Tuesday, October 07, 2014

jay bernstein, starmaker

Anyone who has ever considered a job in show business — whether in front of or behind the camera - should read Starmaker: Life as a Hollywood Publicist with Farrah, the Rat Pack and 600 More Stars Who Fired Me. Most people may not be familiar with its subject, Hollywood publicist, agent, producer Jay Bernstein, but they will undoubtedly be more than familiar with his stellar client list, which includes the biggest stars of the '50s, '60s, '70s, and '80s.

Stars such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Michael Landon, Stacy Keach, Linda Evans, William Shatner and others counted him as their manager and factotum. Countess others were in his orbit. He seems to have known everyone in Hollywood at some time or another, but not all of his encounters were friendly. The book has been published posthumously (Bernstein died in 2006), culled from interviews he gave, and at times it is clear that he was still smarting from some of his career slights. And Bernstein was all about career. He admits himself, many times, that his work was his life, and he was available 24/7 for his client roster. It actually came as a shock to discover on Wikipedia that he had married and had a child (apparently late in life) as they don't figure in his narrative at all.

Jay Bernstein, with Farrah Fawcett, in her heyday, from his website

Bernstein may not be the most likable character — he carried a loaded .38 at all times and a walking stick, clearly designed to intimidate — but he does tell some interesting stories. We may think we are savvy to the Hollywood publicity machine, but Bernstein isn't afraid to let the reader know that a lot of what we think we know about the stars is frankly, BS. Sinatra was far from his favorite person. One might go so far, and Bernstein does, as to call him a jerk. Bernstein recounts Sinatra's crazy, entitled behavior while the Rat Pick was filming Sergeants 3, and how that led to a close working relationship with Sammy Davis, Jr. Tom Jones, an acknowledged sexy superstar singer, got a lot of help from Berstein. Who do you think orchestrated all of those panties thrown on stage at the start of his career? There are many other stories in Starmaker like these, and fans of Hollywood myth and lore will have a field day.

Bernstein also recounts how he helped '70s iconic beauties like Farrah Fawcett and Suzanne Somers get their start, and how he revitalized Linda Evans' career as "a mature beauty" later on. It is clear that Farrah was his ultimate star, his shining career moment, and he gives her appropriate due. Bernstein is also a proud chauvinist, which just gives another clear view of what actresses have always, and still are, up against.

He takes credit for so many things that are done on a regular basis these days but were rare when he was in power — like stars moving from one television network to another, or from film to television and vice-versa. There is much hyperbole, and even more wound-licking to be found in Starmaker, but it is also, undeniably a fast-paced, extremely entertaining read.


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