Dan Harary calls himself “an author, entertainment industry publicist, drummer and former stand-up comic”. He started his own company Asbury PR of Beverly Hills in 1996. Now, 26 years successful years later, he is suddenly publishing four – yes four – books. The first was published last month: Flirting With Fame: : A Hollywood Publicist Recalls 50 Years of Celebrity Close Encounters.
Part of the PR pitch for it is:
“Dan quite often found himself in rather bizarre circumstances while interacting with famous people – like having a staring contest with Barbra Streisand, twice; or smoking a joint in silence with Jill Clayburgh in Central Park; or talking with Billy Crystal about Chinese food at Sid Caesar’s funeral; or introducing his mother to Mel Brooks and finding out they both went to the same high school. Dan’s countless ‘close encounters of the celebrity kind’ are sometimes funny, sometimes touching, and quite often cringe-inducing.”
We chatted at the weekend…
JOHN: FOUR books being published between now and next Spring? Why now?
DAN: Flirting With Fame was from Covid. Last Spring, 2021, I looked at the calendar and I was going to turn 65 and realised the very first celebrity I ever met was when I was 15 years old – Richie Havens, who was a famous singer from Woodstock.
During Covid, I was bored and had nothing to do. Wow! It’s been 50 years since I’ve been meeting and working with celebrities! So I took a piece of paper and just wrote down all the hundreds of celebrities I’ve met or worked with and there were so many of them that I thought: I should just write a book.
When I was in high school, I had really long hair, I played the drums and ran lights and stage crew for a little concert hall in Asbury Park – The Sunshine Inn.
Bruce Springsteen played there quite often; he was considered like the house band. Before it was called the E Street Band, he had a band called Steel Mill, one called Doctor Zoom and The Sonic Boom and then he had the Bruce Springsteen Band.
JOHN: You’ve known everybody.
DAN: It’s not that I know them, John. It’s like in the title of my book – Flirting – It’s like I skimmed with hundreds of very very very famous people. Most of my clients are behind-the-scenes people in the entertainment world. I’m FLIRTING with fame. I’m not famous. Only a few of my clients – like Jay Leno – were famous. But, over the course of time, I’ve been in situations surrounded by a lot of famous people.
JOHN: According to your own publicity for the book, you pissed-off some…
DAN: Arnold Schwarzenegger, sure. I was at an event in Beverly Hills in 1996. He wasn’t the Governor of California yet, but he was a big star. The event was for Milton Berle. You remember Milton Berle?
JOHN: Of course. A comedy legend.
DAN: I worked with Milton a few times. I represented Sid Caesar for a couple of years.
Anyway, I was at an event in Beverly Hills for Milton Berle. I knew Arnold Schwarzenegger would be there and my 8-year-old son was a huge fan of The Terminator movies. So I took a photo of Arnold as The Terminator and a white marking pen.
During a break in the festivities, Arnold is at a table with two giant bodyguards and I just tapped him on the shoulder: “Hello. My name is Dan. My son is 8 years old. He loves The Terminator. Would you be kind enough to give a quick autograph?” I have the photo and the pen in my hand.
He looks at me and he goes (CONTORTS FACE) “GHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!”
I say: “Arnold, please. He’s 8 years old.”
I swear to God. Steam virtually shooting out of his bright red… like he wanted me to burn in a fire…
He never said a word to me.
So now I’m like shaking, right?
His bodyguards are looking at me.
I’m like: Come on, Arnold, you can do it!
It’ll take five seconds.
Come on, man. Please! Please do it!
Really, it was a stand-off. And, eventually, he realised I was not going to leave without it… So, after quite a while, he finally grabbed the pen and did it and wrote: TO JORDAN – BEST WISHES.
My son is 34 years old now and he has it framed on his wall in his house in Alaska.
JOHN: The thing that most shocks me is that Arnold Schwarzenegger needed two bodyguards.
DAN: They had little earpieces with little curly wire that came out.
JOHN: Meeting ‘stars’ can be strange…
DAN: I was at a photo shoot with Kevin Costner in 1990… Kevin wasn’t a huge, huge star then, so he was very approachable. He couldn’t have been nicer. This was to promote an Earth Day TV special on ABC.
A lot of executives from Warner Bros and ABC were there and everyone was saying: “She’s coming! She’s coming!’
I didn’t know who. They didn’t tell me.
“It’s ten minutes till she’ll be here… She’s coming!… Ten minutes!… Five minutes!”
“Who’s coming?” I asked.
They said: “Meryl Streep!”
“Meryl Streep?” I said. “Meryl Streep is coming?”
She was very famous, of course, and, at the time, was just a few years out from her Sophie’s Choice Oscar. This is MERYL STREEP, you know?
So Meryl Streep’s coming! Oh my God! Oh my God!
I wasn’t a particular fan of hers. I don’t think she’s particularly… I was never a fan of hers ever, but everyone was scurrying around: “Meryl’s coming! Meryl’s coming!”
So I got caught up in it.
The doors open. It’s bright sunshine outside. She enters. She’s all in white. She’s like an angel from Heaven. It’s like Mother Mary has descended and we’re like the peasants in Guatemala or wherever. She comes in and there’s like 20 people in a line. ABC people. Warner Bros people. I’m at the very end of the line. Next to me is a friend of mine named Carla from Warner Bros.
So Meryl goes along the line like the Queen of England.
“Miss Streep, it’s such an honour”… “Miss Streep, it’s such an honour…”
I’m caught up in it.
It’s Meryl Streep! It’s Meryl Streep!
She gets to me and I’m at the very end of this long line and, by the time she got to me, I was so nervous I shook her hand and said: “Hello Carla, so nice to meet you…”
She looked at me like the RCA Victor dog, with her head on one side, thinking: “…What was…? Did he just…?”
I didn’t really know what was happening. She walked away and then my friend Carla told me: “Dan, you just called Meryl Streep ‘Carla’” and I said “I did?? Really??”
JOHN: I’m surprised you would be overawed by a star: you did stand-up comedy.
DAN: I did comedy much later – here in LA – 1998-2001. I only ever made $6 from it in total. Jerry Seinfeld made $6 billion. I made $6. I have it framed. I did it because, when I was in Sixth Grade, I had a teacher who used to make students go to the front of the classroom and give an oral report. She tortured us:
“Stand up straight!… You’re slouching!… You’re mumbling!… Speak louder!… Speak softer!… Don’t look at your nose!”… All she did was criticise. So I had a fear of public speaking from the age of 12.
And, for a publicist, it’s really not good to have a fear of public speaking.
So I took a class at the Improv in West Hollywood with one of the owners and the graduation of the class was to do 8 minutes on stage at The Improv. Next to my son being born, it was the most nervous I ever was in my life. I almost threw up before I went on stage. My mother was there; all my friends were there. 250 people. I was shaking; nervous; my heart was pounding; I was a nervous wreck. But I went out and did my thing and I survived.
I’m not a natural stage performer. I’m a drummer. I was in bands all my life. Playing in a band? That’s easy. No sweat. But to stand up on stage with a microphone and you’re saying your jokes?… It’s very, very scary.
JOHN: I suppose the drummer is at the back and not the centre of attention.
DAN: I suppose that’s right. I had really long hair and you have cymbals in front of you. When I played, my hair used to fly everywhere. My parents saw me play once and someone said to my mother: “That drummer, she’s really good for a girl…”
JOHN: But you weren’t interested in performing comedy as such? Even though you knew Sid Caesar and Milton Berle…
DAN: I represented Sid Caesar for two years, 1987-1989. He paid a monthly retainer to our PR firm to keep his name in the press. He was sort-of semi-retired but still active; he was in good health still; he did guest starring roles on TV. I got him many interviews: at the time he was re-releasing Your Show of Shows on VHS tapes for the first time.
Also he, Milton Berle and Danny Thomas did a live tour of the US in 1988 and I was the publicist – The Living Legends of Comedy Tour.
JOHN: That was when you got to know Milton Berle as well?
DAN: Around the same time. I spent a day with him at a TV station in Hollywood. He had written a book called BS: I Love You – an autobiography – and he was there to promote it.
So I’m at the TV station and there’s a knock on the backstage door and this little old hunched, shaking Jewish man with a hat and a coat and a cane came in.
“Mr Berle?” I said.
“My name is Dan. I’m here to help you out.”
“OK. Very good.”
I took him to his dressing room. He closes the door very quietly.
I wait about 10-15 minutes and then the door bursts open. He’s standing perfectly straight. Different clothes. Big cigar… “Hi kid! Here I am! Where do you want me?”
I almost asked him: “What did ya do with Milton Berle?”
The man who went in and the man who came out of the dressing room – Two completely different men.
JOHN: It wasn’t a joke? He had just suddenly ‘switched-on’ Milton Berle?
DAN: Yeah. He BECAME Milton Berle in that 10-15 minutes in the dressing room.
I led him out onto the stage and everyone was so excited.
But instead of shaking people’s hands and saying “Hello, how are you?” he goes: “Aaah… I don’t like that camera over there! These lights: these can be moved! I don’t like this set! That chair has to be over here! This spotlight has to be…”… and for the next 45 minutes all he did was re-arrange this entire studio that had been created just for him. Everyone was like: What is he doing? But it’s MILTON BERLE: What can you do? All you can do is obey his commands!
JOHN: What happened at the end when he left the set? Did he return to being the old man?
DAN: He did the interview. He was very funny. At the end, he shook hands and was very nice. I walked him back to his limousine and he remained in character. He has the cigar. He’s smiling. He’s not the man who walked in. Now he’s ‘Milton Berle’.
(… TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW… with Jerry Seinfeld, sex addiction and party night at the Playboy Mansion…)