HOLLYWOOD, April 1 (UPI) -- Press agents are low men on the totem pole, somewhere between gofer and personal analyst, sure to catch hell one way or another.
Press agents, who prefer the respectable-sounding "publicist" or antiquated "media representative," lead a precarious lives.
They deal with two hostile classes of people: tyrannical stars (entertainment royalty) and misguided media mavens with overblown ideas of self-importance.
Both consider press agents to be heralds of puffery.
Unfortunately, the stars and media often are correct in their appraisal of publicity men and women.
However, press agents themselves are responsible for the thinly veiled contempt dumped on them by movieland power brokers, stars, reporters and columnists.
A flack's principal responsibility is to his or her paying clients -- performers, directors, producers et al. They are paid to keep clients in the public eye, often making silk purses from sow's ears.
They plant stories in newspapers, magazines, TV shows and radio, extolling clients in terms approaching deities.
The press agent's job is to make the client look a saint when he punches a photographer (a Nazi or worse), uses abrasive language in public, belittles a "little person" or is drunk and disorderly in public.
In past years flacks even shielded clients from outright criminal activity, drug usage, wife-beating and not a few caught red-handed in love nests.
In some respects it's a job most persons wouldn't wish on Yasser Arafat.
They frequently are vilified by the very stars who pay them as much as $5,000 or more a month and by the media who contemptuously reject their stories.
In the face of wrath heaped upon them by clients and the media, the successful flack continues to smile and ingratiate himself with arrogant client and hostile reporter.
Their revenge is to withhold legitimate stories.
God help the publicist if a story twists a pro-star puff into an excoriating denunciation.
Invariably, the insecure press agent is caught in the middle of two giant egos, both determined to humiliate the unfortunate go-between.
Thus the press agent finds himself in a spot you wouldn't give to a Dalmatian let alone a leopard.
It was, therefore, astonishing when one of these besieged masters of publicity diplomacy was honored as Hollywood's Mentor of The Year this month for his service to the industry.
What? A press agent!
Indeed, he is Warren Cowan, perhaps the most successful and admired publicist in the skewed galaxy of Hollywood flackery.
Always a gentleman with more than 50 years of serving some of Hollywood's biggest stars, Cowan inevitably maintains a genial attitude, fortitude in the face of disaster, and a peaceful and respected relationship with the press, TV, radio and gossip columnists.
Cowan's salute at the Beverly Hilton Hotel's International Ballroom was attended by more than 1,000 friends and admirers.
The banquet committee included some of Tinseltown's greatest names: Bob Hope, Shirley MacLaine, Lauren Bacall, Tony Bennett, Candice Bergen, Pat Boone, Melissa Gilbert and Bruce Boxleitner, Janet Leigh, Red Buttons, Tony Danza, Liza Minnelli, Anjelica Huston, Garry Marshall, Wayne Newton, Regis Philbin, Carl Reiner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Connie Stevens and Michael Douglas.
The cavernous ballroom was filled with press agents of all kinds, many of them who owe their careers to Cowan when his first company, Rogers & Cowan, was the largest, most successful publicity office in town.
Since Rogers' death many years ago, Cowan has formed his own successful company to continue representing major stars and personalities in Hollywood.
Even members of the media attended in formal dress to pay homage to Cowan as they would not think of doing for any other press agents under any circumstances.
Essentially a shy, deferential man, Cowan historically has remained in the background, inevitably leaving his clients in the limelight while he hovered near by.
But this night he was honored by filmed and taped praise from Newman and Taylor while MacLaine and former employees spoke of his accomplishments.
His daughter Claudia, whose mother is actress Barbara Rush, extolled her father's dedication to his work and the community at large.
Cowan, who has maintained a non-political stature, has befriended Presidents Truman, Clinton, Reagan, Ford and Bush.
He has given his time and expertise to uncounted charities and such national organizations as The United Way volunteers in the entertainment industry.
Cowan has been honored by the Scott Newman Center promoting drug education programs and the Volunteers of America.
One thing more: Cowan has raised the bar for press agents in Hollywood's house of hucksters.