Publicist and awards consultant Murray Weissman, a pioneer in awards campaigning whose nearly 70-year career saw him representing the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg, has died following a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 90.
Born December 23, 1925 in Brooklyn, Weissman moved to Los Angeles as a child, going on to attend USC’s school of Journalism before serving in the armed forces during the last years of World War II. His career in publicity began with stints at ABC and CBS until 1966, when he moved to Universal, where he spent 10 years heading up the studio’s film publicity including notably for Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. After Universal, he worked at Lorimar Productions and Columbia Pictures before establishing his own PR firm in 1981. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences was one of his first long-term clients.
By the early ’90s he had begun to focus on campaigning for the Academy Awards and during this period established his long relationship with Harvey Weinstein. Over his career, he handled the efforts on behalf of eventual Oscar-winners The Sting, Kramer Vs. Kramer, Dances With Wolves, The English Patient, Shakespeare In Love, Chicago, and Crash.
Weissman also worked on Emmy campaigns, founding Weissman/Markovitz Communications with his son in law, Rick Markovitz, in 2006. The campaigns the two ran include Transparent, American Horror Story, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men. Weissmann/Markovitz is currently campaigning for The Big Short and Anomalisa. It also represents FX and Food Network, Amazon Studios and BET.
Weissman is survived by his wife Kay Friedman, who he married in 1995; his children, Benjamin and Julie; and three grandchildren. He was married to his first wife, Graciela, until her death.
In November, many in the industry and media who knew him threw an early 90th birthday party –Weissman later described it as a unique opportunity to attend his own memorial service. It was an extraordinary night when industry colleagues got up and told stories of their collaboration in the long career of one of the publicity industry’s greats.
Weissman was a publicist when the term actually meant getting publicity for their clients, rather than avoiding it. He became probably the most visible — and successful — person in the Oscar campaign business. When Deadline’s Pete Hammond was asked by executives at AMC Networks who would be best to launch the first-ever Emmy campaign for the then-new show Mad Men, he told them he didn’t even have to pause to think about it. It had to be Murray, who not only had institutional knowledge of how the TV Academy worked (having repped it for many years with former partner Tony Angellotti) but also as the one person who could bring the sensibility and success of an Oscar campaign and merge it into the ever-changing TV world. For his efforts, Mad Men, a virtually unknown cable show from an obscure network (at least in terms of Emmys), went on to win a near-record four Drama Series Emmys in a row. Breaking Bad wasn’t far behind.
Mad Men creator Matt Weiner was among many paying tribute on Monday. “Murray Weissman was an essential part of Mad Men,” he said. “His understanding of creative people, his patience, his cleverness with gatekeepers, and his unflagging taste served as an example to me and to generations of artists. Murray’s belief in the show, in the network’s commitment, and in me personally — expressed by clever, persistent, and always polite persuasion — enabled our success. Murray Weissman was a zen warrior, proving how belief in yourself and your work can overcome all obstacles. I will miss him and I feel so lucky to have been part of his personal and professional life.”
But it was for his Oscar campaigns that Weissman won the lion’s share of plaudits, and he was in it right to the end, participating in campaigns for Paramount this season.
Upon his diagnosis of cancer, Weissman told Hammond recently he didn’t have a single regret. “It’s been a wonderful life,” he said. Still you just have to believe Murray probably really wanted to hang around to find out what wins Best Picture this year. At the Publicists Guild Awards last February, Weissman told friends to save the date in December for his big 90th birthday bash. And it did indeed happen — just a little early.
A memorial service will be held 11 AM on January 2 at the Mulholland Tennis Club, 2555 Crest View Drive, Los Angeles, CA. 90046. His family asks that in lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Motion Picture & Television Fund.
Pete Hammond contributed to this post.