This is sad news for me. As a former Associated Press writer-editor I had the pleasure of working with Bob Thomas, a legend not only at the AP but throughout the entertainment industry. Thomas died today of age-related illnesses at his Encino, CA home, his daughter Janet Thomas told the AP. He was 92. From the time he began working as an entertainment reporter for the wire service in 1944, he covered a record 66 Oscar ceremonies, interviewed stars ranging from Lucille Ball to Elizabeth Taylor, and also made his mark outside of entertainment, filing the bulletin that Robert F. Kennedy had been shot. (He actually joined the AP in 1943 with hopes of becoming a war correspondent, but left after a year after he was named the Fresno, CA correspondent. “It gets so damn hot in Fresno in the summer and nothing much ever happens there,” he once told a colleague, according to the AP). He returned to the AP in 1944 as an entertainment reporter and for the next seven decades covered the industry he loved.
Thomas’ credits are endless. He reviewed of hundreds of films and television shows, and countless retrospective pieces on Hollywood and how it had changed from the perspective of someone who had lived through its transitions. He is listed twice in Guinness World Records: for most consecutive Academy Awards shows covered by an entertainment reporter and for longest career as an entertainment reporter (1944-2010). His interview subjects included luminaries such as Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Groucho Marx and Marlon Brando, Walt Disney and Fred Astaire. He also authored nearly three dozen books, including biographies of Disney, Brando and a portrait of studio mogul Harry Cohn, King Cohn. He wrote, produced and appeared on several television specials on the Academy Awards and was a guest on numerous TV programs including The Tonight Show, Good Morning America and Nightline. His biographies of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes and the comedy team of Abbott and Costello were made into TV movies.
Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the AP, worked with Thomas in the Los Angeles bureau in the early 1980s. “Bob was an old-fashioned Hollywood reporter and he knew absolutely everyone,” she said. “He had a double-helping of impish charm with the stars, but back at the office, he was the quiet guy who slipped into a desk at the back and poked at the keyboard for a while, then handed in a crisp and knowing story soon delivered to movie fans around the world,” the AP reported.
I can personally attest to Thomas’ industry contacts and his charm. Always willing and enthusiastic about helping out with a story, even after his retirement in 2010, Bob was the first person I’d call when we heard someone in the industry had died or a big deal was going down. He knew exactly who to call and had a phone number for everybody. I knew we’d get the story. And we did.
Throughout the years, Thomas never lost the love for his job. “I get to interview some of the most beautiful people in the world,” he said in 1999. “It’s what I always wanted to do, and I just can’t stop doing it,” he said.