This is one of those end-of-an-era stories. Warren Cowan represented a Hollywood that barely exists anymore, a time when newspapers ruled the roost and celebrities somehow managed to avoid discussing their latest addiction. Nikki Finke says "he actually believed that journalists were important," and in my very limited contact with him I would have to agree. Unlike many of today's publicists, Cowan never made it seem as if he were doing you a favor by just doing his job. And he was courteous. Here's a snippet from an interview he did with the Business Journal in 1999.
Has the business gotten any harder for you with tabloid television and the cult of celebrity in the United States?
Answer: Yeah, I kind of wish it weren't that way. It was more interesting when you didn't see your favorite movie star on every show talking about his or her problems. There was much more of a mystique. On the other hand, with the advent of television and the Internet, it has greatly expanded the playing field. We have so many more opportunities and outlets and possibilities. There are a lot of changes since my early days, but there are a couple of constants as well. For example, in the days when I began, the one common denominator - whether they admitted it or not - was that every client wanted to be on the cover of Time magazine. I believe that's true today as well.
Q: How did you create the first Oscar campaign?
A: I was handling Joan Crawford, who had been called box-office poison by the theater exhibitors. She got a movie at Warner Bros. called "Mildred Pierce." To try and help her, I wrote an item and gave it to a columnist, who to my amazement printed it word for word. The item said something like, "The top brass at Warner Bros. is jumping with glee at the performance of Joan Crawford in 'Mildred Pierce.' They say she's a sure contender for the Oscar." Now, they ran that, and I thought, if I say that over and over again and the performance is actually there when the picture comes out, people will think of her in terms of Oscars. We took out the first Oscar ad in the trade publications. That was the beginning of what now is a multimillion-dollar series of Oscar campaigns.
Q: How do you get a story out to the media?
A: I like to create news, make news happen that is logical. I am responsible for the first celebrity sports tournament. Many years ago I handled a director named Frank Borzage, who had been an Oscar-winning director. I remember saying to my partner that Frank doesn't have anything going now. I don't know what to write about him. What does he do? And Henry (Rogers) said that (Borzage) played golf every day. Soon I made the Frank Borzage Invitational Golf Tournament. I learned so much from that little tournament - how many stars are jerks.