Celebrity Trademark Watch: Elizabeth Taylor, Godmother of Celebrity Branding, Is This Year’s Highest Earning Dead Celebrity

by Foley Hoag LLP - Trademark, Copyright & Unfair Competition

The history of celebrity endorsements is over 100 years old, dating back to at least the late 19th century when acclaimed stage actress Lillie Langtry began appearing on packages of Pear’s Soap.   Marketers have long known that, whether in connection with beauty products, breakfast cereal, soft drinks or yogurt, a celebrity spokesperson can lend “star quality” to a  commercial brand.  Of course, in today’s marketplace, celebrities not only endorse the products of others, but create their own as well.  Myriad celebrities like Gwen Stefani, Katie Holmes, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Jessica Simpson, and Jennifer Lopez, to name but a few, have become brand conglomerates earning millions by not only endorsing but creating their own fashion and beauty lines.  The practice is now so common (even John Malkovic has a fashion line), that it is hard to believe that the celebrity brand is a much more modern phenomenon, dating back only about 25 years.

To trace celebrity brands back to their starting point, one need look no further than this year’s list of top earning dead celebrities published by Forbes.com.  Top honors this year, with a staggering income of $210 million, go to the recently departed Elizabeth Taylor.  While much of Ms. Taylor’s earnings can be attributed to an estate sale of her famed jewels as well as costumes and artwork (including a $16 million Van Gogh!), a significant portion of her income can be attributed to the multi-million dollars in retail sales of her signature perfume White Diamonds.  White Diamonds was launched in 1991 in a partnership with Elizabeth Arden that began in 1988 with the launch of Ms. Taylor’s first perfume, Passion.  Elizabeth Taylor was not the first celebrity to launch a scent; Sophia Loren and Cher beat her to the punch earlier in the 80’s.  Nor was she the first celebrity to launch a multi-product brand; former Charlie’s Angel Jaclyn Smith established her bargain fashion line at Kmart in 1985.  However, Ms. Taylor was the first among celebrities to create an enduring brand empire that was not tied indelibly to an established retailer’s brand – you’d be hard pressed to know that Elizabeth Arden played a role without being told.

Given Elizabeth Taylor’s storied history as a film actress, in hindsight, her ascendance to brand vanguard is not surprising.  As a pre-teen in the 1940’s she became internationally famous in such films as “National Velvet” and “Lassie Come Home.”  One of the last great stars to be groomed by the old Hollywood studio system, Ms. Taylor left MGM after nearly 20 years under contract.  She wasted no time in proving her business acumen by quickly becoming the highest paid actress of her day when she signed a $1 million deal (plus a cut of the proceeds) to star in the infamously panned 1963 film “Cleopatra.”  While “Cleopatra” was an artistic misstep (Taylor ultimately became a two-time Academy Award winner), it provided Taylor with another opportunity which arose from her off-screen romance with on-screen co-star Richard Burton – creating the mold for the modern celebrity.  Largely on account of Taylor, now a star’s personal exploits and foibles (famous affairs, breaking up marriages, substance abuse, divorces, weight gain/loss, not to mention philanthropy and commitment to social causes) have become just as, if not more important than any artistic output.  Almost single handedly, Taylor turned the Hollywood film actress from a commodity exploited by studios into an independent entrepreneuse capable of presiding over a multi-million dollar empire.  All celebrities, male or female, who endeavor now to do the same owe her a debt of gratitude.

It will be interesting to see how the Elizabeth Taylor brand evolves.  Like the iconic Marilyn Monroe who was near the top of last year’s dead celebrity list, the memory of Ms. Taylor’s and her fame (as well as her infamy) have nearly unlimited brand potential.  All they need is someone as savvy as Liz herself to take control.

Photo by Eric Steuer.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Foley Hoag LLP - Trademark, Copyright & Unfair Competition | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Foley Hoag LLP - Trademark, Copyright & Unfair Competition

Foley Hoag LLP - Trademark, Copyright & Unfair Competition on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.