A talk with legendary Hollywood publicist Dick Guttman

by | Mar 13, 2017 | Culture, Entertainment, Movies

Dick Guttman & wife Gisela

Dick Guttman & wife Gisela

What do Barbra Streisand, Audrey Hepburn, Jay Leno, Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Elizabeth Taylor, Warren Beatty, and Goldie Hawn have in common? Superstardom aside, they have all hired Dick Guttman to do their public relations. Comparable to a movie director, oftentimes the general public does not realize when a publicist is doing their job as the strategic buffer between a client and the media. Despite that lack of recognition, Dick has been doing well for over 60 years, and is generally credited for invention of the Oscar campaign.

While owning a thriving business would be enough work for most people — Dick is the namesake of Guttman Associates — Dick made time last year to complete a 600+ page autobiography, Starflacker: Inside The Golden Age Of Hollywood. The book is filled with interesting stories from Dick’s decades in Hollywood, including appearances from Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman, Cary Grant, and Kirk Douglas. Another book is reportedly in the works from Dick, who often contributes to The Huffington Post. His writing credits also include two feature films and four television movies.

Downtown caught up with Dick by phone, chatting for much more than the anticipated 20 minutes with the Hollywood legend. At a later date, more from our conversation will run on the Downtown site. For now, Dick and company can be followed on Twitter, while Starflacker is available for sale through Amazon and other fine retailers.

I was very entertained by the Huffington Post article that you wrote about working with Prince right around the time he passed. You had mentioned that he had stormed out of the meeting, that you had quipped a funny line there, and he said basically that you had one favor that he would honor…

Dick Guttman: It wasn’t like he slammed the door or anything. He’d had enough and it was a shock to me because it was the first time I really had met him. I’d been working on the film [Purple Rain] and really loved the film. I knew that it was going to be a success because his people were there, but there was another audience entirely. If it reached me it was going to reach everybody and I had some ideas. So just at this point he just got up and left and I actually was angry and I said, “I look forward to not working with you,” which really shocked everybody, including me…It must have been three seconds, four seconds, but it seemed like three or four days and everybody in the room was just in shock. Then the door opened and he gives a smile…He says, “Okay, you got one.” He wasn’t that angry, he just said, “You caught me, okay, you got one.”

Did you often encounter that kind of demand from a superstar entertainer? Or was that the first major one that happened with?

Dick Guttman: You know, I never really thought about it at the time. At the time of his death, the question on my mind was I should put that story because I actually thought it was one that celebrated him…If anybody showed bad judgment it was I, and then I reconsidered. I put it into the light of who he was, he was a guy that came to Hollywood, he came into the entertainment field completely doing it his way. His managers were really brilliant, I thought, because they were about my age and yet they knew…a great manager pave the road for the client, he makes sure that the client gets a chance to express himself as he wishes to. That’s really what a manager does and they did an extraordinary job with him…They were just stunned by the variety of his talents, he could play any instrument…He came into the business and apparently he was treated very very badly by the different institutions or different companies. The label presumed his name, you know…then they felt that they own the brand “Prince” and that’s why he changed his name to The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.


Dick Guttman That was his anger about that and I have a feeling that the studio, Warners, they really like the movie. But he was so insulated and isolated, I think they didn’t really reach out to him and I think he had a great distrust for anything that had to do with Hollywood. He comes into this meeting…I realized really just recently when I was writing that recall, I realized that from him I was just another Hollywood phony. Someone who is going to try to take his name, make promises, whatever it was that he hated. He really thoroughly distrusted all the instruments of the industry, the corporations, with good reasons actually, and so I was just another guy. Then when I said that, you know I think I pulled the plug on a hand grenade and I think he thought, “Why would a guy to go to all that trouble unless he actually had something to say?” He thought he’d come back and see, he says “okay, you got one,” prove it to me.


Dick Guttman: I thought it was a very charming thing that he did and I don’t know if the story I wrote on The Huffington Post was interpreted that way. I hope it was.

Yeah I think so, if the person made it all the way through the article. I think you made an interesting point when you defined what the role of a great manager was. I’ve noticed a lot of major artists in film and music in recent years have made their new manager a publicist, whether it’s their former publicist or their longtime publicist. Did you yourself ever think of getting into management?

Dick Guttman: Right at the beginning when, my partner was Jerry Pam. I mean there’s an interesting reason I left…When I was 19, I started working at a company called Rogers & Cowan — by leaps and bounds the greatest of all the the great publicity firms — and this was in 1954. It was right when the tide was starting to turn toward the end of the contract system, you know Jimmy Cagney and Bette Davis had come up against Jack Warner and there were little cracks in the walls…[People] were starting to think that they could make their own movies and by and large they never made the movies as well as the tyrannical moguls did. I mean, the greatest period was the 30s and 40s, and I came in and immediately I became a press agent…I formed a really close relationship with Warren Cowan, who was the “Cowan” of Rogers & Cowan.


Dick Guttman: I was there a couple years and then I came into a personal crisis…I took off for Europe for a couple years. Really that was the best thing I ever did, but when I came back and went back to work at Rogers & Cowan, I was there for like 16 years…all the privileges of exercising my craft the way I wanted to and until one time where Rogers and Cowan was handling Blum’s Furriers. It was in Chicago, the greatest furrier in the world, its clientele was Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse, Gala Kurchi…

They’re opening up a store in Beverly Hills on Wilshire Boulevard and Rogers & Cowan was going to have the kind of opening only Rogers & Cowan could do. They can always guarantee 12 to 15 stars at the thing, which is all you need…You’ve got a big event, you’re going to get lots and lots of photography and that’s what they’re going to do. I came in to Warren and I said, “I have a better idea.” He said, “What?” I said, “I think that we should have guests of honor for the event. “He said, “Who do you have in mind?” I thought what are they famous for I think that the guests of honor should be Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse, and Gala Kurchi. Warren looked at me and said, “They’re dead.” I said, “I know that but I think we can get some great spiritualist and do a seance.” He said, “They won’t come.” (laughs) I said, “You don’t know that. Maybe they would come or not come.” He looked at me and said, “That is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard in my whole life.” I thought it was a great idea. I went back to my office and I had another one for them that I didn’t even bother to tell him. (laughs)

I get back to my office and I was so angry. I was handling Peter Ustinov, he was making a comedy in which he was directing Richard Burton, and it was being handled by a press agent named Jerry Pam. So we’re talking about something, he said, “Did you ever think of going on your own?” I said, “Just now.” I mean there are two things that I accept is regarding the future.  One is Chinese fortune cookies and the other is confluence, and that was an incredible confluence, and so I decided to go into business.

So going back to Prince, I knew that and our relationship was okay, it was cordial. I wasn’t the kind of person that he would place any great personal trust in, but we had it pretty good and then we pulled up some interesting things. I knew that it had to be something that would carry…get across over to the general audience. It was no question that everybody who loves that music was going to be there. and so I said I want to put them on the crossover show there that had some sexuality and honesty, The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. So I sent it out to a really great guy, one of their producers.

Dick Guttman with Uggie from "The Artist"

Dick Guttman with Uggie from “The Artist”

The guy booked all the comics, Jim McCawley, was it?

Dick Guttman: MaCawley, thank you, and Jim loved it and he called me says it’s not a go. I said, “Why?” He said the name of one of the producers on the show…I didn’t even think that it was racial, I thought it was generational…He didn’t get it and I was really disappointed, but then what we decided to do was to have a big premiere and a big party afterwards. I wanted to gather all the big Hollywood names to come to the premiere because that would show the crossover of whoever it was at the time was there. The general movie audiences will say, “Maybe this is for me.”

None of them were responding to it, so I got my cousin, who had great tickets for the Olympics. It was 1984. He had tickets for the closing [Olympic festivities], that was the get of all gets, everybody wanted to go to the closing ceremonies. I said let me borrow those tickets. I want you to take an ad in the Hollywood Reporter that says, “We’ll exchange two time tickets for the closing ceremonies for two tickets to the Purple Rain premiere and party.” He said, “Oh you just deprived me of going to it and I said I don’t think so, I don’t think you’ll get takers.” But what happened was we started getting calls from the different stars, we had a very star-studded event, but I think people and there were news stories about this strange guy who had offered to exchange the tickets for the premiere. Everybody thought, “Well if his tickets are worth more than the closing of the Olympics, let’s go,” and it sort of worked.

And it worked…

Dick Guttman: It’s the strangest, but I felt I had it right because it sort of addressed the fact that Prince did have to win over the people who were separated from the age, including the people apparently at the labels. He just had this distrust of any kind of Industrial Complex it was involved in the filmmaking.

Downtown Magazine