A BELATED UPDATE FROM FRED LOMBARDI

Elmwood Park, N.J. July 10, 2017

I had hoped to give you a year end report for 2016 but  got bogged down in a number of things that kept me busy.

Besides, 2016 had not worked out especially well for me. Some writing projects that seemed promising fizzled out. In one case, the editor of a video publication agreed to two of my story ideas but before I could complete the first story, the magazine went out  business.

However, earlier this year Kino Lorber Video approached me about doing audio commentaries for two of their three upcoming releases of silent films starring Gloria Swanson directed by Allan Dwan. They had reached out to me because of my book on Allan Dwan.

The first of those commentaries was for the 1923 film ZAZA, the first of seven silent film collaborations between Swanson and Dwan. The DVD with my commentary was released by Kino Lorber in early June. You can take a look at it by calling up Amazon.com and entering “Zaza” under the category of “Movies and TV.” When you then click on the DVD or Blu-Ray item that then appears, you can scroll down and see my contribution is listed under “Editorial Reviews.”

Researching, writing, editing and recording this commentary required a lot of work but I have to admit that I did enjoy the recording process even when technical glitches meant that I had to repeat large portions of the narration. I also think that these movies being released by Kino represent the best of Swanson’s work in silent movies, rivaled only by her appearance in the 1928 SADIE THOMPSON (directed by Dwan’s friend Raoul Walsh) which earned Swanson her first Oscar nomination.

THE OLD LONDON OFFICE

London, Feb. 2, 2017

We were pleased to have a “voice from the past” contact us, namely Catherine Challands who used to work in the London office of Variety when it was on St. James’s Street. Following are a few excerpts from the missive, which also give information on Bob Hawkins:

I found Sime’s Site when I was fiddling around on the computer looking for stuff about Variety.  I worked at the London office in St. James’s Street from 1962-1970 as PA first to Harold Myers and then, when he retired, to Bob Hawkins…

I loved working there, Harold was a fantastic boss and I learned a huge amount from him (I was a rather shy and naïve young girl from South Wales when I started there) – about politics and good food among other things.  I also got on well with Bob and became good friends with Bob’s wife Rosella – we used to go shopping in Soho, the only place she could get the kind of food she was used to.  I’m still in touch with her. Bob is still with us at age 92 but he doesn’t use his computer anymore. I also have very fond memories of Dick Richards (film critic, also of the Daily Mirror) and Bob Ottaway (tv).  In those days I took down every letter and review in shorthand, rather embarrassingly Harold had better shorthand than mine (he had been a verbatim reporter at the House of Commons at one point I think) and he could type faster!

I feel sad, as I guess some old-timers do, at how the paper has changed, but I think it is still respected in the business because you often see it quoted.

end

YEAR’S END SIMESITE WRAP (2016)

It is gratifying that once again, after a bit of prodding, we have managed to receive 26 contributions for the year-end wrap for Simesite. We have listed the entries in the order they were received.

That still leaves a goodly number of old-time staffers we have not heard from. Some may have changed their e-mail addresses and not have notified us. Others, quite frankly, were too lazy and disinterested to send us anything. Finally, alas, there may be a few that have shuffled off to St Peter’s Gate and that we haven’t heard from. One of these may have been Bob Hawkins in Rome, who was always one of the first to reply, though we trust that in this case his absence may have been “greatly exaggerated”.

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Remembering Bill Greeley

By Steve Knoll

Back in the days when Variety’s TV-radio section was the principal source of news for the broadcasting industry (which was most of the 20th century), one of the essential ingredients that made Variety so successful (and unique) as a writer’s newspaper were the writers/reporters themselves. Among the members of that iconic breed from the Fifties through the mid-Seventies was Bill Greeley.

His actual name was Horace William Greeley, and, yes, he was a descendant of the legendary editor of the New York Tribune who uttered the immortal words. “Go West, young man, go West.”

Long before the general press was covering broadcasting as a serious beat, Bill was digging up scoop after scoop. It was Bill’s report on how New York station WPIX had doctored file footage from Eastern Europe (by adding the super “via satellite”) that led to the station’s license being challenged.

Bill was always willing, if not eager, to bite the hand that fed Variety (the advertisers). And since this was Variety, he was able to operate with a free hand. Over his many years on the paper, he built up a network of sources and tipsters throughout the industry. One lesson I learned was that those sources were non-transferable. Once, in a spirit of generosity, he gave me the name of a contact on the ABC Evening News (as it was then known). When I called the man, he was cordial enough, but he wouldn’t give me the time of day.

When it came to the networks, Bill was a cynic, appalled by their slavish devotion to the bottom line at the expense of quality documentary and cultural programming. In those days, Nielsen did not issue ratings reports for every week of the year. Once or twice a year, there were “black weeks”, weeks for which no rating book was issued. The networks would cram their documentary and cultural offerings into those weeks, since they didn’t have to worry about low ratings depressing their Nielsen averages

Bill was not amused.  He would tally all the quality shows that were saved for the Nielsen holiday, and write about “TV’s Black Week Festival.”

On a personal level, it could be said of Bill (in the famous words of Will Rogers) that he never met a man he didn’t like. Unless, that is, that man was President of CBS News or President of NBC News. Richard Salant was President of CBS News. He is now regarded by broadcast historians as the patron saint of broadcast journalism, who preserved the independence of CBS News in the face of government and corporate pressure. His opposite number at NBC was Reuven Frank, an industry pioneer with an equally impressive legacy.

Both of these men couldn’t stand Bill, and the feeling was mutual. This was the time that the Vietnam War was splitting America apart, and Bill repeatedly accused the networks of timidity and buckling under pressure. One of his page-one banner stories was headlined, “Era of No-Guts Journalism.”

Variety reporters, of course, were expected to pound the beat, and Bill’s beat was NBC. Bill once told me that Reuven Frank would not enter the NBC elevator when he saw Bill there. He sounded hurt. I was amused that this hard-nosed investigative reporter had a sensitive side.

At the 1970 NBC affiliates convention, the assembled stations by a vote of 60 to 40 declared that NBC News was biased. This was an extraordinary moment in broadcast journalism history, and the world would never have known about it if Bill had not broken the story in Variety.

As a Variety TV reviewer (his signature was Bill.), Bill was at his perceptive and often hilarious best. Often, reviewing the insipid sitcoms of that era, he would remark on how the laughtrack greeted the most unfunny lines with side-splitting guffaws.

He also made his contributions to Variety’s “slanguage.” The hard-driving rock-and-roll stations that dominated the radio ratings were “boomchuckers.”

Bill’s disdain for the industry establishment extended to the National Association of Broadcasters. One year, Bill and I were in Chicago covering the annual NAB convention. At the convention, the NAB was scheduled to issue its annual report on the public’s preferences among the news media (since 1963, television had surpassed newspapers). Seeking an advance on the latest report for that week’s issue of Variety, I spoke to an NAB official by the name of Roy Danish. Little did I realize that he, like Salant and Frank, was among those who had been burned by Bill. The first glimmer came when Mr. Danish refused to give me the report. His reason: “Your newspaper is always making fun of our organization.”

When I returned to the Variety suite at the Conrad Hilton and told Bill what Mr. Danish had said, Bill’s response was, “You should have told him, ‘I don’t know why you think we’re making fun of you, Mr. Doughnut.’”

Bill’s anti-establishment fervor and mischievous sense of humor meant that editors had to carefully scrutinize his copy. England, for example, has stricter libel laws than the U.S., and Variety once was sued for libel because of a word a legit reviewer in London had employed. I don’t remember what the word was, but I do remember that, shortly after this happened, Bill deliberately used the same word in one of his reviews. Even he later admitted he had gone too far.

Bill smoked from early in the morning till late at night. He paid the price: In 1977, while covering the NBC affiliates convention in Los Angeles, he suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 56.

The following Wednesday, these words appeared on Variety’s obituary page encased in a black border:

“So long Bill, we miss you, A great reporter, a delightful man to know and work with, an absolute one-of-a-kind human being. Your friends on Variety.”

END

Simesite Year’s End Wrap For 2015

As the year 2015 ends, we are gratified to see that we have again, after a bit of nudging, garnered no fewer than 23 responses from muggs all over the world for this year’s Simesite Wrap, (plus two latercomers). That still leaves a lot of people who haven’t answered, so we have supplied a list of the “missing” at the very end of the section. Should anyone have information or the latest contact or e-mail address for any of them, please forward it to us. Some may have shuffled off through the Pearly Gates, but others may simply have changed their e-mail addresses, especially when these were company addresses, rather than personal ones.

Here, then, are the replies we received, in the order in which they came in:

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