Dan Harary was a very Jersey guy. And then he went Hollywood.
He was born in 1956 in Neptune. He grew up in the rock clubs of Asbury Park. He almost gave a hitchhiking Bruce Springsteen a lift, once. (Harary’s mom wouldn’t stop the car).
Then, in 1980, he went West. And since then he — or his agency, Asbury PR — has represented big films, top restaurants and movie stars.
But it hasn’t always been lovely. As his just-published memoir, “Flirting With Fame: A Hollywood Publicist Recalls 50 Years of Celebrity Close Encounters” (BearManor Media, $28, 284 pp.) dares to tell.
Q. So how did you get into all this?
A. It was through music. I was always surrounded by music at home — I took piano lessons for years — but when The Monkees hit, that was it, I wanted to be Micky Dolenz. So I switched to drums; later I started a band with my best friend from Hebrew school, Steve Walter. He runs The Cutting Room in New York now and we’re still friends.
Q: And then from being in a band, you went to doing lights for concerts? At 15?
A. Well, in ‘72, Steve and I got a call from the Sunshine In, this tiny club in Asbury Park with the worst stage in the world — just a couple of planks, really. But Lucas, the stage manager, says, “I hear you guys use a light show for your band, can we borrow it? We got Richie Havens coming in.” Well, we ended up running the lights, too, and we thought we’d died and gone to heaven. I mean, Richie Havens from Woodstock!
Then when Lucas went off to college a couple of months later, we took over. It was crazy. I remember, Clarence Clemons wanted to hire us as roadies. Roadies? We still didn’t have driver’s licenses!
Q: Did you know how big Bruce was going to be?
A: I first saw Bruce at the JCC in Deal and left after four songs. I was more into Zeppelin then. We worked one of his shows at the Sunshine, though. And no, I couldn’t have predicted. Back then, he’d just stand at the mike, not moving. He was just a local guy. He’d play bars where they charged $1; afterward you’d see him sleeping on the beach.
A couple of years later, I’m off at college, and get my copy of Newsweek, and he’s on the cover. Man, Bruce from the Sunshine In is in Newsweek? I thought someone had pasted his picture on as a joke.
Q: What made you want to pursue publicity as a career?
A: The true answer is, I never wanted to pursue it. I’d graduated from Boston University and I was living at home and a friend was working in publicity at Columbia Pictures in New York. He got promoted and told me, “Hey, come over right now, I’ll get you an interview for my old job.” They hired me on the spot.
But it was a crazy job. I mean, one film I was supposed to promote was “Used Cars.” My boss brought in a huge bag of greasy spark plugs and had me giftwrap them and mail them to critics. I’m sitting there in my suit wrapping up disgusting old auto parts and I think, “This is the entertainment business?” Plus it was four-hours roundtrip from the Shore every day, by bus. It was the most heinous job I ever had. Finally, after a while, I went to HR and said, “Please, can you fire me? So I can at least get unemployment?”
Q: So the world of publicity did not impress you.
A: That job did not impress me. But it was cool getting that peek behind the scenes. And then I got a call … well, you know what bashert is? It’s Yiddish for fate, something that was meant to be. And I got a call from some friends who had moved to L.A., and they invited me out, and that was it.
I really wanted to be a comedy writer, you see. I even got close later, with scripts getting considered by “Seinfeld,” “Empty Nest” and “The New WKRP in Cincinnati.” I got close. But I also got married, and started a family, and being a struggling comedy writer wasn’t going to cut it, so I went into publicity. I worked for the Playboy Channel. I worked for Jay Leno.
Q: One thing that runs through the book is how different, and difficult, some celebrities are in real life.
A: In public, Sid Caesar was the funniest guy ever. He would do impressions, foreign-language gibberish, everything. I was working the groundbreaking of the new Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and I brought Sid to that, and he was terrific, everyone loved him. He was always like that — in public. In private, he was a very difficult man. He’d call me up and curse me out over the phone. He would scream at his poor wife, “Where’s my lunch?” So angry, so hostile.
Q. Sometimes it seems show business attracts more than its share of jerks.
A. Honestly, I’ve met hundreds of famous people, and only a handful have been awful. Of course, I’m often meeting them on the red carpet; I’m in charge of getting them through it, so why shouldn’t they be nice to me? But most of them are nice. Tom Hanks. Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Dee Wallace is one of my best friends. Jerry Seinfeld was kind of a prick, though — very, very full of himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who didn’t even want to sign an autograph for my kid. Jerk. Buddy Rich was rude to me when I met him, but I didn’t mind. I mean, he’s Buddy Rich!
Q. If a Communications major from Rutgers wrote now for advice, what would you say?
A. The first thing I would ask is, “Can you write?” Second, “Are you outgoing?” If you’re naturally shy, it’s going to be a very rough road. Third, “Are you creative?” You go into publicity, you might be working on movies, but you also might be working on restaurants, on law firms. Fourth, “Are you visual?” A lot of time you’re going to be working with photographers.
But also I’d say, “Listen … social media is a big part of things now, but it’s not the whole thing. You put something on Instagram, great. But can you get your client in The Times?”
Q. Is it still fun?
A. “Fun”? I don’t know. When I get a client a big article in the paper or a story on TV, when I see that and know I’m helping them promote their news, their story … that’s cool. That’s been cool for 40 years.
But the business has changed. In the old days, you’d get someone on the phone and they’d listen to your pitch and … OK, maybe you’d strike out nine times before you connected. But no one answers their phone anymore. No one’s even in the office. You send out 200 emails, you’re lucky to get two replies.
But then again, I just got four new clients this week, so I’m still at it. And all because someone wanted me to run a light show, and a guy had just gotten promoted, and another couple of friends invited me out to California. It was bashert.
Dan Harary’s book, “Flirting With Fame: A Hollywood Publicist Recalls 50 Years of Celebrity Close Encounters,” is available from BearManor Media. Visit bearmanor-digital.myshopify.com.
Harary will talk and sign books at Asbury Book Cooperative, Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. Visit asburybookcoop.org/event/signing-dan-harary-author-flirting-fame.
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