. 9, digitally remastered versions of all the Beatles albums will be released, and Signature Network is developing a licensing program based on the band's classic album covers with apparel as the primary category. The firm also is working on a separate John Lennon program that includes organic apparel with Free Karma.

Everlast announced in February a worldwide licensing agreement with Muhammad Ali Enterprises. It will coincide with Everlast's centennial anniversary in 2010 and the 50th anniversary of Muhammad Ali's Olympic gold medal performance. The Muhammad Ali Collection, a dedicated boxing equipment product line honoring the life of the iconic boxer, is planned.

Legends Licensing will introduce new images of Marilyn Monroe at the Licensing International Expo, including a series by photographer Richard Miller that has never been used commercially before. Three other image providers are awaiting deal closures, says Gary Saal, licensing director and owner, Legends Licensing. He adds that new products based on Marilyn imagery that are ready to roll include high-end Halloween Costumes from Easter Unlimited and a new run of Marilyn Monroe label wines from Nova Wines, which will be available in September.

With more than 250 licensees, Elvis Presley Enterprises continues to grow and expand the Elvis franchise worldwide. According to Kevin Kern, a spokesman for EPE, a range of licensees have new initiatives planned for the Elvis brand, including Harley-Davidson, Bradford Exchange, Gibson Guitars, American Greetings and Mattel which is bringing out a new Presley doll. One new licensee, John Deere, is reaching to Graceland and the tractor Elvis used on the estate to provide a collectible die-cast that will be unique in its antique look.

Musician Quincy Jones, who entered a joint venture with the Robert Thorne Company last year to form Quincy Jones Enterprises and appointed by Brand Central as licensing agency, recently announced expansion into the electronics category with Harmon International. Other categories include publishing, apparel, accessories, grooming and home.

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