Talent manager Ebbins dies at 96

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Milton Ebbins, a talent manager of jazz greats and a Kennedy administration and Rat Pack insider, died of heart failure March 4 in Los Angeles.

Ebbins, 96, started his career in the early-1930s as a trumpet player and bandleader during which time he met his wife of 67 years, a singer named Lynne Sherman. He left his career as bandleader and became a talent manager, rising swiftly to become one of Hollywood's top personal managers, guiding the careers of Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, Billy Eckstine and Vic Damone.

Because of Ebbins' musical background and his adeptness at arranging scores, he had a knack for picking hit songs for his clients. He also represented actresses Elizabeth Montgomery and Patty Duke, comedian Mort Sahl, and actor Peter Lawford, who Ebbins managed for 35 years.

"Milt Ebbins was one of the best personal managers I have dealt with over the years," said William Morris Agency chairman emeritus Norman Brokaw. "He never let anything slip by for his clients."

Ebbins' partnership with Lawford -- who was married to President Kennedy's sister, Patricia -- brought him into close association with "The Rat Pack" and the Kennedy clan.

Ebbins produced many of his clients' film and television projects and was partnered in a company with Lawford that produced the 1960s TV series "The Patty Duke Show." He associate produced the 1950s TV series' "The Thin Man" starring Lawford and Phyllis Kirk. He also produced two films starring Rat Packers Lawford and Sammy Davis Jr. -- "Salt and Pepper" (1968) and "One More Time" (1970). He was involved in setting up the original Rat Packer film, "Ocean's Eleven," and subsequently "Sergeants 3." He was also involved in the production of "The Longest Day."

As a Kennedy insider, Ebbins helped produce JFK's 1961 Inaugural Ball and the subsequent 1962 JFK Anniversary gala. He was a frequent visitor to the Kennedy White House, at times accompanying the President on Air Force One and Marine One, the presidential helicopter.

In May of 1962, Ebbins escorted Marilyn Monroe to Madison Square Garden where she famously -- and breathlessly -- sang "Happy Birthday, Mr. President." He was also the man that Lawford called after speaking to Monroe the night of her death in August of 1962.

Ebbins not only traveled to Las Vegas and Europe with the Rat Pack, but also ventured into the segregated South with Eckstine, Basie and Vaughn, where he witnessed racism first-hand. He marched with Lawford in Atlanta at Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral.

As a link between Washington and Hollywood, Ebbins helped Kennedy family patriarch and former ambassador Joseph Kennedy navigate through the movie business more than once, not only keeping him apprised of his son-in-law's career moves but at one point advising him against purchasing the United Artists movie studio.

Because of his unique position, he was often sought out by authors and has been quoted in many books about the Kennedys.

At the time of his death, Ebbins was working with actor Bill Paxton on an HBO project about the assassination of JFK.

Ebbins, who was born in Springfield, Mass., is survived by his wife Lynne and by his son Gary (who is also a personal manager) and daughter-in-law Loraine. A memorial service is pending. Donations in his name may be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund, 23388 Mulholland Dr., Woodland Hills, CA 91364.
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