It isn’t the fine diamonds or the crystalline face of the watch that gets the job done. It is the unseen mechanism inside that functions. Publicists are an unseen mechanism that make the entertainment industry work. The blurb in the newspaper, the piece in the magazine, the mention on your favorite late-night television show are all masterminded by the craftsmen of public relations.
One of the biggest names in the Hollywood PR world would have to be Michael Levine. His company, Levine Communications Office, has represented some of the most iconic names in entertainment. Trusting in the master craftsman were Michael Jackson, Charlton Heston and George Carlin among others.
Michael Levine is the author of seventeen books. His numerous radio, television and print appearances have made Michael Levine an authority on the media, fame and public relations.
Now, let us join Michael Levine, craftsman of public relations.
Paul Leslie: Ladies and gentlemen, our special guest is one of the best know experts in the field of publicity. Steve Allen called him the Michael Jordan of entertainment PR. He is the founderof Levine Communication Offices and the author of several best-selling books. He’ll be joining us to talk about publicity and in particular his friendship with Hollywood legend, Elliot Mintz. Thank you so much for making the time to talk to us.
Michael Levine: I’m honored to be sharing your valuable audience.
How did you become interested in publicity?
I was interested in the entertainment industry. I was actually interested in two things. When I was growing up I was interested in the enteirtainment industry, I was interested in politics. And I decided to pursue the entertainment industry as a career by virtue of that kind of attraction I had to see in person.
Is publicity still fascinating?
Yeah, I think it is. I mean the media is fascinating. I think communications is fascinating. It is very fascinating. Certainly, undergoing radical change, I mean, you know, I started PR from back in June of 1983 and there were no computers or text messages or FedEx, very different world, so yes, it’s still very fascinating.
Not too long ago in speaking with Elliot Mintz, he said that you are one of the best publicists he’s ever encountered. I would have to ask you, what do you say makes a good publicist?
Michael Levine: I’m happy to answer your question but let me just comment on that if I may. First of all, that is a very, very kind, unnecessarily generous kind remark that Elliot made about me. I cannot believe that arguably, I would define Elliot as the most brilliant media consultant ever. Not this year, not last year, he will be in the entertainment realm the most brilliant media consultant ever. And so the fact that I could even be in the same top ten 10 list that it’s just hard to imagine, but and I really believe that, I mean, independent of my friendship with Elliot, my love of Elliot, I really believe as I think about, I talk to him, I am awe-struck by his capacity to understand the communications. Okay, now then, you say to me, Michael, what makes a good publicist? Well,I think a good publicist has a capacity to understand communications well and they have a good capacity to understand news well and they have a good capacity to blend the two well and so forth. So, there we are. It’s a natural gift in large part, I mean, I wrote a book on PR called Guerilla PR which is the best-selling PR book of all time and I think you can teach people a lot of stuff through that book or through books, but there’s also a natural capacity.
You said a moment ago that you felt like Elliot more or less personifies what it is to be a good publicist.
Just the most brilliant communications mind of our time. Way, way beyond the traditional publicists from my point of view.
So it’s he’s in incredible ability as a communicator that you think?
Incredible, an incredible psychological capacity to read people, read situations. First of all, if you know Elliot at all, Elliot listens to people with an intensity that is Freud-like. He has an ability to listen intensely to a human’s words and actions and read things that frankly other people might not perceive as acutely.
How did you meet Elliot and what was your first impression when you first looked into his eyes?
Well, I’ve known of Elliot for my entire professional life and admired him. We’ve very different careers. Elliot’s approach to clients is to have a few, that paid him a good deal of money and he did a brilliant job on their behalf. I on the hand went a different route. I had a much larger firm with many, many, many, many more clients and had a bigger entity. He had a small and more boutique entity. So I’ve known Elliot all my professional life, but we became friends a couple of years ago. And I would say that you do not need to be Freud or Einstein to look into Elliot’s eyes and know that he’s a very unique guy. He’s just not your average bear, I’ll say that.
What is something about Elliot Mintz we would be surprised to know?
One thing I think that might surprise you, I mean, if I, you would have had a number of superstar clients that he’s had, that he is very humble. He does not think of himself and he is not grandiose. He is not a narcissist, very self-effacing, very humble, very generous, he’s run counter to the stereotypes of most people in Hollywood.
He’s just launched this website, elliotmintz.com.
If I could just mentioned, one of things which I think is fascinating, I mean, if you’re interested in Elliot Mintz, I think it’s very fascinating website. But let’s imagine you’re not interested in Elliot Mintz, you’re just interested in the times in which Elliot Mintz lived. You’re interested in the 70’s, in the 60’s, in the 70’s, 80’s and the 90’s and the 2000, it’s fascinating. It’s fascinating. You can go on a walk on a beach in Malibu, California with John Lennon and you’re going to talk to John about the Beatles breakup. Really? That’s pretty big, that’s pretty interesting and there is just countless things that are fascinating about the times, you know, the Zeitgeist of that era.
What do you think that’s motivating him to put this all out there because it’s all free?
Yes it’s all free, yeah because I think that Elliot’s unique, one of Elliot’s uniqueness is that he wants, he does not, I’m sorry, I’m just paraphrasing his words. He doesn’t think the website is about him. He thinks it’s a website about the world in the times in which he lived. So, I have to take his words at face value and like that that’s a need that he has to communicate, it is an unbelievable amount of material to share. You know, it’s kind of the center point of so much of entertainment industry and pop culture history. It’s rather remarkable.
What are you the most proud of?
In my work?
Yeah, in your life, actually.
Well, you know, I have a very unusual life in that, I didn’t go to college, you know, my mom was an alcoholic, I was first to a degree, blessed and cursed by this thing called dyslexia. Do you know anything about dyslexia?
I know a little, but not a great deal.
Dyslexia is a kind of a disorder of some type where you are reading in the cognitive ability. You know, when you’re a young kid, you invert numbers and it’s an interesting thing, you know, I was talking to you about two years ago, I had dinner with David Geffen which was a real high point of my life and, we’re talking, David is dyslexic, I’m dyslexic and we’re talking about dyslexia and David said to me, “you know Michael, 40 years ago, we had a different word for dyslexia.” And I said, “really David, what was that?” He said, “dumb.” And it’s true that 40 years ago, people who were dyslexic were thought to be dumb. So, the greatest achievement of my life is that I was able to take a bad set of cards that I was dealt, right, an alcoholic mother, dyslexia, scared skinny kid, no college, no money, no education, no parenting, no job and I was able to take these bad cards and play them well. It’s one of the reasons I do some of the coaching I do and with clients and people, so, there you go.
So this is kind of an open-ended question, for all the listeners out there, what would you say to them?
I’m not sure. Oh I would say, I think that I would say that you would be well served if you’re listening to this to consider and recall that life is difficult and that life is difficult for all of us. It is difficult if you are a gay or straight, or black or white, or young or old, or thin or fat. If you have a lot of money, it is difficult. If you have a little money it is difficult that some people would say, you know, it’s been said that money does not make you happy. Well, I promise you my brother, poverty will make you miserable but it’s difficult. Life is a difficult journey. Now, it’s not a bad journey but it is difficult. And we are tried, we humans are tried by constant ceaseless challenge, a kind of a, like an obstacle course that’s been designed by God or the universe to test us or to teach us or something. There we are. Life is difficult.
My last question, who is Michael Levine?
Self-made guy. Just a guy who got some really bad cards as a young kid growing up in New York City about two and a half miles north of Ground Zero and he was able through the force of determination, drive and determination to take bad cards and play them well. I was blessed in lots of ways, along that journey, not least of which being born in the country in which playing your cards at all was possible. In that way I think Warren Buffett was correct, I won the ovarian lottery. I’m just a self-made guy, I’m just a guy who was willing to work on nights and weekends when most people weren’t and I played my cards well. Now, there was a lot of calls to that personally.
Thank you very much for your perspectives and your time.
Thank you, brother. God bless.