by PETER BESAS
Sadly we must add yet another obit to this webpage. It is for one of the longest-remaining Variety troopers, Norma Nannini, who passed away in New York on August 10th after a long illness. Norma had just turned 70.
During an interview for Inside Variety taped in the Peacock Café in Greenwich Village in 1994, Norma told me she had started in Variety as Abel’s secretary in 1957. It was her first job, she said. The years with Abel were fabulous, she recalled, and enabled her to meet a wide circle of celebrities who would sometimes drop into the office.
“Abel knew everyone in the universe that was fascinating, not only in show business: Ernest Hemingway and governors and mayors, book publishers like Random House, soda companies, beer companies… I mean, Maurice Chevalier would pop in; Abel’d say, ‘Sweetie, you want to come down and meet Maurice Chevalier?’ And I’d go down crying. Do I want to meet Maurice Chevalier! You want to meet Cary Grant? And Milton Berle and Walter Winchell…? I spoke to everyone that was anyone in that era.”
When Abel died in 1973 Norma became Syd’s personal secretary. Finally, after the paper’s sale, when Variety moved to Park Avenue South, she put in a four-year stint under editor Peter Bart. She left the company in 1993 when its headquarters were moved to Los Angeles. In all she had been with the company for 36 years.
Many of us surely remember the fourth floor of the old 46th Street office which was Norma’s domain, a Dickens-like lair strewn with a bewildering amount of files, documents, papers, letters and envelopes wich she scattered over every available flat surface, including the floor of the room in which she worked. It was said that she had over 2,600 addresses and personal contacts in show business on file. But though her workplace looked like a hurricane had just swept through it, Norma’s efficiency was legendary. In a sense she was Variety’s memory, the one who knew the addresses and phone numbers of all its employees, the one who would yearly send you a Variety ID card, or get you free tickets to a Broadway show when you were coming through town, or any other of the dozens of nitty-gritty chores required to keep communications open.
Perhaps one of the best rembrances of Norma’s modus operandi is that written by Keith Keller, “Norma and the Mouse”, which we included in the Souvenir Album printed for last year’s 100th Anniversary celebration in Sardi’s. Happily, although already ill, Norma was able to attend that event and we were able to see her for one last time. She seemed rather subdued on that occasion, compared to the ebullient and high-pitched Norma of old, but we were all glad to see her there.
Norma is survived by a sister, Fedora, who for many years ran a restaurant on Cornelia Street in the Village, and a brother.