Legendary Oscar Publicist’s Legacy Includes ‘The Murray Rule’

Murray Weissman was 90.

GangsofNewYorkPosterAt the very end of Mike BarnesTHR obituary for Murray Weissman, a USC journalism grad who went on to essentially invent the craft of Oscar whispering PR, there is mention of a minor professional blemish. Weissman died Monday at age 90, just a few days after his birthday.

In 2003, under the guise of promoting Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, Weissman put words into Academy Award-winning director Robert Wise’s mouth, penning a column that was published under Wise’s name in the Los Angeles Daily News and Long Beach Press-Telegram, and then reprinted as an ad in trade publications. From an L.A. Times report in March 2003 by John Horn:

Millicent Wise, Robert’s wife, said her husband did not alter “one word” of Weissman’s text. “It’s exactly the same as what they wrote,” she said.

Wise said Thursday that a friend named Michael Thomas had helped him draft the story. Both Thomas and Millicent Wise said Friday that Thomas had nothing to do with the article’s creation. Wise did not comment on the matter.

Weissman said he was acting on Miramax’s behalf when he initially contacted the 88-year-old Wise to see whether the Oscar-winning director of West Side Story and The Sound of Music – who also is a former Academy president — was interested in rebutting criticisms of Gangs of New York. Weissman asked Wise whether he would write an opinion column supporting Scorsese, and Wise said he would, according to Weissman. But Wise didn’t write any of it.

Call it a hazard of the Oscar PR trade. As a result of this episode, AMPAS added a rule preventing its members from being quoted in Oscar campaign ads. Weissman in his late years jokingly referred to that change as “The Murray Rule.”