Remember a relentless publicist, never too proud to beg

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Updated 44 minutes ago

NEW YORK (AP) – About 15 years ago, while working on an article for the famous Page Six column of the New York Post, I needed a little perspective on the gossip industry.

So I looked for Bobby Zarem, who by then had spent over 30 years as a tireless and relentless entertainment publicist, with a client list that read like a Who’s Who of a certain era: Cher, Diana Ross, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Costner, Michael Douglas, Ann-Margret, Al Pacino, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and more.

Zarem explained the delicate dance of placing gossip articles – how one grease the wheels by offering juicy treats unrelated to one’s customers, just to keep the door open. “If you’re smart,” he said, “it’s never discussed. But he told me that even this strategy doesn’t always work, and sometimes you just have to beg.

How, I asked, do you do this? He patiently replied, “Literally. I say: ‘I’m begging you’!

Zarem might have been proud, but for his clients, never too proud to beg.

Robert Myron “Bobby” Zarem died Sunday at age 84, a decade after leaving a beloved city, New York, for the other, his native Savannah, Georgia, where he spent his last days at home, surrounded by friends and family. His longtime colleague Bill Augustin said the cause was complications from lung cancer.

Never a household name to audiences, but a legendary figure to many entertainment insiders, he has earned a number of colorful descriptions over the years: Superflack. Public relations caption. Storyteller. New York Booster. Never forget a friend – and certainly not an enemy. Nurses hold a grudge.

Perhaps former tabloid gossip writer Joannna Molloy put it in the most colorful way: Zarem, she said, was “more connected than a set of Deluxe Lego.”

In an interview this week, Molloy described Zarem in a way that made her analogy, which she first coined in the ’90s, doubly meaningful. Lego bricks are connected, yes, but if you’ve ever tried cleaning a child’s room, you know they’re very difficult to take apart as well. And Zarem, she said, was much more than superficially connected to the stars. “He was really friends with these people – Michael Caine, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson,” she said. “They were real friendships.”

For Pacino, Zarem was also a role model – which means he played a role modeled after Zarem; a disheveled and tireless publicist with a southern drawl in the 2002 film aptly titled “People I Know”.

“Sometimes an actor is fortunate enough to get to know the person they play in a movie firsthand,” Pacino told The Associated Press this week through his publicist, Stan Rosenfield. “I was lucky. I got to know Bobby Zarem.

Zarem’s client list has become so mixed up with his friend list that it’s hard to separate them. A statement from the Gamble funeral service in Savannah described them all as friends, also including Lauren Bacall, Catherine Deneuve, Audrey Hepburn, Mick Jagger, Gregory Peck, George Segal and Christy Turlington.

Zarem wasn’t just a people booster; he was devoted to his two cities. He helped launch and promote the Savannah Film Festival, sending endless arguments and invitations filled with benefits to attract the media. And he worked to make the city a tourist destination thanks to the fame of John Berendt’s 1994 detective novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”.

But New York was the setting for what Zarem considered his greatest triumph, often describing how, he said, he came up with the slogan “I Love New York”. Others played a key role in the famous advertising campaign. But Zarem told the AP in 2010 that he had the original idea, after which an advertising company added the “heart” logo.

Fittingly, the anecdote involved Elaine’s former celebrity hangout on the Upper East Side, which he frequented religiously. “I was walking home from Elaine’s on a Saturday night,” he said. “You could have rolled a coin down the street and no one would have stopped it. The city was dying. Something has to be done. ”And that’s how the idea was born, as he put it.

He was known as much for his own star-studded birthday gatherings as he was for events like the lavish “Tommy” movie night, starring client Ann-Margret, for which a downtown Manhattan subway station was purchased. .

He also praised himself for introducing Woody Allen and Mia Farrow – before it became something better denied. It was also Elaine’s, of course.

Born in Savannah on September 30, 1936, Robert Myron Zarem dated Andover then Yale, and briefly worked in finance before going into advertising with producer Joe Levine and then the public relations firm Rogers & Cowan. He founded his own company in 1974.

He stayed in New York when others could have moved to Hollywood. Molloy attributes this in part to an instinct for what would best serve his customers: “He understood that the New York tabloids were running the morning shows. “

Zarem was also a big fan of opera and theater. “Music and the theater supported him,” said Molloy, who like many in media and entertainment was counted among his good friends. (Disclosure: After introducing Zarem in 2010 at his farewell party in New York City, I got to know him through close friends in Savannah, sharing a few meals, and being part of a galaxy of acquaintances.)

Zarem’s gracious and disheveled manners belied not only a will of steel, but also a propensity to hold a grudge. He quarreled, bitterly, with the late columnist Liz Smith. And there were others – even the funeral home’s statement noted that “his many quarrels were the stuff of legend”, and also that “profanity and withered slurs” were part of its arsenal.

And Richard Johnson of the New York Post told Zarem’s farewell party how he once received a furious call from the publicist, after a gossip article was delayed, “a scathing tirade, full of so many words. of four letters she would make a sailor blushed.

One would imagine that in nearly half a century as a publicist in New York City, Zarem could have had an anecdote about a certain Donald J. Trump. We wouldn’t be wrong.

Zarem told South Magazine about a Trump call in the real estate years. “He called me in August or September 1978. It was six months after the launch of the ‘I Love New York’ campaign,” he said. because of you.'”

“I haven’t thought about it much,” Zarem added.

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Associated Press writer Michael Warren in Atlanta contributed to this story.


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