Reminiscing with Dixon Gayer

"Vaughn was one of the nicest and kindest clients with whom I had the privilege to work in my many years in the theatrical profession." Dixon Gayer, January 2003

I recently had the pleasure of corresponding with Vaughn Monroe's former publicity agent, Dixon Gayer. I had asked Mr. Gayer numerous questions about 'the business' and his association with Vaughn, which he very graciously answered for me, and gave me permission to share with you, our sustaining members.

C: What exactly is a publicity agent?

D: Because people believe in what they read in newspapers and magazines (and what they hear on the electronic media), entertainers realized their stature as "stars" increased every time their name appeared in print or on the air, so they hired "publicists," "press agents," "pr people" and people who "do publicity." Our job was to see that their publics were constantly aware of whatever they did.

Because newspaper columnists were read so widely, it was my job, for instance, to see that the major columnists of the day (Walter Winchell {tops}, Ed Sullivan {2nd}, Dorothy Kilgallen, Ben Gross, Earl Wilson, Nick Kenny, etc.) wrote items about my clients, Vaughn included. It was a tricky job. We (publicists) wrote items that would appear in these columns, as if they had been written by the columnists, themselves. If Vaughn had a new record out, I would try to convince Walter Winchell to give it an "orchid," which was Winchell's column term for something he recommended. What the publicists would do is gather interesting items for each column, mail them out, and if our items were good enough, the columnist would string together items from the many major publicists and we would find our clients' names in the columns.

We (publicists) wrote press books for our clients. A press book was a booklet we sent to local newspapers containing stories about Vaughn, for instance, that we sent to newspapers in cities where the band was booked to perform. For instance, if Vaughn was scheduled to appear in Des Moines, we sent a press book to the Des Moines Register, containing cooking tips supposedly written by Mrs. Monroe, biographies of Vaughn and the girl singer or the featured instrumentalist, etc.

When Vaughn had a new hot record "There I've Said it Again," "Racing with the Moon," etc., we visited the major disc jockeys and radio station music librarians and producers to urge them to play the record and make it a hit.

We tried to create new ideas to promote the clients. I have had my clients appear in comic strips, on charity programs, and I had one client (Cab Calloway) give away his entire band as a prize on a network quiz show for a one-night performance, free, anywhere in the United States.

Well, I believe you get the idea.

C: What do you mean by "do publicity"?

D: Nobody before has ever asked what I mean by the phrase, "I did publicity for Vaughn Monroe," yet that would always be my answer for the way in which I worked with my clients. To answer that question you need to know that there are slight differences in that work terminology. In my terminology, then:

A press agent tries to get his or her client's name in the paper, in magazines, on radio or TV—wherever and however. Even "negative" press is sometimes acceptable.

A publicist does the same thing, but probably considerably more. He/she does everything a press agent does, but with greater respect and concern for the client. He/she is very conscious of being sure that everything is handled tastefully and with the clients' best interests at heart. No scandal, no negative mentions, much more concern for the client's wellbeing. Be sure the client's name is mentioned often and everywhere possible, to be sure, but never with a negative image.

A public relations person is more concerned with protecting the client's reputation and wellbeing than either a publicist or a press agent. The pr person may well turn down a campaign that will put the client's name in the paper for many days if there is a possibility that a part of the public will think negatively about the client because of the story. One thinks of a pr person more in the realm of commercial accounts. How can Atlantic Richfield gasoline company, for instance, change its name to ARCO gracefully? How can Martha Stewart keep her reputation as a social guru when she is being investigated for stock fraud? etc.

C: Were you responsible for any of Vaughn's movie and TV appearances?

D: No, we did not get Vaughn movie or TV spots. TV was really in its infancy during our time working together.

C: When and how did you and Vaughn first meet?

D: I don't recall how Vaughn first hired me. I believe his manager (not Jack Marshard—can't recall his name) knew of my work with other bands and hired me. The most extensive connection I had with the band was when Vaughn and Jack Marshard opened The Meadows, their big club in Framingham, Mass.  I was sent from New York to Boston to handle the press. As I recall Vaughn and the band opened the place.

C: How often did you see your clients?

D: How often did I see my clients? Often every day when they were in New York. We constantly had radio interviews, press interviews, magazine session. I practically lived with many of them in order to fit it all in. Vaughn was different, however. You didn't get in the way of his personal life. Nevertheless, I spent a lot of time with him.

C: Would you relate some specifics about your work with Vaughn?

D: As for being more specific about my work with Vaughn. Let me be honest and say he was a delightful person, but a difficult client in many ways, principally, I believe, because he really wanted to be a classical singer and he thought of himself in that way. This is my opinion only, and not based on fact, but rather on observation. He was more "formal" than my other clients. Let's face it, he was VERY formal. I once set up a story about him in Seventeen magazine. One of their editors interviewed Vaughn and, afterwards, said to me, "I can't do the story; he's not interesting. He's dull." I thought that over and told her, "The kids don't think he's dull, especially the girls. Why don't you finds a seventeen year old high school journalism student—a girl—and have her interview Vaughn for Seventeen?" She found a girl, the girl was thrilled, Vaughn was interviewed and the story ran in the next issue of Seventeen.

Perhaps this additional small observation will give you a hint as to his personality: Vaughn was the only entertainment client I ever had who lived in a very posh apartment on Park Avenue.

Submitted by: Claire Schwartz