We love Lucy...more than ever

Every two years, a study is released that rates the popularity of dead celebrities.

It's a survey put out by Marketing Evaluations, Inc./the Q Scores Company, and it's designed to help marketers conclude what a celebrity endorsement is worth. And since celebrities, long after they're gone, are sometimes used in advertising, it can be a useful tool. For the rest of us, picking up the scraps of information that Marketing Evaluations throws out since it won't make its entire lists public, it's just plain interesting.

MediaPost had an interesting story today about the rankings, stating that -- not surprisingly -- Elvis Presley is the most familiar dead celebrity to the public (98% of the public recognizes him). Close behind is Lucille Ball(95%)

But while Elvis is the best known, that doesn't mean he's the most beloved. His Q score, rating his popularity, is 36%, while Lucy's Q score is 52%. In fact, the celebrities that people miss the most are Lucille Ball, Walt Disney, Bob Hope, John Wayne and Red Skelton.

Yeah, Red Skelton. Why him?

"God only knows," MEI/Q Scores president Steve Levitt told MediaPost, adding that he meant no disrespect. Methinks, however, that the Baby Boomer generation and especially their parents remember Skelton well, and miss him a lot, where younger generations aren't as familiar with his work. But small wonder older people miss him. Skelton had a variety show from 1951 to 1954 on NBC, and then CBS ran him every Tuesday night from 1954 until 1970.

The lowest ranking celebrities? Among them, Alan King, Joey Bishop and Andy Kaufman, who are listed in single digit Q scores. Boy, talking about kicking someone's already down. I'm imagining some of these celebrities, say, Rodney Dangerfield, sitting on a cloud sort of like a scene out of Heaven Can Wait, brooding about his demise, and someone comes up with a clipboard and says, "Hey, Rodney, you're not only dead -- nobody particularly misses you."

Actually, for the record, Rodney's score is a 28, equal to celebrities like Raymond Burr, Clark Gable and John Belushi, and three points over Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and four points over John Lennon (24%). Not too shabby. At least, these were their Q scores at one point. Q Scores has a sample of one of their lists on the Internet for prospective marketing customers.

Dead celebrities -- I wish I could think of a happier way to put it -- is a big business. CMG Worldwide, for instance, is a major marketing firm that represents dozens if not hundreds of the famous but not forgotten, including Marilyn Monroe, Red Foxx and James Dean. They even represent sports figures from past eras like Babe Ruth and historical figures like Mark Twain and Amelia Earhart. Yep, they have agents.

In any case, it pays to be a celebrity... and pays... and pays...

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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