“Variety” Reported De Havilland Landmark in 1944

“Variety” was there in 1944 when Olivia de Havilland—who passed away a few days ago in Paris—made history beating the Hollywood studio system on employment contracts.

The two-time Oscar winning actress sued her employer Warner Bros. during World War II after being dissatisfied with roles offered. She cited a seven-year limit to personal services contacts. Earlier, other stars tried to do the same but lost in courts. In 1944, de Havilland won what became a landmark court case, which is still the widely-cited precedent ruling today and is applied across all industries in California, not just Hollywood.

The lead story in the March 15, 1944 edition of “Daily Variety” reported: “Superior Court Judge Charles S. Burnell, after 10 weeks of pondering over evidence, legal arguments and briefs, granted the plea of Olivia De Havilland that she be declared  free of her Warner Bros. contract, which  her attorneys Gang, Kopf & Tyre contended ran over the  original seven-year term permitted by state law.” The story is not by-lined and headlined “De Havilland Free Agent”.

De Havilland was 104 when she died last week, marking the end of a living connection to 1939 epic “Gone With the Wind” in which she co-starred. She is remembered for being a class act in front of and behind the camera. De Havilland is also famous for publicly rebuking and exposing Stalinist acolytes who were briefly in vogue in Hollywood immediately after WWII.

(The above item was prepared for Simesite by Bob Marich)

How Olivia de Havilland Took on the Studio System and Won 


Madrid, May 19, 2020

By Peter Besas

Today I received an email from Bob Marich, Marie Silverman’s hubby and Syd’s son-in-law who occasionally lets me know the latest news and developments at Variety, now owned by the Jay Penske.

He forwarded a press release from the Penske Media Corporation headlined:

PMC Hires First-Ever Chief Advertising and Partnership Officer.

The release explains that the new appointee, monickered Mark Howard, in his “newly created role” will “oversee PMC’s corporate sales programs and revenue operations along with programmatic and indirect sales efforts across PMC’s portfolio of award-wining brands, including Rolling Stone, Variety, Robb Report, SHE Media, Deadline, ARTnews and WWD.”

There follows the usual gobbledy-gook jargon of how thrilled the company is to have him and the new appointee is quoted as saying how it is a “privilege to join the company at such an exciting time” It seems Howard was formerly SRO at Forbes and SVP at a digital advertising company. In my day, “SRO” meant Standing Room Only when a theatrical performance was sold out, and SVP with an R in front of it, RSVP, which in French is an abbreviation of “repondez s’il vous plait”, or “please answer” when sendinga formal invitation.

The item Bob sent caused me to dwell a few moments upon the use of titles in American business. I guess Howard’s  new monicker will be CAPO, which, appropriately enough, in Italian means the leader.

In the old pre-Cahners Variety years essentially no titles were used. This was a tradition that dated back to the days of Sime Silverman, who even as long ago as 1905 hated them. The top dog in any regional office was merely designated as the “man in charge”. Later when Sime’s grandson took over, Syd was listed as the “proprietor”. There was no masthead, though everyone knew that Abel Green was the Managing Editor. All others were “muggs” or, whimsically, “ink-stained wretches”.

When Syd agreed to let me do a special section on Latin America, and I told him that I could not just go down there as the “stringer from Madrid” he replied; “Well then pick yourself a title”.  By that time (1975) the American title mania had already swept over the corporate world. So I printed up some business cards with the highfalutin title Director of Latin American Operations.  I never ascertained whether anyone was ever impressed by it.

When  Cahners bought out Variety in 1987 and I  for the first time in my life came to rub shoulders with the corporate world,  I then learned that there are such people as a CEO (chief executive officer), a CFO (chief financial officer), a COO (chief operating officer), a CBO, (chief business officer), a CMO (chief marketing officer) and goodness knows how many other C’s, all of whom I guess the underlings address as “boss”.  Or has that term now become defunct? I wonder what title an office boy has these days in corporate America.



Longtime film critic at Variety, dating back to the Silverman era, recently got the axe at The Hollywood Reporter and thereupon penned the following piece on his hirings and firings over the past decades for Deadlikne, an on-line show biz newsletter.

We here reproduce the sections dealing with his period at the old Daily Variety:


A month ago I was surprised, out of nowhere, to get a nice raise. Yesterday I got the boot. By guys I’ve never met. Apparently if you make over a certain amount, you’re suddenly too expensive for the new owners of The Hollywood Reporter, which has recently been reported as losing in the vicinity of $15 million per year. Dozens are being forced to walk the plank. It’s a bloodbath.

Then again, I’ve seen this all before. During my 44-year career at the trades—with occasional time-outs to write books and make documentary films—I’ve had two stints each at Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, each gratifying and exciting in their own ways. Twice I left voluntarily to pursue other projects, twice I was let go when management changed hands and Robespierres took over, and twice more I was courted by new editors whom I choose to consider highly enlightened.

I’d written film reviews in college for four years, had my first book, Kings of the Bs: Working Within the Hollywood System, published and moved to Los Angeles. I soon got a day job as Elaine May’s assistant on Mikey and Nicky, while at night I helped populate the party scenes for Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind at Peter Bogdanovich’s house while the owner was away shooting Daisy Miller in Italy. Life was good for a young kid getting his feet wet in Hollywood.

I was also able to get a sideline gig as second-string film critic at The Hollywood Reporter under Arthur Knight, a first-rate historian and teacher who long wrote for the Saturday Review. Fortuitously, genial Arthur was very keen on hosting movie-based cruise ship excursions and was therefore out of town much of the time, leaving it to me to review lots of great and major films of the mid-1970s, beginning with Barry Lyndon and The Man Who Would Be King.

But it was good ol’ Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies who gave me my first lesson in the inner workings of Hollywood. In June of 1976, Warner Bros. was set to release Ode to Billy Joe, inspired by the hit Bobby Gentry song. I filed a dismissive review, which was published, but the next day got a call from my editor, B.J. Franklin, who conveyed the news that Jethro, otherwise known as Max Baer Jr., the director of the film, was not a bit pleased with my notice. Would I perhaps consider taking another look at it with an eye to revising my opinion upward?

When I refused this opportunity, B.J. proposed that I interview Max about the film. I politely declined. The next day I was informed me that my services would no longer be required at the Reporter, and also learned that Max and B.J. were Bel-Air-circuit social friends.

That was the beginning of my gratifying but rollercoaster history with the “trades,” as they were more commonly referred to then–Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Although weekly Variety enjoyed a wider and international readership, for many years before the internet the trades were almost exclusively aimed at and consumed by the L.A. show business crowd and financed significantly by self-congratulatory advertising and others hoping to draw the commercial interest of the industry.

The offices of Daily Variety, which I joined in 1979, could not have been less prepossessing. Demolished only recently, the one-story brick-and-mortar structure at 1400 N. Cahuenga most resembled a bunker. The center of action was a large window-less open newsroom occupied by small desks, towering piles of papers, manual typewriters, carbon paper, glaring overhead lights and overflowing ash-trays to accommodate the chain-smoking habits of most of the old staffers who’d been there for decades. One of them used his waste-basket as a spittoon, especially after his double-scotch lunches at the Brown Derby walking distance up on Vine.

For those of us deeply into newspaper traditions and lore, you couldn’t beat it, nor could you put anything over on the great and feisty editor, Tom Pryor, a former Golden Gloves boxer from New York and proud bulldog Irishman who was tough and always played fair. The only drawback was that film critics didn’t get by-lines on their reviews, only one-name “monickers” (actually, “sigs”, PB) that reflected your actual name (starting his career at Variety, the future film critic of The New York Times, Vincent Canby, signed his reviews as Anby., while I used Cart., as Todd. had been taken by a previous staffer and Arty. was far too pretentious for a trade publication).

After a decade of this and loving almost every minute of it, I decamped to New York to write a film, meet the woman who would become my wife and, in 1991, be paged by new editor Peter Bart to rejoin Variety, but only under very different and liberal circumstances; I would only need to review films, not pound out news stories, and could continue to pursue my other writing…

As I said to The New York Times when I was let go from Variety just over a decade ago, “It’s the end of something.” What the next something is—for everyone is our business–seems less knowable than ever.



Madrid, Dec. 31, 2019

As promised, here are the contributions received by Simesite for this year’s wrap. Unfortunately, the number of muggs showing signs of life has decreased somewhat from a year ago. We suppose that some may have changed their e-mail addresses and thus no longer receive our urgings, while the silence of a few others may perhaps be due to illness or death.

Following are the contributions, 20 in all, received from muggs for this year’s end Simesite round-up.  They are listed in the order in which they were received. We were pleased to see that this year we received several from muggs that had not submitted anything in past few years, such as John Willis, Fred Lombardi, Bob King and Mike Evans.

For those who failed to respond, we can only hope that the cause was sloth and not indisposition.

Ian Watkins in London and I in Madrid wish all the muggs who once were part of the Variety and Daily Variety team in the Syd Silverman era

Best wishes for the coming year!


A copy of Variety makes the scene!

Here’s a frame from the 1964 movie “Comedy of Terrors” in which Variety gets a moment to shine on the screen. At lower right, horror maestro Vincent Price is intently reading a print copy of Variety while reclining in a coffin. He’s surrounded by Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone.

Bob Marich