Back in my days at New Yorker Films, I had encountered a guy named John Springer. He had represented Marilyn Monroe, Taylor and Burton, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper, Montgomery Clift, Walt Disney, and other legends. Springer embodied class: He was an impeccably dressed, highly cultured, and modest man. Trying to match John in the elegance department was a preposterous notion, but I decided it was essential that I get the kind of pedigree that comes from a high-quality client list.
I met Lois Smith when she hung out a shingle with Peggy Siegal, post-PMK. (Lois died, I’m sorry to say, just as this article was going to press.) Lois was the longtime publicist to Robert Redford, which is how I got to know him. She was given to greeting all and sundry with “Hello, ducks!” If you were escorting her through the back alleys of a movie set, she’d say, “Lead on, MacDuff!” That would have been enough for me to love Lois, but there was much more. Once one of Lois’s clients was involved in a messy divorce, and Lois had to face the cameras. Sitting at home, watching it on TV, I teared up, thinking if I ever got in a jam, I would want somebody as humane and calm and wryly funny to shield me from the slings and arrows of the media. My longtime client Errol Morris told me that when he looked for a lawyer, he wanted somebody he would pay by heaving ten pounds of raw meat over a fence, but I knew that if I was in a mess, I would want somebody like Lois at my back—a straight shooter who could kill with kindness and charm instead of a stiletto. Lois would become my numero-uno role model.
The press agent’s reason for being is the art of persuasion, and there are as many ways to practice persuasion as there are human beings. It was my belief—and it still is—that few do it well, and I studied the best to find the way that suited me. Over time, I discovered that I was willing to turn down business (hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth, as it turned out) if it involved movies I didn’t personally like. Not that I was noble; I simply couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how that would work—calling a journalist I respected and saying that a piece of crap was good? I would have enjoyed spending the money, but what would happen the next time I called? Of course I did like a lot of movies that the media hated, but if somebody got a call from me over the decades, they had a reasonable expectation that I might be calling about something decent. At PMK, I worked on a lot of great movies, but there were many occasions when I had to fib, and I didn’t like the unpleasant taste it left in my mouth. After I was fired at PMK, I went back to my apartment and in no time, people were calling me to represent films. Having been schooled at PMK, I was ready.
Since I was a small child, I have worshiped actors and movies, and when I got older, filmmakers. It has been a great honor to have helped them in any way. As I look back over my career, I realize how much this work has given me and how lucky I have been to have fallen into it. Being a publicist has taken me all over the world and allowed me to hang out with a lot of fascinating people, and it’s given me a fly-on-the-wall look at the world of fame and celebrity that very few people have. Journalists always think they know more than I do, but they never get to see what happens after their interview is over and they leave the hotel room.