Catherine Deneuve's is the seduction Lloyd Kolmer is proudest of looking back. She was a virgin - Madison Avenue parlance for never having endorsed anything in her life - and Kolmer was still a talent agent at Willaim Morris when he got the assignment: Find the most beautiful French woman in the world to promote Chanel.
Kolmer immediately thought of Deneuve, but her agent was dead set against it, didn't even want to approach Deneuve on it, felt it was beneath her dignity, felt she was too big a star.
But Kolmer, as he tells it had $100,000 for three, 30-second TV spots - and this was eight years ago, yet - and he felt promoting a glamour product like Chanel would help Deneuve rather than hurt her.
To prove his point he took the agent down to 55th and Madson and asked a dozen people who Deneuve was. Recalling it now. Kolmer laughs, "Nobody knew who the hell she was. I said to the agent, this commercial can put her in 60 million homes . . . That convinced him and we went to her and there was no problem."
Kolmer, on the other hand, dosen't know that kind of fear. Give the right deal and as he says, "With a million bucks I'm not ashamed to talk with Henry Kissinger."
Why not? That's his job, and lately it's become a booming one.
Kolmer is a celebrity headhunter, a New York City talent agent who tracks down big-name game for advertising endoresements. Working out of his Manhattan apartment, armed with only his "Loves ya How's m'man," Beverly Hills show-biz patter and his speedy dial finger this phone bill is $1,200 a month; he bagged some of the biggest stars in the business. At 47, he's got 18 years as a hotshot agent with William Morris behind him, seven with his own firm, Lloyd Kolmer Enterprises. ANd even if you've never heard of Kolmer, you've seen his trophies on TV.
Kolmer is the man who convinced Edward G. Robinson, who like Deneuve had never endorsed, to peddle Wilkinson blades: the agent who, with his Hollywood connections ("I just called up my old friend Sue Mengers") was able to wrap up the Candy Bergen Cie package in two hours.
He's partnered John Newcombe with Canon camera, brought in David Niven and Bill Russell for Black and White Scotch, Bing Crosby for Lazy-Boy Chairs, Muhammad Ali for Gino's. America's Cup winner Ted Turner's adviser called to asked him to keep an eye out for endorsements for Turner. And on Madison Avenue, they still talk about how Kolmer enticed virgin Marcel Marceau to do a Xerox commercial (Kolmer told Marceau it would win him a Cleo, which it did), and brought Marceau's price from a quarter of a million down to $25,000 as well.
The greater part of Kolmer's headhunter status, as a matter of fact, rests on his ability to entice virgin talent to do ads, virgins being more valuable because they have greater credibility. And his rare middleman operation (comedian Marty Ingels runs a similar one on the West Coast) has so impressed ad agencies that half a dozen now keep him on retainer (at $2,500 a month each).
Why would ad agencies - many of which have their own casting departments - hire a middleman to bring in talent?
Going through a celebrity's own agent, the ad agency risks paying a highly inflated fee, since the star's agent, after all, gets 10 per cent. And star fees, though they may be as low as a few thousand dollars, can be monumental; Gregory Peck reportedly got $1 million for his Travelers' Insurance spot, Robert Blake a rumored $400,000 for STP, and Farrah Fawcett-Majors may have set the all-time record with a multi-million-dollar licensing deal with Faberge, which created a new line under her name.
Kolmer, on the other hand, charges a flat $2,500 per celebrity, no matter how huge the deal, so he has no stake in pushing up the price. (And, with a fee under $25,000, he takes no more than 10 per cent).
Also, with his 25 years in the business, Kolmer knows how to reach people.
As Lois Korey, creative head of New York's Needham. Harper and Steers agency, put it, "With people like Henry Fonda and Gregory Peck, who are kind of the untouchables, starting to do ads, there's been an enormous boom in the celebrity endorsement business in the past five years. All of a sudden, everybody who got a second lead in a TV series is asking $150,000. So somebody like Llyod can be terribly helpful. Also, the actors trust him. He doesn't do a hard sell. If he thinks the commercisl will help them, he tells them."
How does Kolmer work?
Operating as usual out of his apartment, Kolmer takes time out from his non-stop phone to discuss his technique. A man whose style is more LA (though he's never lived there) than Madison Avenue, he wears French blue jeans, powder-blue socks under sandals and a baby-blue T-shirt with the name of his firm across his chest. There is reggae music on his expensive sound systems his toy poodle, Bitsy, is at his feet. His apartment, with its rolling chrome and glass bar, has pictures of his ex-wife on one wall, poems of love and friendship - including one by Kolmer - on another and autographed photos of celebrities on a third.
It is clear, as he talks, that he thrives on his show-business connections; his wall of photos, his collection of unlisted phone numbers, the "really beautiful" letter he has received from Kirk Douglas' son saying that when Dad is ready to do business, he'll let Kolmer know. But Kolmer also stresses that he is in business as a representative to the advertiser, not the star.
"I'm a theatrical talent consultant for the advertising industry," says Kolmer, sounding like a man with a mission. "That's a $45-billion industry that spends millions on talent. My jobs is to get the best deal I can for the advertiser. When I worked for William Morris, 80 per cent of the deals I had to necgotiate fell through because I was representing these actors and had to quote blue-sky figures."
He created his middleman business seven years ago, he explains, to keep these deals from falling through. Even so, he says, with endorsements more acceptable now than 10 years ago, prices these days are soaring.
"It used to be, for a superstar, $100,000 was top price," he says. "Now it's a million bucks."
Kolmer himself has negotiated some of those million-dollar deals. Bergen's step-deal with Cie, over a five-year period, could bring her $2 million. Kolmer also went after Carol Burnett a while back, with a $1 million offer from Jello, which she declined. ("I'm not sure I want to be Jello girl," said Carol. "Jack Benny was the Jello boy for years," said Kolmer, ever well informed."Did it hurt him?"
Still, he has his ideas of what's right, and lately those ideas have been violatied.
"John Wayne, for Datril, gets $425,000, and then you hear that Coburn, for Schlitz, got half a million," he says, indignantly, "which if it's true is an enormous ripoff. I mean, is James Coburn worth more than the Duke?"
He also insists that thought celebrities feed they should get more money with each commercial, he feels that the star's credibility suffers with too many endorsements, and that the fee should go down. As for why a star would agree to endorse a product, his answer is brief: "There's only one reason - money."
He also explains the value of celebrity endorsements.
"A name actor is great, because they have instant recognition. Like maybe if that French lady, Brigitte Bardot, comes on television, you won't go to the bathroom when she's on. Also, it's an old advertising expression: 'If you don't have something good, get somebody good to say it."
Kolmer's idea of an effective commercial includes a "hook" - a connection between product and spokesperson. And that hook may be the celebrity's real or theatrical personality, like Robert Young (as Marcus Welby) for Sanka.
But if the hook is so important, what then is the connection between Peter Lawford and Manischewitz, a team Kolmer masterminded?
"I haven't the foggiest," growls Kolmer, in a rare burst of irritability. "It was a case where the client came to me with the name. If they asked me for my opinion, I'd tell them it stinks and I wouldn't submit him for peanut butter. But it's not my job to pick them, it's my job to buy them. If they ask me I'll tell them, otherwise I don't give a damn."
Kolmer adds that when he suggests a celebrity for a commercial, he does not do so on the basis of any market survey, which some ad agencies do employ, but rather on his own informal surveys of the star's effectiveness, which includes follow-ups of previous commercials. The price and image of the star are also important.
"A client comes to me, the first thing I need to know is the demographics; age range, amount of money per talent and image of the talent in terms of the product - like, do they want an Al Pacino, not that we could get Al Pacino, but in terms of type. I have 11,000 people on file broken down into categories that includes every phase of the entertainment and performance industry, actors, artists, politicians. Then within that you have the type; like they might want macho. Which would be like Warren Beatty, Clint Eastwood, James Caan, Redford or Newman, or they could want earthy mancho, which could ve Yul Brenner, Bronson, McQueen . . ."
Do the celebrities have to use the products they endorse?
"All the time, under FTC regulations," says Kolmer, "or at least, they have to sign a testimonial saying they do. If it's an endorsement, that is. If the guy is just acting as spokesman, they lost commercials because people didn't like the product: James Beard turned down a food processor once."
Does he have any products he refuses to touch?
"I don't go to people with ads about dentures and toilet-bowl cleaners," he says. "I think they're distasteful products. You don't put a star in the bathroom on the toilet, and don't go into their mouths to see if their teeth are real. Let some unknown do that."
Kolmer, the son of New York clothier, once aspired to an acting career, but "I was really very shy," he says. "Yeah, no kidding . . . I wanted to be an actor, but I was afraid to do it for myself. I wanted somebody to do it for me, to be discovered like Lana Turner while I was sitting in a drug store or on a park bench." It didn't happen, and he seized instead on talent scouting.
Now Kolmer tells his assistant he's ready to take calls. He works one phone while she handles another. Listening to him, its easy to see why he's a success: His conversation, sprinkled with that loving LA slang, if fast, upbeat, concise and informed, and it's apparent why his phone bills are high. He's proud of the bills, proud that he tracks John Wayne to the Mojave Desert. David Niven to Switzerland. "Maybe you get a no that way, but you get it from the horse's mouth."
In 30 minitues time, he takes a call from former Knicks coach Red Holtzman, who wonders if the $2,000 for a Prince cigar ad is high enough, gets word that Billie Jean King will endorse Puerto Rican Rum and virgin Glen Campbell will not promote kentucky Fried Chicken, and confirms Bill Cullen for the World Amateur Backgammon Championship.
He calls the agency that's handling the Trib, the not-yet-publishing new New York daily, and tells them they can forget Neil Simon and Betty Furness for the print endorsement, that he's still checking with Cavett and Schwarzenegger.
"For $10,000 we're running into a little trouble, though I have a thought. I do know this guy who's a dead ringer for Humphrey Bogart, though I guess you can't have a dead man endorsing a newspaper, can you?" he says.
He also has a call from a new client, an ad agency representing parker Brothers, who needs a comedian to promote a new game.
Kolmer checks their demographics (kids), their spot (30 seconds TV), their budget ($25,000).
Then he pulls out his comedian list and runs down in alphabetical order.
"Let's see, we've got Steve Allen, he's a nice light sell and not that expensive; David Brenner, but he's expensive, he's had enourmous TV exposure and you don't have a whole lot of money so we'll to avoid the Milton Berles and people like that; Shelly Berman, no: Victor Borge, $25,000, maybe less; Jim Backus, $25,000 or less; Jack Carter, could be even less; I may be a little high than low so I don't louse you up with your client.
?Rodney Dangerfield I can get for $10,000: Phil Foster, $20,000; Buddy Hackett, too expensive; George Jessell, way too high . . ."
He rattles off a dozen more male comedians before suggesting women.
Imogene Coco, $25,000; Dodie Goodman, no, she's old, but look at Dorothy Loudon, she's been in the business for years, and she's just become a star. No, huh? Well, how about Nipsy Russell - can they be black? - I can't get Foster Brooks, Mike Nichols won't David Frye is too esxpensive. Don Rickels, too, Phyllis Diller might take a chance with you, but that's a little over your cost, $50,000, she might take $35,000, though she's not worth more than $25,000 . . Well, you could try David Brenner if you had a little more money . . . A young one? There's that guy from Saturday Night with the prematurely gray hair . . . Yeah, Steve Martin, we might get him for $25,000. You like Martin? Okay, check with your people and get back."
Free for a moment from real clients, Kolmer takes time to fantasize aloud about deals that would do him proud.
The virgin he dreams most of seducing these days - next to Walter Cronkite, who won't be able to endorse anything until he gets off the air - is, of course, Jacqueline Onassis. "It couldn't be for five years yet," he says, and with Fawcett getting millions, "for Jackie it would have to be at least that. And it couldn't be a product, you can't have her in a bathroom holding up a tube of toothpaste, it would have to be an institution, or something like ecology, or keeping the country clean, or Xerox, a seat on the board of directors of Xerox . . ."
And the other virgins on his list?
He runs down them and lists them, his eyes shining, until the reporter asks him to stop. "Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Ryan O'Neal, Liza Minnelli, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Liz Taylor, Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston . . . It would be nice to have Moses doing acommercial, huh?" he says.