Tilting at Windmills

Feb 14, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The word “amigo” means “friend” in Spanish. It is also the first half of the name veteran Hollywood publicist Julian Myers has chosen for the proposed national holiday he calls Amigo Day, to be celebrated on the first Sunday of each month with random acts of love. In a cynical world, some suggest that is an appropriate name because his quest is reminiscent of a famous Spanish literary character, Don Quixote, who tilted at windmills and dreamed impossible dreams.

Mr. Myers, a dapper, spry, gentlemanly 86-year-old with an easy smile and a load of charm, always impeccably dressed, doesn’t mind those comparisons. He knows his quest is difficult, perhaps impossible. But he truly believes Amigo Day will be as big as Mother’s Day by 2018, when he plans to celebrate his 100th birthday.

Its purpose, explained Mr. Meyers, the proposed holiday’s creator and passionate advocate, is to encourage every person in America to set aside one day each month to make a new friend or seek out friends from the past to renew acquaintances. It is also meant to help bring English- and Spanish-language cultures in America closer together. “It gives everyone in the world a way to embrace new and old friends,” added Mr. Myers, “frequently.”

If hard work can make it happen, Mr. Myers knows it will get done. The motto for his public relations firm is “The Round the Clock Publicists.” He never gives up on an idea once he is inspired. He has already spent more than a year and thousands of dollars of his own time and money to promote his pet project. Now he is trying to find corporate sponsors and advertisers to tie in with Amigo Day and help market the concept without overly commercializing it. Any deal will have to be nonexclusive, because Mr. Myers wants the public to embrace the holiday.

His stated plan is to spend 40 percent of his time for the rest of his life promoting Amigo Day. He works on it while also serving his remaining handful of public relations clients. They include actor and environmental activist Dennis Weaver, who has been with him seven years.

His efforts are the culmination of a lifetime of experience. After graduating from the University of Southern California just as World War II was breaking out, Mr. Myers got a job with Columbia Pictures, first as an assistant story editor, then as an “idea man” (to think of movie ideas and punch up scripts) and later as a publicist. He moved to 20th Century Fox, where he spent 14 years. In the late 1960s he launched a UHF television station in Ventura County, Calif. It was one of his rare failures.

He was a publicist for American International Pictures and its successor, Filmways, throughout the 1970s and personally represented that company’s founder, Samuel Arkoff, for another decade. Mr. Myers also worked for several independent PR firms involved in TV and film, such as Hanson & Schwam, where his client list included Barbara Eden, Julie Andrews, Robert Loggia, Linda Gray and William Holden.

He played a key role in keeping the classic female buddy cop show “Cagney & Lacey” on the air in the early 1980s after CBS decided to cancel it following its first season. He led a campaign that got thousands of viewers to write in, and the network put it back on. It became a hit and ran for six more seasons.

After a long and fruitful career, why not retire and turn full time to growing his garden along the Pacific? “Retirement is dull,” Mr. Myers answered. “Why do I want to retire? Sit home and watch TV? I like TV, but I’m not going to watch all day. What am I going to do? Travel? I’ve traveled, but I’m traveling in so many worlds now I don’t see how I can compete.”

He isn’t kidding. Though he will turn 87 a week from now, Mr. Myers is in his 28th year teaching classes on PR at UCLA (where he has taught more than 1,700 students) and his 14th year teaching classes at Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles. On St. Patrick’s Day he will moderate a panel of trade paper editors for a professional PR society, one of dozens of organizations in which he holds memberships, such as the movie and television academies, Women in Film and the Hollywood Press Club. He and his wife of 30 years are regular fixtures at numerous Hollywood events.

“Julian has been an incredible mentor to me,” said his former student Curt King, now VP of publicity and corporate communications for NBC Universal Television Studio. “He’s gentlemanly. He’s bright and tenacious. He really is a sincerely warm human being that cares about people. That’s the secret to his success. He’s persistent but polite. He’s smart but not overbearing. He just finds the right balance.”

Then there are his athletic feats. Mr. Myers is a veteran runner and marathoner. He will compete for the 15th time in the Los Angeles Marathon on March 6, along with more than 21,000 others. Last year’s men’s winner covered the 26-plus miles in just under 21/4 hours. Mr. Myers will be happy to finish in about eight hours. On New Year’s Day he splashed in the freezing ocean off Venice Beach, Calif., during the annual Penguin Club 300-yard swim.

Does it all add up to the secret to his long life? “The secret is to find something you are really interested in that you want to achieve,” Mr. Myers said. “It isn’t just something you love or something you like to do. It has to be a goal that is difficult and meaningful. It has to be one you are not going to achieve completely a year from now or five years from now. It has to be 15 years further on, and then you’ll keep yourself in shape and remain sharp.”

Mr. Myers really lives the dream he is selling. After 63 years in show business, most surprising is his complete lack of cynicism. “It isn’t because of personality or outlook or anything like that,” he said. “It’s because that’s the way it has added up for me. I’ve had a wonderful time. People have treated me great. They’ve given me wonderful opportunities. I’ve had two fine wives, good health and wherever I go in Southern California people are dreamers, and they are glad that other people have dreams and want to help them achieve them.”