Obituary: Army Archerd, 87, Hollywood Columnist for More Than 50 Years

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 10, 2009

Army Archerd, a columnist who became a Hollywood institution by reporting the inside scoop on movie stars and the film industry, and whose countless exclusives included the first story that actor Rock Hudson was dying of AIDS, died Sept. 8 at age 87. He had mesothelioma, a form of cancer often associated with asbestos.

Mr. Archerd wrote a column for Daily Variety, the trade newspaper of the film world, for more than 50 years and became one of the most respected figures in Hollywood. Without a secretary or other assistants, he cultivated generations of celebrities and studio executives for his daily reports chronicling the inner workings of the film business.

His editor at Variety, Peter Bart, once described Mr. Archerd's column as "one part community bulletin board, one part community conscience, one part cheering section."

He was one of the last "three-dot" columnists, stringing together observations and news nuggets separated by three-dot ellipses. He interviewed Humphrey Bogart on his deathbed, told the world that young Liza Minnelli had chickenpox and was the first journalist to report that ladies' man Warren Beatty was finally taking a bride, actress Annette Bening. He got his exclusive, Mr. Archerd said, from Beatty himself.

For 47 years, Mr. Archerd was the official greeter at the Academy Awards, interviewing stars as they strolled down the red carpet. He was also co-host of the "People's Choice" awards shows and an early TV broadcaster of Hollywood news, and he helped launch some of the first game shows with celebrity guests.

But Mr. Archerd always considered himself an old-fashioned newspaperman who relied on shoe leather and four telephone lines to gather his stories. He was meticulous in verifying information -- his editor once said Mr. Archerd knew the phone number of every hospital nurse's station in Los Angeles -- and disliked being called a "gossip columnist."

"Please!" he told the Los Angeles Times in 1991. "I'm not a gossip. Don't call me that. I'm a news columnist."

The most significant scoop of his career, he said, came July 23, 1985, when he revealed that Hudson was being treated for AIDS, the first time the disease had been linked with a major Hollywood celebrity.

"The whispering campaign on Rock Hudson can and should stop," Mr. Archerd wrote. "He has flown to Paris for further help. . . . His illness was no secret to close Hollywood friends, but its true nature was divulged to very, very few."

Hudson, who died in October 1985, had never admitted his homosexuality in public. His publicists were furious and demanded that the story be retracted. But Mr. Archerd, who had seen Hudson's medical records, stood by his reporting and was soon vindicated.

"It turned out to be the most important Hollywood story of all time, really," Mr. Archerd told the Los Angeles Times in 1993, "because it created a sensitivity . . . an international concern about the most horrible plague that has ever hit the world."

Mr. Archerd usually wrote with a light touch, but on occasion he dipped his pen in acid. In 1999, he protested the presentation of an honorary Oscar to director Elia Kazan, who had named Hollywood colleagues to the House Un-American Activities Committee investigating Communist influence in the 1950s.

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