Mag’s Muggs Mix at Showbiz Shindig

Gleaned from the NY Sun’s Knickerbocker column


Syd Silverman, the former Variety magazine president whose grandfather founded the publication a century ago, held a 100th anniversary party Saturday (Sept. 24) at Sardi’s. The gathering was a warm reunion of staffers who worked at the publication before it was sold to Cahners in 1987.

Amid pictures of old Broadway actors and producers lining the walls, the “muggs” (a term that old-time Variety reporters use in referring to themselves) in attendance reminisced and caught up on news of old friends and colleagues.

Variety has long been known for its inventive and lively slang-filled headlines. One of the magazine’s most famous was for a story about rural movie goers lacking interest in films set in the country: “Sticks Nix Hick Pix.”

Speaking at the party, Peter Besas said, “In the old days, there was a big dictionary in the office. It was used as a doorstop.” The magazine’s style sheet famously noted that there was “positively no objection to proper English.”

There is debate over what was the shortest review ever to appear in Variety; some say it was John O’Connor’s “Ugh.”

The magazine has been read in a variety of influential households. On the Web site, Mr. Besas, who was Madrid bureau chief for the magazine, describes book publisher Bennett Cerf’s surprise at seeing a copy of Variety in George Bernard Shaw’s apartment in 1938. “I thought I knew the English language,” Shaw told Cerf. “Upon my soul,” Shaw said, “I didn’t understand a word of it. I subscribed at once.”

Speaking of language, the Knickerbocker heard this entertaining anecdote from Jim Melanson. There was once a Las Vegas performance where a piano was lowered by cables while a performer played it. After hours, a couple was engaged in intercourse on top of the piano when some lever must have been hit and the piano rose, killing the man involved.

Mr. Silverman chose the headline where the story continued on another page: “Man Dies Happy.”

Other anecdotes abound in a special souvenir album distributed at the party. In the book, a former Variety staffer, Les Brown, recalled his favorite typos while working at the magazine. A description of a “tow-headed” boy in one of his reviews was printed as “two-headed.” “It made the play sound more intriguing than it actually was.”

Seen at the party were John and Lynne Willis, who traveled from England, and George Gilbert, 90, who began at Variety as an office boy in 1934 and worked there 41 years. Also seen was Barricade Books publisher Lyle Stuart – who worked for Variety from 1946-47 and in 1945 as a stringer interviewed Mae West in Columbus, Ohio, in her hotel bedroom.

Mr. Silverman’s son, Michael, told the Knickerbocker about the time around 1982 when an entire entourage of press and industry bigwigs at the Manila film festival were summoned to cruise the bay with Imelda Marcos on the presidential yacht, which was a huge converted minesweeper. The crowd included Jack Valenti, George Hamilton, and others.

About six hours into the trip, some wanted to get back to shore, but the boat headed farther away, toward the presidential summer palace. Meanwhile Marcos tried out what he described as a “nightclub act” featuring the song “Feelings,” which he recalled her pronouncing as “Peelings.”