Remembering Ronni Chasen: my reflections on a one-of-a-kind publicist
I don’t remember the first time I met Ronni Chasen--it would have been sometime after I moved from New York to Los Angeles to become Billboard’s West Coast Bureau Chief in 1998--but I do know that once she was in my professional life, she was a near constant figure...until Tuesday, when her life came to a devastatingly horrible end after someone fired five bullets into her chest on Sunset Blvd.
Ronni was unlike anyone I’d ever met. She seemed almost like a caricature -- a Broadway Danny Rose of the press world. She was a throwback to what seemed like an earlier time. In a world that now relies on email, she was an old-school press agent whose assistant placed her calls. She pushed relentlessly for her clients, primarily soundtrack composers in my case, and believed in them with an unwavering passion and commitment. She’d come at you--in her rapid fire, nasally voice-- pummeling you with a pitch, but she never held a grudge if you said no. She never wanted to burn a bridge since she knew she’d be crossing it again with another request very soon.
She seemingly knew everyone. Shortly after I’d moved to Los Angeles, she invited me to the “Message in a Bottle” premiere. We were at the after party and I mentioned I had a huge crush on Kevin Costner, who starred in the film. Before I could even make sure I still had lipstick on, she’d marched us both over to Costner. He greeted her with a big hug, and the next thing I knew, she’d introduced us and I stammering out something about how much “Bull Durham” was one of my all-time favorite movies. She was a fixture at industry events with her dark pants suits, shellacked ash-blonde hair always perfectly in place, and tinted glasses.
Even though her pitches often left me exhausted, they were always well-informed, and I was tremendously fond of Chasen and found her more endearing than annoying for several reasons. Ronni and her team, including Jeff Sanderson and Alana Kass--were among the most professional publicists I ever worked with. I cannot think of a single time that they pitched me on a story and, if I bit, they did not deliver. Ever. Additionally, in a way that few publicists are these days, Ronni was a tremendous advocate for her clients. She was always looking for ways to shoehorn them into stories if she couldn’t land a stand-alone feature on them. She was relentless. If I was on deadline and didn’t pick up her phone call, within the half hour, there would be an email from her, usually dictated to an assistant, explaining the reason for the call. And then another call. One of the few times she ever got irritated with me is when I went directly to one of her clients for an interview. I got a quick call reminding me that she represented the studio executive. I never went around her again. Unlike with many publicists who act solely as gatekeepers, there was no need to circumvent Ronni.
There’s another reason I’ll always remember Ronni fondly: After I left Billboard in 2006, she was one of the few publicists who pursued me as vigorously to pitch stories--and to invite me to events--as when I was still at the magazine. She bet on the person, not the position, and as my freelance world expanded, I never forgot the faith she’d shown in me. Our last story together through her company--a feature on Trent Reznor and his score for “The Social Network” --comes out today, Nov. 17, in Variety.
I also occasionally socialized with Ronni. She, I and two other female friends--a platinum recording artist and a manager with amazing bloodlines-- would go out for dinner. The reason I mention the other women’s pedigrees, is that even with their illustrious backgrounds, Chasen’s stories topped everyone’s and we loved every minute of it and happily relinquished the floor. She’d forget about pitching and for a few hours, we’d gab and gossip. Every subject was on the table and off the record. We talked about everything and her ribald, acerbic sense of humor had us in stitches. I never left one of those dinners without a huge smile on my face and would be chuckling for days afterwards as I’d recall some outrageous story. Ronni had a great book in her that will now never be told. It’s the dinners I will miss the most.