A Family Affair

Publicists honor their own at the 49th annual awards event. By Pauline Rogers. All photos by Mathew Imaging.

Walt Disney Company Publicist Arlene Ludwig

Awards Season is traditionally a time when the entertainment industry loses itself in anticipatory buzz: who among its own – actors/directors/cinematographers/writers, etc. – will take home that career-changing hardware this year? But did you know the reason the entire world knows its “gaga time in Lotusland” (try tweeting that 10 times) is because of the intense marketing efforts of those behind-the-scenes folks known as publicists? These Guild members make Hollywood’s PR machine go, and once a year the spotlight is turned on them in their annual Publicists Guild Awards, presented by Local 600.“We want the rest of the world to know what you do and how good you are at it,” ICG President Steven Poster, ASC said in his opening remarks at the 49th annual Publicist Guild Awards luncheon, held at the Beverly Hilton this past February. And judging by the packed attendance of studio and network executives, international journalists and more than a few A-list celebrities, that wish was completely fulfilled.

In fact, all those polled were in agreement with publicist Peter J. Silbermann when he described the event as, “the one and only time of the year where all of the publicists in the business are in one room, together, and get to mingle. It’s done in great taste. And [as usual] the honorees are all deserving.”

Television Unit Still Photography Award Winner Hooper Stone (L), ICG President Steven Poster, ASC (R)

“I really felt ‘connected’ this time,” added veteran unit publicist Patti Hawn. “There was an authentic vibe within the community of publicists this year that felt like family. We are often names without faces that sometimes compete for jobs. We have one day a year when we can connect the names and the faces and become a real community.”

This year’s master of ceremonies, Australian talk show host and producer Rove McManus, good-naturedly roasted that community. The comedian’s off-beat humor was made known straight off when he announced to all the publicists in the room that, “without you, we wouldn’t know Vampires are now sexy!”

While each and every honoree was well deserving, there were a few poignant moments that stood above the rest. President Poster recalled his personal connection to honoree Carol Burnett, while the audience was treated to a visual road trip through the beloved comedian’s 56 years in the business.

“Carol Burnett has had an extraordinary career and a reputation for direct involvement in the promotion of the shows and movies in which she has starred,” long-time event chair Henri Bollinger related. “She has a clear understanding of the role publicity plays in the success of television shows and movies.”

Master of Ceremonies Rove McManus

When acting icon Julie Andrews and actress/director/producer Jodi Foster took the stage it might have seemed like an odd pairing. Until they joined to dedicate the 2012 Publicist Directory to the woman who guided both their careers from humble beginnings, Walt Disney publicist Arlene Ludwig.

“She let me drive the Disney golf cart when I was a kid,” Foster beamed. “She took me to the emergency room when I was hurt. And, she never let me win one single tennis match.”

After taking the audience on a trip from Mary Poppins to more recent pairings, Andrews turned to side stage, and with her impeccable timing, quelled the audience’s tears of sympathy for Ludwig, who has battled back from a horrific accident.

(L to R) ICG President Steven Poster, ASC, Arlene Ludwig, Julie Andrews, Jodie Foster

“Now, Arlene, get your blooming ass up here!” Andrews joyously shouted.

“It was the highlight of the event,” Hawn recalled. “When Arlene came out [with her walker], the sheer joy it produced among her colleagues was beyond emotional and memorable. Hollywood never disappoints in it’s ability to support it’s own when the chips are down and we are needed.”

Ludwig’s award wasn’t the only time attendees were reminded of the importance of recognizing those who have made long-term contributions. The 2012 Showmanship Award winners were acknowledged for the enduring strength it takes to helm the blockbuster film franchises and hit series that are the foundations of a successful industry.

Oscar nominee Gary Oldman said that David Heyman (producer of Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter franchise) deserved the Motion Picture Showmanship Award because he “represents the best example of what can be accomplished with creative and smart publicity and promotion.” [Silbermann called Heyman “the nicest producer in the business.”]

Actor Josh Charles (The Good Wife) introduced Television Showmanship Award winner David Stapf, President, CBS Television Studios. Charles traced Stapf’s career, acknowledging that his success was do in part to his background as an elementary school teacher and former publicist.

Les Mason Award winner Tony Angellotti and Bridesmaids' Wendi McLendon-Covey

“I’d trust him with my life,” Charles said. “He has that dead calm. I’ve never heard him yell. And that’s a tribute to the man who carries the pressure of the most-watched television dramas, NCIS, CSI and The Good Wife.”

Bridesmaids’ Kali Hawk presented this year’s Bob Yeager Award (which acknowledges a publicist’s community service efforts) to Sharon Black, whose extra-ordinary work on behalf of animals generated a crescendo of applause.

There were also a few surprises. When Tony Angellotti was presented with the Les Mason Award (the highest honor paid to a union publicist) by another Bridesmaids star, Wendi McLendon-Covey, fellow nominee Rob Harris texted back from his U.K. location that, “it is about time!”

The presentations for excellence in Unit Still Photography highlighted the extremely high quality of work in that category. Maria Canals-Barrera (Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place) presented the award to Frank Masi in the Motion Picture Category and to Hopper Stone in television. While Masi was on location, Stone took the stage to talk about his determination to succeed, as he went from day shooter to covering such highly watched shows as Modern Family.

Bob Yeager Award winner Sharon Black, Motion Picture Showman of the Year Award winner David Heyman

That groundbreaking comedy series was also honored with the Maxwell Weinberg Publicists Showmanship Award for the best television publicity campaign. After McManus presented the award to the Fox team behind Modern Family, he gave out the feature publicity award to the team behind Disney’s Oscar-nominated drama, The Help.

Each year The Publicists Guild honors the media that works with their members to promote the entertainment industry throughout the world. Missi Pyle, from the 2012 Best Picture winner, The Artist, presented the Press Award to Susan King of the Los Angeles Times. “Susan is someone who captures the magic of Hollywood in her reporting while demonstrating her understanding and appreciation of its history,” Plyle noted in the lead-in to the award. Oscar nominee Max Von Sydow presented the International Media Award to Elaine Lipworth of the United Kingdom, saying that, “the international media, particularly those based in Los Angeles, play an increasingly important role in creating awareness for American-made movies. It’s appropriate that we honor them here.”

Walt Disney Pictures marketing team, Feature Publicity Award winner, The Help

As McManus closed out the afternoon, attendees raced for goodie bags filled with L’Oreal products, Carol Burnett’s classic television comedy skits, and DVDs from 2011’s most popular features. Waiting together for their cars at the valet station, it was clear the family vibe was still in full bloom. Old-line publicists mingled with first timers, discussing highlights and speculating on next year’s nominees.

When asked what stood out most about the event, Local 600 stills photographer Jennifer Clasen, a first time attendee, enthused about the camaraderie, and noted how carefully crafted the event seemed to be without being overly manipulated. Instead of matching presenters with categories in a helter-skelter style, “what struck me was that the clips for all honorees were well thought out and personal and there was a personal relationship with honoree and winner,” Clasen said. “That was really special.”