Ex-Variety staffer and editor Amy Dawes attended Variety’s memorial service for the late great columnist Army Archerd Monday night, attended by Hollywood vets Steven Spielberg, Sidney Poitier, Sharon Stone, Carl Reiner, George Schlatter, Angie Dickinson, Tom Sherak, Arthur Hiller, Hugh O’Brian and Julian Meyers, as well as Variety’s Tim Gray, Peter Bart, Steve Gaydos and Bill Higgins, and ex-Variety staffers Michael Fleming, Michael Speier and Elizabeth Guider, now editor of The Hollywood Reporter.
Here’s Dawes’ report and tribute:
Journalists spend their lives telling everyone else’s stories, but we rarely hear their own. So it struck me as a rare privilege to get a glimpse into the personal life of renowned showbiz columnist Army Archerd during the tribute hosted by Variety last night at the Saban Theater on the rainy Martin Luther King holiday.
Army, who passed away in September at age 87, achieved legendary longevity with his page two column in the trade, which ran from 1953 until 2005. After that, it became a blog on Variety.com that he continued until his death.
“Army has been writing his column for my entire life, and that’s meaningful,” said Sharon Stone, who spoke of how notice in Army Archerd’s column early in her career made her feel she had been “admitted into the showbiz community.”
“He never wrote from anger, he never wrote from spite,” said Steven Spielberg, adding that he marveled at how Army never misquoted him, adding, “I’ve been misquoted even when there were seven tape recorders in the room.”
Speaker after speaker voiced appreciation for Army’s decency, accuracy, and fairness – his adherence to a code of honor that sometimes seems to have gone by the wayside, particularly in that sector of the trade that traffics in celebrity “gossip,” a term that Army hated. He maintained this record of integrity even while developing close friendships with studio heads and stars – a tricky feat, to say the least.
Sidney Poitier spoke last night about how he and Army connected better over the telephone than in person, engaging in long, unguarded conversations – not interviews, but conversations — over many years. Apparently, he trusted Army not to use this confidence against him.
A video clip showed Army on Dinah Shore’s talk show. She asked what people liked best to read about in his column. One of the things, he said, was health. “I get so many phone calls when I write about someone being in the hospital. Everyone wants to know how they are.” It struck me that no one writes about this anymore. That was one of the peculiar functions of Army’s column – it created a sense of community, and one where you could express interest in someone’s well-being, rather than their undoing.
As a Variety staff writer, I shared a corner of the Wilshire Boulevard office with Army for some years. He was convivial and unassuming in his plaid shirts, but disciplined, tuning out the rest of us to pound out his daily column with the phone glued to his ear. Still, he often took time to suss out my views on current movies. When one year I wound up in the hospital, somewhat frightened, Army called me there. “But you’re supposed to just check on celebrities,” I said. “I call everyone who’s important to me,” he replied.
Many well-known people spoke last night, but one of my favorite was Army’s grandson, Ryan, a pink-cheeked teenager who wore his late grandfather’s suit and spoke of how Army indulged him, picking up the phone to get him autographed pictures from the latest James Bond or whatever else his heart desired. “I thought his name was Honey,” Ryan said. ‘Because that’s what Grandma always called him.”
There were many others who didn’t speak – including actor George Segal, who sat by himself at the end of the row in front of me, often with his head bowed, making me curious about what had brought him there. At one point, Variety editor Tim Gray told a story about how Army had struggled with technology when the digital age came to pass, and how “he never really got the hang of it.”
That reminded me of an afternoon when a mild earthquake shook the Wilshire office building and the power went out. As deadline approached, staffers began to sweat about how they would get their stories written. That’s when a sound permeated the dimly lit room coming from Army’s corner office – tap, tap, tap. He had wrangled up typewriter, and a manual one at that, and he was trumping us all with it. In many ways, I imagine he always will.