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RIP Army Archerd

September 9, 2009

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He might have seemed as much of a permanent Hollywood fixture as the Chinese Theater or Musso & Frank, but columnist Army Archerd, for decades the writer of the “Just for Variety” column, past away yesterday from cancer at the age of 87. Growing up in Los Angeles with a permanent eye fixed on the movies, I was nevertheless rarely a regular Variety reader except when I was lucky enough to be working someplace with a subscription, but Archerd’s importance was obvious.

He was a fairly far cry from the muckraking and abrasive Nikki Finke and a much further cry from the punishing, often vindictive, gossip/entertainment columnists of the past like the mean-spirited but powerful Walter Winchell and Hedda Hopper. Indeed, I had kind of forgotten that the younger Archerd had fought the Hollywood blacklist. Winchell and Hopper had done very much the opposite.

When Archerd broke a personal story about a celebrity it wasn’t to try and “destroy” them and, in the most famous instance, it was a social good — though not everyone thought so at the time. For those who can’t remember the news that aging onetime superstar Rock Hudson had AIDS, it’s hard to explain the importance of the event. It was the first time many had even heard of the disease, which was already devastating the lives of untold numbers of people. Even in L.A., where Hudson’s sexual preference was an open secret even outside the show business world, the news raised the awareness of the quickly spreading disease far beyond the confines of the gay community, where it was already a devastating fact of life. Outside of Hollywood, it was also maybe the moment where “middle America” became aware that some of their favorite performers were not heterosexual.

For me, however, however, Archerd was always the pleasant, calm guy I grew up watching at the Oscars or at the Hollywood Christmas Parade. I was never a regular reader of his column, but he was just always there. I don’t know what to say except that I half expect those cement footprints in front of the theater Sid Grauman built might go away, too. Nikki Finke and, of course, Variety have excellent obituaries up.

Also, see Finke’s comments. Starting off with one by actor/activist Mike Farrell (“MASH”), it’s a pretty moving tribute.

(Originally posted at Premium Hollywood.)

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