by PETER BESAS
DAILY VARIETY‘s long-time, hard-hitting and greatly-respected editor-in-chief, Tom Pryor, was born in New York. He was the third editor of the Daily, following Arthur Ungar and Joe Schoenfeld.
Recalled Pryor: “I understand my name was proposed to Abel Green by the late Lou Greenspan, who was an oldtime VARIETY man. The first thing I know, I got a phone call from Syd Silverman, who said that I was being considered for the editorship.”
At that time, (1959) Pryor was working for the New York Times as bureau chief in Hollywood. He quipped that he had been the “first, last and only bureau chief for theTimes in Hollywood”. Pryor had been covering show business for the Times in New York from 1931 to 1951.
Syd Silverman gave Tom complete control in running DAILY VARIETY, which had its office in a one-story building on Cahuenga Boulevard and was run as an almost entirely-autonomous operation, with its own editorial and advertising staffs, though accounting and contacts with overseas bureaus were handled out of New York.
Pryor remained at the helm in Hollywood for 28 years. Shortly after the sale of the papers he was edged out by those appointed by the new corporate owners. A huge reception at the time of his retirement (for the time being, Mike Silverman was still publisher of the Daily) was thrown by friends, which drew a gigantic crowd comprising a roster of almost everyone who was of note in the Hollywood show biz community.
He was suceeded on the Daily by his son Pete who had worked on the sheet for many years in various capacities. But it was not long before Pete, and most of the other staffers from the pre-Cahner’s period left, including Mike Silverman who, at the time, was publisher.
When Tom Pryor died in Los Angeles in March 2001, HY HOLLINGER wrote:
Thomas M. Pryor, a highly respected journalist who covered the motion picture industry for a 50-year period that spanned the exit of the founding moguls to the beginning of the digital age, died Monday of heart failure at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, Calif. He was 88.
He was a reporter, editor, assistant film critic and Hollywood bureau chief and correspondent at the New York Times for 22 years before becoming editor of DAILY VARIETY, a post he held for 30 years before retiring in 1988.
Pryor’s son Peter, also a former editor of DAILY VARIETY, is the executive news editor ofThe Hollywood Reporter.
Tom Pryor, a crusty Irishman, was a dyed-in-the-wool newspaperman of the old school who is credited with changing the face of entertainment trade journalism when he became editor of DAILY VARIETY in 1959. Samuel Goldwyn Jr., who along with his late movie-pioneer father were longtime close friends of Pryor’s, cited the “tremendous integrity” with which Pryor undertook the job of editing a Hollywood trade paper. “He was a journalist first,” Goldwyn said.
Although Pryor’s title at DAILY VARIETY was editor, his duties included those of publisher, general manager, advertising director, and complete overseer of the West Coast affiliate of VARIETY in New York. “I hired Tom from the New York Times,” said Syd Silverman, former owner-publisher of the parent company. “There’s no question about (Pryor serving as nontitled publisher). I fully trusted his judgment in handling what’s going on inHollywood. Tom and I worked together for 30 years, and the question of breaking news and how the news should be played were all Tom’s decisions.”
In a sense, Pryor was a Hollywood anomaly. Many of his closest friends were studio executives and publicists, Goldwyn and Lew Wasserman among them. Walter Seltzer, a producer and onetime publicist, was a friend for 30 years. “He had fierce integrity,” Seltzer said. “It seems like a contradiction in the relationship between a publicist and an editor. But you learned, don’t try to trick him or lie to him.”
Veteran publicist Jerry Pam recalls when he complained to Pryor about a negative review. “Tom, we sat together, and you said you liked the picture,” Pam remembers saying to Pryor. “So,” was Pryor’s response. “I hired the reviewer for his views, not mine.”
Pryor maintained warm relationships and friendships with many of the reporters who worked for him. “He’s responsible for my journalism career,” said Art Murphy, founder of the Peter Stark Motion Picture Producing Program at USC. “He hired me out of the Navy without any prior journalism experience. He gave me a three-month trial period.” Murphy went on to become a reporter, reviewer and one of the industry’s foremost boxoffice analysts.
Pryor was a staunch supporter of industry charities, especially the Motion Picture Film and Television Fund, which awarded him its highest honor, the Silver Medallion, in 1982. “Not only did he support the charities in the paper, but he gave his time, guidance and expertise as well,” said Seltzer, a member of the fund’s board of trustees.
At a Hollywood Press Club dinner honoring Pryor in 1992, Richard Kahn, a former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, focused on Pryor’s early days as a New York Times film critic. After reading 644 of the “critical essays from October 1935-June 1951 that bore the initials T.M.P.,” Kahn came up with this observation: “Tom’s distaste for phony sentiment was always apparent, and never more so than with those overly sentimental films dealing with his ancestral Ireland. In his review of Father O’Flynn,’he says, ‘The luck of the Irish seemed to have deserted the filmmakers,’ or, many years later, when he wrote of the film biography of Chauncey Olcott, ‘My Wild Irish Rose’: ‘It’s so patronizing and professionally Irish in sentiment that it’s downright embarrassing.’ ”
Pryor was born May 22, 1912, in New York. His father, head waiter at a hotel restaurant where editors of the New York Times dined, helped him land his first job at the newspaper as a copy boy in 1929.
In addition to his son Peter, Pryor is survived by his son Thomas, a film editor; a daughter, Virginia; eight grandchildren; and two sisters.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Grace Church in Encino.
Former Daily tv editor BRIAN LOWRY, now with the LA Times, wrote:
Tom Pryor, the former editor of DAILY VARIETY, was nearing the end of nearly three decades at the trade paper when I began my own 9-year tenure there.
Pryor had his sacred cows – I recall a negative review of a Bob Hope special that never found its way into print – but he was staunchly committed to the sanctity of news coverage and keeping it wholly separate from business considerations. In short, Pryor radiated integrity – a trait that seems increasingly rare and precious. All I can say is thanks for the memories.