Category Archives: Publicists

A Mix Up

by Leslie Epstein

During WWII, Hollywood entombs a studio mogul while burying a greater tragedy. 3,191 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.

The line of limousines, all with their lights on, stretched out forever. Here and there I could make out a sedan, a convertible, a coupe — even a bright yellow taxi or two. We turned right on Van Ness Avenue and continued south across Sunset, then Fernwood, then Fountain. One car ahead, just behind the gleaming new 1941 Packard hearse that carried studio owner Victor Granite’s remains, his widow Giselle rode in the Cadillac De Ville. His brother Manfred followed in a rented Lincoln. I, Peter Lorre, was in that vehicle, too: Moto in the motorcade but thankfully without anyone to buck my teeth and slick my hair and stain my skin the color of weakly brewed tea. I sat low in the seat, so as to avoid the gaze of the mounted policemen, who, as we rolled slowly by, touched their white gloves to their caps. Still, I couldn’t help seeing the crowds that lined the sidewalks. Anyone would have thought a Harlow had died, or a star like Valentino. But Victor?

He’d been responsible for a million feet of film; it had spun from his brain like thread from a spider. Yet that sad, sallow face had never appeared on so much as a single frame. Was that the reason he never took off that horrible hat? So as not to appear in even a still photograph? He used that broad brim the way a gangster, confronted by the press, used his overcoat or his hands.

The press had been waiting, just minutes before, when our cortege, then on Hollywood Boulevard, stopped in front of Grauman’s Chinese. Sid Grauman himself had opened the door of the De Ville. We stepped out, all in black. Off went the flashlamps, like milk splashed from a bucket. Newsreel cameramen shot their film. The crowd surged forward, against the line of police. One car back, I watched as the studio publicist Les Kahn came up to the widow. He held a cushion from the Granite prop department, plump and red, with yellow braid.

"I’ll be right back," Manfred told us, before he climbed out of our Lincoln. He hurried over to where Kahn was standing. "What the hell is going on?" Manfred yelled at the publicist.

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Guarding Gable
Part Two

by Nat Segaloff

An MGM junior publicist continues his story of survival alongside Clark Gable during World War II. 3,033 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.

William Clark Gable raised his right hand to mirror the recruiting officer as the newsreel cameras rolled:

“You, Clark Gable, a citizen of the United States, do hereby voluntarily agree to enlist as a soldier in the United States Army; that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that you will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over you, according to regulations, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the articles of war, so help you God.”

“I do.”

Gable was not the only star to enlist in the war against fascism, but he was the biggest, and he made it a point to start at the Private bottom. Hollywood would leave its honorable mark during World War II. James Stewart flew air raids and achieved the rank of Brigadier General in the Air Force. Lee Marvin was a Private, First Class in the Marines. Charles Bronson was a tail gunner. Glenn Ford rose to the rank of Captain in the Navy. Charles Durning was a Ranger and emerged from the war as one of America’s most decorated heroes. Mel Brooks was a photographer at the Battle of the Bulge. Frank Capra, John Huston, John Ford, George Stevens, William Wyler, and other directors made combat films. And there were countless others from all ranks of the motion picture industry, not all of them stars, but all of them patriots. Actresses such as Bette Davis, Marsha Hunt, Marlene Dietrich, and Veronica Lake joined less famous movie women in the Hollywood Canteen which was open 24 hours a day to give servicemen a cup of coffee, a donut, a smile, and sometimes a dance with a screen legend.

But Gable’s enlistment was the Army’s best recruitment tool. He’d made application to be a gunner, and his next stop was Miami and basic training. That’s where I was to join him.

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Guarding Gable
Part One

by Nat Segaloff

The entire MGM studio springs into action to protect a grief-stricken Clark Gable from everyone but himself. 3,031 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.

The King paced his throne room with deeply un-royal anxiety. He longed for his queen with a passion known only to royals, or so the fairy tales say. Since their celebrated marriage barely twenty months earlier, the two of them had been out of each other’s sight only when affairs of State commanded their separation. And so it was for the past fortnight when he had been compelled by royal obligation to remain within easy traveling distance of the castle while his queen journeyed to the far heartland of their realm on a mission of great diplomacy. For there was a great war. The kingdom was being attacked by forces of evil, and the King and Queen had drawn their country together in spirit even as the details of fighting it tore the royal couple apart.

America was at war. January 16, 1942 was five weeks into a declaration against the Axis powers, and Hollywood was already strutting its patriotism. Every star that wasn’t currently shooting pictures was crisscrossing the country bolstering unanimity and asking the citizenry to pay money beyond their taxes to keep their nation alive and stave off the collapse of the free world. Carole Lombard’s mission took her to the town of Indianapolis for an appearance that drew thousands of people. Clark Gable was the unquestioned king of Hollywood, and, since marrying him, Carole had become the town’s queen. They had been an item even before they got married, but, once their union became official, what belonged to one belonged to the other, including their retinues.

Back in Culver City, Gable was locked into a production schedule on Somewhere I’ll Find You when Lombard boarded the Douglas DC3-382 Skycub prop-liner to depart Indianapolis at 4 a.m. Flight TWA-3 took off as scheduled and then made several stops before the flight resumed from Las Vegas Airport at 7 p.m. The flight gained altitude, yawing slightly in the updrafts that blew up from Potosi mountain, then leveled at 7,770 feet when the aircraft, its fuel, and all 22 passengers and crew aboard slammed nose-first without warning into the side of the peak. The aircraft was going at two hundred miles an hour when its freshly refilled fuel tanks exploded on impact. The shattering fuselage repelled off the steep cliff, accelerated by the fireball. The cold January weather had brought a snowfall that cushioned the sound of falling debris.

The news that Flight 3 had failed to contact the control tower at Burbank airport reached Gable who was waiting at the Lockheed terminal to greet Lombard. He heard the mumbled conversation of gate personnel and asked if there was some kind of trouble. When told that Lombard’s flight was missing, he immediately chartered a plane for Las Vegas where he learned there were no survivors.

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The Big Get

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

A P.I. is asked to investigate the reigning box office champ for an endorsement deal. 2,412 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

McNulty didn’t look anything like what he was. And what he was was one of the best private eyes in Hollywood. Sure, others in the profession preferred confidential investigator, but McNulty liked the slangy old school designation. It had a nice earthy ring to it.

McNulty gave Musso & Frank’s the once over. It was still the same: comfortable, discrete and out-of-the-way. Which is why McNulty always chose it whenever a prospective client wished to retain his services. As always, McNulty arrived thirty minutes early to secure the back corner booth before regulars and tourists streamed in for lunch amid the dark hardwood paneling, white linen tablecloths, worn red leather booths and polished mahogany bar where many of the town’s biggest celebs, current and long gone, were known to knock back a few.

“The usual,” McNulty told the red-jacketed waiter who looked as old as the Hollywood sign.

“Glen Livet, neat,” the waiter said with a slight bow. “Coming right up.”

McNulty leaned back and closed his eyes. For a few moments, he imagined Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, elbows on the bar and shot glasses in their fists, swapping lies about their latest investigations. Funny thing, though: in his mind’s eye, they both looked like Humphrey Bogart because he’d played their characters in classic films.

“Mister McNulty? I’m—“

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The Afterparty

by Robert W. Welkos

Premieres for studio tentpoles are no big deal in Hollywood. But this afterparty was out of the ordinary. 2,325 words. Illustration by John Mann.

“Amazing. Truly amazing,” publicist Roxane Silver praised as she stood in the vastness of the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport. “It really does look like a 19th Century Siamese palace.”

The premiere’s afterparty for the fall release of The Lady And The Prime Minister was intended as the most elaborate ever put on by a major studio. Everything was replica, from the Royal Barges to the Temple of Dawn to the Grand Palace, including the Coronation Hall. A young Asian woman wearing a Kheynorey costume depicting a mythical half-bird/half-human from heaven danced in a Thai crown mokot around the film executives, her arms outstretched and fingers gracefully curled. Another dancer had on an elephantine mask called a Ravana of a frightening creature with wild eyes and tusks protruding from its mouth. Two men in boxing trunks engaged in Muay Thai whose bouts in ancient times often ended in death.

At least 1,000 guests were expected tonight to celebrate the Oscar-buzzed tentpole and the recreation of the Wat Phra Kaeo temple complete with ornate golden spires that gleamed under the overhead lights. Throngs of partygoers were starting to arrive, and all gawked at the enthroned Emerald Buddha, protector of the kingdom and identical to the one built during the reign of King Rama, founder of the Chakri Dynasty.

As Roxane moved through the crowd, she was told that the film’s director Barry Monk was so nervous anticipating the reviews that all morning at the Bel-Air Hotel he’d been downing shots of J&B and slices of mango. “I’m surprised he hasn’t collapsed into the arms of the Emerald Buddha over there,” his assistant confided to her.

“A Bloody Siam,” Roxane told the bartender. “Make it strong.”

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Rapture In Rimini

by Nat Segaloff

A movie company, theater chain, film critic and trial judge are manipulated by a publicist. 3,765 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.

It was the film that everybody wanted to see and it was Frank Webster’s brilliant idea not to show it to them. Rapture In Rimini was the art film of the year in 1973. It starred Alton Benning, widely considered to be the greatest actor of his generation, and was directed by the visionary Giovanni Scanzani, who was at the forefront of the Italian cinema’s return to romanticism after decades of gritty neo-realism. But that wasn’t what anybody was talking about, not once they got past the obligatory praise and lowered their voices to a whisper.

What Rapture In Rimini was really about was “the peanut butter scene.” Because that made it more than just a foreign language film that only students and cinephiles would line up to see. It was where Alton Benning took two fingers -– one for each Oscar he’d won in past years — and dipped them into a jar of Skippy and used them to lubricate his way into the young actress playing his mistress.

That kind of thing may have been nothing new for denizens of New York’s 42nd Street groin grindhouses, but Rapture In Rimini wasn’t intended as pornography. It was art. The problem was, the law didn’t always know the difference, and this posed a monster threat for General Artists, the company about to release it.

Faced with a potentially obscene movie being locked out of mainstream     theaters, Josh Volpe, who founded and headed General Artists, bit the bullet and called Frank Webster, the master movie publicist. Webster was an expert at putting asses in the seats. What remained to be seen was whether he could keep General Artists’ asses out of jail.

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Believe Me It’s Better This Way

by Bill Scheft

The  comedian who says what Hollywood doesn’t want to hear is at it again – apologizing. 3,375 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.

"Hollywood Dementia Exclusive: Tommy Dash Responds."

Okay, this did not go quite the way I wanted it to go.

Let’s catch up.

Two weeks ago, I published a letter of apology on this site to Clint Eastwood. I was trying to – what’s the expression, make amends? – for some past behavior in the hopes (I’d say “in the hope” but there was more than one incident) my agent could send me up for his new movie. Well, we still haven’t heard from Clint, Clint’s people, or Clint’s people’s people.

But that’s the least of it.

There was some other stuff around the letter of apology, which I rambled on into a tape recorder. Colorful stuff. Colorful stuff that I may or may not have meant to be included. But I never gave any specific instructions to my daughter, Janey. I mean Abby. So, Abby just transcribed everything and sent it in and the website posted everything. All of it. That was not my intention. I’m not exactly sure what my intention was, but it was definitely not that. I think I was trying to figuratively clear my throat as I worked my way up to the letter of apology. If I had seen the transcript before it was sent, I might have edited some things out. Some of the more colorful things. Like saying my agent sounded like a black guy. He is, but that’s not the point. Just like it’s not the point that he called me a “Jew motherfucker.” Or just like it’s not the point that he is no longer my agent.

The point is Abby should have shown it to me before she sent it, before it came out, before I asked her, “Were you ever going to get around to showing me what I said, Janey?” and before she answered, “First of all, I’m Abby. And I was planning on showing it to you when you got around to telling me you had a new girlfriend, not when I had to hear it on the fucking tape.” So, I had that jackpot to deal with, which turned into the friggin Powerball when she asked how old my new girlfriend is (27, which is the Powerball number). So now, Abby is not speaking to me, which kind of simplifies things because Janey, the daughter I keep confusing her with, hasn’t spoken to me since 2008, when I did a show at Hermosa Beach and made her pay the cover.

Let’s run through the good news. Last week, I got a SAG/AFTRA foreign residual check for an episode of Ed I did in 2000. Usually, they hold all the checks and apply them to your outstanding dues. And frankly, my dues may be the only outstanding thing about me. But this residual slid under the tent flap. $42.86. I used the money to buy one of those cigarette lighter-shaped routers that finds free Wi-Fi. I’m now one of those assholes in the Valley who sits at a sidewalk table staring at an old laptop that looks like something he has to return to the Church library by four. But I can do my own typing and submitting through my new email account:

Here endeth the good news.

You have no idea how many people read this last post. No idea. Let me tell you, it was a lot. A lot. I had no idea I was a draw. I’m not, but it was a big house. On the one hand, it was humbling how many people still remembered me. How many people remembered Tommy Dash. It’s the kind of thing I would love to share with my daughters, if we were talking.

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Hollywood Eclipse

by James Dawson

The twin brother of TV’s hot sitcom kid grows up a film junketeer and grapples with near infamy. 4,511 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.

"Hey, I know you, right?"

The overpaid megastar who asked the question leans forward intently, flashing his trademark lopsided grin. His elbows are on the immaculate white linen tablecloth that goes all the way to the floor. He stares at me. This ruggedly handsome prick seems genuinely amused by the concept that he might actually recognize someone he knows in a setting like this, where everyone else is supposed to be his social inferior.

Oh, Christ, I think. Here we go again.

Here we fucking go.

I try smiling and maintaining eye contact, but that’s like staring down a goddamned god. He’s so clean-shaven it’s as if his flawless face has been waxed. That doesn’t keep him from appearing unmistakably masculine, though. A stylist probably took half an hour putting his thick blond hair in such deceptively casual disarray. The top two buttons of his blue oxford cloth shirt are undone. His sleeves are rolled up far enough to show off his thick, well-tanned forearms.

Mr. Wonderful flashes a mouthful of radiantly white teeth and adds, "I’ve seen you in something, haven’t I?" He makes the question sound like friendly conspiratorial banter. All that’s missing is a knowing wink.

One of my fellow journalists — although using that term to describe this talentless, eager-to-please asshole is like referring to a two-dollar whore as a physical therapist — starts to speak up. Round-headed neuter Bennie Doolan already has a receding hairline and a gut, even though he’s only in his mid-twenties. He freelances for some website with a name as idiotic and hard to remember as most of them. God only knows how the thing gets enough hits to stay in business, much less pay its writers. Then again, Bennie may be one of the countless losers in this line of work who thinks that seeing his byline in print is reward enough for his inept efforts. Or seeing it in pixels, as it were.

Bennie says, "Actually, he’s the…"

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Damage Control

by Peter Lefcourt

A Hollywood publicist rushes to the hospital when her long-time client makes another mess of his life. 3,125 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.

“He what?”

Kevin told her what.


“How soon can you get here?”

“It’s 3 AM.”

“There won’t be any traffic.”

“This can’t wait till the morning?”

“It is the morning…”

Kevin shifted a little phlegm around his throat and said, underplaying the line, “He may not make it.”

At 3:20 AM Hillary Boden had the fast lane of the 10 East pretty much to herself, roaring through the San Gabriel Valley on cruise control in the SUV, the wrong vehicle to be doing ninety in, like a broad-beamed sailboat tacking into a strong headwind. There was a pint of bleak 7-Eleven coffee in the cup holder, Bruce on  the CD. Bruce was better with a tequila buzz, but she’d take him with over-roasted coffee. If a CHIP radared her, she’d hand him her card with her license and registration, dredge up a cracked smile and explain why she was breaking the speed limit in an unwashed Range Rover (she just didn’t have the time), offer him a couple of head shots and a visit to the set  – provided, of course, that Lawrence pulled through.

Which, according to Kevin, was not altogether certain.

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