Variety columnist was with publication for 52 years
by TIMOTHY M. GRAY
Army Archerd, whose 52-year run as a Daily Variety columnist made him unique among showbiz reporters, died Tuesday in Los Angeles of a rare form of mesothelioma cancer, thought to be the result of his exposure to asbestos in the Navy during WWII. He was 87.
Archerd was one of the first writers to link AIDS to a celebrity when he he printed that Rock Hudson, despite denials from the actor’s publicists and managers, was undergoing treatment for AIDS. For many years, he emceed the Academy Awards on the red carpet.
He began covering entertainment on Oct. 18, 1945, and started the “Just for Variety” column in 1953. His last column ran on Sept. 1, 2005, and he continued contributing to the paper and writing a blog for Variety.com until July 27.
His 900-word column ran on page 2 of Daily Variety five days a week until the 1990s, when it was reduced to four-a-week.
Mixing one-sentence items with lengthier pieces, Archerd insisted on exclusives and provided a community bulletin board, giving details of new deals, reporting from film sets and awards shows, as well as chronicling the births, deaths and hospitalizations of showbiz denizens. He was known for being fair, quoting people accurately and being generally upbeat — which, in the latter part of the 20th century, became increasingly rare for an entertainment reporter.
Seldom was heard a discouraging word — that is, unless there was something going on in Hollywood that bothered him. When Elia Kazan was to be given a special Oscar for the 1998 ceremonies, Archerd criticized the move in many columns, and he often wrote negatively about the NRA and Charlton Heston.
He also was a strong proponent of Jewish causes. When Michael Jackson’s “HIStory” album was released in 1995, Archerd chastised Jackson for a song in which he used the words “Jew me/Sue me” and “Kike me.” A few days later, Jackson called the columnist to reveal that he would re-record the song.
But Archerd mixed this social awareness with much lighter reports. In 2001, he told Talk magazine that he never regretted printing an item, and would not state on the record which story he was proudest of (“It would be very egotistical for me to say that”). However, in private he boasted about the July 23, 1985, Rock Hudson column, when Archerd foretold, “Doctors warn that the dread disease AIDS is going to reach catastrophic proportions in all communities if a cure is not soon found.” Global media picked up on the story; though the disease was not new, this was the first time anyone linked the disease to such a well-known celebrity.
Some media pundits speculated that, had the actor’s death been attributed to other maladies, the scope of AIDS would not have been publicized and realized until Magic Johnson revealed his condition in 1992.
Armand Archerd was born in the Bronx on Jan. 13, 1922. After high school, he attended CCNY for two years. When his family moved to Los Angeles, Archerd transferred to UCLA and, after graduation in 1941, began work in the mail room at Paramount.
When WWII was declared, he enlisted in the Navy. He was commissioned an ensign and shipped out to the Pacific as a deck officer on a destroyer. Archerd was in the same Navy squadron with Herman Wouk and suspects some of his foul-ups were the inspiration of a chapter in the writer’s “The Caine Mutiny.”
On his return from the service, Archerd joined a group of veterans who were making speeches about tolerance to civic groups.
Archerd met Associated Press reporter Bob Thomas, who introduced him to AP’s L.A. bureau chief Hubbard Keavy. Thomas and Archerd opened the AP bureau in the Hollywood Citizen News on Wilcox Avenue in 1945. In 1947, Archerd was hired by the Herald-Express as assistant (i.e., “leg man”) to drama-movie editor-columnist Harrison Carroll.
In addition to covering the studios, Archerd began reporting on the local nightclub scene, which included Sunset Strip sites like the Mocambo and Ciro’s and music boites down La Cienega, La Brea and Ventura Blvd.
In 1953, Daily Variety editor Joe Schoenfeld hired Archerd to replace columnist Sheilah Graham.
Even after five decades on the job, he was a bulldog about the business, phoning the office from his cell phone to report a tip and to ensure Daily Variety would get the scoop. After 50 years, he still got angry when other columnists lifted his items without attribution. After nearly 40 years of working with a manual typewriter, he had to switch to computers. While some other Daily Variety veterans balked at the switch, he worked hard to master the new system. (However, he was regularly flummoxed by frozen computers and despaired when his work was lost).
Archerd was proud of the fact that he never used “leg men,” writing the column himself from his small office at Variety, using four phone lines.
Even normally press-shy celebs like Marlon Brando spoke with him. In April 2002, to commemorate the start of his 50th year at the paper, Daily Variety printed a special salute to him. In a flood of photos, Archerd seemed like the fictional “Zelig,” appearing in shots with a who’s who of Hollywood, from Judy Garland and William Holden to Taylor & Burton, to Tom & Nicole. He was one of the last writers to use the three-dot school of journalism. One publicist summed up the attitude of many PR people in town when he said one line in Army was worth a longer story elsewhere.
Writer J.F. Lawton (“Pretty Woman”) told Talk magazine in 2001, “There will always be three iconic moments in the Hollywood life. Seeing your name for the first time on a movie poster, seeing it on a billboard, and when you see it for the first time in Army Archerd’s column.”
Though he hated the term “gossip columnist” and bristled whenever anyone referred to him as one, he appeared as a regular contributor to E!’s “The Gossip Show” in the 1990s. In addition, he was the co-host and co-producer of the “People’s Choice Awards” on CBS since their start in 1974.
He was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in 1978. And in 1984, he was given a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, in front of Mann’s Chinese Theater, where he has emceed dozens of movie premieres.
As an emcee, he has introduced arriving celebs to the crowds at numerous film premieres, the Emmys for the last eight years. But he is best known in that capacity as emcee for the Academy Awards, serving that duty since 1958.
Even after decades on the job, he still got nervous before his Oscar gigs, working hard to immediately associate names and faces and to know about their most current projects. And, the year Marlee Matlin was a nominee, he practiced sign language to make her feel comfortable.
Aside from his writing for Daily Variety, Archerd wrote regular columns for the King Features Syndicate, countless magazine articles including regular features for the then-popular fan magazines such as Photoplay, writing as many as four monthly fanzine columns.
He was president and founder of the Hollywood Press Club and received honors from them as well as from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., “Newsman of the Year” from the Publicists Assn., “Man of the Year” from the Hollywood Women’s Press Club., the L.A. Press Club’s Eight Ball Foundation and Masquers Man of the Year. He was the first regular TV showbiz reporter, appearing nightly on KNXT (later KCBS) with Hollywood news.
When “Entertainment Tonight” launched, he was its first on-the-scene reporter. He also co-hosted the syndicated “Movie Game,” co-hosted and co-produced “The Celebrity Daredevils” and “Wildest West Show of the Stars” on CBS. He has had his own radio and TV shows on KNX, KABC, KDAY and KNX-TV. Archerd was the first journalist ever to be honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Archerd appeared as himself in over 100 movies and TV shows. He has also hosted and emceed commercial events. And in the New Year’s Day Rose Parade on Jan. 1, 1993, he appeared, appropriately, on the “Awards Night” float in Pasadena.
Archerd is survived by his wife, actress Selma Archerd, a son, Evan, two stepsonsRichard Rosenblum and James Rosenblum and five grandchildren. A daughter, Amanda, died in 2008.