It should come as little surprise to our sophisticated readers that the stars we write about five days a week often are not personally the best of human beings. It also should not come as a big surprise that we write about them with admiration — for their work, that is.
Usually press agents employed by the studios to attend to the stars know them best, even better sometimes than their spouses. They are employees of an strangely intimate sort, and often get to see their charges at their personal worst.
That’s why we were intrigued by a chatty and informative book written by veteran publicist Leonard Morpurgo, Of Kings and Queens and Movie Stars: True Revelations of a Hollywood Publicist! (Global Book Publishers, 2009).
Like many in his trade, Morpurgo did much more than just publicize his clients. He also functioned as event organizer, schmoozer to the stars and general all around handler. Publicists can get very close to their charges — sometimes too close — and glean all sorts of personal information best kept (at least for the star involved) private.
Fortunately for us, Morpurgo spilled the personal beans about a number of his clients, sometimes revealing star quirks and other weirdness. So, in no special order, here are four samples.
Barbra Steisand: Morpurgo was in charge of scheduling Streisand’s 1968 European tour on behalf of Funny Girl. For the French opening, Columbia Pictures booked the Paris Opera House. On the big night everything went like clockwork — at first. Streisand was to be escorted to the event by Maurice Chevalier. But Streisand ordered her limo driver to go around the block a few times. She was going to keep them waiting. She was going to make an entrance…She kept that car going for another 20 minutes. The movie presentation in front of a very chic Opera House crowd started 45 minutes late. The next day Streisand kept an impatient crowd of European journalists waiting two hours at a press promotional press conference. Morpurgo concluded that she had a keen nose for publicity, and knew exactly what she was doing. PS: The movie was a hit all over Europe.
Rosalind Russell: Morpurgo accompanied Russell on a 1962 tour on behald of Five Finger Exercise. He displeased the star over a long forgotten matter, and apparently spoke to her sharply. She retorted, Nobody talks to Roz Russell like that. Nobody! I am an institution in this industry. Wrote Morpugo: an institution was where she belonged. Of course, he refrained from saying that at the time.
Steve McQueen: Ali MacGraw was as sweet as McQueen was mean. No wonder the marriage between the two (pictured above) didn’t last. Morporgo accompanied the actor to France to promote 1971’s racing car feature Le Mans. The slick magazine Paris Match, a big deal in the market, promised to put the actor on its front cover provided he was photographed — in color — in Le Mans. But the actor stopped things in their tracks by only allowing himself to be photographed in black and white. Take it or leave it. Black and white. The shots were taken as ordered, and wound up being used in Paris Match deep inside, single column, two inches.
Omar Sharif: On a European tour for 1969’s Mackenna’s Gold, Sharif found himself with Morpurgo in tow in Hamburg, and decided to try one of the establishments in the German port city’s notoriously open brothel district. Women of all kinds sat in windows or stood in doorways. As we passed one overweight, over-age blonde seated at a second floor window, Omar stopped. ‘There’s one of my fans. I do believe she wants my autograph.’ Sharif provided more than just an autograph that night. His companion of the evening announced to one and all that she had just had ‘the most beautiful man in the world.”