David H. Horowitz, the longtime Hollywood publicist and a man known for helping to boost and revitalize soon-to-be President Bill Clinton’s political fortunes, died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 86.
Over the course of five decades as a top public relations executive, Horowitz was known not only for his association with major stars such as Barbra Streisand (with whom he worked on early films such as Funny Girl, Hello Dolly and What’s Up Doc) but also for helping craft successful Oscar campaigns for Best Picture winners The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King, The Silence Of The Lambs and Dances With Wolves among many others.
Horowitz also was involved in many social and political causes such as the civil rights movement, Native American issues, American presidential campaigns and the state of Israel. He notably helped revitalize Clinton’s image, particularly in arranging an appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992 that was widely considered to be a key boost in Clinton ultimately winning the Presidency later that year.
On a personal note, I knew David very well. He was just as passionate about the world around him as he was Hollywood, and that inevitably led to politics, where he used his skills to significantly turn around Clinton’s image not once, but twice. First, after a not-so-well-received long speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, Horowitz’s clients and Clinton buddies Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth Thomason enlisted Horowitz’s help to turn that gaffe around, and he arranged a booking on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show where Clinton played the sax. It worked.
Even better was something I had a little to do with as well. Horowitz called me about a week before the California Primary in June 1992 when I was working as a producer-writer at The Arsenio Hall Show. He asked if we would like to have then-Presidential candidate Clinton, as well as Hillary, on the show either the day before or the day after the primary. He said Clinton was also be willing to play the sax and that we could pick the songs. With his cool dark glasses and a great rendition of “God Bless The Child” that is exactly what he did. Time magazine would later declare that moment a turning point in the campaign — he went on to get the nomination and win the election.
Horowitz began his film career as an advertising account executive with The Goodman Organization handing Warner Bros, UA and American International. He moved into film publicity when told that director Robert Aldrich was looking for a publicity VP. During the interview he admitted to Aldrich he knew advertising but nothing about publicity. Aldrich hired him immediately, reportedly telling him, “You’re the first honest publicist I have ever met.” His campaign on Aldrich’s landmark 1962 Bette Davis-Joan Crawford horror film Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? landed five Oscar nominations and became a major hit, revitalizing the careers of both Golden Era stars.
As a publicist and studio executive, Horowitz worked with everyone from Woody Allen to George Burns, Kevin Costner, Bette Davis, Kirk Douglas Katharine Hepburn, Billy Wilder and The Muppets. The list is endless. His executive posts included president of corporate entertainment, film division and TV division at Rogers & Cowan; advertising and publicity VP with Kirk Douglas’ Bryna Productions; VP Publicity at TriStar to handle The Natural at star Robert Redford’s request; and a decade-long association with Warner Bros in the 1970s first as publicity head for the film division and later as VP Advertising, Publicity and Promotion for Warner Bros Television.
Beginning in 1990, Horowitz specialized in Oscar campaigns — one of the first and most important practitioners of a job that has now become widespread in the industry. His films earned more than 140 nominations and wins for Orion, Warners, Miramax, Paramount and New Line.
For years, as awards seasons would approach, Horowitz and I would have lunch and he would hand me his detailed assessment of contenders in each and every category — the first to compile such a list based on his conversations with fellow Academy members and how he felt the pulse of the race was materializing. He was usually right on the money. His campaign for The Silence Of The Lambs in 1991 was particularly notable as that film was in a genre the Academy hadn’t recognized as Best Picture before, and it also had opened at the beginning of the year on February 14 — not good timing for Oscar hopefuls. With some inventive ideas he managed to put it right back in the consciousness of Academy voters, leading to a rare sweep (Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, Screenwriting) that has not been accomplished since, and the last film debuting anytime before May to take Best Picture. Horowitz was one of the smartest awards minds I have ever encountered, a true pro with a passion for the job.
Services will be held at Mount Sinai Memorial Park on Forest Lawn Drive on Monday, July 25 at 10 AM. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mazon or any charity of choice.
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