We pause today to pay our personal farewells to Syd Silverman, publisher and editor of Variety, the fabled show business trade paper where Joe cut his teeth in the late Sixties and where Frank spent the bulk of his career in journalism.
Silverman died Aug. 27 in Boca Raton, Florida. He was 85.
It’s not that often that one takes pains to pay tribute to a former boss, but Silverman was quietly extraordinary in so many ways that the following paean is entirely justified. It was a pleasure working for this man.
If for no other reason, classic movie fans will know Variety from its many cameo appearances in so many movies. In order to advance the story or confirm plot points, dozens of Hollywood studio titles would simply pan to a Variety front page or send a headline under the paper’s distinctive logo spinning in a transitional montage.
Just one of many examples: when George Sanders in RKO’s 1956 crime drama, Death of a Scoundrel, wished to check up on the grosses of an out-of-town Broadway tryout, he consulted an issue of Variety. Occasionally various Variety staffers even took on occasional cameo roles.
The publication’s gifted, longtime second editor Abel Green (who preceded Syd in that role) appeared alongside Groucho Marx and Carmen Miranda in 1947’s Copacabana. His one line — “Hiya, kiddies.”
Variety’s Rome bureau chief Hank Werba poses a somewhat more verbose question to visiting princess Audrey Hepburn in the closing scenes of 1953’s Roman Holiday.
Variety was very much a family business — with an international reach that gave it considerable business clout. The paper’s signature logo (see above) was designed by Syd’s grandmother Harriet on a napkin.
Founded by Syd’s grandfather, Sime, in 1905, its early specialties were live entertainment, vaudeville, radio and nightclubs. Films came soon after (a West Coast Daily Variety was added in 1933) then tv. The publication pioneered national reporting of movie grosses in the U.S. and then internationally.
Syd’s mother was vaudevillian Marie Saxon, who appeared in several silent features including 1929’s The Broadway Hoofer. Syd’s father, Sidne, following Sime Silverman, ran the paper until his death in 1950. Syd inherited Variety lock, stock and barrel at age 18.
After graduating from Princeton University and two years of Army service, Syd finally took the reins at Variety in 1957. (His legal guardian Harold Erichs had managed things since Sidne’s death.) He cut a distinctive figure at the paper — tall, distinguished, a cerebral pipe smoker — Syd steered Variety through many econ0mic storms over his three-decade tenure.
The Weekly had a spare staff working out of cramped office quarters in New York’s theater district while, at the same time, encouraged a network of strong-willed bureau chiefs and stringers around the globe. Under Silverman, Variety maintained full fledged offices in Chicago, London, Paris, Rome and Sydney.
He always kept his sangfroid amidst the more than occasional office eruptions resulting from big staff talents and bigger egos. Reporters were partial to him largely because, as Syd once said, “we leave people alone. We don’t tell them what to write. It’s a reporter’s paper.”
In a move that generated worldwide headlines, Syd sold Variety to a unit of British conglomerate Reed International in 1987. It was at the peak of Variety’s market value. Still it was personally a tough decision, Silverman said.
It also marked the end of an extraordinary newspaper run — one that in today’s chaotic media environment is not likely to be repeated, ever.
Our condolences to Syd’s wife, Joan; and to his offspring, Michael, Mark, Marie (and her husband Bob Marich), and to Matthew.