Bob Palmer — who, through a 60-year career as a publicist, represented clients including Anthony Hopkins and Dick Van Dyke as well as some of the most popular TV shows of the 1960s and 70s — died Monday at his home in Pacific Palisades of natural causes. He was 85.
After working for ABC and several major studios, Palmer started his own firm in 1979, representing Hopkins, Van Dyke, Faye Dunaway, Sada Thompson, David Soul, Peter Strauss, Michele Lee and Larry Schiller Prods., the latter of which produced the TV movie “The Executioner’s Song.” Palmer for a time represented Hopkins as a manager, and created the 1992 Academy Award campaign for Hopkins’ performance in “The Silence of the Lambs,” for which he won the Oscar for best actor.
In an interview, Hopkins said he first met Palmer while doing a publicity junket in 1973 at the Century Plaza Hotel, and afterward they became “very good friends. It was a friendship that lasted many, many years.” He recalled being struck by Palmer’s “great, salty sense of humor, which gave us a lot of laughs.”
Van Dyke said he and Palmer were “inseparable,” having first met in 1971 when he was doing a TV movie, as Palmer was working on publicity. “He was a very easy going guy with a very quick wit,” Van Dyke said. “He was a good friend. We went through a lot.” Palmer was best man when Van Dyke wed Arlene Silver in 2012, and continued to represent him until Palmer’s death.
In the industry, Palmer developed a reputation as being reliable and easy to work with. Hopkins recalled being struck by stories of Palmer, captivated by Hollywood from an early age, working as an extra on the sets of movies with legendary figures like Humphrey Bogart and Tyrone Power, as well as working on publicity with such stars of the golden era as Joan Crawford and Gary Cooper.
Palmer had been writing a memoir with the working title “Bogie’s Bike.”
“He goes back to a different era in a way,” Hopkins said, adding that for an actor moving to the United States, getting to know Palmer was like getting “an inside view from backstage.”
Palmer was born in Alaska but grew up in Los Angeles and, after going to City College, moved to San Francisco to start a career as a publicist, where he ran copy to newspapers and eventually joined Fox West Coast Theaters as an assistant manager at its Market Street Theatre. At 22, he became director of publicity and advertising for United Paramount, helping to create campaigns for the Bay Area premieres of movies like “Sunset Boulevard,” “Shane” and “The Greatest Show on Earth,” as well as promoting stage shows featuring Patti Page, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
As a journalist/seaman in the U.S. Naval Reserve, Palmer was sent during the Korean War to the U.S. submarine base in Groton, Conn., where he wrote media reports about the S.S. Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine.
Palmer moved back to Los Angeles, where he became the West Coast publicity director for ABC Radio. He moved to ABC TV as a senior publicist, working on shows such as “Maverick” and “77 Sunset Strip.” After a stint as publicity director for Gene Autry’s Golden West Broadcasting and its flagship station KMPC, Palmer returned to ABC and later Screen Gems, doing publicity for shows such as “Bewitched,” “I Dream of Jeannie” and “The Monkees.” He later moved to MGM and then Universal, and then returned to ABC to work on such 1970s hits as “The Rookies,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Family” and “The Love Boat,” as well as the first novel-for-TV, “QB VII.”
When he established his own company, Bob Palmer Public Relations, he also produced and directed the documentary “Too Good to Waste,” about adolescents recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.
Palmer’s wife, Nancy, died last year, and a son, Chris, died in 2012. He is survived by his daughter, Tracy and her husband, James Metzger, and grandchildren Dylan, Cody and Sofia.
Services are scheduled for Oct. 11 at 11 a.m. the Parish of St. Matthew in Pacific Palisades.
In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to Clare Foundation, 909 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90404.