CMG Chairman and CEO Mark Roesler has long been working to protect and preserve the memory of some of the world’s most cherished celebrity icons. With over 400 clients including James Dean, Jackie Robinson, Buddy Holly, Marilyn Monroe, Ella Fitzgerald, Malcolm X, and Neil Armstrong, to name a few, he has gained the right to be called the foremost authority on intellectual property rights. It was an honor to have the chance to offer a glimpse at the man who works tirelessly to protect the works of those who came before.
Are you from Indiana originally? What are some of your most fond memories from your childhood?
Yes, I am from Indiana and grew up in Alexandria. My most fond memories from childhood are being from a small town of 5,000 and thinking it was a “big” town. My world revolved around all that I did from going to the swimming pool, playing baseball, cutting grass, and as I got old enough to drive, we would sometimes venture into the next “small town” and that was a big deal.
How did you first come to discover your love of racing? Is that something you still hold dear?
I was a race fan from the age of four when my father built a quarter midget race car for me and then he had a dirt track in our backyard. About ½ mile from us was a famous small race track called “Armscamp Speedway” that would have racing on Friday and Saturday night. My father helped to work on some of the cars there and in the summers we would go up to the race track to look at it when it wasn’t being used for racing. Professionally, I have represented many Indy race car drivers and NASCAR drivers over the years. I also owned an Indycar in the ‘90s for a few years.
Did either of those things lead to you being a fan of James Dean, before you started your current career or do just consider them things you had in common?
I knew about James Dean growing up, but I didn’t understand him. He was buried in Fairmount the same month that I was born. Our first client at CMG was the Elvis Presley Estate in the early ‘80s, and it was then that I realized the international influence that James Dean had had. I then thought it was ironic that I grew up 10 miles away from where he was buried, and I then became hungry to learn all that I could about him.
How did you come to represent his estate in particular?
I went to Fairmount, Indiana and met with Ortense Winslow, who was Jimmy’s aunt. She became “Jimmy’s mother” after Jimmy’s real mom died. Ortense’s brother was Jimmy’s dad, and when Jimmy’s mom died, his dad sent him back on a train from California to Farimount, Indiana because he wanted Jimmy to grow up in a loving family. There was virtually no protection at that time in 1982 for famous deceased people. I explained that to Ortense and her son, Marcus. I told them that I would do my best to change that. After many months of periodic discussions, Ortense and Marcus asked me to try to protect and market Jimmy’s legacy.
Do you enjoy being able to work with respect for the clients you maintain and for their families and loved ones were applicable? Do you consider it your life’s work?
It most definitely is my life’s work, and I am very passionate about it. Being able to speak with my clients’ families is very enjoyable to me because I get to know them on personal level and form a relationship with them. For me, it’s more than a business partnership, and I enjoy getting to know each one of them. That is all that I have done professionally for the past 36 years.
Why do you think it is so important that the works and images left behind be kept alive and protected for those who are no longer with us?
My clients are legends with impressive accomplishments. James Dean only starred in three major movies, yet he is one of the most celebrated classic actors today. Bettie Page was the first pin-up model of her kind and pushed modeling’s boundaries. Jackie Robinson played a huge role in the civil rights movement and changed so many things in our culture. There is tremendous “goodwill” so to speak built up around these icons who not only accomplished so much, but they worked hard on protecting the “goodwill” around their name and their likeness. It is very similar to someone who works hard to build a business or develop a patent. Our constitution envisioned that these fruits of our labor that are in the form of “intellectual property rights” should be protectable.
What is the most challenging issue you face in protecting the rights of the dead?
The most challenging part is that celebrities impact so many people and these people sometimes don’t want to accept when they pass away, that they do have rights that can and should be protected.
When you started your own roofing company in order to put yourself through college did you ever imagine it would have led you where it has?
Not at all. I was focused on what I did back then, just like what I am doing right now. I tried to be good at what I did, and I always thought the chips would then fall into place.
Did you ever feel like giving up back in those early days? What was the one thing that kept you focused on pursuing your life’s passion?
Sure. I think everyone does. But life has its ups and downs, and you just have to realize that. What kept me focused was the satisfaction of helping others, whether it was through CMG Worldwide, roofing houses, or another endeavor. We have often faced legal challenges from big companies on what we do. What we do has been perceived as a threat to the studios and the sports leagues back in the ‘80s. Now, of course, it is all common place to protect these rights.
Do you think it is fair to say a little determination and persistence will take a person far in life regardless of where they may be going?
Absolutely. That’s another reason I’ve been able to pursue my life’s passion so effectively. Determination and persistence are what keep me going and gives me the strength to keep up with my business each day.
Do you feel blessed to be able to give back to those in need? Why do you think it is so important that those who have give back to those who don’t?
I think it is important to set an example. We have tried to be philanthropic as a company and me personally. We understand that we are high profile, and that puts even more pressure on use to set an example.
What advice would you offer those wishing to pursue a similar career?
Excel at what you do and don’t give up. Be patient.
What would you say is the most important thing you have learned from all of this so far?
It is possible to have a lot of fun at what you do. If you are passionate about what you do it is so easy to meet so many nice people and accumulate friends along the way.
Are there any moments throughout you career that stand out most vivid in your mind today?
Maybe some of the significant legal victories. Warner Bros. was probably the biggest. Being the expert witness in the OJ Simpson case was also a significant event.
What would you say is the best advice anyone ever gave you and who was it?
Probably my father in law, Dr. Beurt SerVaas, who said that, to be successful in business, you had to do two things: make more money than you spend and pay your bills on time.
In the end, what do you consider to be the key to a life well lived?
I think it would have to be that you made a difference and you had a positive influence on others.
Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?
Thank you for interviewing me.