No, we are not referring to Bette Davis. Nor Katherine Hepburn. And forget about Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Spencer Tracy and Deanna Durbin.
Well, then, just who are the most popular stars as judged by name recognition and durability?
Your classic movie guys here today to reveal recent findings from Madison Avenue about which deceased celebrities sell the most merchandise — the toughest standard by which movie star longevity can be measured.
Sure, a bevy of stars from the classic Hollywood live on in our (and in your) affections. But how many from this group retain appeal to contemporary paying customers? In other words, who can still move the merchandise?
It may interest you to know that the commercial longevity of deceased celebrities — think Elvis and Elizabeth Taylor, for example — is carefully tracked by an outfit called Marketing Evaluations, whose founder developed what is known as the “Q Score” back in the early Sixties. Advertisers and marketers weighing product tie-ins with the famous dead check in for their respective “Q Scores” to find out who is best known and still popular.
The New York Times reported, for example, that Marilyn Monroe – who would be nudging 90 today had she not died in 1962 — is near the top of the some 145 departed celebrities with Q ratings, but she is by no means the favorite. Still in all, Marilyn’s name remains golden — or at least green.
Monroe is currently linked to a merchandising campaign of a brand of women’s hair care products using this line attributed to the actress: “In Hollywood a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hairdo.”
Marilyn’s name is also linked to a line of clothing for teenagers and young women. Also, a line of “M&M Shoes.”
And let’s not forget that brand of vodka with its label reproduction of the famous scene from Billy Wilder’s 1955 comedy, The Seven Year Itch – you know, the one with Marilyn looking gorgeous in a pleated white dress that alluringly billows up while she stands over a New York City subway grate. The film stills showing all this are among the most famous in Hollywood history.
The Times includes this interesting business factoid: Monroe, whose estate was acquired by Authentic Brands Group in 2010, has a significant presence on social media, with more than 7.3 million followers on her official Facebook page and more than 153,000 followers on Twitter.
Those who sell the products find it reassuring that their deceased celebrity tie-ins can’t boomerang in scandal. Referring to Marilyn, marketing executive put it this way: “You know she’s not going to be stumbling down on the set or getting arrested.”
Also the price for a tie-in with dead star — such as Charlie Chaplin, James Dean and Steve McQueen, who still have currency in the endorsement markets — is a lot cheaper than the fees demanded by A-list stars still with us.
But which deceased stars have the highest Q ratings?
Topping the list is none other than Lucille Ball, who died 26 years ago. Then comes John Wayne, who departed 36 years ago. Then in terms of familiarity and popularity ratings comes Bob Hope, who’s been dead for over a decade. Of course,Hope and Ball were huge TV stars as well as film stars.
Marilyn, the Duke, Lucy and old ski nose — an amazingly durable bunch.