I know all about gossip columns like Page Six now under siege at the N.Y. Post: I helped write a portion of a gossip column when I was columnist Harrison Carroll’s legman at the L.A. Herald-Express.
The final paragraph of the column was “Today’s Puzzle.” When we ran out of “puzzles” one day I just made up this one: “What producer should know that his wife knows about a certain blonde starlet?” The night that column appeared, Harrison and I were sitting at his regular booth at Ciro’s on the Sunset Strip. During the evening, no fewer than a half dozen “starlets” stopped at our table and said, “Harrison, how cold you do that to me.” I extracted a promise from them to give us further news on promise of anonymity.
Of course we had other contacts at Herman Hover’s club who would call us immediately when news — like a celebrity fist fight — was breaking. And we had ditto informants, excuse me, contacts at Charlie Morison’s Mocambo across the street which held the edge on punches thrown — don’t ask me why. Maybe it was the proof in their booze.
The restaurant press agents were invaluable tipsters who’d call in with “twosomes.” These ranged from the clubs along the eateries along the strip, the Crescendo, Interlude, Scandia, Villa Nova. And romantic hideaways like the Luau. The restaurants in midtown, near the Cocoanut Grove, also found favor with celebs ducking the right lights. The public was anxious to patronize celeb hangouts, thus the owners encouraged their flacks to publicize ’em.
When I started to write the column, I soon learned studio press agents had a sense of humor; one was an alumnus of a N.Y. column, who delighted in planting items on his studio boss. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ press agent knew more about the goings-on at Paramount than the praisery there and would relish telling me.
There were producers whose avocation was publicity. One major producer would call me at home every Sunday (the day I wrote Monday’s column) with a tasty tidbit. Of course there were the potentially destructive items which required checking. If untrue, I did not print it and then follow-up by saying it was denied — as is modus operandi.
I questioned two publicists re l’affai the New York Post and Jared Paul Stern. Bobby Zarem, a N.Y. press agent since 1958 says he likes Richard Johnson and pooh-poohs the lavish gift-giving, saying press agent press gifts has been going on forever. However, as for Jared Paul Stern, Zarem says, “I never trusted him,” Zarem says. “I told him something and he turned it completely around.”
In L.A. I also asked Pat Kingsley her relationship with the “gossip columns.” “We’ve had problems,” she said, “but we have no recourse.”