I am sad to hear the news that our colleague here at Variety, Army Archerd, who had an amazing 52-year career as a daily columnist, passed away today at the age of 87. He continued his column online for the past four years.
Army was a show business legend who reported on show business legends, perhaps best known to the public at large as the original red carpet reporter, the man who interviewed the stars as they made their way into the Academy Awards — a job he had for nearly a half century. But in the course of his career he interviewed many a politician and a few presidents, capturing the intersection of entertainment and D.C. long before anyone else did.
I’ll always remember his encouragement and support through the years, particularly during the election season last year. And I’ll miss stopping by his office and getting a story or two before he had to hop onto the phone to report another story.
Perhaps Army’s biggest story was breaking the news that Rock Hudson was suffering the AIDS, a revelation that helped bring the outbreak into the national consciousness. Instead of treating it as a gossipy scoop, he wrote about it with care and grace. He also championed certain causes and concerns. He wrote critically in 1998 of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences plans to award Elia Kazan an honorary Oscar, a controversial choice because of his role in “naming names” before a Senate committee at the height of the Hollywood blacklist. Archerd blasted Michael Jackson in 1995 for an album, ‘HISstory,” that included anti-semitic lyrics. The singer changed them. And he was hardly a fan of Charlton Heston’s stance on gun issues and leadership of the National Rifle Assn.
Shortly after the passage of Proposition 8 last year, and after writing about the wedding of Michael Feinstein and Terrence Flannigan, Archerd wrote in his online column, “I cannot help but mourn for friends in/out of the industry and all who
have been affected by the passage if Prop. 8 and for its defiance of
the Constitution. The daily reverberations (see the front page of
today’s L.A. Times) emphasize the importance of the California Supreme
Court hearings next year. But meanwhile, Prop. 8 would try to have us
believe all of us are not created equal. Frightening.”
Among the thousands of columns he produced was one on Nov. 25, 1963, the Monday after the death of John F. Kennedy, in which he chronicled an array of Hollywood productions halting after the stunning news.
Archerd wrote: “The day the show could not go on: Sometimes, tears come hard to Hollywood. Not Friday, not today. The performing arts mourn a great friend and fan….Adult and youngstars, members of the same showbiz family which Kennedy loved, were unashamed in their sorrow.” Then he wrote of being at MGM and going to visit Robert Goulet, in his dressing room, where he was surrounded by cast members as he wept. “Keenan Wynn unfacetiously whispered in an emotion filled voice, ‘I hope it wasn’t done by an actor.’ (The assassin was unknown in these minutes after the shooting.”
More common was Archerd’s three-dot style of delivery, such as this from a column on July 12, 1960, as Hollywood played a big part in the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles: “Sinatra ran ‘Ocean’s 11 at his house for the Kennedys. Spencer Tracy was on hand…Lady Lawford, Peter’s mom, is mjucho miffed she hasn’t been invited to any of the doings with the Kennedys. She accuses, ‘The Kennedys re rather snobbish.’ And recalls the engagement party of Pat K. to Peter when, says she, ‘Joe Kennedy told me he was sorry his daughter was going to marry an actor — and an English actor at that!”
President Bill Clinton was among the well-wishers who honored Archerd in a video greeting on his 40th anniversary in 1993. And Archerd captured the moment when Clinton talked candidly to a Hollywood crowd shortly after leaving office in 2001.
Archerd wrote, “In this personal and casual atmosphere, the former president revealed thoughts about the past and his future, the plans for his presidential library, the past election, future ones, the Supreme Court current and future, Ralph Nader, the Republicans and the current White House occupant. Clinton said no one should be surprised by the early actions by the new administration, which believes, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and that’s what they’re concentrating on!” About the Clinton library (to open in two years): It will give visitors state-of-the-art opportunities to view the problems that confronted his presidency — and give you the opportunity to solve them. He fascinated with his enthusiastic descriptions of his library and facts about past presidents. He pulled no punches on his opinion of Ralph Nader, saying the Democrats ‘should stick it to him. He wanted Bush to win!” He deplored the U.S. Supreme Court’s role in deciding the Gore-Bush election, noting Republicans knew they would get it to that point and that they would win in that court. He also said members of the Supreme Court “are now not talking to one another.'”