The following is a Selling It article from Consumer Reports (for those of you who don't read this magazine, these articles used to be on the magazine's back cover). from September, 1985:
Advertising is reputed to be a tough, hard-driving, high-pressure business that can drive its practitioners to an early grave. In truth, even the grave may not provide a refuge from Mad Aves grasp. Flick on your TV set and you'll see people who shuffled off this mortal coil decades and even centuries ago. Through tme magic of makeup, they have been resurrected expressly to deliver commercials on demand.
Various banks, for example, have used Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to promote their services. And every February, as an annual rite, birthday boys Washington and Lincoln are impressed to serve as hucksters for linens, carpets, cars, and myriad other products.
And it's not just the founders of our country who suffer such indignities posthumously. We've seen Laurel and Hardy pitching windshield wipers, Charlie Chaplin peddling computers. If you want, say, Albert Einstein to deliver your mouthwash commercial, all you have to do is call the appropriate agency and ask for a lookalike.
One such firm, the Roger Richman Agency in Beverly Hills, specializes in Hollywood stars - the Marx Brothers, Valentino, Lombard, Monroe, Dietrich. The agency has provided Mae West and Bing Crosby for a mints commercial, Clark Gable for orange juice, and [note] W. C. Fields for an optical supplier.
Not all of the available celebrities are deceased. Ron Smith Productions in Los Angeles offers thousands of lookalikes of living celebrities, including the Reagans and the British Royal Family.
Roger Richman, head of the Roger Richman agency, has no qualms about turning deceased stars into hucksters. "Those celebrities all merchandised themselves extensively while they were alive," he says, "and in their wills, they delegated to their heirs and to charity the income from advertising licensing."
But what about the exploitation of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin - statesmen who didn't "merchandise" themselves while they were alive? In a letter to President Reagan, Ralph Nader mentioned an episode in a first-grade class in which a teacher held up Washington's picture and asked the children for his name. One six-year-old replied, "He sells things on television."
"Using revered leaders from our nation's past as salespeople or hawkers ... cannot be prohibited by regulation," Nader's letter said. "But such merchandising practices surely dwell in the realm of sleaziness."
According to a Nader representative, the President hasn't replied.
Note: My copy of the magazine was torn at this part (the bottom of the page), so there may be a minor transcribing error here.