The actual “power” at PMK rested in the partners, who all worked in LA: Pat Kingsley, Michael Maslansky, and Neil Koenigsberg. Michael and Neil came often to the office for meetings, but Pat never did during the short time I worked there. She was the one who signed and handled Goldie Hawn and Lindsay Crouse. Hawn was red-hot at the time, having just broken out with Private Benjamin. When the media wanted to interview her, they called Bill Murray of Celebrity Service (no, not that Bill Murray) and asked who Hawn’s New York contact was; Bill would give them my number. I would call Pat up, my voice chirpy with excitement, and say, “The Sunday New York Times wants to do Goldie!” and she would cut me off and say that no, Goldie didn’t have a movie coming out and there was nothing to sell. This was something I’d never heard before. The purpose of media coverage is to fulfill our client’s needs?
I quickly figured out how the game was played: We had a bucketful of stars and a reasonable number of superstars, and anybody who wanted to regularly fill a magazine cover had to cross swords with us (or people like us) or head back to their previous job at Weekly Reader. We made our biggest clients available only when we wanted to, and making them inaccessible increased their allure. Pat also served our clients by offering the kind of sage advice that prevented publicity debacles (indeed, milliseconds after Tom Cruise fired Kingsley, he was mid-flight over Oprah’s settee). When disaster did strike, we were around to sweep up the mess with blandly manicured statements, Clintonesque dodgeball, and even the truth, if it was expedient.
The majority of what we did at this publicity firm was to strategically turn down most of the requests for our clients. Still, the relationship that agency publicists had with the media in those days was generally congenial. If you are booking The David Letterman Show, you know who is right for the show, and so does a first-rate publicist; in fact, it wasn’t unusual for publicists to move over to top jobs in the media, and vice versa. The greatest misunderstandings were with publicity executives at some studios and distribution companies who pursued one-size-fits-all approaches to publicity, unlike our more strategic method. For each release, they created a phone-book-sized memo to show their superiors that every media outlet had been approached, and no stone had been left unturned. These documents are chock-a-block with hilarious boilerplate comments like “Claire promises to watch her screener soon,” or “left several messages for Bernie,” or my favorite, “Sarah is thinking it over,” which usually means, “no, but I don’t want to tell you that yet.” After such time-consuming mishegas, the studio publicists were bewildered and stressed when they secured assignments and then the mean old personal publicists turned them all down.
Simply passing requests for Goldie Hawn to Pat Kingsley imbued me with a synthetic muscularity that lured top editors and talk-show bookers into my clutches. Once I had them on the phone, I’d ask if they’d seen the side-splitting new comedy Under the Rainbow, starring Chevy Chase, Carrie Fisher, and Billy Barty. As I said this, I felt like I had eaten a 50-pound bag of snot. Actually, I always felt like this. I was a midwestern rube who had fallen down a wormhole into an alien world I found shockingly cynical. I lacked the skills and emotional constitution for the job, and this caused me to be fearful and make mistakes. At the same time, I didn’t want to be the kind of loser who quit after a few days, so I chose to be the kind of loser who accepts that every day will be a living hell.