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This story first appeared in the Oct. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
We first met in the late ’60s in New York, and we were kind of rivals. I was at Rogers & Cowan, and Lois Smith was at Allen, Foster, Ingersoll and Weber — she was the Weber, which was her maiden name. A couple years later, we decided to form our own little PR company with Gerry Johnson called Pickwick. My husband and I were moving to California, where I would open an office, and Lois and Gerry would be in New York.
PHOTOS: Lois Smith’s Career in Pictures
It was a time when the PR business was changing because the studio system was ending. The studios weren’t doing personal PR work anymore. Everybody was on their own, and independent publicists were gobbling up the major stars. It was a great time to be in this business.
We had maybe 15 clients when we started, but they were all A-list: Candice Bergen, Robert Redford, Raquel Welch, Alice Cooper, Dick Cavett — names like that. Almost all the clients were referred to us by agents and managers. Plus, we were lucky to begin with films like The Sting and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
In terms of how we did PR, Lois and I were simpatico. “Less is more” was always our motto. Always leave them wanting more. Don’t overload the public with information. Keep it simple. We always tried to exhibit a great deal of calm with the client — not always with the media or the opposing person we were talking to, but we brought calmness to the clients, and they felt comfortable.
STORY: A Pedicure From Meryl Streep: How Lois Smith’s Clients Became Her Friends
And we both had two lives: work and family. We kept them separate. You know, I only met her husband, Gene, maybe twice in the 40 years we knew each other. And I think she only met mine once, and that was before we moved to California. She lived in one of those little sections outside the city, where she had four kids and a husband who worked. She’d go into the office every day, but she didn’t do the show business life at night. She wanted to be home.
Around 1978, she wanted to work in production. She wasn’t disenchanted with PR, but she wanted to give it a shot, so she went to work for Marble Arch. Then she went to United Artists as a production exec. Sophie’s Choice and Yentl were two of the films she worked on. About that time, Gerry had a baby and decided to retire, so I was Pickwick all on my own. Lois had left UA to start a company with Peggy Siegal, but in the mid-’80s we convinced her to come to PMK, which I had started with Michael Maslansky and Neil Koenigsberg.
STORY: Publicist Lois Smith Dies at 84
PMK was a well-oiled machine, and she fit right in. It was almost as though she’d always been there. I once asked her why she came back to PR, and she said, “There’s money in it now!” — but that was just part of it. She loved working with the staff and the clients. And she stayed until she retired in 2003.
We used to talk about how we’d seen the glory days of the PR business. It was before the blogs and the reporting that comes overnight, and in 30 minutes you’ve lost control of the story. Those things took a lot of the fun and the thought process out of the business.
We were really lucky to have been publicists when we were.
Pat Kingsley is a former partner at the firm PMK/HBH.
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