Legendary Publicist Esme Chandlee Dies at 94

Esme Chandlee
Esme Chandlee
 Getty Images

Esme Chandlee, a publicist who started out working for Louis B. Mayer at MGM and wound up representing pretty much everyone from Clark Gable to Tom Selleck during her 60-year-plus career, has died. She was 94.

Chandlee died peacefully in her sleep Nov. 24 in her Hollywood Hills home, according to friend Tony Rizzo. She began at MGM in 1942 opening fan mail and did not retire from show business until she was 89.

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At MGM, Chandlee represented Gable, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, James StewartSpencer Tracy, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Lesley Caron, Lionel Barrymore, Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn and dozens of other contract players at the studio.

She left MGM in 1958 and joined the PR firm Cleary, Strauss & Irvin as an associate. She then moved to NBC, where she served as an associate producer on Here’s Hollywood, one of the first celebrity-interview TV shows. It aired weekday afternoons from 1960-62.

She opened Esme Chandlee Public Relations in 1961, and her first clients were showbiz couple John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands. “She was absolutely the queen of them all,” Rowlands once said. “I was with Esme since she left MGM. She was the ultimate in class."

In 1968, Chandlee discovered and began representing Selleck and Sam Elliott. She was the only publicist Selleck ever had until she retired, and Elliott sat down to lunch with her just a few weeks ago.

“She came to me and said she’d like to help me,” Selleck recalled a few years ago. “I told her I had no money, and she said that wasn’t an issue right then. To learn what a publicist was from someone with Esme’s integrity and professionalism was a blessing."

Chandlee served as president of the Hollywood Women’s Press Club and the Publicists Guild. She received the guild’s highest honor, the Les Mason Award, in 1984.

When asked in the Archive of American TV interview if she had any advice for publicists who are just starting out, Chandlee said: "Try to do your job under whatever conditions. If you don't like the conditions, as they say, get out."

She was born on Long Island, N.Y., but came with her family to Los Angeles when she was 3 months old. Her stepfather was actor William V. Mong, a contract player in the early days of MGM.

Chandlee is survived by her great-nephew Matt Nix, creator of USA Network’s Burn Notice; his sister Esme; his mother and father Susan and Philip; Nix’s wife Melinda and their children Charlie, Esme and Mateo; and Chandlee’s niece Lee Turner.

There will be no services, Rizzo said.

Watch Chandlee offer advice to aspiring publicists below.

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