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David Horowitz, Publicity Guru, Dead at 86.

July 18, 2016 | By
David Horowitz

David Horowitz

David Horowitz, regarded by many as the dean of Hollywood publicists, and a political adviser best known for twice helping revitalize Bill Clinton’s image, died on July 17 at his home in Los Angeles. His passing was confirmed by his wife, Lynn Horowitz.

While Horowitz’s primary specialty over the course of more than five decades was entertainment publicity, he also involved himself in social and political causes such as the Civil Rights Movement, Native American issues, American presidential campaigns, and the state of Israel.

Horowitz’s participation in the fight for civil rights began in the early ‘60s and included the 1963 March on Washington. In the wake of 1965’s Watts Riots, Horowitz helped assemble talent for a show to raise funds for the hard-hit community. And in 1968, he joined in organizing a July fundraiser for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, now headed by the rev. Ralph Abernathy Sr. after Martin Luther King’s April assassination. One of Horowitz’s key contributions was arranging for client Barbra Streisand to be one of the star performers at a sold-out benefit concert, attended by 18,000, at the Hollywood Bowl.

In the late ‘70s, Horowitz worked on a motion picture project recounting the Trail of Tears, during which 19th-century Native American tribes were forced from their ancestral lands to an area in Oklahoma designated by 1830’s Indian Removal Act. Some 10,000 perished in forced marches. The eventually unrealized movie was one of many Native American projects Horowitz urged colleagues to pursue over the years. And as recently as last year, he was seeking a publisher to produce a textbook about Native Americans for use in American high schools.

In 1988, after relatively unknown Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton gained notoriety for a speech at the Democratic Convention that ran too long (through no fault of his own), Clinton friends and TV producers Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason sought David’s help to undo the perceived gaffe by having the Governor play the saxophone on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. David got the booking, Clinton played, and Carson got a huge laugh by bringing out a giant hourglass at the start of the interview. “That was a good night for Clinton,” recalls Thomason.

The Thomasons again asked David for advice to bolster Clinton’s candidacy in 1992. That led to another late-night sax-playing gig, this time on The Arsenio Hall Show, where Clinton jammed on “Heartbreak Hotel” and “God Bless the Child.” The appearance immediately energized the campaign by increasing Clinton’s popularity among minority and young voters.

Subsequently, the new president wanted David to move to Washington to work in his administration, but he declined. “I didn’t want to leave Los Angeles and the film business, not to mention our pets.”

On behalf of Israel, Horowitz was active with a number of organizations including Peace Now, which is dedicated to an equitable two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and whose pressure on the government is said to have helped move Israel toward 1993’s Oslo Accords, signed by Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat. A year earlier, Horowitz had offered his opinion to Rabin on what he might do to win re-election as prime minister. David’s suggestions were adopted and Rabin won. Again, in 1995, politics called when Rabin asked Horowitz to come to Israel to work on a project. While Horowitz was weighing this, Rabin was assassinated.

As a publicist and studio executive, Horowitz worked with top stars and filmmakers including Woody Allen, Robert Altman, The Beatles, The Bee Gees, Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Mel Brooks, George Burns, Diahann Carroll, Kevin Costner, Bette Davis, Judi Dench, Kirk Douglas, Richard Dreyfuss, Jodie Foster, Katharine Hepburn, Dustin Hoffman, Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Dorothy Lamour, Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Bob Newhart, Al Pacino, Richard Pryor, Robert Redford, Don Rickles, The Rolling Stones, Rosalind Russell, Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner, The Who, Billy Wilder, Flip Wilson, and (a testament to his versatility) The Muppets.

Horowitz began his close association with Streisand with Funny Girl, followed by Hello, Dolly!, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, The Owl and the Pussycat, and What’s Up, Doc? He also promoted such memorable films as The Graduate, The Lion in Winter, The French Connection, All the President’s Men, Tommy, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and such television projects as the ground-breaking Roots, The Thorn Birds, and Katharine Hepburn’s The Corn is Green.

Some of Horowitz’s posts included president of corporate entertainment, president of the film division and president of the TV division at Rogers & Cowan; advertising and publicity VP with Kirk Douglas’ Bryna Productions; unit publicist for several Billy Wilder pictures including Irma La Douce and The Fortune Cookie; and VP of publicity at TriStar to handle The Natural, at Robert Redford’s request.

In the ‘70s, Horowitz joined Warner Bros. for a decade-long stint with the studio, first as the film division’s head of publicity under Ted Ashley and Frank Wells and then as vice president of advertising, publicity and promotion for Warner Bros. Television under Alan Shayne.

During the latter post, Wells called upon David to advise on several movie campaigns, and Warner Communications chief Steve Ross appointed David to put in place systems to promote synergy among various corporate divisions. Subsequently, David helped with the early expansion of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood, which today has become a highly popular L.A. tourist attraction — an interactive tour (of actual filming on the studio’s iconic Burbank backlot) that annually employs some 200 tour guides and draws more than 300,000 visitors.

Beginning in 1990, for nearly two decades, Horowitz specialized in Academy-Award campaigns. He was highly valued for his skills in this arena becoming, in effect, one of Hollywood’s first Oscar bloggers. In phone calls, lunches, and at meetings, he polled media, industry tastemakers, and studio executives and then issued the results to key press and Academy members in what became an influential document.

Highlights of his campaigns included the New Line sweep for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which took 11 Oscars out of 11 nominations, still a record; back-to-back Best Picture wins for Orion PicturesDances with Wolves and The Silence of the Lambs; and many other key wins amid some 140 nominations for Orion, Warner, Miramax, Paramount and New Line.

David H. Horowitz was born on July 21, 1929, in New York City. He soon moved to Miami with his family and later, when he was 11, to Los Angeles. He graduated from University High School at the age of 15 and, following his parents’ wish, entered UCLA as a pre-med student. A summer job with an advertising agency confirmed how much he disliked his math and science courses, and he informed his parents he was done with medicine. After graduation, he found employment at KERO-TV in Bakersfield, first as a cameraman then as a director of local shows. After three years, in the mid-’50s, he moved back to advertising as an account executive at The Goodman Organization, handling Warner Bros., United Artists, and American International Pictures.

A colleague at Goodman told David that filmmaker Robert Aldrich was seeking a publicity vice president. In the interview, Aldrich asked about David’s experience. “Well, I do know advertising but, actually, nothing about publicity.” “You’re hired,” Aldrich exclaimed. “You’re the first honest publicist I’ve ever met.” David’s campaign helped What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? become a critical and commercial success and garner five Oscar nominations, including Bette Davis for Best Actress, and one win. David had indeed become a publicist.

In 1959, he married the former Lynn Rockman and after a brief period living in Hollywood, they settled in their home of 52 years in Westwood.

Two of David’s passions were dining and travel and he shared with friends lists of where to go, what to see, and where and what to eat. His favorite foods were pasta –- Bolognese or with oil and garlic -– and a Langer’s pastrami sandwich on a roll, with Bubbies pickles on the side. He fostered close friendships with several chefs, including Gino Angelini of Angelini Osteria; Tanino Drago of Tanino and Via Alloro; and the late Mauro Vincenti, of Rex and Alto Palato, with whom he and Lynn once traveled to Italy and enjoyed 27 meals in eight days.

A third passion was the arts and he and Lynn often attended theatre, opera, ballet, classical concerts, and art exhibitions in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, London and continental Europe.

In addition to Lynn, his wife of 56 years, Horowitz is survived by his sister-in-law Norma Rockman; godchildren Annelis and Will Laakko and their parents Keith and Betsy Laakko; and surrogate daughter Linda Dresie and her family.

Services will be held at Mount Sinai Memorial Park on Forest Lawn Drive in Los Angeles on Monday, July 25 at 10 a.m. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Southern Poverty Law Center (www.splcenter.org), to Mazon (www.mazon.org) or to any charity of one’s choice.

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