From Gable to McQueen. From the Rolling Stones to U2. My job as a Hollywood press agent was to polish stars and make sure they continue to shine brightly. But my career was made earning a reputation as one of the best “sup-press agents” in the business. It didn’t take the brain of a white rat to get Frank Sinatra or Judy Garland a front-page cover story, it was quite another thing to convince newspaper and magazine editors to bury a story or alter scandalous facts that might otherwise prove detrimental to some client. Over thirty some odd years I ran a very successful entertainment public relations business, but I could not have done it without my associates, especially my late partner Paul Wasserman.
My Hollywood career began at the tender age of nine, when I sneaked under the fence of the old Selznick studios in Culver City and sold Cokes to the cast and crew on the set of “Gone With the Wind.” It taught me that even the icons have basic needs and get thirsty once in a while, and that initiation with Hollywood’s elite proved invaluable later on in life when I had to approach them on more serious business matters.
GET MAHONEY shows the legends as they really are and were, warts and all. It is an anecdotal and often very funny picture of the flaws and frailties of our most beloved stars.
Most of my famous clients appeared charming, decent, and charismatic in the eyes of the movie-going, television-watching, record-buying public. They never got sick, never went to the bathroom, and only went to bed to sleep. If one of them was ever nabbed by the long arm of the law, it was my job to squelch the story before it hit the city desk. When a client called with a problem, no matter what kind or the urgency, it was my job to handle it without tension or finger wagging. If Sinatra punched out an idiot in Mexico, I knew what to do. If one client shot another, or was threatened by mutilation in a duel, I generally knew who to call and what to say. Getting famous people quietly married was a familiar problem. Homicide might take a little longer.
For more than 30 years, I've represented some of the top names in show business. One of the most famous was Ole Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. I have a wealth of stories about Sinatra, such as the time his son Frank Jr. was kidnapped by some acquaintances of his sister Nancy. What’s interesting here is that the kidnappers not only had the FBI on their trail, but they had Sam Giancana, then the head of the Chicago mafia, as well as every thug from Queens to San Diego looking for them. The kidnappers never had a chance. I handled publicity for Frank and his colorful tribe during the excesses of the Rat Pack in Las Vegas, when every night was New Year’s Eve, or more accurately, Halloween.
My client list has included some of the entertainment industry’s all time greats, such as Fred Astaire, John Wayne, Jack Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope, Tony Bennett, Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, Clark Gable, George C. Scott, and Judy Garland, to name a few. I've represented many top recording stars such as Tony Bennett, Eddie Fisher, Peggy Lee, Vic Damone, Andy Williams, Robert Goulet, Glen Campbell, the Beach Boys, as well as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, The Who, The Jacksons, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Carole King, Neil Diamond, George Harrison, John Denver, The Rolling Stones, and U2.
There were talk show hosts from Joey Bishop to Ellen DeGeneris, Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Arsenio Hall, and David Letterman, to name a few. I also spent a fair amount of time sanitizing some very successful television series like “Happy Days,” “Cheers,” “Dallas” and “Dynasty,” as well as mini-series like “Shogun” and “The Winds of War.”
We managed Oscar-winning campaigns of such films as “Patton,” “The
Goodbye Girl,” “Star Wars,” “Easy Rider,” and “Looking for Mr. Goodbar.” In fact, I never conducted an Oscar campaign that we didn't win - from Shirley Jones and George Chakiris to Andre Previn and Franklin Schaffner. Underdogs were my specialty. The most memorable: Lee Marvin for his role as Kid Shelleen in “Cat Ballou,” the underdog of all time. Lee's rivals that year were Brando and Olivier!
Regarding the Golden Gloves, we literally created a show-stopper for client Pia Zadora when she won for New Star Of The Year. Her husband at the time, Meshulam Riklis, was a client of ours and owner of the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. He gave us carte blanche to promote his young bride, so we invited all of the foreign press to come up to Vegas and enjoy an extended weekend, on the Riklis’. To everyone’s “surprise” she won over a very strong field, and the Foreign Press shut down the show for the next few years to determine how such a thing could have happen. Back to the Gable story on the set of “Gone With The Wind,” if those in power are thirsty, get them a drink.
I’ve been very lucky in life, but I’ve also made my luck by being in the right place at the right time. One such time was when I met my wife and life partner Patricia Marston Mahoney. If it wasn’t for her backing and support of me and my career, during the ups and downs that naturally flow in any business, I never would have had the guts to go for it and succeed. She also gave me five beautiful children, Jim Jr., Marilee, Sean (Cher), Michael and Monica, and five grand children, Bridget, Amy, Timmy, Isabella and Ava. I am, and continue to be, truly blessed.
Radio Interview on The Jan Wahl show
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