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New Elvis Figures Into Wax War

When Madame Tussauds rolls out its Elvis Presley figure next month, it will be the latest blow in the war of the wax museums on Hollywood Boulevard.

A $300,000 shot – or so they say.

Tussauds, part of a multibillion-dollar British leisure conglomerate, has seized on a strategy to bury its rival, the mom-and-pop Hollywood Wax Museum – outspend it.

The Elvis figure, which will depict the King of Rock in his younger, leaner days, has been in development for about a year. It was one of the most requested figures from visitors, according to a Tussauds executive.

“People want to be able to get close to their idols. The broader the attraction, the better it is for business,” said Colin Thomas, the Hollywood location’s general manager, who put the price tag on the Elvis figure at $300,000.

Six figures is a lot of money even for Tussauds, part of the Merlin Entertainments Group in Poole, but Thomas said that producing an Elvis figure is a long-term investment. The singer, who died in 1977, isn’t about to change his appearance.

That isn’t so with the popular Justin Bieber likeness introduced in March. After all, the teenager still looks fresh faced and has yet to sport any noticeable stubble, which could require installation of a new figure.

“When you’re casting someone that’s already dead, it’s much easier,” Thomas noted.

The new figures – which at the other end of the spectrum include nonagenarian Betty White – have been successful. Visitors to the $60 million museum that opened in 2009 have been growing by double-digit percentages annually. Thomas said Tussauds now attracts 2,000-plus visitors a day during the summer. Tickets go for $25, though many visitors use promotions to get in for cheaper.

Some of those ticket sales have no doubt come at the expense of the Hollywood Wax Museum, a cheaper alternative that has been a kitschy attraction on the thoroughfare since the 1960s. Box office tickets there go for $15.95.

Tej Sundher, the founder’s grandson, said the family business is competing by offering new attractions of its own, while also maintaining what he calls the place’s “carny” charm.

The attraction has added eight figures so far this year, including Beyoncé, Al Pacino and, yes, Elvis.

Sundher wouldn’t say what each cost, but scoffed at his rival’s $300,000 price tag.

“We’re committing what we need to,” he said. “It’s a little (like) David and Goliath.”

– Jonathan Polakoff

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