Pauline Rogers reports back from a wild (and wet) Beverly Hilton for the 51st Annual Publicists Guild Awards
L.A.’s messiest rainstorm in the last three years (and the only drenching of this drought-stricken winter) could not keep me from my assignment to cover the 51st Annual Publicists Guild, featuring Lifetime Achievement honoree Jerry Lewis – a star I’ve always admired for his passion and charitable causes. I was also excited to see which of my many friends in publicity would take home honors for their work this year.
A rockslide on Pacific Coast Highway meant I had to brave the freeway (terrifying during L.A.’s first rainstorm of the season). As I sloshed through the rivers, I checked in with different friends.
What table are you at?
“39,” texted Stan Rosenfield.
“30” buzzed Michael Singer.
Good old Siri told them I’d find my way.
I arrived at the event’s long-time venue, The Beverly Hilton, with surprising ease and walked into the lobby that had no press line. “We’re at the wrong hotel!” I heard a friend yell. The parking valets were merciful, declining to charge us. As I took the turn out of Merv Griffin Boulevard I heard “Ditzbrain” rattling around in my head – it was one of the kinder names Merv called me over the ten years I worked as his in-house publicist.
Fortunately it was a short drive to the event’s new location, the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Pouring rain and 20 minutes later in the valet line, I heard the woman behind me (I think she said she was from Warner Bros.) say, “Thank You. My blood pressure was about to blow, and then I saw your license plate. Just Breathe. It did the trick.”
And so did the atmosphere inside this stunning ‘Old Hollywood’ style palace, where glamour has been in place for countless generations (and hopefully many more). I paid my $18 for parking (thankfully, reimbursed by the Guild) and tried to identify faces in the crowd. My memory library still works the old-fashioned way, a clip at a time, unable to keep pace with the publicist’s modern friend, Google Search. Relief came when I saw publicist Rick Markovitz. (I checked the nametag hanging around his neck, just to be sure). And we both laughed about weather, and change of venue, we agreed it promised to be a great event.
I nearly walked right past my friend, New Mexico-based Unit Stills photographer Ursula Coyote, nominated in the Television category. Publicist Wolf Schneider, also in from Sante Fe was laughing: “the biggest downpour of the winter with mudslides in the canyons,” she said. “But that hardly could stop publicists from showing up en masse.”
Publicist Stan Rosenfield commented on how beautiful the hotel was, and I took a moment to thank Stan, who generously gave of his time for my February Tales From The Red Carpet Web Exclusive.
“Elegant venue with a nice, classic Hollywood feeling appropriate for honoring those who help bring Hollywood to the world,” publicist Michael Singer said, as we laughed that we’ve been friends for years, and have seen each other, maybe, three or four times. “It’s the one time in which publicists and unit photographers – who devote their lives and careers to promoting others – let the spotlight shine on them,” Michael told me.
“These events are more like family reunions,” John Shaffner (Production Designer, Chairman of the Art Directors Council Local 800, and past President of the Television Academy) added a few moments later as we walked toward the massive ballroom. “It gives us all a chance in our various Guilds to take a moment and enjoy our respective communities. The ICG is doing us proud,” he beamed.
When I finally sat down, I couldn’t believe my luck. Sitting next to me was Tommy Cole, famous for being one Disney’s original Mouseketeers. However, the Tommy I knew used to throw M.A.C. make up products at me every time I passed him while I was writing television at Universal. I could, again, laughingly tell him I curse him every time I now have to walk into a M.A.C. store and pay for the addiction he started years ago.
Henri Bollinger, Publicists Guild President and Event Co-Chair (with Tim Menke), was elegant and understated as always, even when challenged by a faulty sound system. Ever the class act, Henri spent a moment talking about recently passed icons of the Publicists Guild: Julian Myers, A.C. Lyles and Eddie Michaels. Then everyone’s favorite moment began – a video of publicists (this year it was Michael Singer, Spookie Stevens and Jean Craft) reminiscing about their craft.
Singer’s memory of the first time he saw Johnny Depp come out in full Jack Sparrow character and the lift home one of his movie’s stars gave him so he could see his family, 3000 miles on a private jet, were quite engaging. Spookie Stevens recalled the outrageous fun she had on the Ocean’s film – and how Julia Roberts was responsible for getting her involved in the Make a Wish Foundation, which changed her life forever.
These memories were followed by a video from talk show host, Jimmy Kimmel. The message was simple and effective: a slow pullout from Kimmel at his desk on set to an empty chair, followed with: “This is what my show would be like without [publicists].”
Josh Gad, the voice of Olaf, in the highest grossing animated feature of all time, Frozen, introduced a video highlighting 90 years of Disney animated films and television. Gad presented a plaque to Walt Disney Animation Studios Executive Vice President Andrew Millstein, who called his company, “a work in progress,” that was “founded by artists and run by artists.” Millstein thanked all publicists for their help over the years, paying special tribute to the Guild’s own Tony Angelotti for his unique contributions.
A subdued Local 600 President, Steven Poster, then took the podium, and announced with a meaningful pause: “How many went to the Hilton first?” As the laughter subsided, Poster shifted abruptly to call for a moment of silence to remember Local 600 camera assistant Sarah Jones, whose tragic death on the Georgia set of Midnight Rider has galvanized a global film industry toward increased safety awareness.
Without a host for this year’s luncheon, it was left to voice over artist Sirena Irwin (I Love Lucy, Live on Stage) to move things along over the P.A. system. First up was Entertainment Tonight’s Linda Bell Blue (now President of the new Entertainment Tonight Studios) to receive the President’s Award. Blue’s joyous acceptance was a tough act to follow, unless you happen to be former honoree Carol Burnett, warmly introducing her longtime friend, Jerry Lewis, as this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
In her introduction, Burnett took us through her days as a teenager at Hollywood High School, and the first time she saw Lewis in a movie (My Friend Irma), before, ten years later, locking eyeballs with the famed comic on the set of The Gary Moore Show. Her final line, “it has been a joy to play in the sandbox with my long-time friend Jerry Lewis” was the perfect segue.
Remarkably spry well into his eighth decade, Lewis danced lightly across the stage to recall memories of why he was such an outstanding physical comic. “For someone who has been open about his feelings of the press, it’s a miracle that I am receiving this,” he began. “But I know what you do, and I respect what you do.” Fifteen minutes later, the audience was still fighting back tears of laughter from Lewis’ impromptu comic routine/acceptance. The man is a true icon in any sense of the word.
Next up was Tony Goldwyn’s presentation to Shonda Rhimes, creator, writer and producer of Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal, with the Television Showmanship Award. Both Frank Kay (J.L. Fisher) a long time friend sitting on my left and Tommy Cole shot me knowing looks as I smiled at Rhimes’ opening comment: “Writers don’t like being looked at, seen or talked to – they want to write.” Yet, Rhimes’ added, “my publicist Chris Dilorio, lectures me, yells at me, makes me do things I don’t want, and even holds my purse because it’s good for me. That’s what a good publicist and friend does.”
The Twitter universe was on fire when Shailene Woodley and Theo James, the popular young stars of Divergent, came out to present Rob Friedman and Patrick Wachsberger, co-chairs of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, with the Showmen of the Year Award. Applause for the duo (their award was preceded by a hilarious satire filmed at the Lionsgate offices) was loud and heartfelt, perhaps only slightly topped when Jacqueline Bisset came out to present Michael Singer with the Les Mason Award.
Singer profusely thanked Guild members, his family, and pioneers of his craft who have gone before (like Julian Myers). Then he took a moment to echo Poster’s memorial about the preventable death of Sarah Jones. After the event was over, I spoke to another mutual friend, publicist Sandy O’Neill, about Michael’s words on the podium.
“Michael’s tribute to Sarah during his acceptance speech was beautiful and heartfelt, and a reminder that no shot or sequence is worth risking the safety of the crew. Period,” O’Neill said.
Let’s see – what I have left out? JoBeth Williams was short, sweet and to the point as she presented Scott Mantz of Access Hollywood with the Press Award. Theo Kingma (president of the Hollywood Foreign Press) awarded Phil Berk the International Media Award. Finola Hughes presented the Maxwell Weinberg Award for Best Publicity Campaign (Feature) to Warner Bros.’ Gravity team (Jade Alex, Sharon Black, Cecilia Caldron, Mark Capaldi, Deva Cervera, Julie Cole, Melissa Crow, Justine Gamez, Mary Hunter, Kimberly Lerner, Jesse Mesa, Maureen O’Malley, Paulette Osorio, Emily Patt, Orna Pickens, Susan Shapiro, Gina Soliz and Lisa Stone). And the Television award went to American Horror Story: Coven from FX (Matthew Mitchell).
They say one photo is worth more than 1000 words. But I kept thinking: how do you sum up a photographer’s contribution to a project in a single image? Rob Steinberg (12 Years a Slave) presented this year’s Excellence in Still Photography Award for Motion Pictures to Peter Mountain, while Michael Yarish took home the same honor for Television. Working my way toward the “goodie bag” table, I heard someone lament that nothing was mentioned about (nominated) still photographer John Bramley’s death? I took solace in knowing ICG Magazine did a Set Diary with John before his untimely passing.
As for the ever-popular take-home swag bag, it included DVDs of Mary Poppins (the Disney publicity team was nominated for Saving Mr. Banks), Jerry Lewis in The Jazz Singer, a rare television drama early in the comic’s career, and the first season of on Scandal (which I’m sure I’ll get hooked on). Waiting for my car during yet another downpour, I burst out laughing: inside the bag was also some L’Oreal Miracle Blur Eye Smoother. Ah, Hollywood vanity.
Although the crush of the valet crowd brought back Shonda Rhimes’ thoughts about writers preferring to hide, I did catch up with a few other wet guests. First-time attendee Marj Galas (Variety/411 publishing) praised the support publicists share.
“They spoke honestly of their colleagues’ achievements and the hard work the nominees have exhibited,” Galas told me. “It was apparent to me that Guild members are proud of the long standing traditions they have and the fact that their award show is one of the oldest in Hollywood.”
I may be biased, having worked this side of the tracks. But in a business that is often brutal and self-serving, I find it miraculous that Publicists, spin doctors, really, who have to juggle hot potatoes at every turn, can still keep their cool, do their jobs, and have fun, all the while helping each other to remain sane and successful. As for how long it finally took for the valet to deliver my car (and the rain to stop), that’s something even for which the amazing gifts of publicists aren’t much help.