Longtime Archerd pal reveals secrets of the pro's prose
When the Associated Press decided to ramp up its showbiz coverage at the end of World War II, Hollywood correspondent Bob Thomas met his new partner, a guy just out of the Navy known to his friends simply as “Army.”
“He came in dressed very smartly, a very handsome fellow,” recalls Thomas.
“I was struck very quickly with his friendliness and his eagerness to do this. Before the war he had been in the mail department at Paramount and that was his only experience in Hollywood.”
For the next three years, until Archerd left for the Hollywood Express and eventually Variety, the pair would share a desk in the old Citizen News building on Wilcox Avenue with two phones, two typewriters and collaborate on six columns a week that were about all things entertainment. Thomas combined their items and sent the finished product via messenger every day to the AP. He was even the one who gave the cub reporter his famous moniker.
“I had my byline on the column and during my two-week vacation he had his byline on it, which was Armand A. Archerd. The ‘A’ was to be in quotes because it stood for nothing, like Harry S. Truman. So finally I said as long as everyone calls you Army, better just make it Army Archerd.”
According to Thomas, Army made a real impression on the town — several female stars came on to him. At one point, actor Lew Ayres suggested Army might be a potential film star and a screen test was held, but nothing came of it. In his heart, Army was an entertainment reporter and he always got his story — even when it wasn’t easy.
“Once he was assigned to go to Pickfair to interview Mary Pickford,” Thomas remembers. “As we all did in those days. he had to wait about 30 minutes. But eventually Buddy Rogers marched Army up to see her where he had his interview and then left. But as he was walking down the driveway he looked at his notes and he had to laugh. Nothing she said made any sense. She was dead drunk!”
Thomas, who has been with the AP for 62 years and written over 30 books including 16 biographies, has a simple theory as to why Army succeeded in such a remarkable way in the treacherous waters of Hollywood.
“I think it’s devotion to the job. He always quotes people and he never traffics in gossip or runs blind items like a lot of writers do. He has a fabulous Rolodex with numbers from virtually every person who might be newsworthy. Everyone felt they had to read Army first thing every day where they would always find his cheery ‘Good Morning.’
He’s been at it a long time with a long history and he still has no enemies. Now that’s an achievement in Hollywood!'”