Monday, August 29, 2022

Q&A with Dan Harary



Dan Harary is the author of the new book Flirting with Fame: A Hollywood Publicist Recalls 50 Years of Celebrity Close Encounters. A longtime publicist, he lives in Beverly Hills, California.


Q: What inspired you to write this memoir about your experiences as a publicist in Hollywood?


A: During Spring 2021 when most of us were still in lockdown due to Covid, I was sitting in my living room and realizing that my upcoming 65th birthday in June was only a few months away. Then I glanced across the room to see a framed poster I have on my wall – it’s a promotional poster for a live concert by legendary Woodstock singer Richie Havens from 1972.


That year, I began work as the stage manager and lighting director for a small rock concert hall in my hometown of Asbury Park, New Jersey, and Richie Havens was the very first celebrity I ever met. (I worked at that venue from ages of 15-18 – from 1972-1974).


That’s when a lightbulb went off over my head: I realized I had been meeting, working with, or interacting with celebrities for 50 years!


Once that thought hit me, I took out a piece of paper and a pen, and simply began writing down a list of every movie, TV, rock and pop music star I’d ever encountered since 1972, and the list was so long, I suddenly realized I had the skeleton of a book. 


My original title for this book was going to be “Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind,” but another author used that title years ago; so that’s when the phrase “Flirting with Fame” popped into my head.


I wrote my book in chronological order, starting with my childhood experiences: both of my parents were gifted musicians and theater performers; my love for the pop music band The Monkees when I was 10 years old; my years working with major rock bands during the ‘70s at the Sunshine Inn; my college years in Boston; my brief job in New York City at Columbia Pictures; and then the history of my entire career, following my relocation from New Jersey to Los Angeles in 1980 when I was just 24 years old.


In early 1984, I became the very first publicist for The Playboy Channel and worked with Hugh Hefner and numerous Playboy “bunnies” developing promotional media coverage for a few years.


From there, I was a publicist at Columbia Pictures Television, where I worked on a major movie studio lot; then I was a VP of publicity for two of LA’s most prominent entertainment industry PR agencies for nearly 10 years. When I turned 40, in 1996, I opened my open PR company, called The Asbury PR Agency, and have been running it now for 26 straight years.


During those past nearly 40 years, I met countless stars from every field of show business, either at movie premieres or red carpet events or black tie galas or at TV or movie studios, or simply just in “real life.”


Some of my friends have called me the “Zelig” or “Forrest Gump” of show-business. I see myself more like the “Where’s Waldo” of Hollywood!


Q: Of the various celebrities you write about, are there a few that especially stand out for you?


A: Yes, many of the celebrities I’ve met have stood out – most of them for the exhilarating feeling I experienced when I met them.


Among that group would be people like Micky Dolenz from The Monkees – he had been my childhood hero!; also Mel Brooks, Kevin Costner, Ann-Margret, Tom Hanks, Sylvester Stallone, Brooke Shields, Kirk Douglas, Michael Jackson, Steven Spielberg, and Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys.


There are also a handful of celebrities I’ve met who were less than pleasant to me – that group includes Sally Field, Jerry Seinfeld, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.


And, without question, the most awkward moment I ever had with any celebrity was when I was introduced by Meryl Streep and was so nervous, I accidentally called her "Carla”! Carla was actually the name of the woman standing next to me at the time! I’m still cringing over that one, and that took place 32 years ago!


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between you, as the publicist, and the celebrities you work with?


A: Of the hundreds of celebrities I’ve met and/or worked with, I can honestly say that almost all of them were incredibly pleasant, collaborative, and easy to work with.


Many times when I was running a red carpet event, I would encounter these major folks as they began to walk toward the media hordes, usually corralled in bleachers off to one side. I would approach these stars, introduce myself, shake their hands, and then gently ask them if they’d consider being interviewed by the media.


Ninety-nine out of 100 times they would say, “Yes, sure,” and then I would escort them over to the cameras so reporters could get their stories. Among some of the more wonderful folks that I did this with were Jane Fonda, Shirley MacLaine, Ted Danson, Chevy Chase, Sting, Graham Nash, Dan Aykroyd, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and many others.


I also have met many, many celebs in “real life” and just approach them as people instead of as icons. If you don’t ask them for autographs or to pose with you for photos, they are usually very pleasant to talk with for a few minutes.


Note of advice: If you see a celeb and want to meet them, gauge the “moment” first – make sure they are not distracted or appear to be in a hurry. “Read the room” and you will almost always be able to have your moment with them – also be sure to make it quick. These folks don’t really want to hear your entire life story while you and they are standing in the same line at the grocery store!


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: The only thing “special” about me is that I have a nice ability to narrate stories via the written word. I’m not famous; I’m not a celebrity. In fact, I never even wanted to be a publicist, but sometimes life just happens.


So when I wrote Flirting With Fame, I was writing stories from an “Everyman’s” point of view. These are the moments since 1972 when I was fortunate enough to meet or work with very famous people, and the unique, fleeting moment I had with them, quite often under strange, off-beat or humorous moments!


I came to Hollywood in 1980 at age 24 to be a comedy writer for TV. While that never happened, I did come close to fulfilling that goal three times. Instead, my life course steered me into the PR field, where I’ve been fortunate to have had a very good living.


I know most people never even see a celebrity in real life during their times here on Earth. I’ve met almost every celeb I ever wanted to meet. So, again, the only “special” thing about me is that I’m something of a “celebrity magnet.” 


The way I crafted my stores was to share with the reader how an “everyday/nothing really special” kind of guy reacted when suddenly confronted with people like Barbra Streisand or Madonna, or Sally Field, or Jack Black, or Kirsten Dunst, or Gilligan and The Skipper from Gilligan’s Island. All of my moments were real, and terribly “human.”


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My second book will be published in mid-September; it’s called Carrots and recounts the very odd and unusual history I’ve had with girls and women since birth.


The book, which took me 42 years to complete, reveals early childhood traumas I had forgotten about for decades; the undiagnosed depression I lived with for 25 years; my troubled 11-year marriage; the many women I loved and lost or never loved at all post-divorce; my 20 years as a sex addict; and my most recent years as a calmer, more peaceful man.


Then, my third book, entitled After They Came, will be published in March 2023. That one is a science fiction novel and tells the story of a man, down on his luck, who tried to commit suicide on his 60th birthday – but instead, he is rescued by two benevolent aliens who came to Earth both to save his life and concurrently to solve all of mankind’s problems! That’s the book I’m hoping becomes a movie one day.


Finally, my fourth book, scheduled to be published during early 2024, is called Inside the Cutting Room. That book recounts the 25-year history of a famous New York City nightclub called The Cutting Room, which just happens to be owned by my lifelong best friend, Steve Walter. The club has presented hundreds of live shows from major rock and pop music stars, and Lady Gaga herself was discovered there in 2006 when her name was still Stefani Germanotta!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Please visit:!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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