Headlines to die for

Germany’s leading press agency chronicles our saga


By Jack Kindred, Deutsche Press Agentur

New York – Sticks Nix Hick Pics, an eye-catching Variety banner headline over a story about how small-town audiences in the Depression era shunned movies set in rural locales is one of the most famous headlines in U.S. journalistic history.

Now the newspaper known as the Bible of show business throughout the global entertainment industry celebrates its 100th anniversary in what The New York Timesdescribes as a combined centennial party and reunion.

The Los Angeles headquarters of the new Variety will hold its celebration on December 2 while, in typical showbiz fashion, the former publisher and editor of the old paper before it was sold, Syd Silverman, has already upstaged everybody by hosting a gala event at the Manhattan showbiz restaurant Sardi’s in New York three months prematurely.

Syd and Variety’s longtime Madrid correspondent Peter Besas, author of the definitive history of the paper, Inside Variety , staged a by-invitation-only celebration at Sardi’s on September 24, ostensibly to avoid the Christmas rush – but really just to steal the show from the paper’s new owners.

The Los Angeles celebration will now find the Silverman party a hard act to follow. Syd, his wife Joan, and four siblings, Mark, Michael, Matthew, and Marie, were were on hand to greet some 100 ex- reporters and correspondents, some of whom are nearly as famous as the paper for which they served as scribes, to use a Variety headline slanguage term.

Australian television producer David Stratton, who spent 20 years reviewing films for Variety at the world’s leading festivals, came all the way from Sydney, ditto former muggs (Variety-ese for correspondents ) from as far away as Rome, Madrid, Munich, and Toronto.

Chief Variety reviewer Todd McCarthy showed up from Los Angeles, George Gilbert, a frail 90-year-old, made the trip from Florida. Veteran mugg John Willis and wife Lynne came from London.

In what are bound to become collector’s items, Besas compiled a special souvenir album for the occasion and memorial beer muggs inscribed with the names of the invitees were distributed.

Asked to define a mugg, Syd explained that a mugg was a rough-and-tumble guy who went to all the performances and saw everything and everything going on in the business.

Syd Silverman is the grandson of Sime Silverman, who founded his own trade publication in 1905 after the hard-hitting reporter lost his job as a reviewer on a New York newspaper, The Telegraph, for his critical reviews of vaudeville acts which had cost the paper advertising revenue.

Undaunted, Sime borrowed 2,500 dollars from his father-in-law and started his own newspaper, which set the tone for honest, no-punches-pulled reviews, characteristic of the paper even to this day. The first Variety was launched on December 16, 1905.Variety remained a weekly New York newspaper, until a serious competitor, The Hollywood Reporter appeared on the scene on September 3, 1930, as the first trade publication in Los Angeles at a time when the film industry was expanding with the advent of sound.

Following growing competition from The Hollywood Reporter, an intense rivalry that still exists, Sime launched Daily Variety on August 29, 1933, in Los Angeles, just weeks before he died on September 22, 1933, aged 60.

Both Varietys were eventually sold on July 14, 1987, to Cahners, a publisher specializing in trade magazines and owned by Reed International. The new owners shifted the New York editorial office to Los Angeles, leaving a small staff in New York, which explains why there were two anniversary celebrations on America’s two coasts.

The sale of the family-owned paper caused a sensation. Reports in newspapers throughout the world including The Times of London, surprised some Cahners executives, who hardly knew what they had acquired. Previous Cahners publications included such mundane trades as American Baby and Modern Bride.

None of the dozens of Cahners’s staid publications could top Variety headlines such as the afore-mentioned Sticks nix Hick pix referring to rejection of movies aimed for the rustic trade, or Wall Street Lays a Big Egg announcing the 1929 stock market crash.

Nor could they or any other newspaper emulate Variety’s original style of show business argot, which even prompted a special chapter in H.L. Mencken’s The American Language.

After Variety was sold, the new editor Peter Bart, a former Hollywood producer and New York Times reporter, eventually laid off most of the staff to have his own team in place.