You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Warren Cowan dies at 87

PR maven "father of Hollywood press agents"

Warren Cowan, entertainment publicity pioneer and mentor to scores of publicists over more than 60 years in the business, died Wednesday, just three weeks after being diagnosed with melanoma, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 87.

Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Mount Sinai Memorial Park, 5950 Forest Lawn Dr., Los Angeles.

The consummate Hollywood press agent, Cowan represented everyone from Fortune 500 companies to authors and politicians, including President Ronald Reagan and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He and Reagan often joked that if Cowan had done a better job with publicity during his acting career, Reagan wouldn’t have had to find a new career in politics.

Cowan’s client list over the years included Elizabeth Taylor, Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Doris Day, Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, Steve McQueen, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, the Doors and Michael Jackson. Until his death, he still represented longtime clients Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward at his entertainment PR firm, Warren Cowan & Associates.

Cowan pioneered many of the techniques commonly used in publicity, promotion and marketing today, including bringing celebrities to the White House for events, product placement in films, celebrity charity tributes, using film festivals to promote movies worldwide and hatching publicity stunts such as the longest red carpet.

Peter Bart, Daily Variety editor-in-chief, recalled that “Cowan was more than a press agent — he was a real presence in town and a force in the lives of his clients.” During the PR maven’s marriage to actress Barbara Rush, the Cowans maintained a salon that welcomed the major celebrities of the moment. It was not uncommon to find Danny Kaye mixing with Sandy Koufax and Milton Berle.

Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd and Cowan became best friends when they were 12. “I’m his oldest friend,” Archerd said. “He was the best friend anyone could ever have.”

Cowan got an early start in the business as a publicist for actress Linda Darnell while he attended UCLA and also working as a reporter on the Daily Bruin. After serving in the Army Air Forces during WWII, he joined publicist Henry Rogers in 1946 at his new firm and became a partner in Rogers & Cowan in 1950.

Cowan was in charge of the entertainment divisions for Rogers & Cowan, for decades the biggest entertainment PR firm in the world. He led the company’s expansion into representing movie studios, TV production companies, publishers, cable networks, athletes, gala events and organizations including the Motion Picture Assn. of America and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences and its Grammys.

Rogers & Cowan was sold in 1988 to English conglomerate Shandwick. Cowan explained that work at his company had become too administrative for him, leaving him little time to handle publicity.

He formed Warren Cowan & Associates at the conclusion of his two-year “noncompete” sale agreement in 1994, and the agency continues to represent entertainment and corporate clients, including awards campaigns for films that have included “Atonement,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Sicko,” “Moulin Rouge,” “Life Is Beautiful,” “Chicago” and “Shakespeare in Love.” Among those who reflected on Cowan’s passing, Hugh Hefner said, “Warren Cowan was a longtime friend and associate. He was a part of Old Hollywood. He knew everyone of any importance in this town and represented most of them.”

Longtime friend and client Jerry Weintraub added, “I admired Warren. He has been a part of my life for a very long time, and I have always had the greatest respect and admiration for him.”

Actor James Caan said, “Warren Cowan was the first image of an independent publicist I had ever known. He set the standard, and after that, I could accept nothing less. Because of that I am still with Rogers & Cowan today.”

Cowan “has been part of my life since I was a very young actress, and I can’t imagine life without him,” Woodward said.

In addition to his entertainment clients, Cowan was closely involved with many charitable organizations. He helped promote the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, the United Way, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Society of Singers and the Autism Society.

He traveled throughout the world on behalf of UNICEF for many years, creating innovative public service and public awareness campaigns for the organization. During a special ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, then-President Gerald Ford presented Cowan with United Way’s Alexis de Tocqueville Award for his 17 years of volunteer efforts and called him “the most important United Way volunteer in the entertainment industry.” Cowan succeeded first lady Nancy Reagan as United Way’s national committee communications chair in 1982.

He also supported the Scott Newman Foundation, the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Foundation, the National Foundation for Ileitis and Colitis and the Young Musicians Foundation.

Cowan was honored by the Scott Newman Center in 1990 at a benefit gala hosted by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in celebration of the center’s 10th anniversary of promoting drug education programs. Cowan had been associated with the center since its inception and served on the board of directors. Paul Newman, in presenting the award to Cowan, said: “In the arena of public caring, he’s several dimensions higher. Others may appear to occupy the limelight, but no one works with greater diligence to better effect.”

Cowan also worked closely with Paul Newman on the launch of Newman’s Own products, creating a new model for products to benefit charitable organizations.

In March 2002, Cowan was honored as Hollywood’s mentor of the year by the Volunteers of America at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. President George W. Bush sent a tribute honoring Cowan, as did former president Bill Clinton, with whom Cowan worked on a number of public service projects.

Cowan was born in New York to songwriter Rubey Cowan and wife Grace and attended Townsend Harris High School with Archerd. His older brother, the late Stanley, was a longtime associate at Rogers & Cowan.

The publicist worked until the day before his death and was finishing his autobiography.

He is survived by wife Barbara Gilbert-Cowan; two daughters, Claudia Cowan, a Fox News Channel correspondent, and Bonnie Fleming; three stepchildren, actresses Melissa Gilbert and Sara Gilbert and actor Jonathan Gilbert; and eight grandchildren.

Donations may be made to the Hole in the Wall Gang Fund, 555 Long Wharf Dr., New Haven, CT 06511.

More Scene

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce

    Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce GLAAD Media Award Nominations

    Mj Rodriguez and Nico Santos are set to announce the nominees for the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards. The “Pose” star and “Crazy Rich Asians” funny man will make the announcement during a live-stream hosted by AT&T and from the AT&T Hello Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25. “The images and stories recognized [...]

  • Emile Hirsch, Matt SmileyEmile Hirsch hosts

    Emile Hirsch Hosts Smiley Face Art Opening at Mondrian Hotel

    Despite the rain on Wednesday night in West Hollywood, there were plenty of smiles inside the Mondrian hotel thanks to artist Matt Smiley‘s Refresh exhibition. Not only is Smiley his real last name, but several of his paintings and other pieces in the exhibit feature smiley faces. “I’ve seen more smiley symbolism lately, and I’ve [...]

  • Randall Park, left, and Constance Wu

    Constance Wu Wants Her 'Fresh Off the Boat' Co-Star Randall Park to Host the Oscars

    While the Academy may have decided to go hostless for this year’s Oscars, that doesn’t mean the rest of Hollywood has stopped thinking about who would be a good choice for the emceeing gig. Former host Whoopi Goldberg recently suggested Ken Jeong. Jeong said, when he was a guest on “The View,” Goldberg told him [...]

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Stars Reveal Dream Guest

    'Schitt's Creek' Cast Reveals Dream Guest Stars: Oprah, Beyonce and ...

    “Schitt’s Creek” has big dreams. Dan Levy, who stars as David on the series, says his wish list of guest stars includes Oprah, Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Gwyneth Paltrow. “All for different reasons, none of whom we’ll get,” he cracked at the Critics’ Choice Awards. For those who haven’t caught on to the “Schitt’s Creek” [...]

  • Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bundchen

    Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen to Be Honored at UCLA Science Gala

    Science can be very glamorous. It certainly will be during Oscar week on Feb. 21 when the UCLA Institute of the Environment & Sustainability (IoES) honors Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen for environmental activism at its annual Hollywood for Science Gala. “When I moved to LA, the air was unbreathable. Rivers were catching fire in [...]

  • Don Cheadle and Andrew Rannells Black

    Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells Talk Snorting 'Coke' on 'Black Monday'

    “Black Monday” show creators David Caspe and Jordan Cahen divulged an intriguing detail to come later in the first season of the new Showtime comedy at its world premiere, held at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Monday night in Los Angeles. “The fourth or fifth episode opens with a sexual harassment seminar, which very well [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content