Most Memorable – Hollywood Style
Nobody, of course, puts on press parties like Hollywood puts on press parties. For example: A couple of years ago, United Artists threw a three-day, celebrity-infested, Crab-Louis-laden bash at a snazzy La Costa, California, resort to promote their newest film The Return of the Pink Panther. Hundreds of members of the press were flown in from all over the country and treated to all of the resort’s glittery amenities, from facials to horseback rides. The theme was, of course, Pink: pink T-shirts, pink golf hats, pink golf balls, pink golf tees, pink tennis balls, pink tennis shorts, pink note pads, pink pens, pink sun tan lotion, pink earrings for the ladies and pink cuff links for the gents. The only “business” conducted was one 20-minute mass interview with the movie’s star, Peter Sellers. For the whole affair, United Artists spent a quarter of a million dollars. But the movie grossed $25 million. And that’s how the game is played.
Most Memorable –
Dallas doesn’t play the game quite so grandly as Hollywood. But Dallas does play, and over the years there have been more than a few memorable moments. Perhaps the press party most fondly remembered in somewhat recent history was the one celebrating the opening of One Main Place in 1969. The opening of a building is, by definition, something less than glamorous. But you’d never have known it that night, sitting out under the stars nibbling at the sumptuous feast presented by Brennan’s. A full orchestra played music to spoon turtle soup by. Toni Beck choreographed a special dance and music presentation. For further diversion W.C. Fields films were shown. And, no surprise, open bar. One press type recalls a friend, a photographer, heading for the bar to order a bourbon and water. Moments later he returned ? gleefully with an unopened quart of Jack Daniels and a glass of water. “Boy Hidy!” he chortled. “They shore know how to pour a drink.”
A few years ago, Braniff airlines organized a press jaunt billed as its “Magical Mystery Tour.” Members of the press were to board a Braniff jet and fly off to an unannounced destination. Ah, the mystery. Because Braniff was, at that time, known to be working to establish routes to the West Indies, rumors began to spread. By the day of the flight, several of the invited press had purchased new swimwear and beach paraphernalia for the occasion. It was a jovial and spirited planefull that took off from Dallas. But the mood was something less than convivial when the big jet landed … in San Antonio.
Ask any member of the local press who’s been around here for awhile a-bout memorable press parties and they’ll almost surely start smiling something about “those American Airlines Christmas parties.” Says one old timer, “I don’t know what it was about those parties, but the booze just flowed a little more freely.” Too freely, maybe. One year a rather lusty fight broke out, though nobody remembers why. But they do remember one party more than a decade ago that reportedly directly resulted in two marriages – and the same number of divorces. American Airlines doesn’t have those Christmas parties anymore.
Every spring for the last three years, a party has “occurred” at the North-Park Inn. The first one was a “Hank Williams Party,” the next year it was a “Casablanca Party,” and this year it was a “Lindbergh Party.” What is noteworthy about these parties is that each year a large number of local politicians and a large number of the local press attend. And many of these selectively invited guests get together on stage and perform a show. Last year, for example, it was a spoof of the film Casablanca,starring one Senator John Tower as Ugarte, the Peter Lorre role (“Tower was sensational,” says one sturdy liberal who would ordinarily not reflect so kindly on the Senator). It’s a first class gathering and, according to all who’ve witnessed it, a great stage show. “It’s the party now,” says one press dignitary who should know. The strange thing is, with all this mingling of influential characters from both press and politics, nobody seems quite sure whose party it is. Who’s behind it? Who’s the host? Who foots the bill? Invitations, becoming coveted items, appear quietly from out of nowhere. There is no advertising, nothing is touted, pushed or sold. It just happens. But in probing its origins, two respected names from the public relations world do arise – Joe Barta of NorthPark and Buddy Beck of Atlantic-Richfield (which explains why some refer to it, without knowing why, as “the Arco party”). When we inquired, Joe told us that Buddy would be the man to talk to and Buddy told us to talk to Joe. And since it is, by all accounts, such a great party, we won’t spoil their secret.
Most Wanted Guest
Any press party stands a damn good chance of succeeding if KRLD newsman and commentator Alex Burton decides to show. P R folks know that Alex can’t be flacked, but his garrulous manner creates a press party style that is unstoppable. Both as a journalist and humorist, Burton is admired by the journalistic community, so any press function he chooses to attend benefits from a certain credibility when he walks through the door. And his booming laugh alone is enough to get a flat party rolling.
Most Elusive Guest
One of the hardest sells in town for the P R world has to be securing the presence of Blackie Sherrod at a press party. Blackie doesn’t flash his face around and has long been notorious for his reluctance to attend press parties. The Times Herald’s great sports columnist has an independence and exclusivity that is perhaps the secret to the celebrated Sherrod mystique. Unless there’s a hell of a good reason, Blackie won’t be there.
Hypes – The Best and Worst
Public relations people, as a professional breed, don’t always carry the greatest of reputations. They are often typecast as super-smile, sweet-voiced shysters, the slickest of salesmen. The common slang reference to a P R person as a “flack” doesn’t enhance the image. All of which makes the good ones seem even better.
Best of the Big-Time: Stan Levenson & Associates, the public relations arm of the advertising agency Glenn, Bozell & Jacobs, have earned a good deal of respect from the media and otherwise for highly professional work without the obnoxious hard sell. Levenson himself is mainly plugged into the entertainment business. It’s the “Associates” who get a lot of compliments for their style.
Best of the Small-Scale: Cherri Oakley has had her Cherri Oakley Company for only four years. But when you start asking around about good public relations people, you hear her name often. Not only do people just seem to like to work with her, but “she makes things work.”
Best of the One-Man Shows: Or one-woman shows. Betty Holloway, who handles P R for the Fairmont Hotel’s Venetian Room is referred to by some as the “First Lady of Dallas press parties.” Her press night openings run smoothly. She arranges interviews a-droitly. She employs a kind of southern gentility that belies a solid grasp of the business of public relations. So while she makes her press parties seem a meeting of friends, there’s no doubt that she does mean business.
The Worst: There are lots of worsts, so there’s no need to name names. But consensus among press-types is that the worst press parties are those self-orchestrated affairs by companies or individuals who want to do-it-them-selves without hiring a pro. As an example, a newspaper writer recalls an invitation a few years ago for a press party for a girls skating program. Desperate for copy he decided to attend, but stopped first for dinner. When he arrived, he was greeted by the hostess: “Hi. We’re serving dinner over there.” “Oh no thank you,” he responded. “I’d just like to talk to a few of the girls.” “Oh no,” she insisted. “You must have something to eat.” “No thank you,” he replied. “1 just ate dinner.” “Well, then,” she said, “come have a drink.” “No thank you,” he said, “I’d just like to talk to the girls.” “Just one drink.” “No thank you.” “Gosh,” she said. “They told me if I didn’t give the press free drinks they wouldn’t write anything about us.” Smooth.
Most Memorable – Hollywood Style