Oldest Mugg departs the scene

Herb Golden bowed out loving Variety right to final curtain


For years Variety’s oldest surviving mugg, Herb Golden, passed away October 31, aged 91.

He died peacefully of heart and lung conditions in his Long Island home among family. He is survived by his wife and companion, Mary Cox Golden, who had been with him for seven years.

His family held a memorial service at his home November 12. It was on the terrace overlooking Peconic Bay and there were even passing sailboats. “It was such a beautiful day,” said Mary. “Herb loved sailing and the sea as well as Variety.”

We here reprint a letter Herb sent to me December 11, 2002 shortly after Sime’s sitewas inaugurated, in which he gives some of the details of his life and the part Variety played in it.

Pete – I think the web page is a great idea. I just wonder how many oldtimers you can attract. I’d love to read about any or all of them. I’m sure I am the oldest still hanging around (89). As you may recall, I started as a stringer in Philadelphia in 1935 and answered the great call from Abel to join the staff in New York in 1938.

That lasted until 1941, when I asked – and reluctantly was granted – a leave of absence to “join in the war effort”. I’m not sure “reluctant” is the right word. Abel was really pissed at me. How could I think that fighting the Nazi horde or anything like that was more important than working on Variety?

In any case I left to join a unit of the US State Dept. doing or encouraging Hollywood guys to devise and produce features and documentaries that would make buddies out of Latin Americans. It worked okay (Disney was very helpful) but not much fun to have some little old lady we reported to in Washington nix some of what we thought were great ideas. We had lined up some really first class people in Hollywood and were working with such as Phil Dunne, who had just won an Oscar for writing How Green Was My Valley.

Still passionate (how times have changed!) to get my hands on those nasty Nazis, I joined the Navy and became Ensign Golden. In four years I rose to the exalted rank of lieutenant on a destroyer, first in the North Atlantic and then in the Pacific.

With war’s end, I grovelled back to Abel, who had either forgotten how annoyed at me he was or was glad to have a body around whose work he knew. I guess for the next six years I wrote 20% to 25% of the Page One leads and became de facto editor of the film section.

Then I blew Abel’s top again to resign to join Bankers Trust Company (then the world’s sixth biggest bank) to create a group specializing in film and entertainment industry – film, TV, cable, theatres, etc. – financing. I did that, becoming a senior v.p. of the bank along the way until retiring about 10 years ago. By that time I was considerably beyond the bank’s 65-year-old stated retirement age (I was 88), but there weren’t many candidates they were ready to risk replacing me.

So there, a lifetime biography in the traditional nutshell. Oh yeah, you ask about jobsvprevious to Variety. I worked for the Philadelphia Record, a very highly-regarded morning paper. After a stint as editor of minor departments (dogs, gardening, agriculture – stuff like that about which I knew absolutely nothing, but which supported a little advertising), I became a police reporter, an investigative reporter, a rewrite man – and Variety’s mugg in Philadelphia for three years.

One day in ’38 I got that siren pitch from Abel. Sixty-five bucks a week against the $42 I was making. This was the deepest days of the Depression, when a pretty good lunch was a quarter and dinner 75 cents. I was also going to college (Temple U. in Philadelpha) from ’33, when I started on the Record, until ’37 (majoring in Journalism).”

A day after the foregoing e-mail was sent to Besas, Herb followed up a query with the following note:

“I just ran through the new web page and I must say it is really great. You guys did a helluva job and you must have spent a lot of hours on it. Congratulations and thanks from the likes of me.

Just one thing. In the Slanguage piece you left out the most widely-used and popular of all the Variety inventions: “MOVIES”.

When I came aboard in 1935 Abel was hot to have us avoid cliches, especially of words that were Variety creations. And behold, on the list that went up on the assignment board that used to hang on the railing on the platform where the emperor ruled was: “Movies”. I have no clue on which staffer thought it up originally as an abbreviation of “motion pictures”, but it was clearly a product of the ’20s, when the industry was getting into gear.

Thus unto this day I don’t recall ever seeing that word in the paper. They are “films” or “pictures” or “pics” (“pix”) or “product” or something other than “movies”..

MY FIRST MEETING WITH HERB GOLDEN was at his house on Peconic Bay on March 19,1995. I know the exact day because it is recorded in Inside Variety. I had rented a car to drive out to his place (no LIRR connection exists) and after getting lost several times finally found his house, which commands a superb view of the Bay.

Herb was a delight to interview, and recalled his days on the paper with nostalgic pleasure. He seemed fit and fully alert and many of the things he told me in the taped interview were welcome bits of information that I used in my book. In addition to going over his own biography, he made comments on Harold Erichs, his first assignments, Sidne Silverman, Abel, editorial integrity, how he compiled the first box office charts and even on his encounter with Maxime de Beix in Paris.

One anecdote concerned the time he was in the Navy. Though in the service of Uncle Sam, Herb continued to occasionally file stories for the paper. “I used to get Variety on the ship, five weeks late,” he recalled. “Once we were at the Panama Canal and we stopped on the Atlantic side. And we all went into some kind of bar. There were four bargirls. I got talking to one and found that she’d come from New York and found out some of her history and wrote about her.

“The story, I remember, appeared on Page 1. The show biz angle was just a bar, a hep bar where the Navy hung out, with whores. I came back through the Canal two years later and stopped in the place and asked for this gal. When she saw me and realized who I was she said, ‘So you’re the son of a bitch! My mother got all excited; someone showed her the item in the paper and tipped her off to what I was doing down here!”

When Inside Variety was published in 2000, and though Herb couldn’t attend the launch cocktail held at the old Gotham Book Shop in New York, Mort Bryer and I met Herb in the city on another day. Over drinks at the Bull & Bear I gave him an autographed copy of the book.

After that, Herb kept in touch with Roger Watkins and me, and we posted a recent photo of him on the website. When the time approached for our Anni dinner at Sardi’s last September, I repeatedly tried to reach Herb, and sent him an invite, but unfortunately never got a reply. I suspected he might be in poor health.

Then, about two weeks ago, we heard the sad news of his passing. His widow, Mary, said he got “TREMENDOUS pleasure from the Simesite, feeling his oats as one of, if not the most aged survivor and writer and reminisced and looked forward to whatever came over the net from it.”

With Herb’s passing, the honor of being the oldest surviving mugg now passes to George Gilbert. Those of us attending the Anni celebration in Sardi’s on Sept. 24 had the pleasure of seeing him in the flesh.