A Look Inside the Mind of Bobby Zarem

A Savannah native, Bobby Zarem spent more than four decades in the cutthroat entertainment capitals of New York and Hollywood before returning to his family home in Ardsley Park.   Some of his many clients were Dustin Hoffman, John Travolta, Cher, Sylvester Stallone, Sophia Loren, Robert De niro and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Now nearing his 81st birthday, Zarem sat down with South magazine’s William C. Wertz for a rambling conversation about his long career, his involvement with “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” and why he’s happy to be home.

On growing up and his fascination with celebrities…

I was four, maybe five, and I would sit and fantasize about what I wanted to do. Neighbors would tell me they would see me running to the mailbox to get pictures from the stars I had written to. I sit here now, and I realize that everything I fantasized about became real. I found myself in the middle of a world that was fantastic to me.

 

On his personality…

I was always shy and sensitive. I followed Richard Widmark down 5th Avenue for three blocks one day, desperate to say something to him, but not knowing what to say, so I didn’t say anything.  A couple of years later we were both at a dinner.  We both got there early, and I told him the story.  He said, “Bobby, you’re a liar. You can’t be a press agent and be sensitive and shy.”

On being thanked by Donald Trump…

He called me in August or September of 1978.  It was six months after I launched the “I Love New York” campaign. I walked in and he said, “Bobby, every cent I’ve ever made is because of you.” I didn’t think much of it. I thought he was just talking. But I realized that over the six-month period, real estate in New York had tripled. Literally tripled. It may have been his first fortune independent of his father. I believe that may have been the case.

 

On earning the name “Superflack”…

It was after a party I put on for Stevie Wonder.  It was a soul food supper at Delmonico’s.  Bobby De Niro was there. Lauren Bacall, lots of people.  Stevie didn’t show up. Mick Jagger was standing at the elevator with Judy Klemesrud, the New York Times reporter.  They were getting ready to leave. The elevator door opened and Stevie Wonder came in.  He hadn’t realized it was a party for celebrities. I yelled my head off at him. That’s when Judy gave me the name “Superflack,” and later Newsweek picked it up.

 

On where he eats now after being a regular at Elaine’s in NYC…

Several places. The Vault. Cotton & Rye. Circa (1875) is good. The Grey. I’ve been to the Vault 70 times.

On what Savannah means to him…

Savannah is all about class and character. I’ll tell you a story.  When I was 11 or 12, I was a batboy for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  It was the first season out of spring training in which Jackie Robinson appeared.  They were supposed to play in Jacksonville the day before, but they arrive in Jacksonville, and the sheriff tells them the electricity is out and they can’t play.  The manager says, “But it’s 1 p.m., and it’s 80 degrees.  We don’t need electricity.  But the sheriff says they can’t play.  So they get back on the bus, and the next day they played here. When Jackie Robinson got up to bat, maybe eight people booed.  But the entire rest of the stadium stood up and shouted, “Bravo.” And I knew then the difference between Savannah and other southeastern cities.

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