by MIKE MALAK
WILL TUSHER’S sig was tush a nom de plume that no doubt tickled Will, a veteran of the Hollywood Reporter where sigs were unknown. Tusher had a ribald sense of humor so the double entendre, clearly, was not lost on him.
Tusher, also, liked to get into the faces of people he was putting on with outrageous banter. If, and it was usually just a matter of time, the colleague of the moment decided that he, or she, had stomached just enough of Will he would break out a huge smile. With all the warmth he could muster, Tusher would assure his companion that he was “just kidding.”
I had nothing to do with the hiring of staffers, except for advertising personnel. Nonetheless, I could sense competitive threats and would suggest to Tom Pryor, the editor, from time to time, as politely as possible, that the Daily might benefit form certain periodic acquisitions from the red paper. Tusher was one of those suggestions that paid off handsomely. He had been at the Reporter for what seemed like a decade or more and was as much a fixture there as Tichi Wilkerson Miles, later Kassel (the owner) herself. I was in her office once when I delivered some ad copy and on the pretext of looking for the Coke machine looked around in her sanctum. It was full of personality compared to the Spartan Daily and she was nonplused by my curiosity, smiling even as I beat a hasty retreat.
Tusher worked a mixed beat with TV and film in his bag of tricks. His writing was clear, to the point, and you knew where you stood with him from the inception since he, like many staffers, tolerated no folderol. On the other hand, he knew, after many years at it, how the town worked. Entertainment in Hollywood was really about favors and nothing bought more favors than information; Tusher was a gossip at heart no matter how hard his news. Sometimes Pryor’s pen flew over his pages, at which Tusher would grimace and start a one-on-one negotiation, usually to no avail. However, he took it all with good graces.
The studios liked to think that each of them was a Fort Knox guarding trade secrets, the same way the government guards its gold ingots, and felt it was practically a Sherman Anti Trust Act violation for the Ad_Pub toppers, an informal collection of studio exex, to meet once a month with Tom Pryor to share tidbits of information. Tusher thrived in such an environment. He loved secrets and knew how to turn them into editorial copy with a flip of the receiver. A number of staffers coveted his Rolodex card file, akin to Army Archerd’s, and were amazed at the depth of “Tusher the Gusher”s contacts, many still inherited from his days on the Reporter. It took more than a year or two for the Reporter to make up for Will’s loss after he ankled that sheet, much to the delight of the Daily’s advertising staff, who regularly mined Tusher’s published stories for leads to lucre.
Tusher, despite his occasional gruffness and habit of pedaling his portly upper body through the newsroom, especially in a tux at award show time, had a soft spot for the ladies. He was married five times, each of them to a beautiful woman, or so the legend goes. The one I met was a knockout.
Will was generous to those he felt deserved a helping hand or a push in the right direction. Perhaps influenced from his years at the Reporter where advertising and editorial knew no separation, he’d occasionally ask why I hadn’t called so and so. I am most grateful to Will for the tickets he gave my wife and me to the 50th Anniversary Oscar show at which we were the only two people in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to give Vanessa Redgrave, that year’s Best Supporting Actress for Fox’s Julia, a hand; literally, the only ones. Outside the pavilion, protesters excoriated her as “Vanessa the Red”!
Tusher deserves a hand, too, for a curmudgeonly gentleness beneath the hard boilerplate veneer he acquired working for two trades papers, and for a host of beauties whom, it is said, he treated like royalty.