Turns out being a Material Girl doesn’t protect you from getting shook down by the ethereal world. Marlon Brando’s estate wants $300,000 from Madonna for her use of the deceased star’s image on her 2012 tour.
Her 1990 megahit “Vogue” famously lists off the names of the famous — “Greta Garbo, and Monroe / Deitrich and DiMaggio / Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean / On the cover of a magazine.” — and during live performances, she flashes their likeness across the stage in time with the lyrics. This is indeed a privilege that Madge pays for.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, when she did the song at the Super Bowl in February, Madonna dolled out $3,750 each to the relevant estates, which included those listed above, along with Jean Harlow, Lana Turner, Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Gene Kelly, and Grace Kelly. As it turns out, most of those estates are repped by a single Indiana-based company called CMG Worldwide, but Brando’s is not. At the time, Madonna’s touring company Bhakti worked with CMG to negotiate with Brando’s people, but when it came time to approach the topic again for her current tour, well, that’s when everything went to shit.
First, the fee per dead star was upped to $5,000 per appearance. No big. But then Brando Enterprises’ legal team at Brand Sense Partners apparently smelled blood in the water and insisted on $20,000 instead. But each celebrighoul entered this unholy agreement with a “most favored nation” clause, which means that they’re all paid the same no matter what. And suddenly, Madonna’s cost per show for that one song became a potential $200,000 total, give or take. CMG sued Brando for breach of contract, and now Brando’s people have moved the case to a federal court in Indianapolis.
The takeaway: CMG is asking the judge to keep their cost at $5,000 per appearance — pocket change for these folks’ ilk, but when you consider the number of concerts cameos that the image has made or will make, Team Brando would still be looking at at least $300,000. But the MDNA tour is expected to have at least 90 stops, so even if she retires Brando’s picture, it’s most likely costing her upward of $4.3 million to broadcast quick shots of long-dead stars during the performance of a single song that she recorded more than two decades ago. As “Vogue” goes, “They had style, they had grace.” And they now have legal sway from beyond the grave.