By MICHAEL SILVERMAN
(Great Grandson of Variety founder Sime Silverman, Michael Silverman is the former publisher of Daily Variety.)
Hy Hollinger has to be just about the most durable, productive and respected entertainment trade reporter of the past two centuries (he’s spanned both). My best information is that he toiled at Variety from the mid-’50s into the ’60s as a 20-something scribe, and then was recruited into the Hollywood studio publicity machine for the better part of two decades.
I’m not sure why Hy ended up back at Daily Variety in the late 70’s, but I assumed it was due to another typical studio regime change: new guy in, he chops everybody who knows anything and brings in his own sycophants, rear-kissers and other loyalists whom he (or she) can control with a mere glance. Sound familiar? See “Variety: under Peter Bart.” The fact that Hy lasted that long in the studio system is a tribute to his fortitude and skills.
I first met Hy in the early ’80s, when in 1982, Adrienne and I were just married and shipped to Los Angeles and Daily Variety from New York. I’m sure Hy was “asked” by Daily editor Tom Pryor to show the new Silverman cub reporter the ropes, which he did to the hilt. It was learning trade journalism by osmosis, from one of the masters. It was also appropriate that Hy had one of the best of the traditional four-letter review signatures Hyho. If you were covering a market with Hy, it truly was “Hyho, Hyho, it’s off to work we go….”
This was right at the time that both Variety‘s were enjoying explosive growth, along with the independent film business, the Primetime Access rule and TV syndication, cable and pay-cable expansion, and the growth of homevideo. The weekly was producing 500-page issues for Cannes, NATPE, MIP-TV, and the new American Film Market in L.A., and of course all those ads had to be broken up with reams of useful, or at least informative, editorial copy.
Hy was incredibly patient, and a good teacher. He would guide me through the preparatory work of interviewing dozens of independent film producers, some who were talented filmmakers, while others were just extraordinary blowhards. In both cases, Hy showed me that you made sure you tracked the projects and pointed out when fantasy became reality, and when fantasy remained nothing but smoke. Remember, the papers were filled with ads for pictures that never got made, but all these companies were pursuing bank advances (“so nice to see you again, Frans”) and foreign pre-sales based on a piece of art, a B-grade star and a script treatment, if you were lucky. And we were supposed to be “the Bible of showbiz.” I got religion quickly, and Hy was the bishop of box office. Of course, Tom Pryor was The Pope.
Iron Man, Mentor
I spent countless Cannes fests and American Film Markets working alongside Hy, and to this day am still in awe of his endurance and productivity. Typically he’d be at an 8 a.m. press breakfast, work the market hallways all day and at 4-6 p.m. he’d be in the Variety AFM suite banging out his 4th or 5th story of the day to make the Daily deadline, or if it was Tuesday, writing his magnum opus- analysis piece for the Weekly. Meanwhile, I’d be next to him, feeling like a poor relation working on my 2nd feature of the day and trying to get a quote from PSO’s Mark Damon (harder than it sounds, as this was long before cell phones) before final Daily close.
“But wait, there’s more!” And then I’d tag along as Hy headed downstairs after sending in his last story, to the two or four soirees scheduled for that evening. Not only was he a great reporter, he never stopped. He and legendary ad salesman Hal Scott could work a room like nobody’s business, with a drink in hand and a notebook in his pocket. Now schmoozing was a skill-set that most muggs had, but Hy was one of those Variety staffers, like Hal Scott, Roger Watkins, Seger-san, Mike Harris, Tom Girard, Jack Loftus, Joe Cohen, Claudia Eller, Hank Werba and some others who could take it to another level. In Hy’s case, he was scouring the marketplace after-hours for leads on his stories for the next day. Tagging along was a tutorial in how to schmooze the news out of people who didn’t want to give it to you — unless it was something bad about their competitors.
Hy was selfless and gracious about showing me (and my evil twin Mark) the reportorial ropes, and all over the globe. From Milan to Manila, from Cannes to Culver City, I learned how to get information out of people, where the best restaurants were (not at all the most expensive), and to understand people’s motives: this latter was a priceless skill set in Hollywood and later, in the Cahners/Reed corporate world.
Thriller In Manila
Probably our greatest adventure was a weeklong (or more) stint covering the nascent Manila International Film Festival for the papers. This was around 1985, I think (memory fades), and the Ferdinand Marcos regime had decided an international film fest was just the ticket to take Filipinos’ (and the world’s) minds off his failing dictatorship and growing (Islamic?) rebel insurgency.
The junket included a coach-class flight on Philippine Airlines from L.A. to Manila. I’m pretty sure 1st class was filled with the celebs invited to the festival, including actors George Hamilton (“I’ll get a real tan!”) and Anne Archer (a nice-looking, and nice, lady), plus 20th-Fox production chief Sherry Lansing and PSO’s Mark Damon (both former thesps), along with MPAA chieftain Jack Valenti.
Hy and I were stuck in steerage for the never-ending 17-hour flight. Even with a layover in Hawaii, the 2nd leg was like 10 hours in the air, and made even more interminable by the fact they ran out of vodka. Come to think of it, they ran out of everything – food, water, and most importantly, booze. This was one of the few times I ever saw Hy irritable.
The festival itself was a meagre attempt at distracting the world from Marcos’ imminent departure as dictator, and it was a unique experience, much like being Mel Gibson — I wish! — in (the 1983 film) “The Year of Living Dangerously”: foreign correspondent, “guest” of southeast Asian dictatorship, under constant scrutiny and surveillance by despot’s goons; oh, right…. no Sigourney Weaver as a love interest. Well, at least I had Hy Hollinger in case of emergency.
All the Americans were closely watched. I checked into my room at the hotel and found hanging in the closet a custom-made linen/lace native shirt known as a Barong, which fit me perfectly. This creeped me out, and I wondered how they knew my size. Lucky guess? I wondered if it was bugged. During the entire festival, it seemed there was always a swarthy guy in sunglasses and bulges under his suit hovering in the vicinity, whether it was while we were eating lunch, or taking a Jeepny ride in Manila’s manic taxis. And our schedule was predetermined for us, for the most part. Valenti, the consummate politician, was oh-so-smooth with Madame (Imelda) Marcos, she of the thousand shoes. I think his real goal for the trip was to make some inroads fighting the rampant film piracy in the territory.
Ship Of Fools?
Most memorable was the day we were kidnapped by Madame Marcos on the presidential yacht, a converted WWII minesweeper. Virtually all the American guests were hustled in the morning to the harbor for what was supposed to be a short cruise to the WWII memorial at Corregidor and lunch. Along with us was Variety‘s Peter Besas and his lovely late wife Lucy, a sharp lady.
Well, this turned into an all-day/most of the night affair, highlighted by a luncheon performance on the basketball court-sized dance floor by Imelda Marcos of the standard lounge ballad, “Feelings.” As she belted out “Peelings…..nutting more dan peelings,” I decided I should take notes for a New Act Review for the weekly. As I announced this, I think Hy choked on his lunch with a huge guffaw. He smartly advised that I might want to wait to file the review until we were safely out of the country. He wasn’t kidding.
Well, day turned to night, as Mrs. Marcos then decided we would all get a tour of the presidential Summer palace, which was God-knows-where on yet another island. Hours later, in the dark, we were loaded onto a bus with M-16-armed Filipino soldiers as guards, supposedly to protect us. As we were told as the bus headed back to Manila, we were about to head through rebel-controlled territory.
Everybody was more p.o.’d than scared, Hy especially, because we’d now wasted an entire day touring the Philippines with Imelda. We were tired, and hungry, and now way behind schedule, with no real festival news to speak of. I never did find out why we didn’t take the ship back to Manila.
This was back in the days when a fax machine was a huge competitive advantage. Unfortunately, the press room at the fest was not up to current snuff, and I remember Hy and I typing out stories in the press room and then having to hand them to Filipino spies (I mean, Telex operators) who would then re-punch our stories and dial up the LA or NY office. Hy, always being a rather practical sort, reminded me not to write any overtly critical dispatches, and certainly not the review of the 1st Lady;we could always write them from the safety of our desks at the Daily.
Capo di Tutti Capo du Cap
Hy was one of my great mentors at Daily Variety, and he was a terrific guide to the nuances of the indie and international film business, as well as a handy fellow when on foreign assignments, especially Cannes. He introduced me to the scene at the swank Hotel du Cap, where lunch was stupidly expensive and cash only, of course. He and Hal Scott and the legendary Bob Hawkins even knew which hotel staffer to grease (and how much) to get copies of the paper (and the monstrous Cannes Daily) to all the guest rooms. They were like the Three Musketeers to me. Throw in Roger Watkins as D’Artagnan, and you couldn’t go wrong with that bunch.
Hy continued his ace reporting and analysis throughout my years at the Daily, right up towhen I headed out the door in December, 1992 after my contract with Cahners/Reed was up.
By this time, of course, Peter Bart had been given control of the Daily’s editorial department by the corporate suits, against both my advice and protests. It was clear from the start that Bart wanted Hy and other senior staffers out, but Hy especially; I assumed it was because he knew (literally) where the bodies were buried from Hy’s days at Paramount (all apologies to Dave Robb and his pursuit of the Roy Rudin murder case to which Bart’s Paramount mentor Robert Evans was believed to be linked but never prosecuted).
Bart tried more than once on my watch as Publisher of the Daily to get rid of Hy, but of course he had to be careful, what with age discrimination laws and other realities of the human resources function. I always managed to make the point with the few suits who would listen that a guy like Hy was a walking Rolodex, and had a massive b.s. detector built in, and was incredibly productive, to boot. In other words, he was indispensable. It also got a big laugh (and made a point) with the suits when Bart would squirm, “but he’s too old, and the new Hollywood doesn’t relate to (Hy)” and I’d retort, “but Peter, he’s just about your age…60, right?”
Happily, Hy found a new home at the Hollywood Reporter as International Editor, for the next 16 years. They were lucky to have him that long. Variety was even luckier to have him longer, and twice!