The 48th Annual Publicists Guild Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. By Pauline Rogers. Photos courtesy of Mathew Imaging.
Despite the usual L.A. gridlock, made even more difficult because of this winter’s almost unending rain, The Beverly Hilton Hotel was packed with more than 800 of Hollywood’s busiest publicity and marketing executives, producers, studio and network executives, celebrities and media, on Friday, February 25th, for the 48th Annual Publicists Guild Awards. The event, which typically comes two days before the Oscars, has come to symbolize the casual breeziness of a non-televised, industry-only luncheon that the Academy Awards began as decades ago.Awards Committee Chair Henri Bollinger kicked off the afternoon with a gracious and class-filled welcome, quickly followed by a reflective moment of recognition for those publicity members who had passed away in this previous year. The tribute included a touching video salute to legendary publicist Ronni Chasen, killed last year in a drive-by shooting that shook the Hollywood film and TV community to its core. Local 600 President Steven Poster, ASC, made his way to the podium and, forgoing his usual opening speech, called everyone’s attention to the huge video screens behind and to the sides of the stage. As Poster skillfully provided narration, attendees were treated to images of a little boy in a sailor’s outfit, followed by a young man in a spiffy suit, and finally shots of another publicity icon who needed no introduction.
“For the man who has spent most of his life getting recognition for others, it’s high time we do something for Henri Bollinger,” Poster said, his words nearly drowned out by the thunderous applause. And, in what became just one of many delightful surprises throughout the day, the ever-articulate event chair returned to the podium, obviously brimming with emotion, to accept a special award for his three continuous decades (without fail) helming the event.
“He’s in a class by himself. Every Guild member has been positively affected by Henri’s work. Multiple generations of publicists have benefited from it. I hope everyone in the industry is aware of his amazing and selfless contributions. Because of Henri, the Publicist’s Guild is taken VERY seriously,”
– Pam Golum, President of Entertainment, The Lippen Group
When Bollinger regained his customary aplomb (and the standing ovation finally died down), he turned everyone’s attention to the 2011 Publicist’s Guild Directory, dedicated this year to yet another publicity icon, 55-year member Murray Weissman. As Weissman made his way to the stage, the screens again came alive, this time with tributes from his peers.
“He’s one of the unsung heroes, a combination of campaign strategist and one of the friendliest guys in town,” observed Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein. Former Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president Sid Ganis said that although that members of the Academy “could never be influenced” during Oscar season, Weisman was one publicist who had the ability to “suggest.” John Shaftner said Weissman brought the Academy “into the new age of marketing.”
“I’ve been through everything from Jack LaLanne to Mark Wahlberg, Donna Reed to Mad Men, Rooster Cogburn to True Grit,” Weissman said upon receiving his honor, “and my two words of wisdom: ‘Never lie to the press. And two martinis are goo, but three are better!’”
“That was the highlight for me. Murray has a history of post 1950’s publicity. We can learn a lot from him.”
– Unit Publicist and 2011 Award Nominee Rob Harris
How do you follow an act like Weissman? How about a video tribute to Entertainment Tonight, which turns 30 this year, and host Mary Hart, who is leaving the show after being the face of the television news program for nearly its entire three decades? In fact, one of the day’s funniest moments came when Hart (via video) asked veteran publicists about their own career highs and lows. The answers were honest and revealing. Everything from informing a famous singing duo they would have to give their Grammys back (for lip-synching), to having a client ask for the words to the National Anthem she was booked to sing later that evening.
After the tributes, Entertainment Tonight’s Mark Steines and Kevin Fraizer took the stage as the official hosts. The pair engaged in sharp interpersonal banter, before introducing a surprise visitor – former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – to present Sylvester Stallone with the Lifetime Achievement Award. The action star-turned-politico confessed that the smartest thing he’d done when he came to the U.S. in 1968 was to get health insurance, and hire a publicist.
“I am where I am in my career and my life because of publicists – in politics we call them communications directors but they are the same thing,” the Terminator said. He then added on a few more thoughts about how the constant competition between he and Stallone was a boon for both of their careers.
As for the guy who made a career out of playing Rocky Balboa, he kept things short and light. “We can’t even get our relatives, the people we support, to go to a movie,” Stallone bemoaned. “Yet [publicists] get out there and sell it. You pick us up and soldier on.” Stallone singled out publicists, like Schwarzenegger’s former communications director Cheryl Main, admitting they work “a hell of a lot harder than I do, to make us look better than we deserve.”
“The Publicists Awards Luncheon has been a staple for many years and it’s an opportunity for publicists, journalists and guest to get together and celebrate what the publicists do year in and year out; also to recognize individual achievements as well as salute the most deserving filmmakers, stars, industry movers and shakers.”
– Arlene Ludwig, West Coast Publicity Director, The Walt Disney Studios
The Les Mason Award, which recognizes a career of the highest standard of professionalism, produced even more surprises. Michelle Monaghan began her speech honoring Viewpoint, Inc. owner Jennifer Allen with a comment that people always tell her Monaghan she has “the best publicist.” The young star’s carefully chosen words were interrupted by a slightly exhausted Matt Damon, who shuffled onto the stage in his bathrobe with his hair wildly unkempt. Damon’s deadpan delivery got the laugh he intended, as he admitted it was the first event in 15 years that “Jen didn’t organize. I was supposed to get a suit, hair and makeup! I had to drive myself.”
“I loved that Matt Damon showed up to support Jennifer Allen, as George Clooney did for Stan Rosenfeld last year. It says a lot about how talent feel about their publicists,”
Publicist Vivian Boyer, backstage
An ecstatic Allen, soaring from the dual surprise of the award and her star clients onstage, called the honor her “half- lifetime achievement award.” She graciously thanked her staff, the people in the industry, and those who understand that she takes her job very seriously.
When it came time to present the Television Showman of the Year Award, the one-liners kept flying. That was not a surprise; given that the presenters were Glee and Modern Family show-runners Ryan Murphy and Steve Levitan, and the recipients were Co-chairs of 20th Century Fox Television Dana Walden and Gary Newman. Levitan, who said he signed his Fox deal “because the studio was much closer to his house than Disney,” quickly got serious, recognizing the pair as “the quintessential television showmen who couldn’t be more deserving of the award. “They let us tell the story the way we know how, encourage us, support us in success and failure, and foster a wonderful relationship between a show’s creators and stars,” Murphy added.
Both Walden and Newman attributed their successes to their backgrounds. As a former publicist who sat in the audience of the Guild Awards for many years, Walden knew “the industry from the other side.” And, as a former attorney, Newman admits he had been a “little closed off” from the creative element, until publicists “opened my eyes” and showed how an audience’s “long term engagement in a show is the indicator of success.” They both admitted just how much they enjoyed what they do because of the people they work with.
So did John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and Principal Creative Advisor, Walt Disney Imagineering. In introducing him, actress Bonnie Hunt (the voice of Sally Carrera from Cars) said that the animated mogul’s success is because his work “touches the heart and soul so deeply.” Self-effacing and ever-humble, Lasseter captured the audience with stories of how he really began to understand how the characters he’d helped create took root in the imagination of children everywhere.
“I remember going to movies with kids, and seeing parents bored to death,” Lasseter recounted. “I’ve wanted to say, ‘give me my two hours back, and we’ll go to a jungle gym.’ I vowed I would never do that to parents. I make movies for parents who can stand going to a movie for the 100th time.” He also said he understands the tough job publicists do and promises that he “will answer the same question over and over, as if it were his first time.”
Jacqueline Bissett, and John Bernthal and Trish Adlesic (producer and director of the Oscar nominated documentary Gasland) and Pam Golum, President of Entertainment, The Lippin Group, presented additional honors. They included the Press Award, which went to Geoff Bocher of The Los Angeles Times, who was quoted as saying that “we live in a culture of insult and I’m proud that I work in a place with a culture of insight.” The International Media Award went to Jose Ignacio Cuenca of Spain and Stevie Wong of Asia Regional. The Bob Yeager Award, honoring a publicist for community service, went to Rosalind Jarrett, publicist for the SAG Awards. The Maxwell Weinberg Publicist Showmanship Award for Television was presented to the publicists who worked on The Big Bang Theory and the Award for Best Movie Campaign went to the publicists at Sony/Columbia for their work on the Oscar-winning The Social Network. Excellence in Unit Still Photography Award for Movies went to Steven Vaughn and for Television to Danny Feld.
“This year was the best Publicists luncheon I have attended. The fun of surprising Henri Bollinger with his own award topped off a wonderful afternoon.”
Local 600 President Steven Poster, ASC