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Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, United Press International   |   Nov. 8, 2001 at 5:18 PM   |   Comments

HOLLYWOOD, Nov. 8 (UPI) -- The evolution of press agents, Tinseltown's spin doctors, has turned media access to the stars upside-down.

It's almost impossible for reporters to approach, say, Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts, unless they are personal friends.

When it comes to that, press agents make it amply clear that making friends with a reporter is not de rigueur.

It might be better to buddy up with Osama.

There was a time 50 years ago when press agents were personae non grata anyplace, except those publicists hired by studios and networks to work in-house providing publicity for the pretty people.

Free-lance personal press agents, or "publicists" or "public relations representatives," as they preferred to be called, were not allowed on studio lots without specific permission of the studios' publicity chiefs.

These sachems thoroughly controlled the news, gossip, dalliances, antics and crimes of the acting livestock under contract to the studios.

Moreover, the publicity bosses often contrived many a romance -- say, Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens, by inventing secret trysts and weekends in 'Vegas.

Among these powerful men, inventors of original spin were such respected, highly paid men as Harry Brand (20th Century-Fox), Howard Strickling (MGM), Perry Lieber (RKO), Norman Siegal (Paramount), Sam Israel (Universal) and Charlie Einfeld (Warner Bros.).

It was the unlimited power and brilliance of these men that encouraged politicians to hire spin doctors to prevent them from sounding like idiots.

To this day, spin doctors are essential to pols, writing speeches and bon mots to make our elected officials sound literate if not articulate.

A 1951 interview with a United Press columnist is illustrative of the off-hand authority of a publicity chief.

This example involved Harry Brand, guardian of all things printable at Fox.

One of his bright minions, John Campbell, arranged an interview for Mickey Rooney, who was starring in a picture at the studio.

It was agreed the reporter would meet Campbell in the Fox administrative building and proceed to the set to interview the pint-sized Rooney.

However, later in the day Warren Cowan -- lately made a partner in the publicity firm of Rogers & Cowan -- called the columnist saying, "I'll see you on the set tomorrow with our client Mickey Rooney."

The columnist agreed only to receive a telephone call from Brand the next morning.

"What's this about having Rooney's flack with him during your interview?" Brand asked with a friendly laugh.

The columnist replied, "Yeah, Warren Cowan said he would meet me on the set."

The ever-genial Brand said smoothly, "I'm terribly sorry, but we have a rule against outside press agents coming on the lot. You'll have to interview Rooney somewhere else or forget about it entirely."

The columnist called Cowan and explained the dilemma.

Unfailingly a gentleman and always conscious of his clients' best interests, Cowan said, "Heck, go ahead with your interview and I'll see you another time. Thanks."

Today Cowan and every other publicist in town with a client working at a movie or TV studio, or on local locations, is free to wander onto a set at will.

Perhaps the most respected publicity executive in all of Hollywood, Cowan and his companies have provided the town with some of it's best publicists, producers and studio executives.

He continues to be one of the most effective press agents in the business.

This month Los Angeles magazine published a story about Cowan's legendary career, some of his exploits that have made his clients rich, famous and often beloved, e.g. Paul Newman.

In his half-century of publicizing performers and other Hollywood icons, Cowan has maintained a close relationship with the media.

Long ago he adopted the aphorism, "Clients come and go, but the media is always with you."

He has never been known to purposely mislead the inquiring media or waffle on an important story. He is an artist at juggling the best interests of a star and members of the press.

Today Cowan is one of the few independent press agents who is not at war with the media. There are some others: Henri Bollinger, Jerry Pam, Linda Dozoretz and Dick Guttman to name a few.

Many of the big, powerful Hollywood press agents and their companies have been absorbed by huge business conglomerates obscuring individual publicists.

One of the best of them, John Springer, died this month at age 85 after a long, distinguished career handling the public relations of major stars.

Springer, who once worked with Cowan, helped invent the burgeoning, relatively new industry of publicity.

Like Cowan, Springer was a gentleman, well-educated, quiet spoken, effective and inventive. Unlike many of today's press agents he never sought to control the public and private lives of his clients.

The good ones simply represent the stars' points of view, making them look very good in the process.

© 2001 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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