by PETER BESAS
Simesite learned with great regret of the passing last Tuesday (Mar.18) of Abie Torres near his home in St. Petersburg, Florida, following a long bout with cancer. He was 67.
Born in New York City of Puerto Rican parents, Abie (Abraham) joined Variety as a messenger in 1958 and eventually took over the “production” department, which was in charge of laying out the paper each week for its publication (in those days) on Wednesdays. Abie’s desk was located at the rear of the ad department, in the back of the long, narrow “ground floor” of the building at 154 West 46th Street. (In fact, you reached the floor by walking down a short flight of stairs right after passing through the main entrance to the building).
It was Abie who checked and controlled every ad that came into the New York office, working in tandem with the late Jimmy Antinori, the art manager, who made any changes required on the ad copy coming in, before passing it on to Abie. Mondays were usually the busiest days in the lay-out department, with last-minute ads coming in, and Abie laying out the paper in the afternoons together with publisher Syd Silverman. In those pre-computer days, this was done on long sheets of paper, where each section of the paper was marked off, broken down into a list of individual pages, which were marked either with the name of the full-page advertiser, or “broken” pages, which contained ads in addition to editorial copy, and finally the pages which featured only editorial copy.
Laying out the issue, even on an average week, was a tricky business, and usually took several hours to do. The system of “jumping” some articles to the end of the paper, where they were continued, certainly helped (a system not used in many other countries). But this was relative child’s play, compared to having to lay out “special” issues or sections, of which there were an increasing number starting in the 1970s. These reached their apogee during the yearly Cannes Film Festival issue in May, when Abie and Syd would, at the height of Variety’s international boom, have to lay out three huge issues, back to back, totalling well over 1,000 pages! All this by hand, without computers, with hundreds of pages of advertising coming into the small downstairs area of the building on 46th Street from all over the world, from such places as Los Angeles, Chicago, London, Rome, Paris, Sydney and Madrid, in each of which cities Variety maintained full-time offices.
I guess both Abie and Syd might break the marathon every now and then for a snort at the local bar, while the frenzy of arriving packages, messengers coming and going to the production facility in Valley Steam, Long Island, phones ringing off the hook, as the two operators on the fifth floor plugged in the different extensions in the building on their console, and everyone, from Variety’s old-time secretary Norma Nannini to the ad department, kept the staff jumping at fever pitch in order to get the issues out.
On a regular weekly edition, after Abie and Syd had laid out the issue on Mondays, they would follow up on Tuesday by heading out to Balan Graphics in Valley Stream, LI, where the paper was laid out on large boards by Syd and the section editors, proofread and the ads rechecked by Abie before being sent to the printing plant, located in the Bronx and later in Brooklyn, and which Abie and Syd also usually went to after 6 p.m. on Tuesdays to see the first copies coming off the press.
Wednesday the paper was out on the newsstands and in the mail for subscribers. It was also the day when almost everyone in the office had off, both editorial and sales departments. Then, on Thursday, the routine was repeated all over again.
On the occasions I passed through New York, I’d sometimes spend a couple of weeks in the office putting together my yearly Hispanic and Latin American issue. On such occasions I’d sometimes swap a few words with Abie in Spanish (I was commonly known as “Don Pedro” to the staff), but usually we’d talk in English. I never saw Abie being anything but calm and collected, even when “screw ups” arose, or copy didn’t come in on time, or his layout had to be painstakingly revised.
In the spirit of the old Variety, and in the tradition of the mavericks who founded Variety in 1905, Sime Silverman being the leader, Abie always maintained a street-smart and somewhat irreverent attitude towards the powerful of this world, a skeptical stance mixed with an element of distrust of authority, which of course immediately was at loggerheads with the Cahners corporate management when they took over operations in 1987. Abie was never a “yes” man, and had no compunctions about voicing his views about anything, usually in a slangy style of his own. But though he lived in an imperfect world, when it came to his job at the paper he was a meticulous perfectionist, and virtually no errors, no matter how trivial, passed him by. Syd knew he could depend upon Abie. And he did.
Abie ankled the sheet around 1993, after putting up with the corporates on the new Park Avenue South office for several years.
The last time I saw Abie was for his wedding to Joya in St. Petersburg about 15 years ago. All his friends in Variety were delighted that he was planning to settle down with his new wife, an ex-teacher, in Florida. He had certainly sowed his wild oats while in New York, but now seemed to enjoy his life down south. He then managed to get a job on the St. Petersburg Times until his illness forced him to give it up.
Unfortunately, in 2005 he was already not well enough to join us in the 100th Anniversary celebration held in Sardi’s that year.
But to the very end Abie remained very much a part of the old Variety survivors, and kept in touch with some of the other ex-muggs. And we were pleased to see that he even took the trouble to send us his choices for the Oscar sweepstakes this year, which we ran just a month ago.
Abie is survived by his wife, Joya, as well as by his first wife Jean and their daughter, Susan. Funeral services were held for him on March 21.