Robert Myron Zarem, lovingly known as Bobby or “BZ,” has died. He was a world-renowned publicist and the architect of countless media campaigns from New York to Hollywood and around the globe. Zarem passed away on September 26, 2021 surrounded by family and friends in his beloved hometown of Savannah, Georgia.
Bobby Zarem is best known for creating the “I Love New York” campaign, the most successful and iconic endeavor in public relations history.
In his storied career, which spanned the Golden Age of Hollywood and the rise of the Internet, Bobby represented countless talents of stage, screen, and song, along the way befriending Kirk Douglas, Jack Nicholson, Diana Ross, Michael and Shakira Caine, Al Pacino, Mick Jagger, Catherine Denueve, Jane Fonda, Christy Turlington, James Franco, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, George Segal, and Gregory Peck. In 1976, following a soul food supper for Stevie Wonder at the Del Monoco Hotel’s ballroom, The New York Times and Newsweek bestowed Bobby with the title, “Super Flack.”
Zarem was influential in helping turn films such as Pumping Iron, Saturday Night Fever, Scarface, Rambo, Dances with Wolves, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and The China Syndrome into cultural phenomena, and the breadth of his powerful friends and media professionals he trusted helped drive innumerable creative connections over the decades.
Among notable highlights: Ever the tastemaker, Zarem threw one of the most unique and talked-about parties in New York City history—a black-tie event in the 57th Street subway to celebrate the release of the film version of The Who’s Tommy. He oversaw The Hard Rock Cafe’s rise to international renown. Bobby was also known for his table-hopping nights at Elaine’s on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and it was here that he introduced Mia Farrow to Woody Allen. In 1978, Donald Trump said that Zarem was responsible for every cent he had ever made after Manhattan property values tripled in the six months after the launch of the “I Love New York” campaign. Bobby wielded broad influence in the world of politics as well. He worked intimately with the Clintons, and at the end of 1976 election season he saved Jimmy Carter’s Presidential campaign by preventing Jack Anderson from going on “Good Morning America” with false rumors.
A deep love for Savannah was a constant theme throughout Zarem’s life. He helped turn Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil into an international best-seller. He co-founded the Free Southern Theater, and to support its efforts, he convinced Ava Gardner to chair a historic dinner in the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria. He developed the Savannah Film Festival as one of the “one of the top five most important film festivals in the Western hemisphere,” according to the Los Angeles Times. In 2013, the Festival honored him with a lifetime achievement award in the same theater where he had watched movies as a boy (with the entire audience wearing hats that said, “I ♥ BZ”).
In his youth, Zarem would write to his favorite Hollywood stars. Later, he became famous for long, handwritten pitch letters. And PR was personal for Bobby. He loved his work and was selective about the people and projects he represented, employing passion and great charm and sharp humor on their behalf, or, alternately (and often in the same phone call) profanity and withering invective in their defense. His many feuds were the stuff of legend, but he was always a starstruck kid at heart.
Zarem had been a batboy at Savannah’s Grayson Stadium during exhibition games featuring Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams. He loved sports, and baseball in particular, and he was later proud to count greats such as Keith Hernandez, Tom Glavine, Roger Clemens, Ryne Sandberg, Andy Van Slyke, and Will Clark among close friends. He even made an uncredited appearance in Bull Durham, in which he plays a third base coach who congratulates Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) after a home run.
In addition to Bull Durham, Bobby appeared on screen as himself in an episode of “Law & Order” (“Tabloid,” Season 8, Episode 23) and in films such as Kettle of Fish and Sweet Liberty. He was honored to have been the real-life inspiration for the press agent played by Al Pacino in the film People I Know, written by Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Dan Algrant.
Bobby Zarem was born on September 30, 1936 at the Telfair Hospital in Savannah to parents Harry Aaron Zarem and Rose Gold Zarem. He was preceded in death by the brothers he so admired. Jack Daniel (Danny) Zarem was a legendary men’s fashion retailer. Harvey Alan Zarem, a pioneering plastic and reconstructive surgeon, was widely known as the “Dean of Plastic Surgery.” Bobby followed Danny and Harvey to Phillips Academy Andover and Yale University (Class of 1958). He was a veteran of the Air National Guard. Zarem is survived by his sister-in-law, Elizabeth (Beth) McCaughey Zarem, and by his six nieces and nephews (and their spouses): Harold (Hal) Aaron Zarem, Allison Elizabeth Zarem, Melissa Emily Zarem, Kathryn Rose Zarem, Michael (Mikey) John Zarem, and Robert (Robbie) Everett Zarem, by seven great-nieces and nephews, and by his many dear friends in New York, Savannah, and around the world.
The funeral service will be held at 2 o’clock Friday afternoon, October 1, 2021, at the graveside, Bonaventure Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Motion Picture & Television Fund, which provides healthcare and other charitable services to retired members of the entertainment community. Please send remembrances to: MPTF, The Wasserman Campus, 23388 Mulholland Drive, Woodland Hills, California California 91364-2733 (https://mptf.com/donate/).
The family would also like to thank Hospice Savannah and Carolyn Milton and her remarkable staff at Handle with Loving Care.