By FRANK SEGERS and HY HOLLINGER
Army Archerd, that assiduously private, gentle-natured Hollywood columnist, was at his death the most publicly-known Variety / Daily Variety figure since Abel Green, the Weekly’s legendarily gregarious former editor who commanded the show biz universe for decades from his front-window perch on West 46th Street.
Army was by far the best day-in-and-day-out chronicler of things Hollywood in American journalism. Some dismissed his work as too soft to be of interest to anyone not a Hollywood flack. Those that read him faithfully knew otherwise.
Show biz columnists across the country liberally borrowed – ie., shamefacedly stole – from his column. He was that good: utterly reliable, with access to and trusted by legions of Hollywood personalities from all ranks in the business.
Yet within the “old” Variety / Daily Variety, prior to the publications’ sale in 1988, Army was considered an odd journalistic species of the West Coast.
He was little known by the Weekly’s hard-charging foreign crew, and there wasn’t anyone remotely filling his function at the Weekly’s 46th St. headquarters (except perhaps for the two year stint begun in 1967 by an end-of-career Walter Winchell, who contributed a “Man About Town” column for the Weekly).
Army reversed the personnel order of interest of the traditional “old” Variety trade reporter: studio or network heads of first importance, followed by key production chiefs and programmers, distribution bosses and syndication gurus, ratings statisticians, producers. Far down the list were directors and before-the-camera personalities. “We don’t bother with stars,” Hy once told me (Frank) after I breathlessly informed him that I had just shared a sandwich with Sigourney Weaver in the Paris airport.
Army reversed that order of trade interest with such integrity that his work all but screamed – “look, this is important.” He was an anomaly in an era of scoop-obsessed, feuding and vindictive gossip columnists. He was a mensch, equally considerate of celebrities, colleagues and even rivals.
Shortly after Army took over the Daily Variety columnist job from Sheila Graham, I (Hy) came to Hollywood from New York to work on the Daily for about a week. More than anyone, Army steered me around Tinseltown, helping me set up interviews and giving me the lowdown on the people I would be seeing. He invited my wife and me to an informal soiree at his home, at which one of the guests, to my surprise, was Louella Parsons, the powerful Hearst Hollywood columnist.
Army was not gossip columnist. He was a chronicler of the Hollywood scene, from casting to weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals and social and charity activities. No rumors. Just the facts.
Veteran publicist Murray Weissman recalls that when he would call in news for Army’s column, Army would ask, “Who’s your client?” as a way of making sure that he included the client’s name.
One of our favorite Army stories is attributed to the late Lee Solters, according to Weissman: “Pop the champagne, you made the lead in Army’s column,” Solters would tell a client.
If an item broke at the end of Army’s column, his good-news call said: “Congrats, you made the tag of Army’s column.”
And if an item got buried in the middle of the column, Solters was as gung-ho as ever: “Hurray, you made the spine of Army’s column today.”
Despite his own celebrity status, Army never forgot his roots. He frequently attended gatherings of Southern California alumni of Townsend Harris, the prep school of City College of New York, then known as the poor man’s Harvard. Coincidentally, the late famed publicist Warren Cowan (Rogers & Cowan) was a classmate of Army’s at Townsend Harris.
In 2005, his hometown, The Bronx, N.Y., installed him in the Bronx Hall of Fame, a walk along the Grand Concourse that consists of a series of “street signs” named after famed Bronx natives, with Army’s sign joining those of Stanley Kubrick, Regis Philbin, Colin Powell, and others.
The installation was preceded by the Bronx Day Parade, a march down the Grand Concourse to the Courthouse near Yankee Stadium. The tribute added to numerous Army honors, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which he received in 1984.
Strangely, the many accolades did not make Army feel secure about his job. When Syd published a story about my (Hy’s) coming to Hollywood in 1980 as the associate editor of Weekly Variety, he mentioned that part of my duties would be a Hollywood Soundtrack column.
Army, I heard, erroneously thought that I might be taking over his column. Boy, was he wrong. Matter of fact, I lifted a lot of stuff from him for my weekly mishmash.
When Cahners bought out the Silvermans in 1988, Army is said to have feared that a new editor might not require his services. But the Cahners brass thought otherwise, hailing Army as the kingpin of Daily Variety as they learned that the first thing most people read was Army’s column.
As our colleague Morrie Gelman astutely observes in his Simesite rememberance of Army, writing a daily column accurately covering the opaque mores of Hollywood may sound easy but isn’t. Army worked tirelessly at what he did but – the sign of the ultimate professional — he made it look easy.
Our condolences to Selma and the Archerd family.