When I joined Variety in 1965 as a TV-radio reporter and reviewer (my signature was Knol.), the broadcast networks dominated the media landscape. I remember when I was assigned to cover a meeting of the cable TV industry association at the Statler Hilton Hotel. It didn’t even fill a small auditorium. There was plenty of room to spare. Today cable TV is a $94 billion business whose annual confab overflows the Chicago convention center.
Yet another year has elapsed and we have managed to get 16 responses from the muggs, which is unfortunately down considerably from only a year ago. Have the “no shows” simply been too lazy to send a contribution? Have they shuffled off this mortal coil? Will one or two of them come in after deadline? Or maybe they have just changed their email addresses and are now lost in cyberspace.
Among this year’s “missing” are Alderman, Daley, Fainaru, Grantham, Evans, Kruger, Rosovsky, Stenzel and Willis. I mention only those who in recent years replied, not those “long since not replying”. Here, in the order in which they were received, are this year’s contributors:
Varietyreached into its expansive vault to provide real-life backstory to new theatrical film Babylon about Hollywood in the Roaring 1920s. The Variety archival article dated Dec. 23, 2022, plays off filmmaker Damien Chazelle’s new Paramount Pictures release starring Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie that captures and exaggerates that early period of “Hollywood in all its decadence, debauchery and excess.”
A multi-hyphenate in journalism, writing and media, Richard Setlowe passed away at age 89 after a career on the West Coast that included working at Daily Variety. He died at Kaiser Permanente in Panorama City, Calif. ln Aug. 25 after long-term health issues.
From 1962 through 1998, Setlowe wrote forDaily Varietyon film, music and drama, including a period of full-time work serving as lead film reviewer for a time. In a 1992 Varietystory about Frank Sinatra’s film career before his award-winning roles, Setlowe wrote: “From the time that studio executives and directors became aware that the skinny crooner was an actor of astonishing range, the critics constantly lamented that the actor never exercised the taste and discrimination in his roles that the singer did in his music.”
In his journalism career, Setlowe also worked as a writer and editor at the San Francisco Examiner and contributed to Time, Life and TV Guide magazines. He also was an accomplished novelist and network TV executive.
According to his obituary in Variety,“A private celebration of his life will be held at Beyond Baroque Theater in Venice, Calif., on Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. Donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.”
Setlowe was born in New York on April 21, 1933 in the depth of the Great Depression, growing up there and in Tennessee. He finished college at University of Southern California, and then served in the U. S. Navy as an officer. Setlowe was an achiever in life and recreation as a scuba diver, snow skier and private pilot, tennis player. His wife of 50 years, Beverly Setlowe, died in 2012. He is survived by sons David Higgs and Chris Balaam and grandchildren Chase Higgs, Hailey Holfelder, Adam Balaam, Eric Balaam, great-grandson Luca Holfelder and niece Kimberly Setlowe.
For many decades, journalists at the old Variety office on West 46th Street referred to themselves as “ink-stained wretches” or “galley slaves”, self-mocking monikers that were prompted by the configuration of the elongated editorial room where they sat at their manual typewriters. At the head of the row of reporters, on a raised dais, next to the picture window that overlooked 46th Street, sat the publisher Syd Silverman and a series of editors-in-chief, though I believe they never cracked any proverbial whip over the “galley slaves”. The most famous of those sitting on the dais with Syd over the years were Abel Green, Bob Landry, Bob Hawkins, Mark Silverman and Frank Meyer.
The “ink-stained” monicker has now been used as the title of a new book that zeroes in on the early era of show biz jounalism called “Ink-Stained Hollywood: The Triumph of American Cinema’s Trade Press”. Its author is Eric Hoyt, a professor of Media Production at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison. and is published by the University of California Press.
Given the credentials of its author and the publisher, it is no surprise that this is a serious, academical work which does not shy away from analyses and historical details
To my knowledge, it is the first book published since my own Inside Variety (2000) that mentions some of Variety’s early protagonists, starting with Sime Silverman, but also referring to Daily Variety’s first editor-in-chief, Arthur Ungar, and others. In consonance with the title of the book, Hoyt concentrates mostly on film activities in Hollywood and when he writes of “Variety” it is usually Daily Variety that he is referring to, not the New York-based weekly.
However, a number of pages in the book are also dedicated to slanguage (Hoyt also uses the term “industry speak” which is a modern expression). His research has been thorough as he dipped into the trade press of the early part of the 20th century, and he even makes mention of the New York Clipper, a trade mag of the 1920’s which Sime acquired but then folded a year later. Also covered in the book is some of the infighting among the vaudeville moguls of the time.
If Hoyt’s book remains in the purely academical vein, eschewing any attenmpt at evoking the atmosphere of the early Variety years and the muggs that worked on it, it is notwithstanding a welcome, well-written addition to a subject – old show biz journalism – which seems to have been largely ignored since the publication of my own book. PB