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AN APPRECIATION

Army Archerd, gatekeeper of a bygone Hollywood era

The late Variety columnist was the heart of the glittery town, a skilled pro who remained humble and generous to the end.

September 10, 2009|BETSY SHARKEY | FILM CRITIC

I only met Army Archerd once, but long before that brief handshake, the grip softened by age, a gentle smile and a few kind words, I knew him.

Starting in the late '80s, he and a cup of coffee would begin my Mondays through Fridays as I read his latest dispatch from the front lines of the entertainment industry in Daily Variety. He was the Hollywood nice guy forever tending to the wounds of Hollywood stars, a battlefield surgeon who would take care of anyone who was bleeding, switching sides day to day as needed.

If you called, and you mattered to the business as he saw it, he answered and wrote. If you called and you didn't perhaps matter so much, he still answered.

That he is gone this week at 87 truly marks the end of an era and a style of entertainment news that really began dying years ago. He is the final coda.

When I began covering the movie industry, I went to Army's column for something different than breaking news, though he had his share of it. I went to feel the truer heart of Hollywood.

Sometimes it was a very black heart as feuds were fought in two-line snippets with bold-faced names. That the term "bold-faced names" even resonates is probably thanks to Army, who instinctively understood how to confer power in that simplest of ways.

A master of omission, rather than commission, you learned as much about what he thought and knew by what he left out as what he included in his column each day. If you didn't know how to read between the lines, a few weeks into Army's column taught you, and that is a great skill to have in an industry carried along on the vapor trail of hopes, dreams and rumors.

Hollywood's A-list gave him scoops because they knew they would be safe with him. He accorded dignity without asking.

There were smaller moments of graciousness too. Long before he met me, he would give a call here, drop a note there, if he'd liked something I'd written. It tended to be pieces about stars he had covered for years -- Faye Dunaway, Anjelica Huston, Kevin Costner, Glenn Close.

He found in entertainment an organism worth his study, if not always worthy of his affection. I think for him it was a bit like loving a child, you take the good with the bad because they are yours.

Army counted some of the town's greats as friends but he never lost sight of his own particular place within this universe. He was both humble and trustworthy, two qualities too often in short supply here.

In his later years, the Internet and the rise of the glossy tabloids -- TMZ, Perez Hilton, US Weekly and the rest -- would overtake him. They would beat him with the sordid. But then that was never his game.

Born into a different era, surviving longer than any of the current gossip gurus with their sharks' teeth forever tearing at those who work the entertainment corridors ever will, Army wasn't made for revenge reporting. He loved this place. He loved its people even more. And they, we, will miss him, this courtly gentleman of gossip. Goodbye, good sir, and thank you.

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betsy.sharkey@latimes.com

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