Abel Green was a friend of mine


The day I joined the London office of Variety, in July 1961, I brought to the job about five years experience of covering the entertainment business. It had been garnered via three domestic pubs – Picturegoer, a consumer magazine, The Stage, a legit and vaude sheet, and the oh-so-niftily titled Kinomatograph Weekly, one of three trade papers supported at the time by the local film industry.

At each of the journals that I worked for previously I had covered a different beat and, since I was tyro reporter, in each case I found the same thing – getting an interview with the top guys in the trade was “impossible.”

But when I called up some industry leader as a new Variety man, suddenly not only did I get through but the conversation usually began with:

“You’re from Variety? Abel Green is a friend of mine.”

It happened time and again. No matter if I was talking to a film guy, a legit maven or a music exec, it seemed everyone in a top job not only knew who Abel Green was but felt they had a positive relationship with him.

No matter that Abel almost never came to London – which he didn’t particularly care for, preferring instead the more stimulating culture of Paris – the level of awareness that Abel edited Variety, and was a man good to know, was extraordinarily high throughout the upper echelons of the trade.

Abel, of course, had for years conducted a personal pr campaign. Knowing it would pay off for the paper, he used to send out 50-60 notes a week to all and sundry, often with little freebies attached – the stuff he received but didn’t want – a campaign that built up a near-global bank of goodwill.

People felt that they owed him something, that in some way they needed to respond to his thoughtfulness and cheerful courtesy. Hence, when this neophyte Variety man called up for a story, those trade luminaries that fell within Abel’s extensive circle of “friends” would be happy to take a call from me.

Tapping into Abel’s goodwill bank meant I had much to thank him for during my early days on the old sheet and while I had met the man just once – and then only extremely briefly on a private visit to the Gotham office – I found myself chatting about Abel with most of the key people in British show biz. These top types were keen to discuss his inventive prose, the legendary “Bible of Show Biz” story and other myths.

Years later, and indeed after Abel’s death in 1973, when I had been upped to assist Bob Hawkins, the European Manager of the paper, which meant I handled ad sales as well as editorial chores, I found out that Abel’s legacy of goodwill penetrated deep into the most inaccessible reaches of the trade.

I was in Munich and visiting one of the companies that belonged to Leo Kirch, the secretive baron of the German television industry. Kirch never gave interviews, had no press department and generally conspired to keep out of the limelight. His employees wouldn’t talk, especially about their boss, and advertising was out of the question.

A salesman’s main attribute, of course, has to be unalloyed optimism backed up with real enthusiasm for what he’s selling. So, being duly hopeful and keen, I pitched the Kirch company for a page ad in the MIP-TV special issue. The lower-echelon execs listened politely, thanked me for my visit, said they would get back to me but not to hold my breath. Kirch never advertised!

At my hotel that evening the phone rang. It was one of the guys from Kirch’s company who said they wanted to book FOUR pages of ads for the MIP issue.

“Four?” I responded incredulously, “What happened to change your mind?”

“We told Mr Kirch about your visit,” the man said, “and he asked if we were talking about the American publication Variety. We said: “Yes. So he decided to take four pages.”

“Did he give a reason? After all, as you said, he doesn’t advertise.”

“Yes . . . he said: Abel Green was a friend of mine.”