Writers at Variety Ask: Will Sale End Freewheeling Era?

Times Staff Writer

Variety’s pending sale to a giant British publishing concern will end a family’s four-generation reign over the best-known publication in show business, but employees initially expressed surprise, rather than alarm, over the news.

“I don’t think there’s any panic,” said Art Murphy, who has been writing for Variety since 1964. But another employee said there is some staff apprehension over whether the freewheeling news operation will change.

“It’s a quaint place to work. Everything here is very personal,” the second employee explained.


The sale--for undisclosed terms to Cahners Publishing Co., a Massachusetts-based subsidiary of Reed International PLC--is being characterized as a merger by Syd Silverman, Variety’s 55-year-old editor and publisher.

In an interview Tuesday, Silverman said the proposed sale reflects no lack of confidence in his three children, who now hold management positions at New York-based Variety and its Hollywood companion, Daily Variety. The family members are expected to continue with the company, Silverman said, and he noted that he will have a five-year employment contract with an option to renew for another five years.

Marie Saxon Silverman, 32, and Michael Silverman, 30, both work in Los Angeles, while Michael’s twin brother Mark works in New York. A younger brother, Mathew, is in college. According to some newsroom staffers, Silverman’s children are respected and liked.

Syd Silverman said he views the merger as an opportunity for his sons and daughter, and for the family publications, because Cahners has “resources . . . the family could never provide.”

Variety was founded in 1905 by Sime Silverman with a loan of $2,500 from his father-in-law, according to family lore, after he’d quit another newspaper over an editor’s orders to change a vaudeville review to placate an advertiser.

“I’m not sure that’s all 100% accurate,” his grandson, Syd Silverman, said Tuesday. But certain facts are not in dispute. The founder died in 1933, barely a month after he launched Daily Variety in Hollywood. The second generation had a shorter tenure, with Sid Silverman’s lingering illness and death in 1950.


As evidence of the staff’s continuity, Silverman noted that Daily Variety has had just three editors in 54 years. Asked how such loyalty is engendered, he replied, “I think because we leave people alone. We don’t tell them what to write. It’s a reporter’s paper.”

Variety’s best-known idiosyncrasy is its glossary. “Great” may be “boffo,” or “k.o.” for knock-out.

The slang required less ink, as Variety’s Murphy points out. “It was partly dictated by economic concerns . . . (and) to come up with something that would differentiate the paper,” he said.

Less known is the fact that staffers still receive a paltry $7.50 for a movie review, believed to be the rate paid back in 1905, one employee said. The employee estimated, however, that reporters’ salaries range from $450 to $750 per week.