Honoring Lloyd Kolmer (1930-2019)

Silver gelatin photograph: Lloyd Kolmer, c. early 1960s. Courtesy The Kolmer family and Margo Mayor. Image subject to copyright laws.

Lloyd Kolmer, who carved a name for himself as a pioneer of celebrity endorsed advertising, climbed the entertainment industry ladder at an early age during the 1950s and ‘60s.

A native New Yorker, Kolmer was the son of William and Birdie Kolmer and attended Kohut School for Boys in Harrison, New York. Upon graduating high school, he served in the U.S. Navy in the China Sea at the onset of the Korean War.

Following two years in the military, he attended Syracuse University and worked at Kolmer-Marcus, an upscale haberdashery on Broadway in the Garment District that his father co-founded. Regardless of the security that a career in the family menswear business may have promised, Kolmer dreamt of a life in show business and so he set out on his own.

He started to realize his vision in the mailroom at William Morris Agency in New York City at the age of 23. It was in the mailroom that Kolmer took on secretarial tasks to all the agency’s executives. From there he was promoted to a position working for George Woods. It was under Woods’ mentorship that Kolmer became close to one of the infamous agent’s biggest clients.

Silver gelatin photograph: Sailors Lloyd Kolmer (right) and friend, c. 1949/50. Courtesy The Kolmer Family & Margo Mayor. Image subject to copyright laws.

As secretary and Jr. Agent to Woods, Kolmer formed a kinship with Frank Sinatra often acting as Sinatra’s secretary by way of Woods. This was during the nightclub era when Sinatra was a returning favorite at The Copacabana club among many other venues across the US and overseas. Kolmer would always remember the crooner fondly, siting Sinatra’s generosity and humor, remaining a life-long friend and fan to the entertainer.

At William Morris he continued to hone his skills and soon enough moved up to agent status in the Television Department where he booked talent on network shows, as well as programming on local affiliates. Kolmer stated in a manuscript he drafted in recent years, “In this period there were approximately 35 live and taped TV shows at the three networks plus syndicated programs. 7 to 10 Variety shows; 4 to 6 Panel shows and many dramatic programs. My job was to book WMA clients on these shows.  It was great work for me for approximately 7 years.  Then I started to get bored..”

Eventually Kolmer opened the agency’s Commercial Department, signing well-known actors and celebrities to commercial products. He had a way with the pitch that made him a stand-out. Actors and their agents listened and trusted his sense of what would work.

Magazine advertisement for William Morris Agency: Lloyd Kolmer (far left) appears in ad with coworkers, c. 1960s. Courtesy The Kolmer Family & Margo Mayor. Image subject to copyright laws.

Deals Kolmer brokered include, Catherine Deneuve for Chanel, Marcel Marceau for Xerox, Milton Berle for Goodrich tires, Victor Borge for AT&T, Edward G. Robinson for Wilkinson blades and even Dr. Joyce Brothers’ mother for Mueller macaroni.

In a 1979 Commericals Monthly article, he recalled his breakthrough. “I made the very first overscale deal that was ever made in commercials.” He stated. “It was Barbara Britton for Revlon in 1957.”

Celebrity endorsement was a new concept at the time. The common attitude toward product advertising by actors was that it would sink one’s career. Actors considered themselves artists, not pitchmen or sales women, and pawning goods would under value them at the box office.

Agency policy for any incoming offers was to submit them to the artist’s contact first, but due to the outlook toward commercial work, more often than not offers were never transmitted to the actors or they were explained by their representation with a negative slant.

Kolmer paved the way in making this type of work acceptable and actually sought after by actors, removing the stigma the business often associated with a singular actor selling a product, outside of television show sponsorship, such as “Colgate Comedy Hour” or the like. “In the 1960s most actors were reluctant to do them.” Kolmer stated in a 1975 interview with the New York Times.

Catherine Deneuve in Chanel ad, c. late 1960s. Source, Google image search. Image subject to copyright laws.

Catherine Deneuve’s agent was unreceptive to the idea of his client appearing in a commercial and thought it would hurt Deneuve’s career, but Kolmer was dogged. Convincing the agent to join him on the streets of New York, the men randomly stopped pedestrians in midtown, asking if they knew who Catherine Deneuve was. No one recognized the actress by name. Kolmer made his point. “Commercials bring actors into millions of households.” he said. Kolmer also contacted the actress directly. They met at her hotel where he explained how Chanel was a perfect match for her and its product would enhance her image. Deneuve’s foray into the promotion of couture was secured. Deneuve and Chanel enjoyed a long and successful relationship. It was this kind of creative hard labor he became known for within the field.

William Morris Agency, considered to be the first great talent agency in show business, represented much of Hollywood during its over 100 years of history. To become an agent under its banner was no small feat, but Kolmer had his eye on an even bigger prize.

In his manuscript he describes his experience with the agency, “My superiors were very pleased with my abilities in the TV area and gave me the go-ahead to form this new department, combined with becoming head of the entire Commercial Department. It was very successful but again after several years, I became bored. The reason was that I could not deal with all the bureaucracy… I decided at that time to leave William Morris Agency (May 1971) and form my own company. My departure was very amicable and I was wished well by all at the agency.”

Newspaper clipping: Lloyd Kolmer Enterprises & celebrity endorsements, including Marcel Marceau for Xerox, c. 1970s. Courtesy The Kolmer Family & Margo Mayor. Image subject to copyright laws.

After 18 years at William Morris Agency, Lloyd Kolmer Enterprises, LLC was formed. With his one-man business, Kolmer didn’t represent any one actor, athlete or any entertainer, but instead became an intermediary between the agent and the adman and he preferred it that way. He knew how to roll up his sleeves and make deals happen, but in this new role he made his own rules, which created a path for the future of advertising.

Boasting a Rolodex of over 7,000 names and contact information for actors and their representation, Kolmer had immediate access to just about anyone. When the famous mime, Marcel Marceau’s agent quoted a price too high for Xerox’s ad agency’s budget, Kolmer came to the rescue. Stating in a 1977 Wall Street Journal interview, “I located Marceau at the Park Lane Hotel in New York City and went right over there…. I told Marceau, ‘I’m not talking about soap suds or toilet tissue. This is an incredibly prestigious corporation called Xerox. It’s a 90-second commercial that will be seen by 60 million people.’” This coup resulted in a Clio award, Madison Avenue’s highest accolade.

Kolmer wore many hats in this arena. He often acted as a casting director when Mad Men searched for a certain face. Kolmer would flip through his Rolodexes of actors, comedians, cartoonists, astronauts, spots figures, political analysts and others. He could see opportunities and tie-ins where others couldn’t and wasn’t afraid to confront a challenge. These characteristics proved a formula for success.

Rolodex brand paper file cards & rotating device: Lloyd Kolmer’s Rolodexes, c. early 1960s – 1990s. Files cards open to Esther Williams & Marlon Brando. Courtesy The Kolmer Family & Margo Mayor. Image subject to copyright laws.

Marjorie Wallace, the former Miss Indiana and Miss USA lost the Miss World title in 1973 after refusing to accept the beauty pageant’s requirement that contestants be accompanied on dates by arranged chaperones, claiming it an archaic policy.

Marjorie Wallace in Wella advertisement, c. early 1980s. Source, Google image search. Image subject to copyright laws.

The immediate aftermath of this stance brought criticism against Wallace, but Kolmer recognized the possibilities. He contacted Wallace who in turn became the face for Ultra Brite toothpaste, Wella Professionals hair corporation among other products.

Kolmer leveraged the storm, telling the press that Wallace’s position shames those who thought she should be forced to be chaperoned. Wallace eventually became one of the first hosts of the popular TV magazine show, Entertainment Tonight.

Kolmer was the first to forecast the use of computer databases as encyclopedic references for entertainers and the industry, helping to marry celebrities with products through a tech-based platform. Computer on Media Personalities and Celebrity Talent (COMPACT) was a ground-breaking use of technology, which Kolmer spearheaded in 1979. The system developed an interface with user generated content capabilities, pre-IMDb, allowing actors and other show business professionals to enter their own credits and awards to their “profiles”. Ad agencies and other related businesses could access COMPACT through a subscription fee.

Color photographic print: Lloyd Kolmer & Margo Mayor celebrating Margo’s birthday at Estiatorio Milos on 55th Street, New York City, c. 2016/17. Courtesy Margo Mayor. Image subject to copyright laws.

Many will never know Kolmer’s impact, even those within the field, as so much of what he developed is taken for granted as common place in the business today. Dancer and model, Margo Mayor, Kolmer’s girlfriend for the past 20 years, said that despite his incredible success, he was often dismissive about all his accomplishments and the personal relationships he maintained with so many show business greats.

Mayor stated, “Lloyd didn’t say a lot about what he did or who he knew. He was very modest and always wanted to know more about what other people were doing. He was smart and funny, and incredibly gracious.”

Lloyd Kolmer was an avid sports fan and loved listening to his favorite performer and friend, Frank Sinatra. He was a life-long New Yorker.

*Please let us know about any suggested edits or fact corrections. We care about accuracy. Contact us through the John Hemmer Archive Credits page.

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Kirsten

Kirsten is a documentarian and archivist influenced by interests in mid-century political and cultural history, non-fiction filmmaking and the preservation of personal heritage and cinema art legacies.