Chuck Panama, Publicist for Liz Taylor, Henry Fonda and 'M*A*S*H,' Dies at 93

Courtesy Photo
Chuck Panama

He worked in the heyday of the old-school PR professional with stars like Taylor, Fonda, Elvis Presley and Faye Dunaway, and also repped TV shows such as 'The Simpsons' and 'LA Law.'

Chuck Panama, a journalist-turned-publicist who worked with Elizabeth Taylor and Henry Fonda and ran publicity for shows such as LA Law, has died. He was 93.

Panama, who was called "Chuckles" by friends and colleagues for his sense of humor, died Sunday at the Motion Picture and Television Fund home in Woodland Hills. He "was a warm and caring person, full of energy and always with a twinkle in his eye," said fellow publicist and friend Leonard Morpurgo.

Born in Chicago, Panama was a radio operator on B-24 bombers during World War II. The end of the war brought him to Los Angeles, and the G.I. Bill helped him attend UCLA, where he was sports editor of The Daily Bruin. He kept his relationship with the athletic program for more than 50 years, working with the media at football and basketball games.

After a brief time at the International News Service, Panama worked for 20th Century Fox, where he worked with legendary PR man Harry Brand for performers such as Elvis Presley and Jayne Mansfield. He also became a voting member of the motion picture and television academies.

Later working independently, Panama worked with Taylor, Fonda and Faye Dunaway, among others, before returning to Fox to do publicity work for The Simpsons and M*A*S*H during its last seven years.

Daughter Carrie Requist said he was so consumed with the PR business that when taking family photos, he would jokingly insist on taking photos on a second roll of film "for the East Coast," as was the practice then. (A separate roll of film was sent to East Coast media to speed dissemination of news.)

And sometimes, Requist said, Panama would give a client publicity whether they wanted it or not, such as when Presley first came to Los Angeles in 1956 to film his first feature, Love Me Tender. The star had specified, through legendary manager "Colonel Tom" Parker, that he didn't want any fanfare on arrival at LAX. Panama had a different plan, and, through an anonymous tip to local radio, had a swarm of teen girls carrying "homemade" signs proclaiming "Elvis for President!" that were actually procured from the Fox prop department. By the time Presley's plane landed, media was there to witness it all and complete the publicity bonanza.

"That was Chuckles," Requist said.

Panama received three awards from the Publicists Guild, including one for community service. In retirement, he served in a variety of volunteer roles with the Entertainment Publicists Professional Society, the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica and the Getty Museum, where he could be spotted wearing his green volunteer vest adorned with pins from locations he — and others — had been. One pin honored his friend and Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully.

Panama downplayed his signature look. “I'm not a pin collector,” he told Getty staff in 2011. "I'm sure there’s a pin magazine for collectors. I’m not one of those." His favorite pin was given to him by Requist. It's from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where she lives.

Panama is survived by his wife of 64 years, Gerry, from whom he was rarely apart and with whom he could always be seen holding hands. Other survivors, besides Requist, include children Craig and Cindy and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held May 20 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the MPTF’s Wasserman Campus (Saban Center), 23388 Mulholland Drive in Woodland Hills. Attendees are encouraged to wear UCLA Bruin blue and gold.