Veteran PR exec Lee Solters, one of the last of the old-school Broadway and Hollywood press agents, died Monday of natural causes in West Hollywood. He was 89.
Solters, who most recently was partnered with Jerry Digney at the Solters & Digney agency, repped some of entertainment’s biggest talents, including Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson.
“He came to the office every day” until just a few months ago, Digney said. “He lived for his business; he was the last of that generation. He helped pioneer that whole entertainment publicity world.”
Solters was a prominent press agent during years when “planting” items on stars in columns by Army Archerd, Hedda Hopper and Walter Winchell was the accepted way of doing business.
Among the clients Solters repped were Dolly Parton, Paul McCartney & Wings, Led Zeppelin, Gregory Peck, Cary Grant and Mae West.
The raspy-voiced publicity exec repped Carol Channing and Broadway producer David Merrick for more than 40 years each. From the 1940s to the 1970s, he handled more than 300 shows, including Broadway musicals “Annie,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Funny Girl,” “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot.”
Born Nathan Cohen in Brooklyn, he was already working part time for a Broadway press agent while in college at NYU. After graduating, he served in the U.S. Army while continuing to work for Gotham and Hollywood publicity clients. Solters represented everything from restaurants such as the Carnegie Deli to plays, movies and talent. One of his first clients was talkshow host Robert Q. Lewis.
Solters was the principal in public relations agencies including partnerships with Sheldon Roskin, and Monroe Friedman when the company branched into Los Angeles.
His son Larry Solters and daughter Susan Reynolds followed in his footsteps as publicists.
Solters also publicized numerous films, including “The Graduate”; TV shows such as “Dallas”; the city of Las Vegas; Cirque du Soleil; and Caesars Palace.
A mentor to many in Hollywood, he hired producer and Academy of Motion Pictures president Sid Ganis at the age of 19. Several years ago, Ganis told the L.A. Times’ Patrick Goldstein that Solters recruited Ganis’ father, a New York City cab driver, to hand Claudette Colbert a poodle that she had supposedly left in his car. It wasn’t true, but Colbert and the poodle made a great photo op. Another stunt was hiring people with the same names as famous critics to blurb Broadway shows, a promo idea that at the time was seen as more clever than devious.
“He taught me so much about the business,” said Digney, who went to work for Solters 36 years ago. “He taught me to think creatively about ways to promote things that might not be that interesting. That was an art form unto itself.”
He is survived by his son and daughter, two grandchildren and a great-grandson.
Donations may be made to Providence-Trinity Care Hospice Foundation, 2601 Airport Drive, Suite 230, Torrance, CA 90505.