It seemed that I was now a publicist, so I decided to do what I had done in previous self-reinventions—I was going to find out what a publicist was and try to turn myself into one. I would still hate my life, but I would be incredible at my job, dazzling them with my encyclopedic knowledge of international cinema, and everyone would admire me. Of the three PMK partners, I was most drawn to Kingsley—she was just so damn smart. I loved listening to her consider the pros and cons of every decision. In publicity, you can’t do everything. Editors see other outlets as their competitors: It’s Vogue or Elle; it’s New York or New Yorker or The New York Times Magazine. What is right for a particular movie or client? Pat was also a chess player—she didn’t think about what her client should do for just one movie, but also looked to the years ahead. If the client does a media blitz now, what is left for that personal project going into production next year? Nowadays, you can find dozens of young publicists who know how to say “no”—“no” is easy—but knowing when to say “yes” requires experience, wisdom, and in the case of Pat, a certain don’t-f*ck-with-me confidence that she could control the story. So, Goal No. 1 in my publicity education: Grow a brain, learn everything there is to know about the media, and try to become, in my own way, like Kingsley.
Teacher No. 2, Peggy Siegal, was not the kind of person I would socialize with, but she was extraordinary at her work, and was very generous at sharing her expertise with me. Peggy was unstoppable; if she was onto a story, and say there was something in her way—say, Chicago—well, you’d just have to move Chicago. So I told myself that I would strive to become as relentless as Peggy, and when necessary, as impregnable as a titanium ingot.
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.