Wrestler Hulk Hogan and the estate of Marlon Brando both filed suit recently, claiming that their publicity rights were being violated and likenesses misappropriated.
In the Hogan case, professional wrestler and self-described actor and celebrity Terry Bollea – better known as Hulk Hogan – filed suit in Florida state court against Post Foods, the maker of Cocoa Pebbles cereal.
The cereal brand ran a commercial featuring Flintstones characters like Fred and Barney wrestling with a cartoon character called “Hulk Boulder.”
Hulk Boulder handily defeats Fred and Barney and begins to celebrate by eating a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles, but the wrestler – who sports long blonde hair and a Fu Manchu mustache, which Hogan claims are his “signatures” – is then bested by Bam-Bam. The commercial ends as Hulk Boulder “is shown humiliated and cracked into pieces with broken teeth,” according to the lawsuit.
While detailing Hogan’s rise to fame as a professional wrestler in the 1980s, the complaint notes that he originally wrestled as part of a tag team known as Terry and Ed Boulder before he made it big.
Hogan, claiming commercial misappropriation and false endorsement, is seeking both punitive and compensatory damages, as well as an injunction against further use of his likeness.
Across the country, the estate of Marlon Brando filed suit in California state court, alleging that premium denim maker Joe’s Jeans misappropriated the Brando name and violated its publicity rights. The jeans company marketed a $539 black leather jacket called “The Brando,” which capitalized upon the deceased actor’s name and identity, which has “tremendous commercial value,” according to the lawsuit.
The complaint alleges that Joe’s Jeans also traded on the Brando name in an e-newsletter. The newsletter featured the Brando jacket, with text reading, “Be The Wild One in Joe’s modern design to a vintage classic,” which the complaint alleges was a reference to Brando’s 1953 film, The Wild One.
It also included a shoe called the “Stella,” which the estate says was a reference to the leading female character in another Brando classic, A Streetcar Named Desire, and the subject of Brando’s famous quote “Stella. Hey, Stella!” which was recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the most famous movie quotes of all time.
The suit seeks damages as well as an injunction.
To read the complaint in Bollea v. Post, click here.
To see the commercial, click here.
To read the complaint in Brando v. Joe’s Jeans, click here.
Why it matters: Celebrities and deceased celebrities’ estates often seek to enforce all aspects of their publicity rights. Hogan claims that the cartoon wrestler trades on his signature long, blonde hair and Fu Manchu mustache, while the Brando estate is arguing that the actor’s body of work – including the name of the films he acted in and his memorable lines – were used to attract attention and enhance the marketing of an allegedly infringing product.