Syd Silverman Dies: Longtime Variety Publisher Was 85

Syd Silverman
Courtesy Silverman family

Syd Silverman, longtime publisher and owner of Variety and Daily Variety, who shepherded the entertainment trade papers into the modern era, died August 27 of a sudden illness in Boca Raton, FL. He was 85.

In his three-plus decades at the helm of Variety Inc., he steered the trade publications founded in 1905 by his grandfather Sime Silverman to prosperity, through the revolutions in cable and pay TV, independent film presales, financial interest/syndication rules for TV programs, satellite TV, home video and digital media.

After graduating with a B.A. in Political Science from Princeton in 1954, followed by ROTC service as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, he began work in 1957 as publisher and owner of Variety Inc. and its two showbiz trade papers, the New York-based weekly Variety and its daily counterpart in Hollywood. He was known as a fair boss with a keen eye for good reporters with deep industry knowledge who refused to bend to demands of pushy advertisers seeking to influence coverage and allowed Variety journalists to put their personal stamps on stories, which readers found both trustworthy and enlightening.

Silverman maintained Variety’s unique flavor of unusual language (often referred to as “slanguage” or “Variety-ese”) that played to Hollywood’s insular nature. Phrases such as “boffo” for hefty movie ticket sales, “ozoner” for drive-in theater and “baloney” for puffery maintained code words for readers that date to the 1920s. Under his leadership, Variety maintained its decades-long reputation as “The Bible of Show Business.”

He engineered the sale of the trade publications to Cahners Publishing, a subsidiary of Reed International of the U.K., in 1987. Variety Inc. now is owned by Penske Media Corp., which also owns Deadline.

Although Silverman’s business was publishing, his passion was automobile racing. A lifelong enthusiast, his life after the Variety sale focused on collector cars and historic auto racing. He twice was an owner/investor in the Sportscar Vintage Racing Assn., one of the largest historic racing groups in the U.S., and focused his publishing acumen and considerable resources to develop Vintage Motorsport into the leading magazine in the hobby. He was a noted collector and driver of historic racing cars, especially Lister sports racers and other British marques from the 1950s including Allard, Austin-Healey, Jaguar, AC, Sunbeam and MG.

Silverman was the only child of Sidne Silverman, the second publisher of Variety, and Marie Saxon Silverman. He grew up in Harrison, NY. His mother was a vaudevillian musical-comedy star and accomplished dancer who starred in two Hollywood movies of her era, including The Broadway Hoofer for Columbia Pictures. By the time he was 18, both of his parents had died, leaving him as the sole heir to the publications.

He is predeceased by his first wife Jan McNally Silverman of Birmingham, AL, who died in 1997. He is survived by his second wife, Dr. Joan Hoffman of Boca Raton, FL; four children, Marie Silverman Marich of White Plains, NY; Michael Silverman of Scottsdale, AZ; Mark Silverman of New Canaan, CT; and Matthew Silverman of High Falls, NY; and eight grandchildren.

Details on his service in White Plains, NY, are here.

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