Harry Clein, Veteran Hollywood Publicist, Dies at 82

HARRY CLEIN - Publicity - H 2020
Courtesy of Michael Jacobs

He found success for films including 'Sophie's Choice,' 'Forrest Gump,' 'Kiss of the Spider Woman,' 'sex, lies, and videotape' and 'The Blair Witch Project.'

Harry Clein, the expert Hollywood publicist and awards campaigner who led films including Sophie's ChoiceForrest GumpKiss of the Spider Womansex, lies, and videotape and The Blair Witch Project to great success, has died. He was 82.

Clein died June 18 in Atlanta of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, publicist Mark Pogachefsky announced.

In 1981, Clein and Bruce Feldman founded Clein + Feldman with offices on both coasts, taking on director Alan J. Pakula and Sophie's Choice (1982) as their first client. At a time when independent filmmaking was just gaining a foothold, the firm became an innovative go-to shop for distributors, producers and filmmakers seeking far wider audiences for projects once seen as specialized.

The company became Clein + White in 1989 with the addition of Cara White as a partner and the departure of Feldman for a studio career. It closed in 2000, after which Clein became a producer, marketing consultant and teacher at the Los Angeles Film School.

Among the projects represented by both companies were Robert Benton's Places in the Heart (1984), Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985), The Trip to Bountiful (1985), Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have it (1986), Dirty Dancing (1987), John Huston's The Dead (1987), Heathers (1989), Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies, and videotape (1989), Herbert Ross' Steel Magnolias (1989), Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy (1989) and My Own Private Idaho (1991), Robert Altman's The Player (1992), Wayne Wang's The Joy Luck Club (1993), Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused (1993) and Before Sunrise (1995), Todd Solondz's Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects (1995), Edward Burns' The Brothers McMullen (1995) and Bill Condon's Gods and Monsters (1998).

In 1999, Clein partnered with Jeremy Walker to handle the Sundance launch and theatrical release campaign for Artisan Entertainment's The Blair Witch Project (1999). Their campaign integrated the internet — and the youth market it represented — into traditional PR strategies in ways that would heavily influence movie marketing.

Blair Witch, known for its "found footage" and filmed for an initial $35,000, was purchased by Artisan for slightly more than $1 million, and it went on to earn $249 million globally.

Clein also worked on the launch of DreamWorks SKG, founded by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen in 1994, and consulted for Pixar and Steve Jobs on Toy Story (1995); for Tim Burton on Edward Scissorhands (1990), Batman Returns (1992) and Ed Wood (1994); and for other filmmakers including Robert Cort (Mr. Holland’s Opus), Wendy Finerman and Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump), Gillian Anderson (Little Women), Wes Craven, Barry Levinson and Wolfgang Petersen.

He also directed PR campaigns for such national cultural institutions as the American Ballet Theatre, the Independent Spirit Awards and the Sundance Institute.  

Born and raised in Atlanta, Clein attended Phillips Academy and received a bachelor's degree in architecture from Yale and a master's in playwriting from Yale School of Drama. He worked as a page at NBC's Today show in New York, then got a job in L.A. with a detective agency that involved posing as an employee at Disneyland for a summer.

Following a stint at Jay Bernstein Public Relations, Clein spent a year working as Joyce Haber's assistant when she was one of Hollywood's leading gossip columnists, then worked as a writer for publications including the Los Angeles Times and TV Guide.

He was hired at Pat Kingsley and Lois Smith's Pickwick Public Relations as an account executive/writer and worked with Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, Candice Bergen, Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli and others. He also served as unit publicist on such films as All the President's Men (1976), Foul Play (1978), Comes a Horseman (1978) and Starting Over (1979) and wrote the press notes for Star Wars (1977).

In 2000, he received a career achievement award from the Publicists Guild. 

Survivors include his brother, Warren, and nephews Donald and Lee Clein. Donations in his name can be made to the Los Angeles LGBT Center and Jewish Family & Career Services of Atlanta.