For nearly 40 years, one Hoosier has served as the premiere attorney for dead celebrities. From Elvis Presley to James Dean to Marilyn Monroe, the estates of some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment are generating big dollars and they all have one man in common. Mark Roesler is the chief executive officer of CMG Worldwide, which was founded in Indianapolis in the early 1980s and is now headquartered in California, with locations in Indy, Nashville and Miami.
In an interview with Around INdiana Reporter Mary-Rachel Redman, Roesler said the idea for the company came when he was working for a law firm after graduating from Indiana University.
“I was a young attorney and I thought that there were ways that we could protect name and likeness,” said Roesler.
Before Roesler, a celebrity’s right to cash in on their valuable name ended when they died, leaving their loved ones with no control over who could profit from their likeness.
One of the first to benefit from Roesler’s help happened to be a fellow Hoosier: James Dean. His cousin, Marcus Winslow, still lives on the farm where “Jimmy,” as he was known in Fairmount, grew up.
Despite making only three pictures before his untimely death in 1955, his “Rebel Without a Cause” image started popping up all over the world and was making someone a lot of money.
“You know, for a long time, we had seen people with James Dean t-shirts and so forth. I never seen anything that wasn’t in good taste, but it’s just you’d see them wearing these t-shirts and it seemed strange. You’d think someone was selling that to them and the family had no say so in it.”
Roesler, who grew up a few miles from where James Dean was buried, said he approached Dean’s family.
“I said, ‘Hey, I’m trying to do some things with the Elvis Presley estate and I think we can also protect James Dean’ and they thought that was interesting. So, that was our second client,” said Roesler.
Winslow says once CMG Worldwide took over the James Dean estate, they started having a say in how his likeness was presented, though they also faced several lawsuits.
“Warner Bros. saw James Dean as a great example. They surprised us and they filed a lawsuit for $90 million. Warner Bros. took the position that they owned everything. We took the position that they owned nothing,” said Roesler.
And it turned out to be the landmark case that put Roesler on the map.
“We went to trial. It was a two week trial and we won on every single issue.”
Winslow says the family never had any legal issues after the case was resolved. And today, Dean’s iconic image is worth more today than when Dean was at the height of his career, cut too short.
Now, CMG Worldwide represents the estates of more than 200 clients, including Jimmy Stewart, Bettie Page, Neil Armstrong, and Andre the Giant.