The city recently lost one of the greatest public relations professionals in the country when Molly Smyth passed away on March 2. She was the ultimate public relations professional, working for more than 40 years with the media, theatre and all types of businesses.
Molly’s journey into this very special field sprung from her sincere love of people. From Mineola, Texas, she was blessed with a warm, outgoing personality that served her well throughout her lifetime. In Dallas, she attended Hockaday and later Southern Methodist University, where she pledged the Tri Delta sorority and studied theology and journalism. Her showbiz career started here when she hosted a top 10 music show similar to Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. Even then, she possessed an incredibly adventurous spirit, reflected in her favorite hobby, flying. For many years, she was a pilot, aviation enthusiast and occasional sky diver.
It was during this time that Molly embraced the Civil Rights Movement actively by joining the Road to Freedom Bus and marching with Martin Lther King Jr. Her eldest son, Gene Bartholomew proudly recalls her academic years when she was a protégé of the Objectivist Movement started by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden. “They were friends of the family,” Gene says. Molly’s younger son, Harry Branden Bartholomew, was actually named for the prominent philosopher.
When Molly moved to Houston in 1964, she continued her career in television with KPRC Channel 2, working in publicity and marketing. These skills and her unwavering generosity of spirit led her to befriend and mentor many Houston media personalities and publicists, such as Cissy Segall, Dayna Steele, Toni Navarre and Lanny Griffith.
When she became a publicist with PACE, now Clear Channel Entertainment, she primarily promoted motor sports and concerts. Soon Molly’s job assignment evolved into promoting PACE theatrical productions, as well as promoting many other national touring shows, including the first touring company of “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” in 1978.
During the ’70s, Molly was a 20th Century Fox press representative for such movies as, The Omen, The Rose and Silverstreak. Her son Harry fondly recalls her stories of Studio 54 each time she went on press junkets to New York. It was there that she met many of the celebrities who remained friends throughout the years. Later, Molly and her late husband, publicist Art Katzen owned the Windmill Dinner Theatre where, again, she was surrounded by celebrities.
Molly truly loved the people she worked with, luminaries of yesterday and today, such as Jack Benny, Ginger Rogers, Tom Jones, Milton Berle and members of the Rat Pack. While the list of stars and celebrities she worked with is lengthy, a few were exceptionally important to her, such as Carol Channing, Phyllis Diller, Tommy Tune, Sammy Davis Jr., Jaston Williams and Joe Sears. Marie Osmond demonstrated her admiration for Molly by creating a “Molly Doll” to include in her famous doll collection.
The following quotes tell the story:
Tommy Tune: “Oh, Molly Smyth! What a great dame she was – always up, surrounded by an aura of fun and damned good at her job! I will remember her in silk dresses, perfumed and laughing. Always laughing!”
Marie Osmond: “I first met my dear friend, Molly, when she was doing national PR for our Sound of Music tour, and I knew right away that she was an absolutely darling woman, full of love, warmth and compassion. Her professionalism, talent, creativity and incredible ability to solve problems quickly earned her the accolades of her peers and a highly deserved reputation as one of the country’s top public relations executives. She’ll always be close to my heart, and I’ll miss her dearly; but I know we’ll see her again, feel her love and enjoy that cute sense of humor that endeared her to all of us.”
Clint Black: “We were fortunate to know Molly and have some of that wonderful spirit shine on us, and her spirit will never stop shining. We love you, Molly, and we’ll be seeing you at the next big benefit!”
Lisa Hartman Black: “I knew Molly as one of Mom’s closest friends. With her kind heart and generosity, she was a great influence on the Houston community. We love you, Molly!”
Jonni Hartman Rogers: “I met Molly in 1969 and knew instantly we would be friends forever. Opening shows across the country for PACE Management gained Molly national recognition. As a Hollywood publicist, when our company had celebrity clients, we called upon the capable and loving hands of Molly to take care of them during their Houston stint. Between her visits to L.A. and my visits to Houston, we shared and built loving memories. Houston’s loss is heaven’s gain. I love you, Molly!”
Ray Rogers of Bojangles fame: “I was fortunate enough to partake of Molly’s PR genius when I opened Backstage in Houston. I was even more fortunate to get to know the beauty in her soul by seeing her through the eyes of my dear wife, Jonni. Everyone loved Molly, including me!”
Jaston Williams of Greater Tuna: “I would agree to take on press assignments for Molly that I wouldn’t have considered for other press agents, partly due to her impeccable standards and work ethics, but even more so because she cared about your health, your problems and your life.”
Dave Ward, news anchor ABC 13: “Molly and I go back 35 years or so. She was from Mineola, and my parents were there. Every time she called me, which was all the time, she would say, “This is your Mineola buddy.” Then, she’d proceed to tell me what she wanted me to do, either emcee something or another, cut a ribbon somewhere, open a grocery store. Whatever, she knew I’d do anything for her. I can’t count how many times I burned my fingers at Benihana’s Restaurant at her Escape Center fundraiser. She really hit a home run when she started that event. Molly was a home-run hitter.”
Kim Nordt Jackson, program director
ABC 13: “Molly was a dear friend of ABC 13 and played a key role in many of our local productions. Once a television producer herself, Molly’s incredible, creative vision, tireless passion for the entertainment industry and unconditional love of people has been an inspiration to all of us. Like so many others, I consider myself fortunate to not only work side-by-side with Molly but to be blessed with her friendship.”
Brian Becker, chairman/CEO Clear Channel Entertainment: “Molly was that rare individual who was equally loved by her friends and business associates alike. Her influence reached well beyond Houston, since she had such close relationships with creative people in the arts across the U.S. She was a true pioneer – a successful woman in a dynamic industry, a working mother and an innovator. She gave me my first job, taught me by counsel and example, always looked out for my family and me, and I will always remember her for her humor, compassion, enthusiasm and friendship.”
Allen Becker, founder PACE: “What a doll – a major force in building PACE Theatrical in the early days.”
Marvin Zindler, ABC 13: “Molly was the sweetest person and extremely thoughtful of her clients. She will be sorely missed.”
Kari Short, Short Communications: “Most people are fortunate to have a few close friends – the kind who can love you unconditionally, laugh with you until you cry, raise your spirits when they are low, simply sit with you in quite reflection, or even raise a little hell. Molly was that kind of friend, not to a few, but to many. She had an uncanny ability to place you on center stage, to make you feel on top of the world. She understood what people needed, when they needed it. Be it mother, sister, mentor, friend or confidant, she would fill that role.”
Joan Schnitzer, philanthropist who worked with Molly on the Celebrity Chef Escape Benefit for more than 20 years: “Molly was a very special lady who did special things with her life and in the process made everyone feel special!”
Scott Evans, “The Social Book” editor: “I got to know Molly when I was organizing musicians and performers to produce the Voices for Life CD to raise funds for HIV research. She was immensely helpful. I grew to love her more than I can say.”
Dayna Steele Justis. radio/television:
“Molly was so vibrant, so alive, so positive. She gave me so much. I know I could never have achieved the things I did without her. She even managed to have Jason Williams and Joe Sears, in the middle of a Greater Tuna performance, propose to me for my husband. She was at the birth of both my children. She was the queen of public relations and marketing, but she was also the queen of loyalty and friendship. There is a hole in my life without her.”
Cissy Segall Davis, Publicity Specialties:
“Molly was one of the most positive persons I’ve ever met. No matter what the situation, she had a smile on her face and her arms open wide to embrace the world. She epitomized the famous line from the Broadway musical “Mame,” “Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.” Molly enjoyed the banquet and absolutely lived life to its fullest. She knew what being a friend meant: She listened, counseled wisely and championed your causes. She was a nurturer – that earth mother that everyone needs. Her home was always open to anyone who needed a safe haven. Being a press agent and dealing with personalities may sound glamorous, but it isn’t. Molly put up with more ego maniacal stars and producers than anyone will ever know! But, she endured their harangues with grace and patience. She knew how to coddle those egos; she was a master at it! She will be missed by all of us who loved her.”
Mark Hanna, Customer First: “When I came here in 1985 as Arts & Entertainment Editor for the Houston Post, Molly was one of the first public relations people I worked with. She set a standard of professionalism that was rare for anyone in any occupation; but beyond that, she made it all fun. A decade later, I was out of a job, trying to create my own business, and Molly was the first to offer help. What a friend she became! Even as much as I treasured all she was, I never really understood how full she had made life for all of us around her. At least not until being forced all too soon to witness how empty the world is without her.”
Sylvia Froman, actress who worked in Molly’s office for seven years: “Molly had the ability to have those she worked with absolutely adore her. She taught me how to handle celebrities. Whether it was Jerry Lewis or Ann-Margaret, they felt secure with Molly. When a photographer got on a ladder to get a shot of Carol Channing, Molly jumped up saying, ‘No, No, no. No shots of Ms. Channing from above!’ Once she sent me to San Antonio to open “Lend Me a Tenor.” The press conference with cast members was called for 2:00. Time came and went: 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 no cast. Finally, the call came telling me that the actors were stuck on a runway in Atlanta with no hope of making the 8:00 curtain that night with 1,500 seats sold. I called Molly, who proceeded to get all the television stations to lead with “Lend Me a Show.” It worked! Molly was remarkably resourceful and creative; more importantly, she had an innate goodness about her that was extraordinary.”
Ann Hodges, retired television editor and critic of the Houston Chronicle: “In her 41 years in business in Houston, she opened more Broadway road shows around the country than many Broadway impresarios can boast of – 50, by last count. And for years, as a board member of the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers, she cast her vote in Broadway’s annual Tony Awards. Molly was my friend, and I loved her for many reasons: her consummate professionalism in business, her wisdom and her wonderful sense of humor, her remarkable courage through a long and truly terrible illness, her luminous spirit and her enormous generosity. To her friends, she was unfailingly thoughtful and always there to help when help was needed. Her gifts were great, and she had great respect for the gifts of others. She dealt with all kinds of clients, including top artists, actors and Broadway queens; and she treated them all equally. She was respectful of talent and celebrity, but she was never awed. To Molly, everyone was a star. God bless her.” And, on a personal note, my friendship with Molly began when she brought celebrity guests to “The Warner Roberts Show” on Channel 26 throughout much of the ’80s. I knew I could count on her to arrive at the station on time with the appointed guest. She worked with me when I did the “Famous Texans” series for KHOU, Channel 11 in 1995. We were together in Austin when I interviewed Sen. Kay Baily Hutchison, Liz Carpenter and Cactus Pryor. She and Liz were friends and had on many occasions “Howled at the Moon” together. She helped produce some of the other shows in the series: Aaron Spelling, Clint Black, Lisa Hartman Black, Jaclyn Smith, Barbara Jordan, Mac Davis, Debbie Reynolds, Nolan Ryan and others. Again, she was by my side when I started “The Social Book” in 1996.
I admired her for being such a wonderful mother and for trying to help everyone in any way that she possibly could. Her contributions were varied, and I can’t list the multitude of charities, causes and individuals who benefited from her open-hearted generosity. Her favorite event and her creation, the Celebrity Chef Benefit at Benihana’s Restaurant for the Escape Family Resource Center, celebrated 24 years in April 2005. She served as a board of directors for the Escape Center, the Houston Chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and the late Chris Wilson’s Studio 7.
How very grateful I am for the years we spent as great friends, confidants and soul sisters. As I wrote in her obituary, “Now Molly is bringing Broadway to Heaven.”
Thank you, Kari Short for this most fitting quotation from the Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, 20th century Syrian-born mystic, poet, philosopher and artist, “And ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”