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.
The big secret of celebrity isn’t that some famous people are meaner than the rest of us—although pampering does spoil you—it’s that they are more likely to be unhappy. Maybe it’s because insecurity and hurt fueled their drive to get famous, and when they get up the hill, they realize it hasn’t solved any of their problems and the only way to go from that point is down. Then again, if they have pursued acting or directing purely for the love of it, rather than the desire to get famous, celebrity is generally as wonderful as you’d imagine it would be, with some occasional nuisances, like the paparazzi and annoying fans. Singer-actor Ruben Blades once told me, “Power doesn’t corrupt—it reveals,” and that’s what I’ve seen my whole life. Many people take the opportunity that success provides to crack up or die with greater velocity than those of us who have never been profiled by People. No matter how hard you try, some people just won’t allow you to help them.
The biggest irony of my life is that I am against the idea that artists should have to do publicity. If we lived in a world in which people could discover movies without publicity, I think it would be a better world. The thing I love about movies in particular and art in general is that they contain things that are ineffable, and journalists want to ruin it by demanding that everything be explained, down to the tiniest detail. When asked by someone I trusted, I always advised them to treat the interview as a performance in which many words are spoken but nothing is ever given away. I’m not suggesting “talking points,” because that is a very tedious way to get through a publicity junket. No, you have to be actively open and alive to the process of holding onto the mystery: That is the most essential thing an artist can ever possess, infinitely more precious than fame.