In an age when tawdry Hollywood reporting runs rampant, it’s almost inconceivable that a contemporary 650-plus page biography covering Hollywood’s Golden Age wouldn’t resurrect salacious gossip and sensational scandals about long-dead stars in order to boost sales.Yet in his still popular 2015 book, "Starflacker: Inside the Golden Age of Hollywood," veteran Hollywood publicist Dick Guttman shunned tacky titillating tales in favor of deliciously funny and fascinating stories that classic film fans can dive into without disappointment (see www.starflacker.com).
While the author doesn’t paint celebrities as saints, there is clearly no desire to malign the hands that fed the 83-year-old publicist for some 60 years.
"Throughout my career, I tried to never do anything that would cause angst to anyone," said Guttman from his Los Angeles office. "I wanted the book to reflect that."However, a quick initial flip through the pages of "Starflacker" may leave readers with one question: Why no photos of Dick rubbing shoulders with his legendary clients such as Gary Cooper, Kirk Douglas, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, or Tony Curtis?
His explanation is simple: none exist.
"When I started working for (Henry) Rogers & (Warren) Cowan in 1954, I asked what’s the cardinal rule of publicity and was told ‘Get the hell out of the shot!’ The book is my photo album in words."
Guttman fell into the publicity business when, as a college student, he began working for Rogers & Cowan – which remains a major public relations agency today.
"They wanted an office boy and someone to deliver messages to clients," Guttman recalled. "But I initially thought they were involved in the art world because there were lots on the office walls."
After delivering a message to a house where Kirk Douglas opened the door, Dick began reading the memos he was conveying and "for the first time I learned about a thing called public relations."
He credits Jack Webb, of "Dragnet" fame, for his "big break."
"Jack was a huge star in the mid-1950s, and the biggest our company handled at the time. He was also a big jazz and blues fan and directed, produced, and starred in "Pete Kelly's Blues" which had Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald in it. But the film seemed destined to flop."
That’s when office boy Guttman proposed a clever plan to save the film.
"I called the UCLA music department and asked if they would like Jack to visit the campus and give a seminar," he said. "They loved the idea and it was a huge success. The 600-seat auditorium was packed with 800 people, so either the fire marshals had gone home or they were big Jack Webb fans, too!"
After the event, Guttman recalls Webb turning to Warren Cowan and remarking "I never thought I’d say this to anyone other than a woman, but you just gave me the greatest night of my life!"
Cowan had words for young Dick, too.
"He said ‘I guess you’re a press agent now,’" laughed Guttman.
"Starflacker" is filled with hundreds of fascinating experiences Guttman shared with the biggest names in Hollywood.
"I worked with Tony Curtis and Peter Ustinov in ‘Spartacus’ and visited the set several times," he recalled. "I remember once when Peter was filming with Laurence Olivier, who was milking every line trying to steal the scene. But Peter stole it right back – two great hams! That take wasn’t used and had to be repeated, but it was one of the greatest battle of egos I ever saw."
In 1972, Guttman started his own publicity company, and today Guttman Associates still boasts veteran clients such as Barbra Streisand.
"I enjoyed the most incredible life at the height of Hollywood’s Golden Age," he said. "It took five years to write the book, but I wanted to share stories of these remarkable people I worked with to help preserve their memory. They were characters with glamour and mystique, from an era of great creativity with a special aura that we’ll never see again."
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 500 magazines and newspapers.