Thursday, July 26, 2012

Around the room

Late afternoon lounging. 5:00 PM. Photo: Jeff Hirsch.
Thursday, July 26, 2012. Another warm, sunny, beautiful summer day in New York.

I went down to Michael’s for the Wednesday melee. I got there a little after one and the show was already on the road. The place was packed. The decibel level was up there, although not deafening (and actually quiet in certain spots of the room). But there is definitely a kind of “edge” about the place on days like this. Somehow Wednesday became the signature day. It is when people make appearances, if only to be seen, to keep the hat in the ring, so to speak.

So when it gets like this, you can feel it. People aren’t lunching there just for the hell of it, or to people watch, although the food and the service is excellent. However, there is a lot of “watching” going on – but looking like it’s en passant.

Joe Armstrong with HarperCollins publisher Jonathan Burnham.
Quest's Chris Meigher and Harry Benson.
This is not a restaurant where you might see two people sitting across from each other silently eating the meal. Here business is being transacted, cooked up, orchestrated, mulled over, promoted, demoted; to paraphrase Paul Simon: “It’s all happening ... at the zoo.” And let’s not forget the stories making the rounds.

Thinking back on it from the perch of  Table 8: Right next door was Debra Shriver, the Veep of public relations for Hearst, lunching with Gillian Miniter.  Beyond them, our very own Brenda herself, Diana Clehane, lunching with Mad Men producer Christina Wayne.

On the other side of me occupying both Table One in the bay and Table Two right next to it, Bonnie Fuller was hosting a lunch with Carlos Lamadrid, publisher of, Gerry Bryne, Vice Chair of Penske Media; David Rose of the New York Angels, e-book publisher Jane Friedman; Dick Wilde of ABC News development; Richard Behar, Philippe Guelton of Thrillist; Frank DiGiacomo of Movieline; Jennifer Geisser of Bravo, Ryan McCormick, Jonathan Cheban (he of Kardashiana), Jennifer Graziano, Renee Graziano and Ramona Rizzo of Mob Wives.

The latter really got the talkers talking. Steve Millington, the GM of Michael’s told me they were the Mob Wives of New Jersey. I had a look but I wasn’t sure who was who, etc.

Across the room, the Mayor of Michael’s Joe Armstrong was lunching with HarperCollins publisher Jonathan Burnham. Joe leaves next week for his annual stint volunteering as a counselor at the Paul Newman founded “Hole In the Wall Gang Camp” for seriously ill children. Next to them was Stan Shuman with a guest; and next to them, Leonard Lauder with Jennifer Reingold of Fortune magazine. And next to them were Cosmo’s Kate White with Patricia Sellers, also of Fortune. Across the way: Joan Jakobson, Diane Coffey, and Deborah Krulewitch.

Moving on around the room: Chris Barnes of the Observer, and Harold Holzer of the Met; Keith Kelly of the Post, David Goldin and Michael Dickie; Marc Graboff and Bob Friedman; David Sanford and Lewis Stein; Nancy Hodin; CNBC’s Ron Insana; Sol Kerzner’s main man in New York, Jerry Inzerillo; Quest’s Chris Meigher with Harry Benson; Peter Price; Judy Price; Valerie Salembier, Shari Rollins and Jennifer Kiel; Philippe and Paula Salomon, Scott Singer and Laura Del Grecco, Lally Weymouth and Holly Peterson, Laurel Touby, founder of and Kathleen Nagle. More: author Annette Tapert talking up a storm with Boaty Boatright; Ed Adler; playwright Jill Brooke whose “What’s Eating You?” is about to open in New York.

Keep moving: Dave Johnson of Warner Music; Beverly Camhe; Lori Rhodes with Lisa Lockwood of Women’s Wear Daily; author Pamela Keogh with Adam Pincus ; Scalamandre’s Steven Stolman with Rich Wilkie and Mark Lowham and Joe Ruzzo;  and lots more just like ‘em.  I was lunching with my friend Emilia Saint Amand, taking it all in.

The other day in the Telegraph of London, I found this obit of Herbert Breslin, an American man, a native New Yorker whose name was not familiar to me but who, it was revealed in this obit, was a very prominent, industrious man who worked behind the scenes with world famous performers of grand opera, especially Luciano Pavarotti. Mr. Breslin started small, even working for free, just to work. Herbert Breslin was one of those who went out and find away ...
Luciano Pavarotti and Herbert Breslin.
Herbert Breslin, who has died aged 87, was Luciano Pavarotti’s press agent and manager for more than 36 years, promoting the Italian tenor into a league of superstardom and wealth not previously enjoyed in the world of opera; when they parted company in 2002 it was with the bitter acrimony of a divorce, with Breslin subsequently spilling the beans in a vituperative account of their association.
Not that this tough-talking New Yorker’s bile was reserved exclusively for the jolly fat Italian tenor; he pulled no punches with his other clients.

Offstage, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf “looked more like a Putzfrau, a cleaning lady”, and her husband, Walter Legge, “was really a big jerk” ; while Marilyn Horne “has a mouth that can present you with every curse word you ever heard”.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.
Marilyn Horne.
Joan Sutherland.
Meanwhile, Breslin noted, it was a mistake to turn to Joan Sutherland for musical insights: “Let’s face it: she didn’t know that much.” Perhaps it was no surprise that La Stupenda treated him “as if I were some unpleasant apparition”.

But his real bitterness was reserved for the man from Modena, once his “dream client”. His book dripped with distasteful revelations of how Pavarotti’s physique and personal life got out of control ; there were descriptions of him sweating naked in a steam room and eating caviar with a tablespoon. “As the years went on, it looked more and more like he was taking this gorgeous career of his ... and flushing it down the toilet,” wrote Breslin, like a lover scorned.

Yet until this time Breslin and the “King of the High Cs” had been inseparable. Breslin had taken Pavarotti out of the confines of the opera house – a “tiddly-snit business” — and propelled him into the multimillion-dollar arena, making both men fabulously rich in the process. “Luciano and I single-handedly transformed the whole fee structure in opera,” he boasted, explaining how he was forever coming up with new ideas for his charge — television shows, commercials, even a Hollywood film (“Yes, Giorgio,” which bombed).

Critics would portray Breslin as a greedy, money-grabbing agent whose vocabulary was littered with profanities; and he undoubtedly was. Yet Breslin also loved music with a passion, and was deeply hurt when Pavarotti failed to deliver on stage or, worse, when the singer seemed not to care.

“The King & I” (Doubleday, 2004), a memoir which Breslin co-wrote with Anne Midgette, not only reveals his unflattering views of some of the greatest musicians of the time, it also lifts a lid on this Machiavellian publicist’s methodology.

“Marketing an artist is basically like marketing a bar of soap,” he wrote, adding with characteristic immodesty that “most of the best things in classical music were coming through me”. His overarching philosophy never wavered. “I believe in money,” Breslin told New York magazine in May 2005. “I don’t like poverty, and I like people who are enchanted by opportunity and by making something of their lives.”

Herbert Breslin was born in New York on October 1 1924. His father took him to see Carmen at the New York Hippodrome, and as a teenager he queued for standing-room tickets at the (old) Met. When he could not afford these he took a supernumerary role on stage as one of the extras in Aïda, for which he was paid $2; he took the opportunity to help himself to a wig or a helmet as souvenirs. He enlisted in the US Army in 1943 and two years later, as a cryptographer, followed Eisenhower into Europe, making his first visits to the Teatro Reale in Rome and the Opéra-Comique in Paris, and studying at the Sorbonne.

Pavarotti and Breslin.
Back in the United States he took an Education degree at Columbia, but gave up on teaching after his second year in the classroom. He wrote pamphlets for the National Association of Manufacturers (“I was essentially a great whore; I would do anything for money”), chaperoned “three very rich kids” around Europe, and wound up writing speeches for a Chrysler executive in Detroit.

In his desperation to work in music, Breslin joined the nascent Santa Fe Opera in 1958 as an unpaid press officer in the mornings, building up his private client list (“a dry-cleaning company; a hat company; a piano company”) in the afternoons. Back in New York a year later, he was taken on by the respected impresario Agnes Eisenberger to generate positive publicity for Schwarzkopf, whose Nazi past was posing problems. Sutherland became his second paying client .

Pavarotti had been a reluctant signing for the Decca record label in Britain in 1964. However, its American representative Terry McEwen felt that there was more that could be done. According to Breslin’s telling, McEwen said to Pavarotti: “Luciano, you’re a nice guy, so you need a real bastard to do your publicity.” Soon there came “the first US recital, first 'Live from the Met’ broadcast, first solo recital from the Met stage, first American Express commercial, first solo concert in a 20,000 seat arena”.

At the time Breslin was also Placido Domingo’s press agent, enjoying the fact that “if one saw that the other had gotten a [newspaper] article he’d call me up and bawl me out”; but Domingo was dropped when Breslin also became Pavarotti’s manager. He continued, however, to promote many other fine artists, including the pianist Alicia de Larrocha and the conductor Zubin Mehta.

Herbert Breslin and Anne Midgette. Photo: Olivier Wilkins.
Details of Pavarotti’s love of female company did not escape Breslin, and he explained the trouble to which he went to ensure that the singer’s wife, Adua, was ignorant of some of Pavarotti’s admirers — though when pushed on the details Breslin insisted that he was “only Luciano’s manager, not his pimp”.

Despite all this, Breslin insisted to the end that he adored his former client: “I was certainly not out to destroy him. I have nothing but the greatest admiration for how he was able – with my help – to create an image that is remarkable.”

When it came to writing his book, Breslin insisted on dealing directly with the publisher: “You can’t trust agents. I should know.”

Although he was a widely disliked figure, he commanded great loyalty from his friends. Once the dust had settled on the book, there was little left for him to do. He continued to promote his other clients, but his feisty spirit was diminished. Without Pavarotti he was bereft.

Breslin is survived by his wife, Carol, whom he married in 1955, and by a son and a daughter.

Herbert Breslin, born October 1 1924, died May 16 2012

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