Los Angeles Times columnist Patrick Goldstein says he'll miss the occasional calls from the longtime publicist, "one of the last remaining links to the Damon Runyon-esque era where you could slip an item to a columnist over drinks at Toots Shor's." Except:
Solters represented everyone in his day, from Frank Sinatra and Claudette Colbert to Barbra Streisand, Led Zeppelin and Michael Jackson. Better still, he had great stories to tell about all of them.
As a young reporter, I marveled at the idea that I could have lunch with a guy who'd actually been around long enough to have planted items in Walter Winchell columns. Solters remembered coming back from a screening of "Sweet Smell of Success" with a bunch of other PR guys, when they suddenly spotted Winchell -- clearly the inspiration for the film's J.J. Hunsecker character -- coming their way. Everyone scattered. "Nobody wanted Winchell to know we'd seen the movie, much less enjoyed it," was how Lee recounted the story. Solters even claimed that he'd tutored Tony Curtis, who plays the press agent Sidney Falco in the film, how to angrily toss away a crumpled newspaper after discovering his item hadn't made Hunsecker's column. "I told Tony, 'Be more vehement.' "
It was Solters, when he was working for Broadway impresario David Merrick, who helped come up with what was surely one of the Top 10 PR stunts of all time. In 1961, when the Merrick-produced show "Subways Are for Sleeping" was tanking, a victim of bad reviews, Solters and Merrick devised the idea of running ads with rave reviews from men they'd found in the phone book who had the same names as the leading Broadway critics of the day. "We wined them and dined them and gave them the quotes we wanted, like 'Best Show in Years!' " Solters told me. "David had wanted to do it for years, but he had to wait till Stanley Kauffman took over at the Times from Brooks Atkinson, because there wasn't another Brooks Atkinson in the phone book."