Ex-Hollywood columnist was a bestselling author
Joe Hyams, a former Hollywood columnist and bestselling author of books ranging from biographies of Humphrey Bogart and James Dean to a popular tome on Eastern philosophy, has died. He was 85.
Hyams, a longtime Los Angeles resident who moved to Penrose, Colo., three years ago, died of coronary artery disease Saturday at a Denver hospital, said his wife of 14 years, Melissa.
A former West Coast bureau chief for the New York Herald Tribune who once was married to actress Elke Sommer, Hyams covered Hollywood as a syndicated columnist from 1951 to 1964. He then continued chronicling Hollywood for the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, Redbook and other magazines for several more years.
“He was a Hollywood insider,” movie producer David Permut, a longtime friend, told The Times on Tuesday. “Everybody knew Joe, and he knew everybody. He was a great wit, a great guy.”
The author of more than 25 books, Hyams tapped his insider status in many of them, including the biographies “Bogie” (1966), “Bogart & Bacall: A Love Story” (1975) and “James Dean: Little Boy Lost” (1992), written with his son Jay.
He also wrote the Hollywood-set novels “The Pool” and “Murder at the Academy Awards.”
Among his other books are “Flight of the Avenger: George Bush at War” (1991) and, with Tom Murton, the 1969 nonfiction book “Accomplices to the Crime: The Arkansas Prison Scandal,” on which “Brubaker,” the 1980 movie starring Robert Redford, was based.
As an author, Hyams also worked in the 1980s with Chuck Norris on Norris’ “The Secret of Inner Strength: My Story” and with President Reagan’s son Michael on his “Michael Reagan: On the Outside Looking In.”
Besides his reputation as a Hollywood chronicler, Hyams also was known as an icon in the martial arts community.
Hyams, who studied martial arts for more than 50 years, was the author of the 1979 book “Zen In the Martial Arts.”
Melissa Hyams said the slim book “isn’t really about martial arts. It’s about life and philosophy, and how to turn a negative into a positive, how to defuse a situation by the way you handle it. That’s what he’ll most be remembered for.”
Hyams was born Sept. 6, 1923, in Cambridge, Mass. Reared in Brookline, Mass., he was attending Harvard University when he enlisted in the Army in 1942. While serving in the South Pacific, he received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star and later covered the war as a field correspondent for the Stars and Stripes newspaper.
After the war, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at New York University and went to work for the New York Herald Tribune.
As Hyams wrote in his 1973 autobiography “Mislaid in Hollywood,” his career covering the movie capital began in 1951 when the Herald Tribune sent him west to do an article on illegal immigrants.
As recounted by his wife Tuesday, Hyams was dropped off in Mexico by the pilot of a small airplane and made the border crossing himself with a group of illegal immigrants.
After he completed the story, his editor in New York told him that a room had been arranged for him at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
“Take a break,” he was told, “and if you get a chance to interview any movie stars, go for it.”
Hyams was sitting by the hotel pool smoking his pipe when he began chatting with a gentleman who asked him what he was doing in Los Angeles.
After explaining that his editor wanted him to interview movie stars, the man said, “How would you like to interview Humphrey Bogart?”
The man was Bogart’s press agent, and the next day he took Hyams to Bogart’s home.
The tough-guy actor was behind the bar when Hyams walked in.
“What’ll you have to drink?” Bogart asked him.
‘I’ll have a Coke,” Hyams said.
“The bar’s open,” Bogart said. “What will you have to drink?”
Hyams repeated that he’d have a Coke.
Leveling his gaze on Hyams, Bogart said, “I don’t trust a journalist who doesn’t drink, or a man who has more hair on his head than I do.”
At that, Hyams pocketed his notepad and started walking toward the door.
“Where are you going?” Bogart said.
“Mr. Bogart, I have two things to tell you,” Hyams said. “I don’t drink, and a newborn baby has more hair on his head than you do.”
To which Bogart said, “Get back here, kid. I like you.”
By the end of the week, Melissa Hyams said, “Joe had interviewed Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra. And the newspaper [editor] said, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re moving out there.’ ”
During his years in Hollywood, she said, “Joe made many, many friendships. He always considered Bogie to be his mentor there and the person responsible for giving him the opportunity to become what he was.”
In addition to Melissa, his fourth wife, Hyams is survived by sons Jay and Chris; daughters Beverly Hyams and Dianne Byrne; stepdaughters Charisse Older and Kara Connor; and five grandchildren.
Instead of flowers, donations may be made in Hyams’ name to Guide Dogs of America.
Hyams photo gallery
Photographs of Joe Hyams and the movie stars he covered as a Hollywood columnist during the 1950s and ‘60s are on The Times’ website.