As an avid impresario of public relations, he promoted entertainers, films, and the “I Love New York” tourism campaign.
Bobby Zarem, the ardent press agent who fulfilled his childhood fantasies by capturing rising stars and promoting them into illustrious careers, died Sunday morning at his home in Savannah, Ga. He was 84 years old.
His death was confirmed by a longtime colleague, Bill Augustin, who said the cause was complications from lung cancer.
A friendly and ungrateful Yale graduate, Mr. Zerem lived on Wall Street for barely 18 months and stumbled upon a career as a tireless show business promoter.
A largely sociable Barnum, he cultivated a symbiotic bond with journalists, greeted favorite guests at his parties by falling on his knees and kissing their hands, and only to free a vitriol but lyrical X-rated tirade. With joyful benevolence to one moment the next, driven by a perceived slight or the omission of an underling.
Mr. Zarem’s clients included (in alphabetical order) Alan Alda, Ann-Margaret, Woody Allen, Michael Caine, Cher, Michael Douglas, Dustin Hoffman, Sophia Loren, Jack Nicholson, Diana Ross, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.
He promoted the films “Tommy” (by hosting a gala party in a Midtown Manhattan subway station) and “Saturday Night Fever” (after stealing production photos from the studio), which was expected to flop and John’s photographs distribution was neglected. Travolta), as well as “Rambo,” “Dance with Wolves” and “Pumping Iron,” a 1977 documentary about bodybuilding that starred Mr. Schwarzenegger. For that film, Mr. Zarem arranged a meeting with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis which helped propel Mr. Schwarzenegger to global superstardom.
He also played a role in launching the “I Love New York” tourism campaign – though how much of the role is unclear; He was one of many who claimed credit for the origin of the slogan (the logo was designed by Milton Glaser).
He was appointed as the Deputy Commercial Commissioner of the State, William S. Doyle was hired, and he said he recruited the Wells Rich Green advertising agency to create a television advertising campaign starring Broadway celebrities.
He also promoted his own birthplace, turning John Behrendt’s true-crime book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” (1994) into a tourism magnet for Savannah. He helped start a film festival there in 1998 and retired there in 2010.
Judy Klemsrud called him a “super flak”. Spy magazine characterized him as “pre-naturally energetic”. Marion Meade wrote in her biography “The Unruly Life of Woody Allen” (2000) that Mr. Zerem was “fueled by an unbroken tank of hot air.”
and Hal Erickson compared him to the vanishing preacher he inspired, played by Al Pacino in the film “People I Know”, wrote in his book “Any Remembrance to Actual Persons” (2017) that Mr. Zerem “was never worried about getting. In heaven as long as he could print his people.”
Like his theatrical clients, Mr. Zerem could deftly switch roles: from a choleric control freak greeting every guest like a best friend to the elegant host dealing with last-minute messes in staging an event.
He wanted her to be liked badly, but when he wasn’t he could create a rancor.
In the 1980s Mr. Zerem had a toxic feud with columnist Liz Smith when he learned that she was writing a separate syndicated column under the pseudonym Robin Adams Sloan, which discredited her clients.
Unlike many of his less friendly colleagues, his bold-faced name of Mr. Zerem punctuated the gossip column almost as much as his clients.
But despite his personal visibility, Mr. Zerem insisted in a 2001 interview that his career “had been hurt for a long time because I didn’t promote myself.”
“People don’t know half of what I’ve done because I’m not big,” he told The Times four years ago. He added, however, that while most of his competitors were “handlers or caterers”, he himself “raised the promotion to an art form.”
they ate regularly Elaine is on the Upper East Side (where he said he introduced Mia Farrow to Woody Allen), helped organize an annual Oscars-night gala (“Almost everyone’s someone here,” he said at an event), and, In the era of tweets, sending personalized handwritten notes was the go-to.
Endowed with a discerning eye that can identify potential stars, Mr. Zerem fulfills his childhood dreams.
“I sit here now,” he said in an interview south magazine In 2017, “and I realized that everything I had imagined became real.”
Robert Myron Zarem was born in Savannah on September 30, 1936, the youngest of three sons in an Orthodox Jewish family. His father, Harry, owned a wholesale shoe company. His mother, Rose (Gold) Zerem, was a pianist.
“I’ve had major identity problems my whole life because I’m obsessed with meeting the stars,” he told The Times in 1997.
When he was 8 years old, he said, he and a friend cut Sunday-school classes to get an autograph from actress Tallulah Bankhead, who was staying at a hotel in Savannah.
They plan and execute an elaborate trick – learning Bobby’s room number from a bellhop who works for his father; run eight flights to avoid the lift operator; Knocked on the door and, refusing to be afraid, shouted, “Go away! I do not give autographs”; and then sneaks behind a maid’s breakfast cart, prompting Miss Bankhead to run a newspaper over them.
Years later, as a leading campaigner, he encountered Miss Bankhead and made another unsuccessful attempt. He was equally unsuccessful. “I still don’t sign autographs,” she said.
However, he will continue to collect them. When Bobby was 13 years old, before his father died of cancer, he accompanied him when he came to New York for treatment at a New York hospital. They will stop at the Waldorf Astoria, where Bobby will dine for the famous guests.
After his father’s death, he told Hampton Magazine, “I was afraid to get close to anyone for fear that that person would also disappear.”
Despite a lifelong struggle with attention deficit disorder that demanded reading, he followed his two older brothers to Phillips Academy in Massachusetts and then to Yale, where he graduated in 1958. (Danny Zarem, a fashion retailer, died in 2013. Dr. Harvey Zarem, a plastic surgeon, died in 2015. No immediate family members are alive.)
After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science, he worked for the United States Trust Company in New York; served briefly in the Air National Guard; was hired by Columbia Artist Management; And, starting in 1968, discovered his gift as a preacher while working for producer Joseph E. Levine.
In 1969 he went to work for Rogers & Cowan, a public relations firm, where his client roster included Dustin Hoffman. He opened his own agency, Zerem Inc., in 1974.
Mr. Zerem, a workaholic, never married or drank alcohol, although he smoked marijuana to relax. He cultivated a devil-may-care style in an unbuttoned shirt and New Balance sneakers, but that style belied a fiery flair.
Publicist Peggy Siegel, who once worked for him, swore that Mr. Zerem loaded a typewriter at him when he made a mistake in taking a phone message. (He replied that he didn’t miss such a short distance.) Mr. Schwarzenegger recalled in his 2012 memoir, “Total Recall” that Mr. Zerem “always talked as if he was completely confused and the world would end”. Had been. .”
He lamented the current state of public relations, he told New York magazine in 2010, because the warp speed of digital media pre-empted that pro-leaks and exclusive stories like his were a well-deserved battle plan.
Regarding the state of the art when he practiced it, Mr. Zerem said, “No one knows what a press agent does, and if you’re smart, you keep it that way.”
He claimed to have achieved self-awareness after more than three decades of analysis with Dr. Samuel Lowy, a psychiatrist specializing in dream interpretation. Mr. Zerem concluded that he promoted other people to enhance his own image.
“I guess that’s why I did what I did,” he told Hampton Magazine. “Not feeling like I had anything to communicate, I felt that if I accepted the rest of the world like Dustin Hoffman and Ann-Margaret and Cher and all these people, I would be accepted. “
Looking back, he said, he saw his role in the “I love New York” campaign as a success.
“My doctor once told me, ‘Anyone who has saved the biggest metropolis can’t be spoiled,’” Mr. Zerem said. “For the first time in my life, I don’t feel the need to jump out the window if someone cancels dinner on me. Now I know who I am and what I am.”