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John Simes, Former Publicist for Dustin Hoffman, Liza Minnelli, Dies at 86

John Simes Dead
Courtesy of John Simes Family

John Simes, a longtime Hollywood agency and studio publicist whose clients over the years included Debbie Reynolds, Rosemary Clooney, the Harlem Globetrotters, Dustin Hoffman, Sammy Davis Jr. and Liza Minnelli, died on May 2. He was 86.

Simes began his work in Hollywood in 1961 as VP advertising/publicity for Statewide Theaters, a chain of 50 movie houses across Southern California including the flagship Paramount Theater (since renamed to its original El Capitan) on Hollywood Boulevard. Simes was charged with creating Hollywood movie premiere openings for studios including MGM, Paramount, Warner Bros. and Columbia Pictures. When the Statewide chain was sold to Loews, Simes joined PR firm Jim Mahoney & Associates, where he represented clients Debbie Reynolds, Petula Clark, Andre Previn, Jane Morgan, Rosemary Clooney and Keely Smith and co-anchored campaigns for Frank Sinatra and, with Paul Wasserman, the Oscar-winning effort for best actor for Lee Marvin for “Cat Ballou” in 1965. He also introduced newcomers Liza Minnelli and Sonny & Cher.

Simes went on to other agencies, Solters & Sabinson, John Springer, Steinberg-Lipsman-Brokaw, Jay Bernstein and Rogers & Cowan, during which time he was associated with Peggy Lee, Dom DeLuise, Sammy Davis Jr., Dionne Warwick, Dustin Hoffman and Henry Fonda, among others. With Jay Bernstein and later with Rogers & Cowan he was VP of the television department, working with major advertising agencies and their clients. Branching out, Simes represented the Miss America Pageant, the Harlem Globetrotters and the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus; he was the first publicist for the American Film Institute with George Stevens Jr.

Simes headed the publicity efforts for television shows starring the Jackson Five, Three Dog Night, the Eagles, Ike & Tina Turner, Little Richard, B.B. King and the Fifth Dimension. He also headed up PR for the Bob Hope specials for Chrysler and “The Merv Griffin Show.” In 1975 he joined forces with Don Garrett and formed the Garrett/Simes publicity firm. Together they introduced the first People’s Choice Awards and debuted “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”

Born in Milwaukee, Simes was a drummer who played with the popular swing orchestra of Zeb Billings. He also worked as a comedian and joined the Army at the closing of WWII, first as a medical corps technician and later as a drummer. Following his service he entered the University of Wisconsin and played drums with several college dance bands. Show business was calling him and he left for Aspen, Colorado, to debut his night club act at the Red Onion, where he joined a Norwegian jazz pianist and they became a popular apré ski nightly event. Leaving Aspen they added a bass player and played clubs in Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Colorado. Later Simes went to work at radio station WQUA in Moline, Ill., writing copy and selling radio spots, all the time playing with local quad city jazz bands and entertaining with his night club act. At that point a friend called him to come to Hollywood.

After semi-retiring from show business, Simes and his wife opened a retail flower business, John’s International Flowers, catering to many of his former PR clients at studios, film and TV production companies, entertainment awards shows (including the  annual Publicists Guild Awards) and various entertainment public relations companies.

He was a member of the Publicist Guild for over 45 years.

Simes is survived by his wife, Dianne; four daughters; seven grandchildren; and two great grandchildren. A celebration of his life will be held at his home in North Hollywood on Sunday, May 17.