In December, movie blogs buzzed with speculation that George Lucas would be bringing back to life dead stars to act in new movies. The rumor arose from comments made by former Lucas collaborator Mel Smith to London's Daily Mail.
"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."
Such technology has made giant strides in recent years, using computers either to match and merge old footage seamlessly with new—Fred Astaire dancing with a vacuum cleaner--or to generate images from scratch and without any real-world precedent.
Within days a Luscasfilm spokesman slapped down the story, dismissing the assertion as "completely false."
But is it?
Agent-to-the-dead Mark Roesler thinks not.
Following the Daily Mail story, Roesler, whose CMG agency has represented the estates of such defunct greats as Ingrid Bergman, James Dean, Errol Flynn and Bette Davis, says he contacted Lucasfilm. "We reached out to them. The discussions were such that Mr. Lucas said those reports were not factually accurate." In what way not? "They were premature. You can read between the lines that this is something he is looking into."
Jamie Salter likewise doubts Lucasfilm's denial.
Salter, chairman and chief executive of Authentic Brands Group, announced January 13 that he had forged a deal with the Monroe estate described as being worth close to $50 million to market new Monroe products, including new movies. He thinks Lucasfilm made its denial because the story "escaped" prematurely, before Lucas was ready to announce his plans and before he had succeeded in signing up all the dead stars he wants.
Salter says he considers himself fortunate to have signed Monroe (1926-1962) before Lucas could get to her. "I had Marilyn Monroe locked up before he told the world he'd like to do a Marilyn Monroe movie," he gloats.
Salter's company will team with another company, NECA, to introduce new Monroe-inspired consumer products, including handbags, footwear and sun glasses. "These would all be collaborations with some of the better manufacturers--Gucci, Christian Dior," Salter says. "We've had her only seven days, but we've already inked a deal with Dior."
He wants to steer clear of cheap stuff, such as shot glasses. "We're going to focus on great white sheets--not sheets with Marlyn's face all over them, but really nice 300 thread-count." A new line of Monroe clothing would be "timeless, elegant, like BCBG or Halston Heritage." As for jewelry, there could be reproductions of some of MM's own pieces.
That dead stars are making money from new ventures isn't news.
For the past decade, Forbes magazine has published an annual ranking of the top-earning dead celebrities. Its most recent list puts Michael Jackson at #1, with gross earnings of $275 million. That take comes from his stake in the Sony/ATV music catalog (which includes more than 250 compositions recorded by the Beatles), and Sony's hit film "This is It" depicting Jackson's premortem rehearsals for his final concert tour. The Gloved One's posthumous earnings exceed the combined earnings of Forbes' two richest living performers, U2 and AC/DC.
What is new is the possibility that a dead star could carry a full-length feature film.