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RIP PR Pioneer Lois Smith: Tributes from Kingsley, Siegal, O'Donnell

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood October 9, 2012 at 1:44PM

Lois Smith, who died last weekend from complications due to a fall, helped to define modern PR. Back in 1971, she founded, along with Pat Kingsley (who handled Tom Cruise for years), New York's Pickwick Public Relations, and went on to pursue production at Marble Arch and United Artists before returning to her first love.
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Lois Smith
Mike Kaplan Lois Smith

Lois Smith, who died last weekend from complications due to a fall, helped to define modern PR. Back in 1971, she founded, along with Pat Kingsley (who handled Tom Cruise for years), New York's Pickwick Public Relations, and went on to pursue production at Marble Arch and United Artists before returning to her first love. In 1980, Kingsley's Pickwick merged with Michael Maslansky and Neil Koenigsberg's LA press agency Maslansky/Koenigsberg, to become the mighty P/M/K, which ruled Hollywood PR in the 90s under Kingsley, the returned Smith and Leslee Dart.

New York uber-publicist Peggy Siegal (see her tribute below) was nurtured and mentored by Smith, and worked with her at Pickwick, Smith & Siegal and P/M/K before launching her own praisery (as Variety would call it). Smith was a class act with a booming bonhomie who did not stoop to conquer. She was maternal and generous with her knowledge, and protected her clients, who trusted her completely.

"Lois was Mother Earth," says Kingsley, who cites Robert Redford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kevin Kline and Rosie O'Donnell as her closest clients. "She went from being big sister to big Momma. People leaned on that nurturing she supplied. It was special stuff."

Yes, it's true: while taking night classes at NYU Cinema Studies grad school, I worked as a publicist at United Artists, M/K and P/M/K, before landing my first journalism gig at Richard Corliss's Film Comment.  (I was envious as hell when Siegal went west for a stint with Steven Spielberg at Amblin Entertainment, but like critic Pauline Kael, who flirted with production at Warren Beatty's behest at Paramount, Siegal returned to New York in due course.)

While "The Wrap" initially published a photo of actress Lois Smith, reports producer Mike Kaplan ("A Bigger Splash"), he  supplied TOH with a few approved shots. "Lois set the standard with her smarts, generosity and professionalism," he wrote in an email. "Her warmth shines in the second pic (above), which was her favorite. As Sinatra said of Eleanor Powell, 'We'll never see her likes again.'"

Boston Herald film columnist Steven Schaefer, who knew Smith well, writes that "although Smith had retired, she continued to be vitally interested in what was going on, not only through her daughter Brooke’s successful career in TV and films but her legacy of lifelong contacts with some of the most important actors of the last 50 years:  Marilyn Monroe, Robert Redford (he was Brooke’s godfather), Meryl Streep, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sean Penn, William Hurt, Martin Scorsese and Whitney Houston, whom she fired when it became apparent that Houston was incapable of being responsible for herself."

In 1977, Siegal recalls:

This article is related to: Obit, Marketing


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.