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William A.G. 'Bill' Feeder, 94; One of Last Old-Time Hollywood Press Agents

March 05, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

William A.G. "Bill" Feeder, among the last of the old-time Hollywood publicity agents and a man respected for his solid professionalism and loyalty to friends ranging from newsmen to such clients as director William Wyler, comedian Groucho Marx and actress Shirley MacLaine, has died. He was 94.

Feeder, who retired in 1990 as senior vice president for corporate entertainment at Rogers & Cowan, died Friday in Los Angeles of complications of pneumonia. He had been in declining health for several years.

"Bill Feeder was the dean of Hollywood publicists and was a mentor to half the publicists in Hollywood, including myself," said Dale Olson, who worked with Feeder at Rogers & Cowan and now represents Feeder's former client, Shirley MacLaine.

Olson said he visited Feeder three days before his death and found the entertaining raconteur "completely lucid," adding that he "held forth for 40 minutes."

MacLaine said, "Bill Feeder thought more about the person he was working for than he did about himself, and he was an expert in the presentation of personal image. He also loved kids and dogs."

Warren Cowan, now head of Warren Cowan Associates, who persuaded Feeder to join Rogers & Cowan in 1958, said, "His loss will be felt by everyone who is in public relations. He set the standards for the industry."

One example of Feeder's professionalism as a publicist occurred in 1981, when he learned of the accidental death by drowning of actress Natalie Wood. Feeder immediately went to the family home in the middle of the night to field calls for her widower and his client, Robert Wagner.

The actor, who kept in touch with Feeder until his death, said, "Hollywood has lost one of its great PR legends. He was a caring and devoted friend."

But Feeder, once a journalist, gave the same kind of sensitive attention to everybody he knew, said Kevin Thomas, veteran Times entertainment reporter and film critic.

Feeder, Thomas said, "was arguably the last of the colorful Hollywood publicists. He was the quintessential hail-fellow-well-met, cigar-smoking, what'll-you-have-to-drink press agent. Yet beneath the hearty surface was a thoroughgoing professional and a man of great sensitivity and remarkable loyalty, as well as wit and humor."

The wit may have been in evidence in the 1930s when Feeder, a native New Yorker more familiar with baseball than English cricket, helped the late British actor Sir C. Aubrey Smith co-found the Hollywood Cricket Club.

Although Feeder became best known as a publicist -- among other clients were Jack L. Warner, Hal Wallis, Frank Capra, Doris Day, Milton Berle, Kirk Douglas and Paul Newman -- he was well-rooted in newspaper journalism.

He grew up in Ohio where, as a teenager, he became a copy boy for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Feeder was 15 when he wrote his first published story -- a sports article about a 1923 indoor polo match at the Cleveland Armory.

The budding newsman went on to work for newspapers in New York, New Jersey and Florida before attending the Columbia University School of Journalism.

He returned to Southern California, where he had spent part of his childhood, in the mid-1930s.

Feeder practiced publicity work during World War II as director of public information for the Citizens Committee for the Army and Navy and for the Los Angeles chapter of the Red Cross.

But he returned to reporting after the war, working for the entertainment newspapers Variety and Hollywood Reporter.

Among his "scoops" were covering the first successful screening of a motion picture on an airplane on July 1, 1946 ("The Kid from Brooklyn" on a Western Airlines flight from Burbank to San Francisco) and the ouster of Louis B. Mayer as MGM boss in 1951.

Despite Feeder's misgivings about moving permanently from covering news to publicizing celebrities, Howard Hughes was able to lure him away from Variety in 1951 to become director of public relations for his studio, RKO Radio Pictures.

When that association ended in 1957, Feeder returned briefly to the Hollywood Reporter as editor before joining Rogers & Cowan.

Feeder is survived by his wife, Juanita; two sons, James and Craig; and three grandchildren.

Services will be private.

The family has asked that, instead of flowers, memorial donations be sent to the Motion Picture & Television Fund.

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