Hey, Fellas, If You Think You Ain’t Got Competition, Read This!
By Phyllis Perlman
We’re Press Agents in the theatre – just press agents. If anyone so much as whispers “a girl press agent,” we see red, for we think of ourselves as professionals, and not as a sex. When we were youngsters, we may have felt that we had the short end of the stick, because the boys had more freedom and therefore more power. But that’s all over. The sticks are equal length now. We hold as many jobs simultaneously, we work as hard, we get paid over scale as frequently, we get fired as often, and we enjoy equally with our male colleagues the stale jokes about the producer who blames the failure of his production on the inefficiency of the press agent.
We even look back upon those days when producers hesitated to hire female press agents. “They can’t go places where men can go,” the impresarios used to say. “They can’t stand up at the bar with drama editors and drink their way into a column of type the way the men can.”
But the dozen or so girls who are members of ATPAM have made the producers eat those words, and if they have had to swallow some bicarbonate of soda afterwards, we don’t care. Let them put the cost of the medicine on their swindle sheets.
Which reminds me that even our swindle sheets are just as big as those of the men. We have taught the Victorian males all over the country that they need not blush if we grab a check, and that they don’t have to remove hats in the office or rise when we enter a room.
I remember and instance where a producer of a hit show hesitated to send a woman agent ion advance on the road. Unfortunately he was stuck in midseason, without a single trousered gent available, so he had to swallow his fears while his
New York representative took over. In one city, the agent went for a night on the town with an important newspaper editor and a couple of other press agents who were doing their advance work at the same time. By 2 AM all the others – did I mention they were all of the alleged stronger sex? – had dropped out one by one, while the woman, thinking only of the space she could procure for her show in the Sunday section, kept going like a Spartan, even though the carousing was a bore to her. The end of the jaunt found them assembled in a suspiciously tawdry hangout. It seemed full of strangely assorted couples who arrived every few minutes, disappeared behind closed doors where they remained fore short visits, and then departed – a procedure which puzzled her mightily. Only after her play had left the town with reams of publicity in the newspaper and correspondingly large grosses in the box office, did she realize where she had innocently gone in the line of duty. That producer, hearing of the episode, apologized, conceded the round to the ladies, and has had a woman press agent in New York and on tour ever since.
GALS MAKE CRITICS PAY
The male press agents are fine – we gals don’t deprecate their ability – much! We merely insist that by and large we’re just as good, not because we are feminine, but because we are professional workers.
There are some who say our sex gives us an advantage. Well, maybe we are slightly more aesthetic-looking –what with Sally Victor hats, new look dresses, slim nylon ankles in high heeled shoes and bright lipstick. But if we have an advantage, it is only because as women, we have been trained to some extent as housekeepers. We like to keep expenses down, and we are trained as hostesses, so we develop an edge in tactful treatment of editors as well as actors. And since the boys can more easily stand at a bar, we must perforce spend more time inside the theatres, watching our shows and convivially mingling with the actors in our casts.
We don’t like to blow our own horns. But consider the page advertisement in this book in which all of the drama critics and drama editors on the metropolitan papers are listed. Two of us girl press agents – anathema to the man who first voiced the phrase – collected that roster. It being leap year, we weren’t embarrassed at asking them for their love – at two dollars apiece. Printed here are excerpts from their answers to our requests, which tell better than any defensive article what position the girls hold in the field of press agentry:
Two dollars will buy, in a cut-rate place I know, ten gallons of gasoline. With these ten gallons in my old Buick I can get 120 miles away from New York, which isn’t quite far enough but will do. For $2 I can buy four bonded bourbon highballs in a place I know, and the bartender will buy back once, making it five in all. This isn’t far enough either, but it isn’t to be sneezed at. For $2 I can buy a carton of Chesterfields, which will impede my circulation, eat away some more of my lungs and bring me closer to a blessed demise. This isn’t quite close enough but it will do. For $2 I can take my wife to a movie, which isn’t quite far enough. For $2 I can go from Jamaica to Coney Island and have $1.95 left over. Then I can go back to Jamaica and have $1.90 left over. This, as you can see, can go on for a long time. Not long enough, but something. For $2 in nickels I can telephone forty press agents, discover that all their lines are busy, and save the entire amount. Believe me, I cannot think of a sounder, safer savings plan. Yet, such is my love for you and your ilk, and even your husbands, that the best thing I can think of to do with two bucks is to send it to you for the welfare fund of the ATPAM. Affectionately, (signed) John ChapmanThe money is marked. (signed) BrooksI, for one, would gladly promote either of you two gals out of the $2 class. Love (signed) Bob Sylvester
I love you too. All of you. But don’t you think two dollars sounds a little suggestive. After all, my wife sees these checks, so I may add a quarter and be on the safe side. Incidentally, greetings! (signed) Tom Wenning
Dear “Peoples”: Why not make it five dollars next time? With love. (signed) Kelcey
Now that inflation has made $2 checks respectable again and in view of the fact that I have been waiting patiently for your appeal for weeks, it gives me great pleasure to enclose two dollars. (signed) Richard P. Cooke
Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention that I can become a celebrity for two bucks. Cordially, (signed) Thomas Brailsford Felder
I am unspeakably touched. (signed) AEF (Arthur Folwell) Gals like you ought to be asking for more than two bucks. I love you madly. (signed) Joe Pihodna
I certainly love you 2 bucks worth and hope your benefit unearths a rich hoard for the Welfare Fund. (signed) Mildred Gordon
Thanks for asking me. (signed) Arthur Pollock I am honored and delighted to contribute to your souvenir book, whether you use my name or not, just to have been asked is enough for me. Fond regards. (signed) Willie Priory
Though this will impair my Feb. budget, and perhaps break me, I part with it cheerfully. I can’t think of a cause or group that rates my support more. (Get the “support!”) And for only two bucks! Sincerely, Hal Eaton
I am enclosing two dollars for the Press Agent Fund and do so with great pleasure (deleted pleasure and wrote in) reluctance. Fondly, (signed Ward)
This article originally appeared in ATPAM’s 1948 Benefit for Welfare Fund Souvenir Book