When anyone asks me about the showbiz color, glamour and excitement of Army Archerd’s long Hollywood career, I only have to repeat the words of the man himself, solemnly said to me, when I asked him a similar question. “You have no idea,” said Archerd.
He wasn’t smiling when he said it.
I should have understood. My office was next to Army’s at Variety since I joined the paper back in the mid-’90s. But I didn’t and I don’t. Sorry, but the idea of mid-’90s Hollywood sounds shrill and sour when I try to mentally call up the decades of Hollywood life that Army had lived in and written about long before I joined the paper.
So I will be the first to admit it, I don’t have any idea what it was like to hang out at Chasen’s in the 1950s with Monroe, Peck, Bogie and Bacall, Lucille Ball, Kirk Douglas, Glenn Ford, Rita Hayworth, Jimmy Stewart and dozens more of the screen immortals he chronicled every day for decades in his “Just for Variety” column.
At the presentation of his L.A. Press Club Lifetime Achievement Award in the late ’90s, he and his longtime friend and professional rival, (if such a word could be used for someone so cherished by Army), Bob Thomas recalled the late 1940s, when both men were fresh from military service and ripe for the Hollywood beat. Army had the “supper club beat,” and if your lips and eyes are watering at the thought of spending your young adulthood scouting the flora, fauna and feasting at Perino’s, the Cocoanut Grove, Ciro’s, go ahead, mine were too that night and still are.
As for that other workplace of Army, that is, the Variety newsroom, there’s not so much there to report that every person on a daily news deadline doesn’t go through. I wasn’t assigned to work with Army, as so many other talented and patient Variety editors were, but if I did step into his office with a scoop of any kind, I got a lesson in how the fires of competitiveness never burn out in the heart of a born newsman.
I reminded Army once that he hadn’t followed up on something I had mentioned to him.
He searched his indescribably cluttered desk in vain and I gently suggested, “No problem, it’s not a big deal. We can work on it later.”
“NO!” he shouted fiercely. “SIT DOWN! I don’t like to sit on a story!”
So tonight, hearing of Army’s passing, the best tribute I can think of is to admit to Mr. Archerd up there at the best table with the best people, that no, I still have no idea, and no, I will not wait until later to report that Variety has lost the living memory of that time when the movies and the people who made them were truly magical.
Army was a newsman, so he’d probably hate that word, “magical,” but I think that’s because he had no idea how magical his life and work really was.