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How A Random Venezuelan-Born Actress Ended Up Owning The Rights To Marilyn Monroe’s Estate

There’s no debating the fact that Marilyn Monroe was an icon and she remains one nearly six decades after her untimely death. How did a little-known actress of Venezuelan descent come to hold the estate and image rights to Monroe?

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Marilyn Monroe was an icon, and she continues to be one nearly six decades after her enigmatic passing in 1962 at the age of 36. Millions of money are still made each year in royalties and license fees thanks to Monroe and her likeness. Everything from t-shirts to posters to key chains to coffee cups and more is sold using Monroe’s images and visage. When Marilyn passed away in 1962, she had no surviving relatives and a net worth of $800,000, or roughly $7 million today. She wasn’t particularly frugal with her money and lavishly purchased jewelry, clothing, and homes in addition to disbursing cash to friends, family members, and total strangers. After her estate was resolved, her net worth was approximately $370,000. She left her longtime assistant and her half-sister $10,000 each in her bequest. She contributed $5,000 to a trust fund for her assistant’s child’s schooling. She gave her mother a trust fund worth $100,000.

In her will, Monroe gave Strasberg 75% of her intellectual property rights. Dr. Marianne Kris, her therapist, received the remaining 25%.

Kris passed away in 1980. The London-based Anna Freud Centre for the Psychoanalytic Study and Treatment of Children received her share of the Monroe legacy. Sigmund Freud, the father of Anna Freud, conducted groundbreaking sex studies. So it’s somewhat appropriate that 25% of the money generated by one of the greatest sex symbols of all time benefits a foundation established by Dr. Freud’s daughter.

So what happened to the 75% portion owned by Strasberg?

L. J. Willinger/Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Paula Strasberg passed away in 1966, four years after Marilyn Monroe.

Lee remarried in 1967 to Venezuelan actress Anna Mizrahi, age 28.

In 1982, Lee Strasberg perished. At that point Anna suddenly became the owner of 75% of Monroe’s estate.

Anna and Marilyn may not have ever met, but for the purposes of this narrative, let’s suppose they never did. When Marilyn Monroe passed away, she would have been a rising actress in her early 20s. They might have attended the same party, but they weren’t close buddies or even acquaintances.

Anna eventually entered a partnership with CMG, a celebrity management firm. A lawsuit would later reveal that the CMG deal reportedly guaranteed Anna a minimum of $1 million a year. It turned out, nevertheless, that Anna earned more than $7.5 million in licensing income in only the four years between 1996 and 2000. Anna founded Marilyn Monroe, LLC in the year 2000.

In 2005, four lawsuits were brought against Anna, CMG, and the estates of the four photographers whose images of Marilyn Monroe were licensed. In Indiana, New York, and California, lawsuits were filed. Whether Monroe lived in California or New York at the time of her death was the key question in each case. If Anna was proven right, Monroe was a Californian and she’d retain the right to license the celebrity images of Monroe, for which the four photographers owned the copyrights. The photographers could have destroyed Anna’s business of licensing Marilyn’s picture if she had been a New Yorker. In California, copyrighted images still have posthumous publicity rights that belong to the owners. The photographers’ rights to their work are still intact in New York.

The previous year, in January 2011, however, in a very intriguing turn of events, Anna cashed out and sold her 75% part in the Monroe estate to Authentic Brands Group for an estimated $20–$30 million.

Today, Anna Strasberg is 81 years old. She probably had no idea that her career would lead to financial success. But in life we play the cards we are dealt, and Anna played her cards perfectly!

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