Warren Cowan, one of the last of the super publicists who helped make Hollywood the glamour capital of the world, has died. He was 87.
Cowan, who handled the careers of stars from Joan Crawford to Elizabeth Taylor, died at Cedars Sinai Medical Center Wednesday, just three weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, his office said.
His wife Barbara, daughter Claudia Cowan and stepdaughters Melissa Gilbert and Sara Gilbert were with him when he died.
After serving in the U.S. Air Force and graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles, Cowan joined veteran publicist Henry Rogers in 1950 to form Rogers and Cowan. It soon became the biggest publicity company in Hollywood. Among their clients: Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Doris Day, Clint Eastwood, Gene Kelly, Lucille Ball, John Wayne, Cary Grant, Danny Kaye and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
When asked who his favorite client was, he always answered, “The next one.”
Ronald Reagan and Cowan often joked that if Cowan had done a better job of promoting Reagan’s acting career, he wouldn’t have been forced to find another career in politics.
Beginning in the John F. Kennedy years, Cowan brought stars to the White House for “world premiere screenings.” He also promoted “top 10 lists” — like “most watchable man” and “most hypnotic eyes” — to get his stars into print.
He was a pioneer in product placement in movies, celebrity charity tributes and film festivals, longtime friend Linda Dozoretz said.
He was a master at creating news as well, she said. He is often cited as the first publicist to place a billboard on a rooftop so airline passengers could see it.
Publicist to the end
He was quick with a gimmick and a smile; to generate more publicity for his red carpets, he promoted the fact that they were longer, brighter or more expensive than any other. He was also generous and proud of his charity work — he volunteered his time, energy and staff to hundreds of organizations, from the John Wayne Cander Foundation to the United Way, Dozoretz said.
Rogers and Cowan was sold to an English conglomerate in 1988. Henry Rogers died in 1995.
Cowan formed another company, Warren Cowan and Associates, in 1994 and had another stable of blue-ribbon clients, including Taylor, Paul Newman and Kirk Douglas.
Cowan was born in New York in 1921 and attended Townsend Harris High School. At UCLA his worked on the Daily Bruin newspaper and moonlighted as a publicist for actress Linda Darnell.
When Playboy’s Hugh Hefner learned of Cowan’s death, he said: “He was part of old Hollywood. He knew everyone of importance in this town and represented most of them.”
In February, denying rumors that Newman was in “failing health,” Cowan put out a statement quoting the actor as saying that doctors “have been treating me for athlete’s foot and hair loss.”
He was a publicist to the end. Earlier this week another rumor circulated, this one that Newman had died. Cowan issued a reply: “Not only is Paul Newman alive. He’s racing his cars in Texas.”