The veteran PR man for Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, and a host of other clients, passed away at home in his sleep early this morning at age 90. “Heaven needed a great PR guy,” a family member said about Solters (nee Nathan “Nussy” Cohen) who kept working until the very end.
Short and balding, with a distinctive raspy voice and easy laugh, he was the last of an era, a showbiz publicity legend, a confidant to the world’s biggest stars throughout his 66 years flacking for his clients. I felt privileged to know him well. When I first arrived in Los Angeles as a Newsweek correspondent, Lee took me to lunch at the Polo Lounge and entranced me with hilarious insider stories. (Among other things, he claimed that he had pre-arranged for those bobby-soxer girls to faint for “Frankie”.) Over the years, he never ran out of stories, and I always made time to hear them.
Best of all, he came from a PR tradition that journalists were to be treated with respect — unlike too many of today’s flacks who manhandle even serious reporters like they’re scandal-mongers — and he passed that along to his two children who are PR powerhouses in thir own right: Larry Solters and Susan Reynolds. (Both started at Lee’s firm.) He was unfailingly cheerful, like everyone’s favorite Jewish uncle, a glass half-full kind of guy. The only time I ever saw him angry was when, after he’d repped Sinatra for 26 years, his daughter stole Frank and started her own PR firm. But he also admired her chutzpah.
He started in PR at the age of 15 but considers his real entry into professional publicicity when he enrolled at NYU as a journalism major and advertising minor. The day he registered, he snagged a job on the campus newspaper as well as a part-time position with a Broadway press agent that turned full-time when he graduated. Soon he was drafted and served for 3½ years as chief clerk of the U.S. Army Administration division at the San Francisco port of embarkation. But even while soldiering, Solters was moonlighting for Hollywood and Broadway publicity offices.
When he returned to PR, he enjoyed a virtual monopoly on 300 Broadway shows, including some of the biggest musicals and dramas — Guys & Dolls, Gypsy, My Fair Lady, The King & I, Camelot, Death Of A Salesman, as well as plays by Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Neil Simon, plus David Merrick productions.
As the entertainment industry shifted to the West Coast, so did Lee. His firm’s name changed over the years, from Solters, Roskin & Friedman, to The Lee Solters Co, to, in 2001, Solters & Digney Public Relations (with veteran PRman Jerry Digney). Today, the firm remains one of Hollywood’s last independent show business flackeries.
At one point, Solters represented the city of Las Vegas and many hotels there including Caesars Palace. And his list of clients included entertainment giants: Jackie Gleason, Gary Grant, Gregory Peck, Carol Channing, Yul Brynner, Jim Henson, . Lee and Barbra, or Lee and Jacko, were indeed Odd Couples. He also publicized 100 Grammy wins, two presidential inaugurals, numerous breakthrough films like The Graduate, and TV shows from Dallas to The Muppets. Clients included Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus and Cirque du Soleil. He was also big in the music biz, repping the Beatles, Paul McCartney and Wings, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston, Ray Charles, Liza Minnelli, Bette Midler, Concord Records, and SONY/BMG.
Lee was one of the PR greats. I know with certainty that he’ll be missed.