Lois Smith, the influential, New York-based publicist who was instrumental in promoting the careers of a wide range of Hollywood figures that included Marilyn Monroe, Robert Redford and Martin Scorsese, died Sunday of a brain hemorrhage she suffered because of an accidental fall. She was 85.
Smith and her husband Eugene Smith were visiting Hebron Academy, the college preperatory school in Hebron, Maine, where they was being honored during homecoming weekend. During the night, while staying at a local bed-and-breakfast, she fell, sustaining the head injury and was taken to a local hospital.
Lois Smith, along with Pat Kingsley, Gerry Johnson and Pat Newcomb, formed Pickwick Public Relations in 1969. "We called ourselves Pickwick because we were amiable eccentrics - the staff and the client list," Smith later said. In 1980, the firm merged with another agency Maslansky/Koeningsberg and was renamed PMK, where Smith and Kingsley were also joined by Leslee Dart. PMK, which was acquired by the Interpublic Group in 1999, eventually merged with another of Interpublic’s agencies, HBH, to become PMK/HBH and in late 2009, as the result of yet another merger, it became known as PMK*BNC.
Although she initially intended to become a journalist and was offered a job as a researcher at Time magazine, Smith recounted that she was warned that opportunities would be limited since women weren’t offered bylines in those days. Instead, she took a job with a PR firm run by Ted Saucier, where she learned the ropes on industrial and fashion accounts. She moved on to show business when she went on to work for Arthur Jacobs, who represented actors and directors, eventually heading his office before striking out to form her own company.
Over the years, Smith’s clients also included Gina Lollobrigida, Meryl Streep, Warren Beatty, Liza Minnelli, Whitney Houston and Rosie O’Donnell.
In 2003, when Smith won the Publicist Guild’s Life Achievement Award, her friend Scorsese testified, “Lois stands out as a beacon in the industry,” said the famed director. “What matters to her is the art as it should be.”
In an interview in 2010, Smith, who by then had retired, said, “I’m so glad I’m not doing publicity now. Between celebrity magazines and Web sites, there’s so much out there to be filled up, so much information that has to be put out there simply because those publications exist. First of all, whatever you’re pushing, it becomes a story 30 seconds after you put it out there. I don’t care about hearing so much information minute by minute. People are desperate to fill the space they’ve got; they’ll print anything, go with anything, pursue rumors, and even create them. It’s not what I call publicity.”
In addition to her husband, she is survived by three children, Eric, Luke and Brooke, and four grandchildren. Her fourth child, a son Scott, died in 1985.