Dick Guttman, a publicist for over 60 years — he started in the Golden Age of Hollywood as a “press agent” for some of the biggest stars in the movie business — from Barbra Streisand and Clint Eastwood to Gene Hackman and Elizabeth Taylor, has written a behind-the-scenes book of what it’s really like to be a publicist in Hollywood. In Starflacker (love the title), his self-published book that you can download here, the famed publicist shares over 1,500 anecdotes from his time in the trenches — including one about Paul Newman asking the press agent to tell him the truth about his movie. Guttman did. Oops!
This excerpt is about how, behind the scenes, he manipulated the press to get what his clients needed on the film Shampoo. That now classic film would later go on to win an Oscar for Supporting Actress Lee Grant. He still works as a publicist through his own firm today, Guttman Associates. They work with over 50 clients.
As, Guttman himself says about this book (with a laugh): “I tell the truth about every lie I told. The press is different today. You can’t do this now … but it sure was fun.” It took him five years to write the book and, he says, “I went to sleep every night after I finished writing for the day with a smile on my face.” Here’s an excerpt:
Lighting A Match. Publicity always functions better when the press are working you rather than when you’re working the press.
When media outlets are making the asks, not you, you have much better control of the direction and the volume of the media exposure. But they don’t always line up when you think they will. Shampoo was one of the first films we handled after I went into Guttman&Pam partnership with Jerry Pam.
Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn … sexy subject and giant media stars combined with the super-sensual milieu of Hollywood hairdressers who were at that early ’70s moment a hot celebrity sub-species. And when the word was finally out on the film, almost every name hair-dresser in town would be claiming that it was based on his life and sexual escapades.
Apart from that, it was a script which made an important social statement. However, when it started filming, the town didn’t know that yet because no one had seen the script other than the few whose work on the film required them to have read it. And not even many of those.
We came aboard just before Shampoo went to the floor, and Warren, as was his custom, had held his cards very close to his vest. The press had not yet lined up. It didn’t know or even suspect what was boiling inside that script. It needed a nudge to ignite the anticipation.
I called Joyce Haber, who wrote the Los Angeles Times’ only entertainment column, one of the film industry’s best-read news flows. I confided to her that the magazines were ready to write big checks for the first shots of Warren with Goldie and Julie. They were. They just didn’t know it yet. I revealed that the then-most-famous paparazzo, Ron Gallela (famous the hard way: Marlon Brando had popped him outside some nightclub,) had called us to see how he could get a lens on the set and that I had told him the ONLY way was to hire a helicopter.
Only an hour or two into the morning of the break of that story which I had made up, our assistant and Dashiell Hamettesque Jill-of-all-trades Effie Perine (with a 40 inch bust) Christy Cane, tells me, “Pick up line five and fasten your seatbelt.”
“Mr. Guttman, this is Ron Gallela.”
“What can I do for you, Mr. Gallela?”
“Did you …” he started.
“… Read Joyce Haber’s column today?” I finished.
“Yeah,” he said, a bit thrown that I was playing his lines, and then, climbing back on the horse, “So, ok … I can find out from the cops where they’re shooting. Now, where do I hire a helicopter?”
“Well, I think you should ask that of Joyce Haber. Here’s her number.”
After the resulting and very much read second break on the story, the town was finally on my doorstep. After that, we could pretty much play pick-and-choose for the publicity campaign for another precedent-setting Beatty film which turned out to be an 800-pound gorilla.