Legendary Publicist Pat Kingsley Honored With Her Own Event Space

At a dedication ceremony put on by PMK*BNC, it is revealed that Kingsley once got arrested, she has no interest in dining with Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Kellyanne Conway and is addicted to CNN and MSNBC. Fox News? Not so much.
Courtesy of Todd Williamson

There was nothing more Pat Kingsley wanted to say.

The legendary publicist had been sitting next to moderator Madelyn Hammond on the 13th floor of PMK*BNC's Century City offices, holding a microphone and answering questions in front of 100 or more enthusiastic staffers for more than 30 minutes. In closing out the often laughter-filled conversation (peppered with multiple rounds of applause and a dig at current White House staffers), Hammond asked Kingsley if there might be anything else she'd like to add.

A piece of parting advice? Maybe one more revelation from a ground-breaking career with roots dating back to 1960? Something about one of her (oh-so-many) A-list clients? (Insert names here: Tom Cruise, Robert Redford, Al Pacino, Jodie Foster, Lily Tomlin, Jack Nicholson, Sharon Stone, Doris Day, Natalie Wood, Candice Bergen, Mary Tyler Moore, Jack Nicholson and Sally Field.)

Nope. No more. Nothing about them, either.

"I don't have anything else," Kingsley said. "My thing is reacting. An incident happens and I react to it. I seldom cause something to happen."

Spin might be too aggressive of a word to apply here — Kingsley has been retired since 2009, after all — but it's doubtful anyone in attendance actually believed the last sentence.

Kingsley did not organize the March 14 event or request the attention, but the cause for celebration is all her, and her résumé is to blame. As a way to honor the iconic Kingsley, now 84 years old and long admired for reasons listed below, PMK*BNC's current leadership, led by dual co-chairmen and CEOs Michael Nyman and Cindi Berger, dedicated a new multipurpose office in the lobby level at 1840 Century Park East to co-founder Kingsley. Named "The Kingsley," the spacious 1800 sq. ft. suite will be used for junkets, photo shoots, interviews, special events, client meetings and even screenings.

The Q&A with Hammond helped to close out the dedicatory itinerary, which kicked off just after 11 a.m. Wednesday and included a ribbon cutting, champagne toast and catered lunch. In attendance were PMK*BNC staffers from both coasts (Berger and Marian Koltai-Levine flew in for the event) as well as alumni from the PMK days before that company (Pickwick Maslansky Koenigsberg) merged with the BNC side (Bragman Nyman Cafarelli).

Kingsley's partner, fellow PMK co-founder Neil Koenigsberg, was among the guests who showed up to support and take part in the festivities, standing alongside onetime PMK reps like Carol Marshall, Carri McClure, Karen Samfilippo and Tracy Shaffer, all of whom were mentored in some way by Kingsley.

Nyman opened the program in the lobby, welcoming guests as he stood in front of the closed double doors to The Kingsley as a sleek-looking Kingsley, outfitted in black trousers and matching blazer with black sneakers, looked on. "I know it's hard to believe that PR did exist before Pat," explained Nyman, who also recalled his 2009 lunch with her when he asked for her support in the proposed "historic" merger between his company and hers. "I believe, personally, that she did usher in modern-day entertainment publicity."

Nyman introduced Berger, who addressed the crowd while clutching pages of prepared notes. "I wasn't going to just riff," said the PR vet, pointing out the importance of the occasion. She then spoke directly to the guest of honor. "Pat, you are a female entrepreneur at a time when women weren't in leadership roles. You're a trailblazer and showed courage and conviction before anyone else and paved the way for those of us in this business."

That, of course, included Berger, who recalled that after she was promoted from assistant to publicist, Kingsley assigned her to work with longtime client Barbara Walters, someone Berger still works with today, 25 years later. Berger, who reps Redford, Rosie O'Donnell, Lena Dunham, Billy Crystal and others, surprisingly revealed that a phone call from Walters made her nervous. But it was advice from Kingsley that served her well and continues to deliver even today.

Kingsley told Berger, " 'Don't ever say to Barbara, 'I don't know.' Tell her you'll get right back to her.' And then Pat said, 'You better get all of her answers and then anticipate what she might ask, and never ever be late.' " (For the record, the dedication ceremony started on time.)

Berger continued that she always gives credit when its due and, thus, she had to praise Kingsley for having a strategic vision for the future of publicity. Notably, she linked brands and celebrities long before "influencer marketing" was part of the pop culture lexicon. PMK's first brand clients were AOL and Motorola, and Kingsley led the charge to put Motorola gold flip phones in the hands of Oscar nominees as they walked the red carpet at the Academy Awards, Berger noted. It was also her idea to dole out digital cameras to talent and then deliver the images to AOL which, in turn, put the images on its homepage. "(You're) a remarkable woman," Berger said.

Up next, longtime associate Catherine Olim, who served as an assistant in the New York office before being summoned to Los Angeles to learn how publicity works in Hollywood. After arriving, she accepted an invitation to Kingsley's home where the boss asked her if she'd like a glass of orange juice. Olim gave a thumbs up. "She went outside, picked some oranges and squeezed me a glass," Olim said. "That was a revelation."

Bigger revelations were to come, Olim teased. She meant publicity lessons, but it worked in reference to the day's events, too.

Back to Olim: "(Kingsley is) such a quiet and strong voice of authority. She developed a strategy and point of view, she put it forward and she stuck with it. Those are the revelations that have stood me in good stead all of these years."

But about those other revelations. One of which next came from Heidi Schaeffer, whom Olim dubbed "the stalwart of the Hollywood side," because she started as a receptionist at the original Pickwick Maslansky Koenigsberg. It was there she got promoted and learned the ways of the PR world thanks to Kingsley who took Schaeffer under her wing. "She assigned me to clients including Sally Field and Candice Bergen who I still work with today," said Schaeffer, who is celebrating her own milestone this year with 40 years in the business. "But you can't know Pat Kingsley until you've been arrested with her."

Another revelation.

Schaeffer then recounted the duo's criminal past (on the record!) by telling the story of when she accompanied Kingsley and actress Teri Garr to an anti-nuclear demonstration in Nevada, site of an underground testing facility. "Pat said, 'let's go,'" Schaeffer recalled. "And make a little noise."

The trio, along with dozens of protesters like Cesar Chavez and Daniel Ellsberg, got arrested and ended up in plastic handcuffs at a facility 300 miles away. Anti-nuclear activists staged multiple days of protests and when it was all over, close to 1,500 people were arrested. (Schaeffer noted that the protests occurred 30 years ago nearly to the date, on March 16, 1988.) Records aside, "I couldn't have had a better mentor," Schaeffer praised. "We are dear friends, we still see each other and been on vacation together. She's a huge influence in my life and her belief in me has been everything."

Without further ado, Schaeffer exclaimed, it was Kingsley's turn to offer remarks before the official ribbon cutting. Humility was an adjective that followed Kingsley on this day, and it was easy to see why.

"I'm not sure how you do it today," Kingsley told the crowd. "If I had to start in PR today, I wouldn't make it. It's a different business now, but it's a great business. Most of you look so young."

The observation initiated a wave of laughter, and someone in the crowd commented how great Kingsley looks at 84. With a great memory, too. "We set the rules," she said. "We challenged the magazines…and wire services. Most of the time, we won."

After explaining what an honor it was to have this new space dedicated in her honor, Kingsley stood next to Nyman and Berger with a giant pair of scissors to cut the ribbon and welcome the guests inside. The doors opened to a glass case filled with framed photographs of Kingsley alongside Cruise, Nicholson, Pacino, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening and Whitney Houston.

But front and center is a framed copy of a December 2013 exclusive feature published in The Hollywood Reporter written by Stephen Galloway titled "Pat Kingsley, On the Record." The story — the first time Kingsley had ever sat for an interview — detailed her "unprecedented, astonishing career" and what her life had been like since she retired in 2009. In the story, which hails Kingsley as "a giant in a land of dwarfs," she dished a little on what it was like to represent and part ways with Cruise, and how hard it was to end a professional partnership with PR vet Leslee Dart.

Berger focused only on the professional when gathering everyone inside The Kingsley Room for a group champagne toast. "I firmly believe that Nike stole this from Pat," she said with a smile. "When she would give you an assignment or give you something to do for a client or research a writer: Just do it. We all did it. We did it because you told us to do it, and I think you set the tone for the next generation which is here, and there will be more upstairs." Plenty more. 

Upstairs on the 13th floor, close to a 100 staffers gathered in rows of white folding chairs to listen to Hammond interview Kingsley about her career. But first, Berger suggested everyone take "copious" notes and shut off their cell phones. (One PMK*BNC staffer even told THR that he set up an out-of-office notification as to not be disturbed during the important event.)

Koltai Levine took a minute to praise Kingsley as "loyal and accessible and incredibly humble," and she was followed by Joy Fehily, who relayed three golden rules that she learned from Kingsley. Those included: The power of cc'ing Kingsley on an outgoing email in order to "actually get your email answered"; the power of knowing your clients' psychology as a way of knowing whether to overact or underact; and the power of supporting your colleagues.

Fehily then welcomed Hammond and Kingsley to the front of the room for their conversation. Highlights are below. 

• Kingsley may have wielded power of the press, but she couldn't convince longtime client Doris Day to do what she wanted. She once went to the multi-talented performer with an incredible opportunity for a 10-page spread in Life magazine to celebrate her 40th birthday. "It was 10 pages in Life magazine — you couldn't have imagined that!" Kingsley explained. "I went to Doris and said that they really wanted to do this and it was the best photographer and the best writer, and she said, 'Nah. I don't think so.' " Kingsley pressed on. "Doris asked me, 'Why would I want to do it?' I told her it was because you're No. 1. She said, 'Then what's the point?' I said, 'OK, would you do it as a favor to me? She said no, but 'let's go to the basketball game tonight.' And she didn't do it."

• Kingsley worked with Ellen DeGeneres on her coming out story, which went to Time magazine. It made the cover with the now iconic line "Yep, I'm Gay." At the time, Kingsley pitched it to the editor hoping the mag would position it in context of TV's relationship to sex and dating since DeGeneres was the star of a sitcom at the time. "I had this grand idea of how sex evolves on television," Kingsley explained. "On The Honeymooners, you didn't see the bedroom. Then we go to Desi and Lucy and they had twin beds and they were married. That progressed to Mary Tyler Moore who would go on dates with guys. Then you got to Murphy Brown and she's sleeping with a guy and gets pregnant and has a baby out of wedlock. The next best thing is somebody coming out a female lead actress being gay." Despite the editor telling Kingsley that he loved the story, it wasn't the one that ran. "I thought the other story was better," she said

• It was only two months after DeGeneres' coming out story ran on the cover that she fired Kingsley. "I still think she's extraordinarily talented," praised Kingsley.

• Kingsley is a stranger to today's publicity business. "There are no real magazines like Time, Newsweek and Life that are vital to what we did. We didn't have all these bloggers. You couldn't plan a campaign now the way you could then because somebody would start writing about it before you were ready. … We had more power then. If we didn't want to give them the client, they couldn't have them. They had to wait their turn." 

• In planning a movie campaign, Kingsley said there was really one question that needed to be answered. "Is this a movie for Rolling Stone or is it a movie for Vanity Fair? It made a difference and you would go for a cover for one or the other."

• When a London-based tabloid came calling with gossip about a client, there was one option. "We would sue them," Kingsley said without missing a beat. "Or threaten to sue."

• Kingsley loves watching MSNBC's Nicole Wallace and is "addicted" to news shows. But only certain ones. "CNN and MSNBC," she explained. "I've never watched (Fox News), I don't know what that's all about."

• Hammond asked this: If you had to choose President Donald Trump's staffers Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Kellyanne Conway to have a meal with — and you had to do it — who would you choose? Kingsley's response, which elicited the most rousing laughter of the day — was short and the opposite of sweet. "I'd order in," she said. 

• Asked for the most exciting thing that had happened to her during her legendary career, Kingsley recalled a 1981 press conference with client Billie Jean King. The tennis great — then married to a man — admitted to having a love affair with a female associate who was suing her for support. "The way the press treated it was great," Kingsley remembered. "She lost all of her endorsements and never got them back, but she won the public and she won the media."

• No Pat Kingsley 'tell all' is coming because she will never write a book. "You can't write a book unless you can tell everything. You can't do this job and have this relationships with a person who is paying you money and then go talk about them and tell the truth about things they were telling you knowing it was not going anywhere else. … No matter how much money is out there, it's bad money."

• After leaving PMK in 2009, her decompression time was quick and immediate. It only took her 24 hours to cool it and stop checking her phone for email and messages. And she never travels any more.

• Hammond asked Kingsley for her best red carpet tip while walking clients down a press line. She said: "If someone was busy, I just go around and go to next person. I never go back. If you don’t get them while they’re there I never bring them back."

After the final question, the one in which Kingsley said she had nothing more to say, THR asked her to sum up what the day's honor and series of events has meant to her. "Wonderful, unexpected," Kingsley said. "I thought I was the past and they were the present and that these people wouldn't even know who I am. But look at this, I'm very impressed and humbled."

She admitted that she had no more advice, no more parting words for all of the publicists in the room, but what about for members of the media? She spent years weaving through media requests, controlling client narratives and famously blocking access, all the while commanding the respect and admiration from those desperate to spill ink over any number of her famous clients.

Anything for them? Or even, just one piece of advice for this THR journalist?

"Do something else."

This story first appeared in the March 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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