What do Cary Grant, Paul Newman, Audrey Hepburn, Kirk Douglas, Elizabeth Taylor, Warren Beatty, Clint Eastwood, Tony Curtis and at least 200 other big names in Hollywood have in common? They’ve all had Dick Guttman as their publicist — the longtime Malibu resident who has now spent over 60 years in “fame management,” as he called it, and still maintains a full roster of A-list clients and a Beverly Hills office.
As a publicist, Guttman got to know many of his famous clients on a personal level that most fans could only dream about, spending time together on location, in hotels, and driving to interviews, photo shoots, and other publicity events. For years, his friends kept asking him when he was going to write a book about all of his great stories. He was finally motivated to do it when his former mentor, Warren Cowan, passed away in 2008.
“I wrote the book to let people know what it felt like when Hollywood was Hollywood,” Guttman said. “Stardom in the Golden Age of Hollywood exists no more. PR was focused on building stars rather than exploiting them. The stardoms we polished were national treasures, and Hollywood has lost its ability to generate such legends. Promotion is often 140 characters on Twitter now.
“The industry’s purpose is no longer to create great stardoms,” Guttman observed. “Stars had mystery, stature and staying power, and Hollywood publicists were an important part of that. Stars had such big, real-life personalities that they justified the public’s interest in them.”
The book, which he describes as a “confessional memoir” and “bedside reader for people who love movies,” recounts story after story of Guttman’s interactions and friendships with all the big name stars. His entertaining anecdotes are interspersed with tales of how he got into publicity, and his own insights and observations about the profession.
“It was a fun time, and that’s what I’m trying to show,” Guttman explained. “I have a memory for things that amuse and amaze me.”
Being a publicist usually meant putting together a strategic plan of media interviews, talk shows and public appearances for a client. In the old days, Guttman even had to ensure media turnouts with popping flashbulbs for celebrity airport arrivals.
“The first rule of publicity is to get the hell out of the shot,” he laughed. “Fame is what you sell, not what you seek. Press agents don’t have to wear the stars on their sleeves.” That’s one of the reasons why it’s been hard for Guttman to get out and promote his own book; he’s used to putting other people in the limelight — not himself.
Being a publicist also means squashing negative publicity about clients, including rumors, misunderstandings, misquotes, unflattering paparazzi photos and unauthorized biographies.
Guttman tells the story of representing Tony Curtis during a time when the actor was doing public service announcements (PSAs) for a “don’t smoke” program, and got arrested in England for marijuana possession.
“We had to come up with a complex rationale for something Tony could say in his own defense,” Guttman shared.
Some of Guttman’s most satisfying PR innovations were finding novel ways of getting Academy voters to watch the films he was promoting (before home video). In one instance, he got L.A.’s Z-Channel, one of the first pay-TV stations in the U.S. and known for its eclectic films, to run the obscure movie “The Conversation” (1975), starring Gene Hackman. As a result of that unique exposure, the film got several Academy Award nominations, including best picture.
Guttman was also the first publicist to see the value of marketing films to Malibu, with its high concentration of Academy voters. “Heaven Can Wait,” a 1978 Warren Beatty film nominated for nine Oscars, was actually “launched out of Malibu,” he said, by renting out the local theater for special screenings. He was also instrumental in bringing in studio films that helped get the Malibu Film Society off the ground in 2009.
Guttman had some mixed feelings about putting his book out there.
“I don’t want to use my clients as a means of calling attention to the book. You spend your life respecting people’s confidentiality, and writing a memoir could be considered high treason,” he explained.
He’ll be appearing at a book signing just prior to the Malibu Film Society screening of “Trumbo” on Saturday, Oct. 24 where he’ll talk about his personal experiences with 1950s McCarthy-era Hollywood, including the film’s real-life character, blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo.
A free download of the first 150 pages of “Starflacker” is available at starflacker.com.