Fritz Friedman: He Did It His Way27 Jun, 2014 By: Thomas K. Arnold
Twenty-five years ago, I was preparing for my very first home video convention, taking place in Las Vegas under the direction of the Video Software Dealers Association.
At the time, I was freelancing for a thick monthly trade magazine called Video Store Magazine, and I remember the editor, Frank Moldstad, giving me the rundown on the various publicists for the studios I would likely be dealing with. There was Steve Feldstein over at Disney, a big man with an even bigger personality who one fellow reporter confided to me was “the smartest guy in this whole business.” There was Maria LaMagra at MCA Universal, a gregarious charmer who ran her department like Margaret Thatcher ran England. There was Nina Stern at Paramount, the most human publicist in Hollywood.
And then there was Fritz Friedman at RCA/Columbia, who Moldstad told me “is in a class by himself,” as all the other reporters nodded in agreement.
I soon learned for myself what they meant. Fritz had along ago broken out of the bounds of standard studio publicity and had emerged as a true public relations strategist. Like the finest craftsmen, he saw publicity as both a science and an art, grounded in developing close relationships with the press built around mutual respect. If Fritz wanted a story, you ran with that story — not because he begged and pleaded, but because it made sense. Fritz never gave reporters a hard sell because he didn’t have to.
Fritz was also a pioneer in bringing event marketing to home entertainment; one of my first-ever Hollywood parties, in fact, was a bash he threw on the studio lot for Boyz n the Hood. He worked the room like a politician, and drummed up so much publicity for a home video release that event marketing soon became a mainstay on the home entertainment circuit, particularly after the transition from VHS to DVD lifted the business into Hollywood’s single-biggest revenue source. He was the first publicist to bring a major star (Jimmy Stewart) to the VSDA convention; in 1996, when the convention came to L.A., he threw the biggest party in town, an elegant bash for 7,000 people on the studio lot featuring entertainment by Riverdance. More than a decade later, he orchestrated Spider-Man ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange — not once, but twice.
You hear stories about people who are consumed by their jobs; in Fritz’s case, it’s more like the job was consumed by him. He liked what he did, and he was damn good at it — which is why as word broke that after 34 years of running publicity at what is now Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (and, in recent years, the studio’s acquisition program), Fritz had decided to retire, I didn’t feel bad for him one little bit because I knew that if he was leaving, he was leaving because he wanted to, because he felt it was time.
He’s certainly got enough to keep two or three Fritzes quite busy. He’s an adjunct faculty member at the prestigious Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism. He’s been appointed to the Cal Humanities Board by Gov. Jerry Brown, an agency that since its founding in 1975 has awarded nearly $22 million in grants to organizations and projects within the Golden State, including dozens of Sundance, Emmy, and Academy Award-winning and nominated documentary films.
And he’s involved in all sorts of activities in the Filipino community. He lobbied Congress to give benefits to Filipino veterans of World War II (with Lou Diamond Phillips). He served as Chair and President Emeritus of the Filipino-American Library in Los Angeles. And he co-founded the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE), which with more than 3,000 members is the largest entertainment networking platform for Asian-Americans.