MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – The first-ever museum exhibition about a publicist, honoring the celebrity-studded life and career of a promotional genius who was nationally recognized and admired, runs June 19 through September 16 at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU. Titled Charlie Cinnamon: Legendary Press Agent, the exhibition focuses on the life of a publicist who was revered not only by the news media but also art patrons, cultural institutions and headline-makers from the worlds of entertainment, politics and business.
The exhibition features more than 100 historic items curated from Cinnamon’s personal archives, from his childhood growing up in the Bronx during the 1920s, all the way through the year of his passing, 2016. Photos and ephemera span the more than 60 years that Cinnamon reigned as the country’s most beloved press agent for America’s leading arts organizations and national public affairs campaigns for major institutions and companies. He was singularly respected by several generations of journalists for his honesty and integrity, from the time he started working in the 1940s until his recent passing. While today’s frenetic social media stream and the “fake news” phenomenon turn the news industry upside down, Cinnamon’s straightforward brand of public relations hearkens back to a time when a handshake and a gentleman’s agreement meant so much more.
Cinnamon worked until the age of 94. He presented his last press conference shortly before his death, promoting a national tour for Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal. For 60+ years, he was coveted as a news promoter by the world’s biggest stars, including: Elizabeth Taylor, Johnny Carson, Tallulah Bankhead, Milton Berle, Carol Channing, Ethel Merman, Chita Rivera, Lauren Bacall, Liza Minelli, Eartha Kitt, Hugh Hefner, Princess Caroline of Monaco, Julio Iglesias, Rita Moreno and many more. He was tapped to lead national public affairs campaigns for some of the world’s leading cultural organizations and commercial enterprises, including: the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts and its National YoungArts Foundation, the national campaign to bring the NBA franchise Miami Heat team to Florida, the launch of Carnival Cruise Lines, the New World Symphony, Broadway Across America, and Miami City Ballet.
“Each year the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU chooses an icon from the community to honor with an exhibition, celebrating their contributions to national culture and the arts,” said Susan Gladstone, the Executive Director of the museum. “Charlie Cinnamon was the ultimate star-maker who transformed our part of the world into a star. We are recognizing the lessons his story offers for today’s generations about the importance of crafting your profession with warmheartedness, virtue, and character (plus lots of fun, glitz, and razzle-dazzle in the mix too). There is a famous saying on Miami Beach: ‘Everyone has a Charlie story,’ because he helped so many people and cultural institutions for more than six decades. He was beloved as a news-maker during the entertainment industry’s glamorous history.”
The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU created this new exhibition, curated by Jacqueline Goldstein. The items are on loan from the Cinnamon family, and from Broadway producer and director Richard Jay-Alexander and photojournalist Manny Hernandez. Both men were Cinnamon’s friends and colleagues for decades, and consider him a major influence on their lives and careers. They helped to preserve Cinnamon’s memorabilia and were the ones who spearheaded this tribute by approaching the museum to help make the exhibition possible. They are also working with the museum team to help organize a VIP opening reception. The invitation-only preview is for the museum’s benefactors, exhibition sponsors, community leaders/patrons of the arts, and close friends and family of Charlie Cinnamon.
Visitors to the museum will get to experience a treasure trove of never-before-seen items from Cinnamon’s personal collection, like walking through a time capsule with a behind-the-scenes look at the history of show business, the theater, and the evolution of arts and culture both in the state of Florida and nationwide. This treasure trove features a series of newspaper articles that demonstrate how much journalists respected and admired Cinnamon — a rarity in the world of publicists at the time.
It was very uncommon for newspapers to publish stories extolling the contributions of PR reps, yet this exhibition features several full-page profiles praising the legendary press agent:
- In one of these stories found in the archives, Zev Buffman (the theatrical impresario who hired Charlie Cinnamon for 26 years), is quoted as saying: “He was more than a press agent – he was an institution. From the first day we met, there was never the option of our never working together again. In fact, the thought of not working with him was terrifying*.” Buffman is a celebrated Broadway producer who won a New York Drama Critics’ award for best producer of a musical. He was nominated for 29 Tony awards, helped launch the careers of dozens of A-list actors, and is the co-founding General Partner of the NBA Champion Basketball team the Miami Heat. (*Buffman’s quote is from The Miami News, February 12, 1982, written by Ian Glass)
- Another item from the exhibition features accolades from Toby Lerner Ansin, the arts leader who founded the Miami City Ballet. When the Fine Arts of Beth David brought Andy Warhol to Miami Beach in 1981 for a lecture, Ansin turned to Charlie Cinnamon for advice about their Warhol press conference. “The advice he gave me as a public relations person was to always tell the truth to the newspapers, to be utterly knowledgeable and know all the facts*,” said Ansin. (*Ansin’s quote is from The Miami News, February 12, 1982, written by Ian Glass)
- The philanthropist Rhoda Levitt, who once shared office space with Charlie, is quoted in the exhibition’s archives as having the perfect name for a Broadway show about his life: “Everybody Loves Charlie*.” (*Levitt’s quote is from The Miami Herald, September 2, 2000, written by Christine Dolen. The quote in the first paragraph, “The Grand Sage of Publicity, for whom all of life had been a stage,” is also from Christine Dolen’s story.)
Cinnamon insisted on being called a “press agent,” using the old-fashioned but direct sense of the term. Press agents served as a crucial link between celebrities and the public, and the strong working relationships that Cinnamon had with these famous entertainers was paramount. We now live in a time when everyone clamors for their 15 minutes of fame via self-promotion on social media every day. But back then, the public relied on news editors for information about entertainment, celebrities, and the arts.
Charlie is quoted in one of these newly discovered archival items as saying: “I gave many a star their star.”
“Our society related differently to the news media and journalists back then. Before the Internet, social media, and the 24-hour news cycle, glamour and celebrities were rare and hardly accessible,” said Susan Gladstone.
Cinnamon was renowned for being loyal and had a reputation for being selfless, with impeccable charm and social skills. Many of the people he took under his wing went on to become leaders in the national arena. In one of the items on display, Cinnamon is quoted as saying: “You always gotta put something back in the pot.”
“Ours is a history museum, and Charlie Cinnamon was the history-making equivalent for arts and culture of Florida pioneers Henry Flagler and Julia Tuttle,” Gladstone added.
BACKGROUND: EXCERPTS FROM THE MUSEUM EXHIBITION:
The quotes below attributed to Charlie Cinnamon are from his personal notes in the exhibition’s archives.
- Cinnamon was the youngest of eight children born to an Orthodox Jewish family in the Bronx, where he attended the school PS 48.
- He served in General Patton’s Third Army and helped to liberate a concentration camp during World War II. On the G.I. Bill, he studied journalism at New York University.
- His first job in New York after attending NYU was helping William de Lys launch Theater de Lys in Greenwich Village in the 1950s, when Off-Broadway was just coming of age.
- Cinnamon moved down to Miami Beach in the 1950s to work for publicist Helen Baum, promoting hotels, nightclubs and trade shows. His first job on Miami Beach was for $25 a week as the publicist for the Empress Hotel. “I came down to Miami Beach from New York, and immediately activated the entire town, including Coconut Grove,” notes Cinnamon in one of his hand-written archival letters. “I was the kid from the Bronx who became godfather to the entire town.”
- In the mid-1950s, Cinnamon was married to Anita Edelstein, an advertising executive who lived in New York. They divorced after two years. This is one of the previously unknown surprises that the museum team discovered during the creation of this exhibition, because Cinnamon was gay. Coconut Grove lore recounts how Cinnamon hosted private “record album listening parties” (code for secret gatherings for LGBT people who had no safe public spaces in which to socialize during that time in history). Charlie would send out invitations to his gay friends, coded as, “Come hear the new album by Ella,” and they knew a grand night was awaiting them all.
- A review that Cinnamon wrote in 1956 for the Empress Hotel newsletter led to his start in the theater world. When local critics slaughtered the American premiere in Miami of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, Cinnamon took them on in writing. He was appalled by the reaction of these reporters, and urged audiences to give the play a chance. The Playhouse was so grateful for Charlie’s defense of the avant-garde play that they reprinted his review in the city’s two daily newspapers. This led to Cinnamon being hired by the Playhouse as a press agent for the arts, and his career would never be the same (nor would Miami’s cultural trajectory).
- Zev Buffman would later take over the Coconut Grove Playhouse in the 1960s, and Cinnamon’s 26-year working relationship with the theater guru took off. Buffman would also spearhead theatrical tours in Florida and all over the country, leading the Parker Playhouse, Miami Beach’s Theater of the Performing Arts, Palm Beach’s Royal Poinciana, plus theaters in Orlando, St. Petersburg, Tampa, New Orleans, Jacksonville and Norfolk – all with Cinnamon at the helm of public relations. Charlie publicized more than 100 national tours and over 40 Broadway shows for Buffman. Cinnamon’s glamorous, opening-night cast parties were lavish affairs where socialites could mingle with the celebrities they saw on stage. These events became his trademark.
- His promotional creativity was inspirational. In 1963, one of his most famous public relations ideas led to the creation of the Coconut Grove Arts Festival. Cinnamon recreated the Parisian street scene from the play Irma La Douce, turning the avenues leading up to the theater into a makeshift Left Bank artists’ market to promote the upcoming show. He called on the local artists in Coconut Grove to display their artworks on a series of clotheslines, like in the play. Now recognized worldwide as one of the country’s pre-eminent art festivals, the Coconut Grove Arts Festival is celebrating its 55th year. The “little clothesline arts fair” that Cinnamon hatched as a promotional stunt has grown into one of the largest outdoor arts festivals in the nation with more than 120,000 attending each year.
- When the City of Miami Beach launched its very own “Walk of the Stars” in 1984, the mayor and commissioners unanimously chose Charlie Cinnamon to be inducted as the first honoree with the inaugural star in his name.
- In 1988, Cinnamon brought Elizabeth Taylor to Miami Beach for the first Community Alliance Against AIDS fundraiser at the Fontainebleau that raised $2.5 million for AIDS research. At the time, this was the largest amount ever raised in the U.S. in a single night at a fundraiser for charity.
- He spearheaded publicity for Judy Drucker’s Concert Association of Greater Miami. This included the internationally televised live concert by Luciano Pavarotti on the sands of Miami Beach, right in front of the ocean, to hundreds of thousands of fans (one of the largest operatic concerts ever produced). A sea of humanity extended as far as the eye could see on South Beach, as the massive audiences eagerly awaited the tenor’s arrival. Just before the concert, Cinnamon and Drucker rushed to the tenor’s bedside because he was nervous and had gorged on seventeen pounds of cherries all day, not feeling well. Cinnamon brought along a physician, and miraculously cajoled Pavarotti onto the stage. Once again, like so many other times during the 60 years of his stellar career, Charlie Cinnamon saved the day.
ABOUT THE MUSEUM:
The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU serves as a major cultural attraction and source of information for a wide audience of residents, tourists, students and scholars of all ages and backgrounds from throughout the state, nation, and the world. Located in a former synagogue that housed Miami Beach’s first Jewish congregation, the museum’s restored 1936 Art Deco building and 1929 original synagogue are both on the National Register of Historic Places. The 301 building features nearly 80 stained glass windows, a copper dome, marble bimah and many Art Deco features including chandeliers and sconces. The Jewish Museum of Florida is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed on Mondays and holidays. Admission: Adults $6; Seniors $5; Families $12; Members and children under 6 always free; Saturdays-Free. For more information, please call 305-786-972-3175 or visit jmof.fiu.edu.