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Show Business: Super Flack Muscles In

4 minute read

The street outside New York City’s Plaza Theater was lined with snow and shiny limousines. It was the opening of Pumping Iron (TIME, Jan. 24), and the first-night crowd for this filmed tribute to the glories of body building included Singer Paul Simon, Painter Jamie Wyeth, Princess Yasmin Khan and a half-dozen muscle-bound kids from Yonkers. After the première, Pumping Iron Star Arnold Schwarzenegger introduced fellow Strongman Franco Columbu, who proceeded to bend steel bars with his bare hands and burst a hot-water bottle with his bare breath. More hulks followed onstage to flex and pose, along with Actress Carroll Baker, who stroked their chests, rubbed their biceps, then faked a swoon. The crowd loved it. “I don’t know who put this thing together,” said one guest afterward. “But the p.r. man behind this is the star. He ought to get an award.”

The star flack is rumpled, wary-eyed Bobby Zarem, 40, who in the past two years has become Manhattan’s unquestioned master of the movie premiére, an opening-night party giver whose bashes are often better than the pictures they publicize. When the rock movie Tommy opened in New York, Zarem rented the 57th Street subway station and invited 700 funky-chic guests for a late-night dinner dance in the tubes. To hype The Ritz, a comedy set in a gay bathhouse, he took over the Four Seasons Restaurant and had the band perform from the pool. For Lucky Lady, a romantic adventure about the Prohibition era, Zarem turned the “21” Club into a 1920s speakeasy and invited 650 first-nighters to feast. The party cost 20th Century-Fox $25,000, but Zarem wasn’t there to raise a glass. One night earlier he had slipped on the steps to his apartment and broken his leg in five places.

Nonstop Talker. An intense, eager, nonstop talker, Zarem is insecure enough to see an analyst three times a week. If he meets someone he knows after a session he may stop him on the street to rehash it. His office is on Fifth Avenue, but his favorite headquarters is Elaine’s Restaurant, Manhattan’s top celebrity hangout. He often winds up his 15-hour days—usually early in the morning—at his fourth-floor walk-up bachelor’s pad on Manhattan’s East Side with a diet cola and a Stouffer’s short-ribs-of-beef dinner. He cooks four at a time and eats them cold out of the refrigerator.

For the press, Zarem puts his Bobby-talk into a blizzard of cards and letters. A sample outpouring: “I’m sorry that you didn’t come to the luncheon yesterday. It was a lot of fun and you would have seen a lot of people there that you know and like and you would have enjoyed it. No one was allowed to write and work and it was just really, really fun.” Seven more paragraphs followed.

Journalists who write of Bobby’s clients have received by mail address books and other gifts by Gucci. He spends seven hours on the phone each day; when one reporter hung up in a huff, she too received a personal Zarem note—along with a marijuana joint.

Zarem’s inspiration goes back to his childhood in Georgia. Says he: “My life was the movies. I used to walk around Savannah and fantasize that it was Beverly Hills.” He studied political science at Yale and started his career in New York as a concert booking agent. Eventually he signed on with Rogers & Cowan, the show-business p.r. firm, spending six years boosting such entertainers as Ann-Margret, Dustin Hoffman and Dyan Cannon. “I wanted to be an actor,” he confesses. “But I just never thought of myself as being attractive.”

Not all Zarem’s p.r. schemes have been beauties either. His first plan for Pumping Iron was a muscleman show at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. “We couldn’t get it for less than $35,000,” he notes sadly. For the opening night of Silver Streak, a comedy involving a runaway train, Zarem wanted a black-tie dinner in the middle of Grand Central Station. When Producer Frank Yablans balked, the party was held, more conventionally, at the posh Tavern-on-the-Green—another of Zarem’s clients.

He is about to start preparing for the West Coast opening of Pumping Iron. But last week, having survived the headaches of the New York premiere, lie packed off with Weight Lifter Schwarzenegger and a few hefty friends for an early-morning dinner at Elaine’s. When the meal was over, someone noticed that half the guests had ordered the same fare—mussels. Gasped Zarem in delight: “I didn’t even plan it!”

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