Milton Ebbins, talent manager of jazz greats and a Kennedy administration and Rat Pack insider, died of heart failure March 4 in Los Angeles. He was 96.
Ebbins started his career in the early 1930s as a trumpet player and bandleader. He left his career as bandleader and became a talent manager, rising to become one of Hollywood’s top personal managers, guiding the careers of Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, Billy Eckstine and singer Vic Damone. Because of Ebbins’ musical background and his adeptness at arranging scores, he had a knack for picking hit songs for his clients. He also represented actresses Elizabeth Montgomery and Patty Duke, comedian Mort Sahl and actor Peter Lawford, who Ebbins managed for 35 years.
“Milt Ebbins was one of the best personal managers I have dealt with over the years,” said the William Morris Agency’s chairman emeritus Norman Brokaw. “When Milt Ebbins spoke, everyone would listen,” said Brokaw.
Ebbins’ partnership with Lawford — who was married to President Kennedy’s sister, Patricia— brought him into close association with The Rat Pack and the Kennedy Clan.
Ebbins produced many of his clients’ film and television projects and was partnered in a company with Lawford that produced TV series, “The Patty Duke Show.” He associate produced the 1950s TV series’ “The Thin Man” starring Lawford and Phyllis Kirk. He also produced two films starring Rat Packers Lawford and Sammy Davis Jr. — “Salt and Pepper” (1968) and “One More Time” (1970). He helped set up the original Rat Packer film, “Ocean’s Eleven” and subsequently “Sergeants 3.” He was also involved in the production of “The Longest Day.”
Ebbins helped produce JFK’s 1961 Inaugural Ball and the subsequent 1962 JFK Anniversary Gala. In May of 1962, Ebbins escorted a very late Marilyn Monroe to Madison Square Garden where she famously — and breathlessly — sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.” He was also the man that Lawford called after speaking to Monroe the night of her death in August of 1962.Ebbins was one of the few allowed inside the White House after the JFK assassination. As the link between Washington and Hollywood, Ebbins helped Kennedy family patriarch and former ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy navigate through the movie business, not only keeping him apprised of his son-in-law’s career moves but at one point advising him against purchasing United Artists’ movie studio. At the time of his death, Ebbins was working with his friend, actor Bill Paxton, on an HBO project about the Kennedy assassination.
Ebbins, who was born in Springfield, Mass., was a 70-year plus member of both the Masons and Shriner’s Club.
He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Lynne, and son Gary, a personal manager.
Donations may be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund, 23388 Mulholland Dr., Woodland Hills, CA 91364