When Roesler first went to visit Dean’s cousin Marcus Winslow Jr. and Winslow’s mother, Ortense, about representing Dean in the early 1980s, he had two significant advantages: The family wasn’t receiving any financial benefit from the wide usage of their relative’s name and image worldwide and, perhaps more ?important, Roesler was from Indiana. “We felt comfortable knowing it was someone local and someone who wasn’t a couple of thousand miles away that we didn’t know much about,” Marcus says. The Winslows raised Dean after his mother died, and Dean was so close to Marcus that he referred to him as his “little brother.”
Not surprisingly, Winslow is extremely satisfied with how Roesler has represented his big brother. It’s not just a matter of the tens of millions of dollars the family has earned over the years. It’s also the care Roesler has used in ensuring that Dean’s image is used in a classy way. “Being a family member, we are probably a little more protective than some people might be,” he says. “The main thing on a ?T-shirt or something is to try and be sure that whatever is on it is a compliment to James Dean and to try and do everything in as good taste as possible.” Winslow says that the ?Roesler-approved offers from companies that want to use Dean’s face or name are always well vetted. “CMG pretty well knows what I wouldn’t go for, so very seldom do I have to turn anything down,” he says.
Which is not to say that Roesler doesn’t receive some off-base ideas for Dean and his other clients. In fact, he says that only one out of five offers he receives overall actually amounts to anything. Sometimes the company doesn’t want to pony up enough money. But other times the product ideas just don’t fit with the image Roesler tries to perpetuate for his clients. Among the sillier ideas pitched to him was to have bathtub rubber ducks emblazoned with the faces of some of his most famous clients. “We’ve also had opportunities with lingerie that are cheap and tacky,” he says. Then there’s all of the unauthorized use of clients’ likenesses. A big part of Roesler’s job is to search for illegal usages and stop them; CMG typically has anywhere from 15 to 20 lawsuits pending at any one time.
For the family members of deceased celebrities, this sort of service is invaluable. But even Winslow is surprised that 50-plus years after Dean’s death, the Rebel Without a Cause star remains so popular. “It is very unusual for someone to be deceased as long as he has been and still have the following that he does,” says Winslow, who notes that people from all around the world still routinely come to the small Indiana town where Dean grew up — and where Winslow lives today — to get a sense of the film star’s origins. But would Dean be shocked by his enduring legacy? “No, I don’t think so,” Winslow says. “He always had a lot of confidence in himself and always felt that if he could get the right break, he could do real well. And he did.”
Chris Warren, a frequent contributor to American Way, is really glad that Mark Roesler is not his agent.