Click below to see my interview on KCAL news with “Java with Jamie.” We met at a coffee shop in Burbank and we talked “Get Mahoney!” over coffee!
Thank you to Hawk Koch for this nice interview below with Inside Hollywood June 27th 2023
‘An unbelievable journey’: La Quinta
resident’s book recalls life as Sinatra’s publicist Bruce Fessier Special to The Desert Sun
Published 9:20 a.m. PT May 11, 2023
La Quinta resident Jim Mahoney’s first client upon becoming an MGM movie publicist in 1947 was Clark Gable, the “Gone With the Wind” star known as the King of Hollywood.
After that, his career grew.
His client list after forming his own public relations firm in 1959 included Dean Martin, Bob Hope, Judy Garland, the Rolling Stones, U2, Bob Dylan, Johnny Carson, Jack Nicholson and Steve McQueen. He went from representing Sonny and Cher to handling the City of Palm Springs after Sonny Bono was elected mayor in 1988. Bono used Mahoney to attract national attention for his fledgling Palm Springs International Film Festival.
But his most important client was Frank Sinatra, the longtime Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage resident who died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles 25 years ago May 14.
Mahoney, 95, met Sinatra at his lowest ebb, as his wife, film siren Ava Gardner, was leaving him. He represented Sinatra through the heights of the Rat Pack when Sinatra built a small empire with his own film production company, his own recording studio and his own casino while recording such standards as “Strangers in the Night,” “Something Stupid” (with daughter Nancy Sinatra), “It Was A Very
Good Year” and “Fly Me to the Moon.” He was making classic films such as the original “Ocean’s Eleven,” “The Manchurian Candidate” and “None But the Brave.”
Through Sinatra, Mahoney met John F. Kennedy while he was running for president and needing advice on how to win Richard Nixon’s home state of California. He met Chicago mob boss Sam Giacana and defended Sinatra from Mafia allegations. He was with Sinatra when kidnappers sought a ransom for Frank Sinatra Jr. In fact, he took the kidnappers’ call.
Mahoney learned how to mitigate crises about volatile personalities such as Sinatra from fabled MGM publicist Howard Strickling.
“My job,” he said in a promo for his new book, “Get Mahoney! A Hollywood Insider’s Memoir,” “was to keep the sweet smell of success from turning into the foul stench of scandal.”
Strickling taught Mahoney old Hollywood tricks of mastering coverups — by lying and paying bribes to hide crises ranging from stars’ sexual misconduct to suicide attempts. If Strickling couldn’t mitigate a PR problem with MGM money, he or studio boss Louis B. Mayer would assign Eddie Mannix, a Ray Donovan-type “fixer,” to take care of it.
Strickling’s Rule No. 1 was: Keep yourself out of the story. He once told Mahoney how an MGM publicist tried to refute a doctor’s report that Garland had cut her throat by calling it, “just a scratch.” When asked where the cut was, the publicist pointed to his neck and a photographer snapped a picture. The next day, a headline proclaimed, “MGM publicity man shows where Judy slit her throat.”
Mahoney discussed how his PR career preceded cultural shifts such as the MeToo movement and cancel culture in a wide-ranging interview at his home with his son, Sean, next to him to help him manage an injury from a fall. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
Howard Strickling told you a publicist should keep himself out of the story. So why did you write this book?
A lot of people said, “Why don’t you write a book?” I was on a plane to Europe and I got a pencil and paper and started writing. It’s been an unbelievable journey. No one else has ever crossed that path.
Were you taking notes all that time?
Never. I never took notes.
The book chronicles an era when bad behavior was swept under the carpet. Today we’re taught to be transparent. If a star is accused of misconduct, we protect the accuser. It offers great cultural context, but is self-published. Did you have trouble pitching it to publishers?
I went to the William Morris Agency. The problem is, when I submitted the book 10 years ago, more often than not the publisher would assign the reviewing process to some kid that was an hour-and-a-half out of college. They didn’t know Alan Ladd. They didn’t know Gary Cooper. I was fortunate to handle some real characters. Lee Marvin, George C. Scott, Fred Astaire.
You call Steve McQueen your most difficult client. But Marvin did things that would land him in jail today.
He was one hell of a guy. Got his ass shot off in World War II (severing his sciatic nerve). He made (21) landings in the South Pacific, which is mind-boggling. They put him on a hospital ship and he never lived it down that he didn’t get back to support his troops (most of whom were killed in the Battle of Saipan). The reason he did a lot of drinking was because he thought he let his troops down.
I understand survivor’s guilt. But, did his war hero status give him a pass for bad behavior?
Sure. He did crazy things. He had guns and he’d go out and shoot cans (in Malibu). He got (drunk) one night and drove to Camp Pendleton to re-enlist.
You wrote of getting an early morning call from a cop who said Marvin put a woman in the hospital. You replied, “Well, he’s in Mass right
They don’t teach that anymore.
That’s my point. They teach you not to say that today. But did you empathize with him because of what he’d been through?
You’re wearing a Korean War veteran’s hat. I know you belittle your actions in Korea, but, can you say what you did to earn a medal?
Well, I was serving in a dangerous zone in Korea. My job was to call in artillery fire if the enemy got too close. On one occasion, I was on the front line. I had a Jeep driver, but we got lost (behind enemy lines). Luckily we got out of there and performed the mission successfully. That’s why they presented me with the Bronze Star.
How did the studio people act when you returned?
You’d think I was (World War II hero) Audie Murphy. I was writing a gossip column for the Herald Express for a couple months. My boss, Harrison Carroll, got seriously ill (and) in those months, I got to know everybody of importance at every studio. Debbie Reynolds was a good friend. She was doing a movie with Frank Sinatra and I was having lunch with the press agent. Debbie comes by and says, “Are you coming down to the set?” I said, “Your set is closed. Sinatra doesn’t want any press.” She said, “Bull. I want to talk to you. Get your ass down to the set after lunch.” So I went down there and all of a sudden, everything got church silent. “Doesn’t he know Sinatra’s working here?” Debbie sees me and says, “Jimmy, this is Frank Sinatra. Frank, this is Jimmy Mahoney. He’s a good friend of mine. I don’t want you to give him any shit.” That was my introduction to Sinatra. Throughout the period I was writing that column, I was welcome to any of his sets. He’d invite me to dinner. One night he says to me, “How long are you going to stay in that hokey business?” I said, “Til something better comes along.” He says, “It just did. I want you to work for me.” But, backing up, Debbie was under the impression I was
some kind of war hero. I wasn’t. There were 10,000 guys who had more dangerous missions than me.
That speaks to the eras’ cultural differences. In my generation, guys returning from Vietnam weren’t considered heroes. Veterans from previous wars were given greater allowances for bad behavior. Did that make an impression on your clients, like Sinatra and Lee Marvin.
It made a big impression.
Your book is titled “Get Mahoney” because clients would call you whenever there was trouble. You said the first three rules of crisis management were: Money talks, pay big and pay fast, and keep it out of the press. Did you learn that from Strickling?
Strickling and Eddie Mannix, who was an executive at MGM, and Whitey Hendry, the (MGM) police chief. They had more policemen at MGM than in most small communities. If there was a problem of any kind, Strickling was there and Eddie Mannix was there. More often than not, they’d take me with them, which is how I learned.
Did Hendry have such clout that his word was respected as an official police report?
Hendry had a relationship with the police chiefs ― in Glendale and definitely Palm Springs. He was there for many years, and money, money, money speaks.
Did he give money to cops?
(There were) giveaways that came their way. Trips to Europe when they were filming there. Whoever the cop was, he got a nice vacation. That went on all the time.
Why do you say, “definitely Palm Springs”?
There were a lot of people connected to MGM that had homes down here.
You say in your book that things were swept under the carpet. You also allege Clark Gable killed a jaywalking pedestrian. It later became known that he impregnated (actress) Loretta Young.
So, what was the process? When you got the news, what would you do first?
And Strickling would talk to the victim?
Whoever he needed to talk to. If it was a teenager that was abused, he’d go to the teenager’s home and write a check.
Today that’s done with lawyers. They’ll offer compensation in exchange for an NDA. Did you and Strickling do a precursor to that?
How did “the fixer” come into play? If Strickling couldn’t take care of a problem with money, he’d go to Mannix?
I think it was more Louis B. Mayer. He was, like you say, the fixer. If a guy’s contract was coming up for renewal and they wanted to make sure the deal was made, they’d call in Mannix and say, “Do something for this guy. We want to keep him.”
Was he “muscle”?
I’m sure he was. I never got into that, but it was there.
Do you know the story of how Eddie Mannix’s wife died in the desert in 1937? She was at The Dunes casino in Cathedral City with its owner, Al Wertheimer, of Detroit’s Purple Gang. They left after midnight and he drove off a road. The car rolled and she died. He was seriously injured.
The Desert Sun reported that Mannix’s wife was at The Dunes with a bridge group and Wertheimer volunteered to take her home.
A perfect example of Strickling and Eddie Mannix.
You tell the story of (“Shane” star) Alan Ladd trying to shoot himself to death in the ’50s.
Right. But that’s another case of how things were handled differently then. The studio’s priority was to keep it out of the press. Today, you’d be concerned about his mental health. Did you think, “We need to get this guy help?” or was that a lesser priority?
Alan was past his prime. He wasn’t getting the roles and he shot himself. Later, he overdosed in Palm Springs. Killed himself. (Riverside County Coroner James S. Bird Jr. ruled it an accidental death from a “high level of alcohol” plus Seconal, Librium and Sparine, according to a Feb. 4, 1964 Desert Sun story).
His wife was a PR person trained in that culture. That’s what I mean by the differences between the old era and today.
If you were under contract to MGM, and the same with the other studios, you never got sick. You never got pregnant. You were perfect. That’s why you never saw anything about Gable.
But even the doctor who treated Ladd seemed trained to perpetuate the myth. He volunteered to say it was an accidental shooting, right?
Also (with) the accidental overdose.
Do you think that studio culture enabled people like Harvey Weinstein to think they could get away with abusive behavior?
No question about it.
Let’s get back to Sinatra. Would you put him on your list of difficult clients?
No. He never caused me any problems really, until he went to Australia and called the press parasites and $2 hookers.
Rudin was your antagonist (telling Sinatra that Mahoney should have accompanied him to Australia to protect him on that 1974 tour. Sinatra fired Mahoney afterwards).
Rudin never liked me. He said I was giving Frank away.
For charity events?
I did influence him on that.
Let’s talk about the incident at the Polo Lounge (in the Beverly Hilton Hotel) where Frank, Dean Martin and Jilly Rizzo were with two Black women…
I wasn’t there.
No, but you were called to handle that. Did you talk to the waiters and bartenders to line up their stories? (The tale goes that Sinatra and Martin were confronted by a man who complained of their loudness. After returning to his seat, he allegedly uttered the “N word” and a brawl ensued. Rizzo reportedly broke the man’s skull, but no charges were filed).
They didn’t need to be educated. They were well educated in the process (of what to do) if there’s a problem in the restaurant. There was a problem and it was messy for a while.
But they knew to prioritize Frank and Dean because show biz was paramount in L.A.?
You start the book with an amazing story about how Sinatra summoned you to Lake Tahoe after Frank Sinatra Jr. was kidnapped.
He asked Rudin to get me on a plane. I was there to handle the press, feed them some material. It was a national incident. I was designated as the phone guy.
When you got back-to-back calls from (Chicago mob boss) Sam Giancana and (FBI Director) J. Edgar Hoover, did it surprise you that Frank chose to talk to Giancana first, making you put Hoover on hold?
Yeah. Frank got a kick out of that. He had the good guys and the bad guys working together.
You knew Giancana. How would you describe him?
He knew me because I represented Frank. I knew him from weeks, or months before (the kidnapping). Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra and I were going to Indiana to start a movie and, at the last minute, there was a change of plans. We were to stop in Chicago and go to a birthday party for some important friend. The important friend was Momo (Giancana).
You write about the Sinatra and Bob Hope golf tournaments (Hope allegedly refused to host the Palm Springs Classic unless Sinatra ended his 1963 celebrity pro-am because he didn’t think the desert was big enough for two pro-ams). Did they really have a rivalry?
It was amusing. Occasionally Sinatra would say, “How come I don’t get the kind of press that Bob Hope does?” And Hope would say, “How come I don’t get press like Sinatra?” I said (to Hope), “What do you want?” He said, “Why don’t you get me on a stamp?” I said, “You have to die for that.” “Let’s go on to another subject.” There was never any love between them. They got along, but there were bumps along the way. Hope was putting together a Sunday night Chrysler special and he had an idea with this manager. “Let’s get Frank Sinatra and pay him the $50,000 we’d have to pay for two or three people.” And Sinatra agreed. Word got back to Detroit that
Frank Sinatra was the star of the special and the bigwigs at Chrysler didn’t like Sinatra as a spokesman for Chrysler.
Because of his alleged Mafia associations?
Could be, yeah. They wanted out of the deal and Mickey Rudin told Frank. Frank said, “They owe me $50,000.” He took the $50,000 and sent it to charity.
You also had Jack Nicholson as a client.
I didn’t have much to do with him. My partner, Paul Wasserman, handled some of these people — The Rolling Stones, U2. Who else, Sean?
Sean: Linda Ronstadt, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan. Wasso did movies and rock ‘n’ roll.
How would you compare Wasso’s clients to your older clients in terms of keeping their “excesses” quiet? Was it as difficult to mask their bad behavior?
Sean has probably heard more (stories about) those people.
Sean: I’ve heard a few. U2 hired Wasserman because he handled the Stones. They wanted the guy who handled the biggest band in the world. Wasso handled some of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time. But you handled some of the biggest singers of all time.
I handled Andy Williams, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, Paul Anka, Eddie Fisher.
Wasso got sucked into the lifestyle of some guys he represented. You didn’t get into the crazy lifestyles of Marvin and George C. Scott. What was the difference?
I remember asking George why he drank. He said, “Do you know what I did in the Army?” “Not a clue.” He said, “Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery?” I said, “Yeah. We buried Lee Marvin there.” He said, “Well, that’s what I did for two years. I buried people. That’s when I started drinking.”
If you were active today, would you handle your clients differently?
I’d be in a different business.
“Get Mahoney! A Hollywood Insider’s Memoir,” is available at getmahoney.com and online book sites.
Bruce Fessier is a freelance journalist and former Desert Sun editor-writer. Contact him email@example.com and follow him at facebook.com/bruce.fessier and instagram.com/bfessier.
KESQ-TV Eye On The Desert – 2/17/2023
Jim Mahoney discusses his new book “Get Mahoney! A Hollywood Insiders Memoir”
Deadline – 2/4/2023
Jim Mahoney, PR To Sinatra, McQueen, Gable, Explores 60 Years Of Hollywood In Memoir: “It Was About Taming The Lion”By Bruce Haring
Jim Mahoney was one of Hollywood’s go-to guys. He spent 60+ years in public relations, guiding the images of Clark Gable, Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen, Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Christie Brinkley, Peggy Lee, and hundreds more.
He was on the front lines when Frank Sinatra Jr. was kidnapped, and was at the party at Peter Lawford’s house the night Marilyn Monroe died. He was also there with the Rat Pack in Las Vegas.
Now age 95, Mahoney has captured all of that in a memoir, Get Mahoney!: A Hollywood Insider’s Memoir. “Get Mahoney!” was the phrase often used when stars and their handlers knew trouble was brewing and needed to keep their names out of the press. Mahoney was good at his job, and frequently referred to himself as a better “suppress” agent than press agent.
“It was about ‘taming the lion’ – both the press and the clients themselves,” Mahoney said. That sometimes involved making arrangements with the authorities and media to keep the dirt neatly swept under the carpet.
The full book is available here.
Mahoney answered some Deadline questions about his long career in the Hollywood trenches.
DEADLINE: Who was your most difficult client, and why?
Jim Mahoney – Steve McQueen, no question. At times he could be a great guy, and in fact, I’m godfather to one of his kids, so there’s no disrespect meant. We helped create his image of “Mr. Cool” and I helped him get his big break to move from TV to movies when I was handling him, and recommended Steve to Frank (Sinatra) when Frank was recasting Never So Few. Steve is one of the only clients I ever fired when I had finally had enough. We did a heck of a job making sure the media and his fans never knew how irrational or what a challenge he could be – for directors, producers, studio heads, co-stars, and of course, for his publicist.
In those days much of our work was to “create” news. As an example, I had a producer client, Martin (Marty) Ransohoff and his company, Filmways, (The Americanization of Emily, The Sandpiper). Marty was producing “Cincinnati Kid” in 1965 with McQueen at MGM, where Marty had a three-picture deal. Over lunch with Marty one day, I came up with a column item that complimented three of my clients all at once. The item was that Marty was prepping a remake of the MGM classic, Boomtown, a Clark Gable/Spencer Tracy buddy movie. But the remake would feature James Garner, another client of mine, and McQueen, and would be produced by Marty.
It was a perfect trifecta item – nobody had to lift a finger and it would scream headlines. Louella Parsons loved it because it featured major A-list box-office stars, and plus, she was a sucker for anything “Gable.” She ran it as the lead item in her column, one of the biggest in the Hearst newspaper chain. The headline read, “Garner and McQueen in Remake of MGM Classic ‘Boomtown.’” I went to bed that night feeling pretty satisfied with myself, thinking I’d hit one out of the park. About ten o’clock that night my wife, Pat, and I were awakened by the phone. She answered and said it was Steve. My ego got to me, and I thought he’d called to compliment me on my brilliance. He started with, “Who the hell cleared that BS in Parson’s column!”
He continued ranting and after what seemed like an eternity of his raving, I broke in, saying, “I did, you asshole.” He paused for a second, then yelled, “You son-of-a-bitch! You’ll never get it. My name ALWAYS comes first!” and hung up. No matter how big the item, or how far the reach, he couldn’t see beyond the fact that Garner’s name was mentioned first. It may sound petty, but it was one of hundreds of similar nonsensical battles I had with him. I could go on, but you get the point.
DEADLINE: Who was your easiest?
Jim Mahoney – Probably Bob Newhart. Bob was and remains to this day a great friend. We played golf at Bel Air Country Club and at the Crosby Pro-Am together, and our kids all went to school together. He’s godfather to my youngest. He was never a problem, and he was always employed – from his breakout Number One/Grammy Award-winning comedy LP, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, to his Las Vegas stand-up engagements and multi-award-winning TV series (plural), he was a dream client. Our biggest challenge with Bob was the iron fist his manager wielded. This should be a collaborative business, but all too often, it’s a competition between the manager, the agent, and the PR people. Sometimes even the secretary.
I recall an opportunity when we secured his first appearance as a guest on The David Letterman Show. We were told by his manager, “No way. Letterman will chew Bob up!” We had to respect management, and in retrospect I should have talked to Bob about it directly. But I don’t know if that would have changed anything anyway, his manager was very influential. We had to turn it down. In later years, when Bob eventually guested on the show, David proved to be a huge fan. He couldn’t have been more respectful and gracious. Bob was (and is) a groundbreaking talent and a true gentleman, and any comedian, David Letterman or otherwise, would respect that. In all honesty, Bob probably had a harder time putting up with me that I ever did with him. He gave me a very kind quote for the cover of my book.
DEADLINE: What was the biggest scandal you covered up?
Jim Mahoney – The first that comes to mind was an unpleasant episode while we were handling a very popular husband and wife musical duo who shared a meteoric recording career and later a hugely successful television show. There was an incident involving a “third party” and a collector gun displayed in a case at their home, but for any more detail I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book… It was a challenge keeping that out one of the columns. But we did.
DEADLINE: Is the entertainment press more gullible or less gullible than before?
Jim Mahoney – I don’t think I’d use the word “gullible.” But the press in the old days were definitely more cooperative and willing to look past the occasional indiscretion for everyone’s mutual benefit. It wasn’t that we were pulling the wool over their eyes, but we had a working relationship with them, a give-and-take, if you will.
Now, with TMZ and all of the celebrity media outlets these days, it seems like the press is more focused on catching someone doing something illicit and being the first to run with it. The pressure wasn’t as high and the money so large back then. In my day we got a lot done, but also seemed to have a lot of fun doing it. I’m sure they’re still having fun out there and maybe I’m just too far removed these days, but it does seem at times that the current media and entertainment business take themselves a bit too seriously. As one of my favorite clients (George C. Scott) used to say, “All we’re really doing here is playing make believe.” We’re not curing cancer.
DEADLINE: How did your way of doing business change over the years?
Jim Mahoney – When starting out at MGM, the most important break or “hit” you could get was for the names of your clients to appear in national columns like Hedda Hopper, Walter Winchell, Earl Wilson, Louella Parsons, and the Herald Express’ Harrison Carrol, who I worked for as a stringer for a couple years. There were also local columnists, like Shirly Eder (Detroit Free Press), Herb Caen (San Francisco Chronicle) and Cindy Adams (New York Post). They were hugely influential, and everybody read them. They could make or break a movie debut. Creativity always counted, but you also needed a sense of timing, and a “gut instinct” about what was news. Relationships never hurt… They could prove critical. There was the LA Times Calendar section, People magazine, TV Guide, Rolling Stone, USA Today… Major breaks and covers were hugely influential on peoples’ tastes and habits. Eventually, columns gave way to television, and the advent of “60 Minutes,” CNN’s “Larry King Live,” “Entertainment Tonight,”“Extra,” the network morning shows, and, of course, a Barbara Walter’s special was huge. Now it’s social media, and I don’t presume to know much about that, except that it’s necessary. Fortunately, there are now pros that specialize in those things.
EADLINE: Tell us how cigars with Fidel Castro happened?
Jim Mahoney – My company was representing what, at the time, was the biggest tour operator in the world, and I was invited on a trip for some of their top agents to tour the Caribbean and visit some of the priciest locations to see their operation. To start it off, as an example, our first night was at Mar-a-Lago. We stopped at St. Barts, St. Thomas, and a few other destinations, and finally landed in Havana, where we’d been invited to what was formerly the Presidential Palace belonging to Batista (now the Museum of Revolution), where Castro would be speaking that evening.
So I’m sitting there listening to Castro speak, which was in Spanish (I don’t understand a word) so I excused myself to the lobby, which was like a huge reception hall filled with beautiful paintings. I asked a guard (heavily armed guards were everywhere) if it would be ok to smoke a cigar while I enjoyed the artwork. I remember his response was, “Sir, you’re in Cuba, you can smoke a cigar in church in this country…”. I laughed and turned to light up and take a stroll. Twenty minutes or so later I heard voices behind me and turned to see Fidel himself approaching me along with his entourage. In perfect English he asked me, “Is that one of our cigars?” I said, “Yes” and he asked me which ones I like best… Ironically, I’d been in a cigar store earlier that day and learned from the store owner that while most people thought Castro smoked Cohiba, el Presedente actually enjoyed an exclusive brand called Trinidad and that they made a special cigar especially for him. Under pressure and staring one of the world’s most notorious Communist dictators in the eye, when he asked me, “Which of our cigars do you like the best,” I froze and went totally blank. All I could muster was, “The ones you smoke…” He knew I was traveling with the tour group and then he very graciously turned to one of his handlers and told him to have a couple of boxes of his best for me to take with me when we left the following day.
DEADLINE: Did you have a go-to nightclub or restaurant that guaranteed you’d get a client some press?
Jim Mahoney – To get press, yes, there was always the “hot spots” of our day… At various times it was Romanoff’s in Beverly Hills, or Martoni’s, Mocambo, Ciro’s, or the Villa Capri in Hollywood, or one of the places owned by some of the stars themselves, like Puccini’s (Sinatra) or Dino’s Lodge (Dean Martin’s). Of course one of the best was Chasen’s. There was always paparazzi hanging out in front, so that was an automatic score.
Conversely, we had a few hole-in-the-walls where I knew they’d be safe from prying eyes… Some of those hide-outs were Chez Jay in Santa Monica (still there), when hardly anyone lived west of Sepulveda, the Holiday House (now Geoffrey’s) in Malibu, and the La Venta Inn in Palos Verdes. It had beautiful rooms and a view of glittering lights all the way up the coast. I would suggest clients go to those places whenever I knew they wanted to be discreet. There’s a story in the book about when I once caught Gary Cooper sitting at Martoni’s in Hollywood one night with Anita Ekberg (not his wife). I asked him if I could have a word with him privately and I subtly suggested he leave and find a quieter place to “dine.” He literally asked me, “Where the hell can I go and not be recognized?” This happened before my PR agency days. At the time, I was press (working for the Herald Express) and could have written about it in my column, but Cooper was an All-American leading man. In those days, you just didn’t ruin a guy’s career like that. It was part of that “give and take.” We developed a rapport after that and became very good friends and golf buddies. He was a great guy.
DEADLINE: Tell us about your relationship with Paul Wasserman, your business partner.
Jim Mahoney – Wasso was complicated. There were two Paul Wasserman’s, maybe three, or even four… There was the Paul we all met in the ’60s, the black suit, thin black tie, very strait-laced and conservative guy. He came from a strict L.A. Jewish upbringing. I hired him when he was an Associated Press (AP) movie reporter, and a very good one. He came to work for me and we complemented each other. He was soon handling movies for Jack Nicholson (Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces), hanging out with the fast crowd, and representing many of them.
A short time later, he was handling some of the biggest movies and documentaries ever (Star Wars and The Last Waltz) and the biggest recording artists in the industry, Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and eventually U2 and dozens more.
He was brilliant as many of his clients, and the media will attest and everyone loved him – especially his quirky sense of humor. There’s a true story about him camping outside Mick Jagger’s hotel room all night once with Bob Hilburn (LA Times pop music critic) to hold Jagger to his word to do a sit-down with the reporter.
Jagger eventually had to leave the room, and he did the interview… And Hilburn never forgot it. Wasso was very old-school and didn’t back down to his clients when he didn’t have to. He had demons, though, and he fell into some very bad habits and hard times. He had a drug problem. But he also had very loyal and deep friendships. When that drug problem landed him in the hospital while he was on the road with a client, I flew to New Orleans to see him. The doctors said he probably wouldn’t be alive when I arrived, but I went anyway. When I got there two of his closest friends/clients were standing vigil outside his hospital room – Lou Adler and Jack Nicholson.
After leaving our partnership and going out on his own, at some point he cracked. He started “conning” friends and even some clients into schemes he’d concocted to make himself the kind of money he thought he deserved – closer to the kind of money his clients all made. It was a Ponzi scheme. He was selling shares to a nonexistent company set up to collect percentages of his client’s films (most notably Nicholson’s Batman) without any of his clients’ knowledge, and promising huge returns. He was eventually caught and went to jail for it. He died a broken man. It was very sad. I never knew about his drug problems, or maybe I was too busy to notice (or didn’t want to see it).
But at some point, he cleaned up and later became a huge AA devotee. He went to several meetings every day and helped a lot of people get off drugs themselves after he’d finally gotten himself clean. At his funeral, a handful of them told the room that if it hadn’t been for Wasso, they wouldn’t be alive today. That spoke volumes about the man and reminded many of us what a great guy he really was. It was very healthy to hear it. He lived an amazing but very troubled life. I wish I’d have known and could have helped him more. I was one of the few (that I know of) who visited him in jail, and when I did, I asked him why he never tried to sell me on any of his cons. He told me, “You’d have known I was full of shit”. We both laughed. I guarantee you he had a really good book inside him too… probably better than mine.
DEADLINE: Tell us a Sinatra story we haven’t heard.
Jim Mahoney – Probably the most interesting is Chapter One in the book, I call it “Taken.” I go into greater detail in the book, but for now, it opens with me receiving a phone call telling me that Frank Jr. had been kidnapped from a Lake Tahoe hotel where he’d been performing. There was a terrible snowstorm and Reno was as close to Tahoe as we could get, and we were led to believe Jr. must still in Tahoe. Frank was on his way to the Mapes hotel in Reno, where he was setting up camp, and wanted me to meet him there to wait for the kidnappers to call. We were in that hotel room for days. Frank was a client, but had also become a close friend, and his son had been kidnapped. He designated me as the point person to answer all calls. The FBI were in and out of the room constantly, setting up surveillance and recording devices, and I was doing everything I could to keep Frank calm – which was no easy task. Phone calls from everyone you can imagine were coming in offering help. But those kind of gestures were, for the most part, wasting time and phone-line space for when and if the kidnappers would call.
At one point, I answered a call and the voice on the other end said, “The Director would like to speak to Mr. Sinatra,” which struck a chord with me, realizing how big of a national crime story this had become. I had J. Edgar Hoover’s office on the line. As I placed the call on hold and started down the hall towards where Frank was, the other phone rang so I picked it up and asked who was calling. The voice on the other end said, “Just tell him it’s Momo… he’ll know who it is.” Anyone who knew anything in those says knew “Momo” was Sam Giancana, the most powerful and feared mob boss in the country. I asked him to hold as well, and went directly to Frank, and told him “Line one is J. Edgar Hoover and the other is Giancana,” and then, “Who do you want first?” “I’ll talk to Momo,” Frank said, “Tell Hoover I’ll call him back.” The chapter goes on to talk about the kidnapper’s eventual call, gathering the ransom cash, and “the drop”.
DEADLINE: If you could go back and change a story that’s been oft-repeated and isn’t true, what would it be?
Jim Mahoney – It’s not one story, per-se, but I would say that the relationship between Frank and the mob was usually, and wrongfully, overblown. No one would deny that entertainers in those days – and maybe Frank in particular – had to have a relationship with the mob. The mob owned the hotels and the clubs where they entertained, not to mention the studios where they worked and the banks that financed them. They had to interact, but they weren’t close friends. Uniquely in Frank’s case, he had them to thank for keeping him afloat during what he regarded as “The Dark Ages,” the early 1950s, before From Here to Eternity, when he couldn’t get arrested. He’d lost his Columbia Records recording contract and was playing to less than half-houses in many of his concerts. Guys like Giancana kept him busy playing their clubs, like the Villa Venice in Chicago. The gangsters sought out Frank and Dean and the others far more than the other way around. But Frank was always loyal and knew he owed them, like I mentioned earlier, when Giancana called to offer help with Jr’s kidnapping… Frank wisely chose to work closely with the FBI, but his “friends” were always there offering help. Frank grew up with a lot of tough guys from his hood. He had childhood friends who grew up to be really bad guys… There’s no question, I met a lot of them. But he knew it was best to keep it as private as he could. He did so many good things that he’s not credited with. I know about so much charity work he did privately that could make up a whole other book.
DEADLINE: If you were starting out in the business today, how would you approach things?
Jim Mahoney – In all honesty, I might lean more toward management than PR. Managers had a better time sharing in their client’s success and even partnering in their projects. At one point in the ’60s I was invited to join Lou Adler and Pierre Cossette in a management arrangement (respectively, they were handling the Mamas and the Pap,as and Ann-Margret, not bad). But I felt too confident with my PR business to risk it so I said no. Many of the people that worked for me over the years went on to very successful careers in the agency, studio, and network businesses. But for some reason that just never interested me. I truly loved what I did, and made a pretty good living doing it. On the other hand if we’re talking about something other than the entertainment industry, I couldn’t have gone wrong following my father into his line of work. He had a successful building and interior decorating business – Gable was his client and how I got into the business. My dad never wanted for work, even during the Depression. My brother Jay did, and became a hugely successful contractor and developer in Newport Beach.
DEADLINE: If you had a time machine and could return to an event or year, what would it be and why?
Jim Mahoney – The year Frank helped me go into business for myself, 1959. It’s exhilarating just thinking about it. I’d been at Rogers & Cowan for years and never received an increase in salary or a bonus, and I was handling about a dozen of their biggest clients and had just weathered the Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher break up… It was the “divorce of the century.” I was exhausted, but also underpaid. I’d approached Warren half-a-dozen times about a raise, and he always said, “I’ll talk with Henry”. He never did, so one day I walked into Warren’s office and just quit. I had no plan, but I was fed up. That night I went to dinner at Dino’s Lodge with Dean’s manager, Maury Samuels. The restaurant wasn’t an R&C client, and Maury (a close friend) insisted it be my first client. The next morning I was in Frank’s office, not to steal him as a client (I promised Warren I’d never do that) but I felt I owed it to tell him first, since he was the one to encourage me into PR and away from the newspaper business in the first place. He said, “Where are you gonna office?” He knew right away that I hadn’t even thought about that, and I said so. He said, “I’ve got an office at the William Morris Agency that I never use. It’s yours for as long as you want…”. He then called someone (to this day I have no idea who) to say that he wanted me to represent the restaurant he owned, Puccini’s, a hot spot on Beverly Drive (also not an R&C client). I now had two of the hottest restaurants in town as clients… Finally Frank invited Pat and I to dinner that night to celebrate. As I was leaving his office he called after me and said, “One more thing. Take out ads in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter announcing your new business and location and send me the bill.” I got home and excitedly told my wife Pat what had happened, and the phone rang. It was Peter Lawford, who was Frank’s good friend and partner in Puccini’s and who’d become a good friend of mine. He said “I’ve been trying to tell you forever to go out on your own… I’m without representation so let’s have lunch and talk.” “Where?” I said, and he said, “I’ll see you at Romanoff’s at 1…”
Things were happening fast and it never slowed down, for the next 50+ years.
Press Release – 1/18/2023
Get Mahoney!; A Hollywood Insider’s Memoir
“Get Mahoney!: A Hollywood insider’s Memoir” – Now Available, by Jim Mahoney, One of the Most Trusted Insiders During Hollywood’s Golden Age, and PR Advisor to Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable, Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Steve McQueen, and Many More
Entertainment industry secrets revealed for the first time ever include details of Frank Sinatra Jr’skidnapping, surviving Las Vegas with the original Rat Pack and The Mob, confidential dealings with Debbie Reynolds & Eddie Fisher, The Rolling Stones, Colonel Parker and more
Available now at www.GetMahoney.com and www.BookBaby.com – pre-ordered hard covers will start delivery around February 22, 2023, to coincide with Mahoney’s 95th birthday and will be available soon at Amazon Kindle Store along with other eBook retailers
January 18, 2023 (La Quinta, CA) – Hollywood super-insider Jim Mahoney, whose career spanned 50+ years at the height of the entertainment industry’s Golden Age, has released his long-awaited memoir entitled, “Get Mahoney!: A Hollywood Insider’s Memoir”. Mahoney’s tome takes us from his early years working directly with Clark Gable and studio boss Louis B. Mayer in MGM studio's public relations department, through the turbulent 60s and 70s with the Rat Pack and others. “Get Mahoney!” chronicles a career that few in the entertainment industry can compare, and only a handful ever experienced. “I’m just a lucky kid from Culver City who made good,” says Mahoney.
"Get Mahoney!" was the phrase often used when stars and their handlers knew trouble was brewing... to keep their names out of the press. Mahoney frequently referred to himself as a better "suppress" agent than Press Agent and was best known for his ability to “condition the atmosphere,” which sometimes involved making arrangements with the local authorities and media to keep the dirt neatly swept under the carpet, where it belonged. “It was about feeding both sides’ needs, 'taming the lion’ if you will, both the press and the clients” he says. ". He manned the front lines during the Frank Sinatra Jr. kidnapping, hung with the Rat Pack in Las Vegas during most of the 60’s, and was at the party at Peter Lawford's house the night Marilyn Monroe died. Other clients over the years include Steve McQueen, Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Christie Brinkley, Peggy Lee, and hundreds more.
“From Gable to Garland, from The Stones to Sinatra, my job was to keep the sweet smell of success from turning into the foul stench of scandal,” Mahoney commented for the book.
Friends and colleagues have extolled Mahoney for his accomplishments, including, Robert Wagner; “Jim is a class act… one of my closest friends.” Nancy Sinatra; “Jim was a solid friend all the way. I can’t remember my life when Jim wasn’t in it.” Todd Fisher; “My father Eddie Fisher, and my mother, Debbie Reynolds, were both represented by Jim Mahoney during some of the most important times in their lives.” Bob Newhart; “Jim Mahoney was my friend and publicist. He represented the top entertainers in town and his behind-the-scenes stories are a fun read and are about the biggest stars in Hollywood’s Golden Age.” Bob Dowling (former Hollywood Reporter Publisher/Editor); “Jim has been a personal friend and colleague of mine for over thirty years. ‘Get Mahoney!’ is a fun romp through old Hollywood, with names that you’ll recognize and untold stories that make the book hard to put down.” And John Williams (Oscar winning composer); “Jim is a prominent and permanent part of the tapestry that makes up one of Hollywood’s most glamorous periods. In the Hollywood of those days, everyone knew and respected Jim as a man who could be trusted and always knew how to make things work. I’m delighted that this book will celebrate a man who was such a vital part of the filmmaking that contributed so much to our country’s cultural life.”
Apart from the entertainment field, Mahoney had life-long friendships with clients such as Barron Hilton (Hilton Hotels), and billionaire Las Vegas hotel and studio owner, Kirk Kerkorian, (MGM Studios). He was there for the growth of Las Vegas, played golf worldwide from St. Andrews and Pebble Beach to Hawaii and Tokyo with some of the greats of the game (Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Sam Snead, etc.). He also writes about visiting the Reagan White House with Oscar winner Jack Lemmon and visiting Havana where he unexpectedly shared cigars with Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Mahoney turns 95 in February 2023 and lives quietly in La Quinta, CA, on the course where he won the 1977 Bob Hope Celebrity Pro-Am. He can frequently be found on his back patio overlooking the 18th fairway enjoying a cigar and regaling guests with stories you’d think were Hollywood fantasy but were in fact his every-day life for decades. To get your copy of “Get Mahoney!” visit www.GetMahoney.com.”
Contact: Sean Mahoney
Medium – 6/12/2022
"Secrets of Hollywood: 'Crime' Pays When Mahoney is Talking"By Bob Chew
They call him “Crime.”
Anyone who knows golf and Hollywood knows Jim Mahoney. They call him “Crime” because like crime Mahoney never pays. The joke being that Mahoney is such a good golfer he rarely loses a bet on the course.
If you listen closely to golf telecasts from the LA Open or from tournaments in Palm Springs or Pebble Beach, you’ll hear announcers reference Mahoney, and his “Crime” nickname. Few viewers have a clue as to what they’re talking about. You’ll hear Nick Faldo mention his name. You’ll hear Clint Eastwood or Jim Nantz give a nod to Jim Mahoney. Along the sub-cultural crossroads of golf, Hollywood, and the press, or at least the press of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Jim Mahoney is the real deal.
He lives in La Quinta now, and is in his upper eighties, but true his place was Hollywood in a time when Hope and Sinatra were lighting up Vegas and late night TV. It was a time when Jack Lemmon, Sean Connery and Bob Newhart were in the tabloids as often Caitlyn Jenner, the Kardashians, and Angelina Jolie are today. His natural habitats were Bel-Air Country Club, Chasen’s, and Pebble Beach. Today, it’s about every great private club between Palm Springs and Indio.
When I first arrived in Los Angeles, Jim took me by the arm and walked me into this glittery stew of golf and celebrity, a big-league world both absurd and seductive.
Jim always wanted to write a book about his life, about all the stories he was part of, all the things he saw and knew and couldn’t really talk about. He should do this before time and memory wash it all away. He’s got the manuscript somewhere in a drawer, or maybe it’s still in his head. Sometimes you’ll see his name mentioned as one of the behind scenes guys, but one thing is certain: if you’re lucky enough to have met Jim Mahoney, the man and his stories will stick with you forever.
The Big Break: Clark Gable
It starts with Clark Gable.
Jim’s father was a house painter, a good painter, and an artisan. The Mahoney family lived in Culver City and the old man worked on Culver’s famous MGM sets. He got side jobs from the high-priced stars. Gable was one of them. At the time, in the Forties and Fifties, it didn’t get any more famous than Clark Gable and MGM.
Sometimes, the old man brought his son around on jobs. Young Jim hated house painting. But he knew how connections worked in this town, where people gambled their lives on a chance encounter with a B-movie producer or an agent with a line on a project. You never knew when the big break might come. This time he went along, and he got lucky. It was Gable’s house in Encino, the Tudor with the horse corral in front, the one Mike Milken, the former junk bond king, lives in today.
Gable liked young Mahoney’s moxie. “What do you wanna do with your life, kid?” the larger than life star asked.
“Chase girls,” Mahoney said.
Gable smiled, the comment reminded him of himself. It wasn’t long before the star took Mahoney under his wing and got him a job at MGM as his junior publicist. Not bad, Clark Gable being your first PR client. From there, the train never stopped.
I wish Jim would publish his stories, but I understand. He’s not part of today’s TMZ- Twitter-Facebook-confessional-oversharing time. It’s not in his DNA to publish stories that might stain his friends. Old-fashioned honor keeps him from going public, but thankfully not from letting a few of his close personal friends in on his stories, and his secrets.
Getting Ava A Drink
The first stories that stick in my mind are the ones about Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra, and there are many. As the publicist assigned to her by his boss Howard Strickling, the legendary PR fixer at MGM, Mahoney often had the enviable task of escorting Ave Gardner to airports. The first time he took her to the airport was to catch a plane to Africa where she was filming “Mogambo.”
He arrived at the house in Nichols Canyon and she wasn’t quite ready. “Come in and make yourself a drink,” she said to the young publicist.
Mahoney entered the house for the first time. He walked toward the living room bar. A voice shouted out: “Who the fuck are you?”
It was Sinatra. He was sitting in a dark corner.
“I’m from Strickling’s office,” Mahoney says. “I’m suppose to take Mrs. Sinatra to the airport.”
“That’s fine, kid,” Sinatra said. “What’re drinking?”
That was the first time he met Frank Sinatra. The former idol was in bad shape. It was in the fan magazines. The marriage was on the rocks, his singing career was in the tank, and his wife just aborted a pregnancy. Rumor had it Sinatra tried to kill himself.
But there was still hope. He was screen testing for the Maggio role in “From Here to Eternity,” but it wasn’t in the bag. He was broke and he felt he was radioactive with the studios. Of course, it all changed after the he got the part, and then the Oscar, but it didn’t help the marriage.
“He was beat up,” Mahoney says. “He looked like he was crying when we left him at the door. I’ll never forget it, he was really suffering. He looked like the cover of one his albums, the crying clown, his wife leaving with a kid from the studio that doesn’t want him anymore. I’ll never forget that look.”
Even with this sadness it doesn’t take long for Mahoney to flash forward a few years and another Ava trip to the airport. It turned out to be the last.
Mahoney goes to the house again and he sees she’s crying, but sunglasses cover it. It’s a mid-morning run and the sun is blazing. There’s no Sinatra this ime. He opens the door for her and she gets in. They make their way to the flats, down LaCienga toward the airport. Not a word is spoken. Finally, she says, “Jim, I need a drink.”
Mahoney looked around for some suitable place, but it was too early. The only joints open were dive bars along Pico.
“Just stop and get me a drink,” she shouted.
Of course, Jim knew. Maybe the whole world knew, but it wasn’t something you dared bring up. That morning, he says, before she got in the car, she said her final goodbyes to Frank Sinatra. The torrid marriage was over, for good. So, a slug or two of bourbon at ten in the morning seemed a perfectly reasonable request.
He had the driver pull over and Mahoney went into a dark hole of a joint. He asked the bartender for a drink, to go. The bartender said no.
“You don’t understand,” Mahoney said. “I got Ava Gardner in the car and she just broke up with Sinatra, she needs a drink.”
“Bullshit,” the bartender said. “Lemme see.”
So, the bartender and a couple of his more ambulatory regulars got off their stools and went to the curb. The window rolled down and there she was, the unmistakable dark beauty, eyes covered in sunglasses. She didn’t have to say a word.
“Yeah, okay,” the bartender said. “Coming right up.”
It’s at this point Mahoney says to people like me listening years later, “Can you believe it, Ava Fucking Gardner, I was with her the morning she broke up with Sinatra.”
Watching Over Wasso
I, no rather he, can fill volumes with similar tales of the great and the not so great, full of character and wit and humor and history. And, like Woody Allen’s Zelig, Mahoney seemed to always be there when things happened.
There’s story of him in a New Orleans hospital, sitting with Jack Nicholson. They were both there worrying about Paul Wasserman, Mahoney’s PR partner. Wasserman handled the music side of the business. Everyone called him Wasso.
Nicholson loved Wasserman, he was his long time media handler. But his publicist was in a coma, the result of a wild booze and coke binge during the Rolling Stones tour through the South. Yes, the members of the Rolling Stones were clients. As were U2, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Lee Marvin, Dennis Hopper, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Andy Williams, and on and on and on. Mahoney and Nicholson were sitting there in the hospital wondering if beloved Wasso would make it.
There are a lot of stories about Wasso. He was a legend in a different way. One oft told and infamous Wasso tale centers in Washington D.C., while he was visiting a journalist friend and speechwriter for Jimmy Carter. The friend asked if he wanted to see the Oval Office.
“Sure,” Wasso said. “Why not.”
It was then, as Mahoney tells it, while in the Oval Office, President Carter and his team walked in on them. They were on their way to a press conference. The President introduced himself and said, “Do you want to come along or just hang out here?”
“I’ll just hang out here,” Wasso said to the President.
With Carter and his team gone, and without a moment’s hesitation, Mahoney’s partner took out a small bag of cocaine, put down a few lines on the President’s desk, and snorted right off the Commander in Chief’s desk.
When Jim recounts the story of Wasso his eyes don’t light up in the usual way. Wasso, as he tells it, did recover in the hospital, but then he left Mahoney and the firm, and went out on his own. Along the way he created some idiotic investment scams supposedly backed by Nicholson. It was a lie and he spent time in the slammer for taking thousands from his friends. He died in 2007, a broken man.
Dancing On Roller Skates
Then, there’s the one about the guy roller-skating on the paddle court behind the swimming pool in Mahoney’s backyard on Camden.
“Who’s that out there roller-skating?” a friend asked.
The friend was having a scotch in Mahoney’s small, wood-paneled den looking out the window. They were staring at this odd fellow making tight turns, one leg outstretched, pirouetting, pushing backwards.
“Oh him?” Jim replied. “That’s Gene Kelly.”
Oh yeah, him, Gene Kelly. In his backyard. Roller-skating. Sure, that’s normal. It turned out, the dance master, a neighbor, was prepping for a movie requiring silky dance moves on roller skates.
It’s all just a touch of a day with Jim Mahoney.
I was lucky. I worked with him, spent time at his home, got to know his wife Pat, and his children, and we played a lot of golf together at Bel-Air Country Club, that great garden overlooking UCLA.
Jim was gracious enough to invite me to play with the likes of Clint Eastwood and James Garner and Sean Connery. I’d eat breakfast at the big round table in the southwest corner of the club’s grillroom with Bob Newhart, Mac Davis, Grant Tinker, and James Woods, like we were all just regular schmoes.
When Bel-Air, like most golf clubs, inducts its new members into their fold they hold a little cocktail gathering. When Jim brought me along for my introduction he had me meet the other new members of that induction period, including Jack Nicholson, Michael Ovitz, and Steve Wynn. When the club printed our names and photos in the club’s monthly newsletter there was my mug next to these other big shots.
Jim was gracious about it. “Hey,” he said, pointing to the photos. “I know who you are, but who are those other guys?”
There is so little written about this man who lived so much in the Hollywood that made Hollywood, well, Hollywood. You won’t find him on Google. He doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile. You have to search hard for his name at all, which is odd for a man that knows so many stories.
The last time I saw Jim Mahoney he was dressed as dapper as always, a cigar between his right fingers. He can shoot his age or better in golf now, no easy feat, and his eyes still light up with the past. Maybe one day he’ll share his stories with everyone. And when he does, we’ll know then that for once crime does pay, and we’ll all be the richer for it.
Bob Chew is an author, speaker and marketing consultant. He has written for Time.com, Advertising Age, and numerous other publications. He teaches marketing and public relations at UCLA Extension. He has written seven books, including Golf In Hollywood: Where The Stars Come Out to Play