Joe Hyams, the highly respected publicity executive who worked at Warner Bros for more than 40 years, died today. He was 90. Hyams, who had served in the Marines before coming to the entertainment industry, was relied upon by studio heads, filmmakers and celebs going back to the days of John Wayne, James Dean, Burt Lancaster, Stanley Kubrick, François Truffaut and Federico Fellini. But one of the longest-lasting relationships in town was between him and his friend Clint Eastwood.
Hyams managed the film campaigns for Eastwood going back to 1978’s Every Which Way but Loose through to Mystic River in 2004. He retired from Warner Bros in 2005 but continued to maintain a close relationship with Eastwood. They had been through so much together. In fact, Hyams prided himself on being present for the first day of production on every movie the Oscar-winning filmmaker shot during that period, and then he shepherded the finished projects through film festivals, premieres and awards campaigns. They were both loyal and dedicated to each other.
“Joe was an incredibly smart, intuitive and talented executive who played a crucial role in making my movies succeed,” Eastwood said today — coincidentally his 87th birthday. “More important, he was a great friend, and I will miss him.”
Hyams was no less dedicated to all of those filmmakers he worked with over the years. He also was in the trenches with Kubrick, Truffaut, Fellini, Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford, Oliver Stone and William Friedkin. Called “the dean of publicity” by former Warner Bros chairman Robert Daly, Hyams rose to EVP Special Projects, a uniquely expansive title that testified to the breadth of his counsel.
A one-man film marketing force, Hyams described himself as “more on the fringe” than the typical studio publicity executive, and served as a multi-faceted liaison between the studio and talent. He had great instincts, mentored many other executives, and respected talent relationships. He was considered an invaluable part of the team.
One of those he mentored was Rob Friedman, the former Lionsgate Motion Picture Group co-chairman who worked with Hyams in marketing and then rose to head the department. He called Hyams “a mentor and a lifelong friend.” Friedman said: “Joe was a lone gun. He was always out front with a film, seeing it through all aspects of not just publicity but marketing. The department was basically his support staff.”
Hyams was a personal friend to some of the biggest names in cinema. His skill, style and judgment made him both a respected marketing professional and a truly valued mentor.
“To me he was the dean of what he did,” said Daly in a statement about Hyams. “Joe definitely marched to his own drum, but he was also a terrific company man. When he was into a movie, he was working with the filmmakers all the way through.”
Added former Warner Bros chairman Barry Meyer: “Joe was an integral member of the Warner Bros family. His numerous contributions were uniquely creative. He was revered in his time and will be remembered by all who knew him.”
Hyams was the the oldest of four children born to Lillian and Murray Hyams on September 21, 1926, on the Lower East Side of New York City. He graduated from Seward Park High School, where he met his first wife, Irene Moss. After joining the Marines toward the end of World War II, Hyams returned from the Pacific, married Moss and had three children, Nina, Melissa and Robert.
He began his career as a reporter for the Daily Mirror in New York, then became a unit publicist at Columbia Pictures. His first film was On the Waterfront and his second was From Here to Eternity, both Academy Award winners. During this time, he became friends with Burt Lancaster and, in 1957, Hyams moved his family to Los Angeles to work for Hecht-Hill-Lancaster.
When the Hyams family returned to New York, Hyams worked on Bus Stop, starring Marilyn Monroe, and on The Alamo for John Wayne’s Batjac Productions.
Hyams was hired by Jack Warner in 1960 as Warner Bros’ national advertising and publicity director, initially based in New York and later back in Los Angeles. He became VP Publicity at Warner Bros in 1970, was promoted to SVP 17 years later, and in 1992 got that Special Projects title.
Among the notable films Hyams worked on at Warner Bros are East of Eden, My Fair Lady, Bonnie and Clyde, Blazing Saddles, The Exorcist, A Star Is Born, Woodstock, Chariots of Fire, JFK, Unforgiven, Eyes Wide Shut and Mystic River. Three of those won Best Picture Oscars.
Sid Ganis, former president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, noted: “Joe marched to his own drummer, and was sought out and beloved by artists and management alike. ‘What does Joe think?’ they would ask. Joe had a basic elegance that was completely natural, whether he was in a tuxedo at an opening, his deep tan glowing, or at a senior Warner Bros management meeting in loafers, no socks, washed out T-shirt and worn jeans, advising and guiding us through the tricky problem of the day. A magnificent man!”
Hyams married his second wife, Dolores, in 1972. An active participant in many pursuits, he was a licensed pilot, a scuba diver, a yachtsman, a fly fisherman and a voracious reader. He traveled extensively, and he and Dolores were known as gracious and lively hosts. Hyams was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
He is survived by wife Dolores, children Nina, Melissa and Robert and two grandchildren, Michael and Sam.