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Obituaries

Orin Borsten, 94; longtime Hollywood publicist

December 02, 2006|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Orin Borsten, a Hollywood publicist for more than 30 years who also wrote screenplays and co-wrote the memoir "A Loving Gentleman: The Love Story of William Faulkner and Meta Carpenter," died Nov. 18. He was 94.

Borsten died at his home in Studio City of natural causes, according to Kathy Pinckert, his press agent.

He got his start in the early 1940s as the office manager for Russell Birdwell, "the biggest press agent in Hollywood at the time," veteran Hollywood publicist Dale Olson recalled this week. "Birdwell was a giant. He did huge stunts."

Borsten once described the experience in an interview. "Our policy in those days was to fake things up," he told Daily Variety in 1992. "Newspaper people knew we were fooling them and making things up, but they loved it."

For one stunt during World War II, reporters were invited to watch four young actresses play strip poker, Borsten recalled. Supposedly they were donating their castoffs to U.S. allies in Europe.

"All the fun went out of Hollywood when the stunts went out," Borsten said of his business. "Today we're stiff-collared and stiff-necked."

In the early '50s he worked as a legman for Erskine "Skinny" Johnson, an actor who wrote a Hollywood column for the Los Angeles Daily News.

It was unusual even then for a Hollywood publicist to work with a newspaper columnist, Olson said.

"Now," Olson said, "no major newspaper would do that. It would be a conflict of interest."

In the 1960s, Borsten developed a side career as a scriptwriter and got a screen credit for "Angel Baby," a 1961 drama starring George Hamilton and Joan Blondell. He was a contributing writer on several other movies and wrote an episode of "The Outer Limits," a 1960s science fiction television series.

In his last full-time publicity job, Borsten worked on the staff of Universal Pictures about 10 years, starting in the mid-1960s.

He retired from Universal in 1976. That year he co-wrote "A Loving Gentleman" with Meta Carpenter Wilde.

She was a Hollywood script girl in the '40s when she met Faulkner, the Nobel- and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist whose best-known screenplay was "The Big Sleep" in 1946.

Wilde, whose last name was Carpenter at the time, had an affair with Faulkner, although he was married. Their off-and-on romance continued for years.

Borsten encouraged Wilde to write her memoir because, she said in her book, "one or two who knew us 40 years ago were only waiting until I died to turn out books about William Faulkner and his Hollywood script girl."

The book got excellent reviews. "It is probably the most fascinating and certainly the most meaningful one to come out of Faulkner's involvement with Hollywood. And Mrs. Wilde is to be thanked for sharing it with us now," Rick Sadler wrote in a 1976 review for The Times.

Borsten was born Feb. 19, 1912, in Lithonia, Ga. He served in the Army Medical Corps during World War II.

He married Laura Rapaport, who wrote a book, "Once a Wave, My Life in the Navy 1942-1946," about her career as one of the first female officers in the Navy.

Rapaport died in 2003. Borsten is survived by son Joseph of Albuquerque, daughter Joan Borsten Vidov of Malibu, a grandson and two great-grandsons.

Contributions in Borsten's name may be made to the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting Competition, Academy Foundation, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA, 90211. Checks should be made out to the Academy Foundation.

mary.rourke@latimes.com

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