Saturday, November 24, 2007


Paul Wasserman, Press Agent and Friend

by Wayne Robins

Paul Wasserman, the erudite press representative to a long roster of rock and movie stars, died in Los Angeles at age 73, according to an obituary in the New York Times. Wasso, as he was universally known, was an anomaly among PR people, in that he not only used writers to garner ink for his clients: He nurtured writers, and I was one of them.

I met Wasso in the early 1970s while I was living in New York and freelancing mostly for Creem and the Village Voice. The L.A.-based Wasso came to town to bring a handful of writers up to West Point to see James Taylor perform at the United States Military Academy. The Vietnam War was still on, and longhairs like Taylor were in short supply at West Point. The event had a built-in human interest angle, and I wrote a short piece for Creem about it.

It was well after midnight when the limo returned us to Manhattan, and neither Wasso nor I had eaten. We went to Broadway's Carnegie Deli. At one point, we heard a man near the cash register shouting "Robber! Thief!" It was comedian Henny Youngman, gesturing at his bill.

Not long after, in late 1975, I became the pop music writer for Newsday. While other press agents placed a Manhattan premium on exposure for their artists (New York Newsday did not emerge until 1985), Wasso knew that Newsday's then substantial circulation (circa 550,000), affluent Long Island readership and ownership by Times Mirror (then publisher of the Los Angeles Times) was beneficial to his clients. Until I gave up the music beat in 1994, Wasso and I had a mutual appreciation society, and without him, it is unlikely that I or my paper would have gotten priority access to the Rolling Stones, U2, Linda Ronstadt, Jack Nicholson, the Who, Tom Petty and many other stars at the pinnacle of show business.

I never had to pitch him: He would just call me up. Did I want to come to Toronto to interview Ronstadt? To Los Angeles, when Keith Richard was launching a solo album, or U2 was finishing the editing on the film "Rattle & Hum"? To Birmingham, Ala., to see the Stones' "Steel Wheels" tour before it got to New York? (Newsday, of course, paid for all the travels.)

Being friendly with Wasso occasionally allowed me to mystify my editors with a celebrity interview coup. Jack Nicholson was spending some time in Boston, attending the NBA finals between the Celtics and the Lakers. There was a gap between games, Wasso told me on the phone, and Nicholson had some free time. Did I want to get together with Nicholson in New York in a day or so? The film company rushed a screening of "Prizzi's Honor" for me. Since movies weren't ordinarily my beat, I called my editor and asked if we were interested in a Nicholson feature. There was a brief silence on the line. One of our movie writers had already requested a Nicholson interview and been rebuffed by the film company's PR people. When asked where I got the clout to land Nicholson on my own, I just smiled.

"Prizzi's Honor" remains my favorite mob farce, but at the time, Nicholson was anxious about its appeal. In the interview, he recounted for me a conversation he had on the set with director John Huston. Nicholson was not yet comfortable in his role as the dim mobster Charley Partana. "People are going to laugh at this scene," Nicholson complained to Huston. The director put his bearish arm around Nicholson and said, "that's alright Jack. It's a comedy."

Unfortunately, Wasso's private life wasn't always that humorous, and in 2000, according to the Times, he was arrested and later sentenced to 6 months in jail and $87,000 in restitution for defrauding investors—using the names of some of his celebrated clients—in a phony financial scheme. A recovering alcoholic for many years, I am told that Wasso helped a number of fellow inmates get sober during his incarceration. That he would do his time in a constructive and positive manner was no surprise to me at all: Without his friendship and generosity, my career would not have been as successful as it has been. For that relationship with Paul Wasserman, I will always have gratitude.

Google News

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Movies Rock, the Magazine

by Wayne Robins

This month 14 Condé Nast magazine's are going out to subscribers bundled with a supplement called Movies Rock, a stand-alone publication with a great cover shot of Bill Murray posing as Elvis, complete with "mutton-chopped equipped wig." The editor of the supplement is Mitch Glazer, who couldn't be a better fit for such a task. Mitch was an editor at Crawdaddy in the late 1970s and a regular writer for that magazine and Rolling Stone before Hollywood beckoned; he has been a screenwriter and producer for many years. One of the more fascinating vignettes in Movies Rock is a description of a meeting between Glazer, Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger at New York's Carlyle Hotel to discuss a Rolling Stones concert movie. Jagger sauntered into the room and sat down opposite Scorsese, Glazer and producer Steve Bing, who were in preassigned seats. Glazer writes, "I can't help but notice that Scorsese and I are staring into a blinding sunset...(Jagger's) face is completely in shadow, a total eclipse of the Mick." In the elevator just moments later, the three seem stunned, not the least Scorsese. This Oscar-winning filmmaker, after all, is a man of no small rank in the realms of movies and music, auteur of gangster epics from "Mean Streets" to "Goodfellas" and "Casino," all expertly punctuated by rock'n'roll, not to mention director of masterful music films from "The Last Waltz" to "Bob Dylan: No Direction Home." Jagger's Godfather-like control left Scorsese wondering aloud to Glazer and Bing: "Could you see his face? I couldn't see his face. Was he happy? Sad? Did he hate us? Could you tell? I don't know. I couldn't tell. I have no idea." It must have gone OK: The Scorsese-directed "Shine A Light," which was filmed at New York's Beacon Theater in fall 2006, will be released in 2008.

Google News

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?