Army Archerd’s power of the pen

Army Archerd, a longtime columnist for Variety who wrote glowingly of Hollywood, died yesterday at 87. The many obituaries pouring out indicate he was a beloved figure in the entertainment industry, widely respected for his 50-year tenure in a business where longevity is rare. Archerd died at UCLA Medical Center of mesothelioma, a lung cancer related to asbestos exposure that occurred during his WWII Navy service.

Archerd was widely envied for his illustrious list of contacts. Over the course of his career, he interviewed Hollywood legends from moguls Louis B. Mayer, Samuel Goldwyn, Harry Cohn and the Warner brothers to Oscar-winning actors Michael Douglas and Denzel Washington. He wrote well of movie stars during Hollywood’s “golden age,” a time before TMZ and entertainment tabloids stripped much of the glamour from celebrity.

But Archerd wasn’t always a soft-peddler. He knew when to use his outrage and assert his influence. Raised in what he called a “very Jewish home,” his values were deeply set and unshakable. “I have an antenna for any indications of prejudice in the industry, including, but not only, anti-Semitism,” he told The Journal’s Tom Tugend in 2003. Indeed, according to Variety, when Michael Jackson released his 1995 album “HIStory,” Archerd criticized the King of Pop for the anti-Semitic lyrics “Jew me/Sue me” and “Kike me.” Jackson recanted and promised Archerd he would re-record the song. Another time, Archerd called Marlon Brando out for using an anti-Semitic slur in an interview.

After he wrote about the suicide bombing at Hebrew University’s cafeteria, he was honored by American Friends of Hebrew University, who noticed Archerd’s increasingly pro-Israel message.

Archerd’s career chronicled the rise of Hollywood in American culture and as such, he became an integral part of its society. Archerd hosted lavish parties at his home for the likes of Gregory Peck, Jack Lemmon, Kirk Douglas and Elizabeth Taylor and was one of only a few journalists who earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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An Army of One