Hollywood publicist and awards consultant Murray Weissman died yesterday of pancreatic cancer in his Studio City apartment with his family by his side. He was 90. Weissman worked with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg and helped clients win seven best picture Oscars, as well as numerous Emmys and Golden Globes.
In a nearly 70-year career, Weissman began as a publicity executive with the ABC and CBS television networks where he worked on the shows of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Danny Kaye, Red Skelton, Dick Van Dyke, the Smothers Brothers, and such hit series as Twilight Zone, Gunsmoke, Route 66, Wyatt Earp and Hogan’s Heroes.
In 1966, Weissman moved to Universal Pictures where he spent 10 years as chief of the motion picture publicity department. In 1973 Universal released Steven Spielberg’s Jaws which marked a turning point in how Hollywood movies were marketed and distributed. Opening in more than 400 theatres, a record at the time, the film was accompanied by a massive PR campaign, all of which Weissman supervised. Jaws went on to break every box-office record at the time.
In 1981, after stints at Lorimar Productions (now part of Warner Bros. Television) and Columbia Pictures (overseeing marketing on Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind), he formed his own marketing and PR company which over the years represented numerous studios, networks and production companies as well as the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, one of his first major long-time clients.
Beginning in the 1990s, Weissman began focusing more on award campaigning for film and television. With studios’ Academy Awards teams, he worked on 38 best picture nominees, helping capture the top Oscar for seven: The Sting, Kramer vs. Kramer, Dances With Wolves, The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, Chicago and Crash.
In 2006, with son-in-law Rick Markovitz, Weissman formed Weissman/Markovitz Communications (WMC). Weissman, who years earlier had introduced his daughter Julie to her future husband, always called the marriage his “best promotion.” WMC currently represents the FX and Food Networks, Amazon Studios and BET – who in 2015 collectively received more than 50 Emmy nominations. Topping the list of current and past Emmy winners WMC assisted on are Amazon’s Transparent (5), FX’s American Horror Story (13), AMC’s Breaking Bad, (16) and AMC’s Mad Men (16). Other key clients include Paramount Pictures (this year as part of their awards team for The Big Short and Anomalisa), the Art Directors Guild for 15 years, the International Cinematographers Guild, and the Make-up and Hair Stylists Guild.
Mad Men creator Matt Weiner said, “Murray Weissman was an essential part of Mad Men. His understanding of creative people, his patience, his cleverness with gatekeepers, and his unflagging taste served as an example to me and to generations of artists. Murray’s belief in the show, in the network’s commitment, and in me personally – expressed by clever, persistent, and always polite persuasion – enabled our success. Murray Weissman was a Zen warrior, proving how belief in yourself and your work can overcome all obstacles. I will miss him and I feel so lucky to have been part of his personal and professional life.”
Weissman was born on Dec. 23, 1925 in Brooklyn. Moving to Los Angeles in 1936 with his family, he graduated from Fairfax High School, and then from the University of Southern California’s School of Journalism. He served as a Navy radio operator during World War II in 1944-45 aboard the attack transport USS Clearfield. Weissman is survived by his second wife, actress/dancer Kay Friedman Weissman (whom he married after the death in 1995 of his first wife Gracia Lee Weissman); daughter Julie Weissman Markovitz; son-in-law Rick Markovitz; son Benjamin Weissman; daughter-in-law Amy Gerstler; and three grandchildren, Ethan, Jonathan and Elizabeth Markovitz.
An active member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Television Academy, Weissman’s popularity among peers and clients led to an ICG Publicists Directory dedication in 2011 as well as a five-time nominee for the group’s Les Mason Award. Last month the Art Directors Guild dedicated their boardroom in his honor with a naming ceremony on Nov. 18.
A memorial service will be held this Saturday Jan. 2, at 11 a.m. at the Mulholland Tennis Club, 2555 Crest View Drive, Los Angeles, Calif. 90046. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund, www.mptf.com/donate.