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Outpouring of grief for Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen, killed in Beverly Hills attack

November 16, 2010 |  1:42 pm

As word spread through the entertainment industry that veteran Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen was killed in a fatal shooting early Tuesday morning, friends and colleagues immediately responded with an outpouring of grief and tributes.

Here are some:

Husband-and-wife producers Richard and Lili Zanuck said they considered Chasen a close friend as well as their longtime publicist. She worked with Richard Zanuck on every film he's produced since 1982, beginning with "The Verdict."

"I'm devastated by this," said Zanuck, who talked to her Monday and was in the midst of working with her on Disney's Oscar campaign for his movie "Alice In Wonderland." "I've always admired her work ethic. Her hours were hideous and she organized and went to all those functions we all dread."

It was the publicist's work on their 1989 Best Picture Oscar-winner "Driving Miss Daisy" that was on Lili Zanuck's mind when she and her husband learned of Chasen's death early Tuesday morning.

"We thanked her when we won the Golden Globe and the Oscar from the bottom of our hearts," Lili Zanuck said, recalling how Chasen tried tirelessly to interest the press in covering the story. "She found a girl at the New York Times and talked her into doing a story about plays that became movies. She parlayed that New York Times piece into generating interest in the film. There were no screeners at the time and she screened the movie very early on for opinion makers in New York. It was handled brilliantly by Ronnie every step of the way."

New client Bonnie Arnold, producer of the animated blockbuster "How To Train Your Dragon," described Chasen as "a tough businesswoman" who was also "like a cream puff."

The two spent a weekend together this summer at the Telluride Film Festival. "She knew I was going alone, so she went with me just to have some fun. I told her it's like going to 'movie camp.' She came prepared on the plane ride with a half-dozen sandwiches — like a great Jewish mother," Arnold said.

Although Arnold had known Chasen for many years, she did not become a client until recently: "She'd always say to me, 'Bonnie, you need to do more to promote yourself.' She was a real character, fun to be with and told great Hollywood stories."

Veteran Hollywood producer-director Irwin Winkler, whose credits include "Raging Bull," "Rocky" and "Goodfellas," was a client of Chasen's for 30 years and considered her a close friend.

"She was part of our family and would come to our Seder every Passover," Winkler said. "Even though she came for 20 years, she'd always call the week before to make sure and say, 'So, I'm coming Tuesday night, right?'"

Winkler said the two spoke every couple of days.

"She always wanted to know what was new, what items she could promote," Winkler said. "She was always pushing her people. She was pushy in the best sense. If I was down, she brought me up. If I was up, she'd make me higher. And, she'd get furious if someone offended one of her people."

When Winkler's 2004 movie "De-Lovely," a screen biography of composer Cole Porter, did not get nominated for a Golden Globe, the director said Chasen did not take it sitting down.

"She was furious," he said. "She screamed and yelled at [members] the Hollywood Foreign Press," the group which puts on the annual awards show.

Kathie Berlin, a New York-based independent publicist, described her longtime friend as an "unrelenting" publicist who sometimes drove people crazy.

"But on the other hand, if there was a stray dog, she would take it in," Berlin said. "If someone was sick, she was at the bedside. She was the most generous with her time and her expertise.... All I can say is that it was either a carjacking or a misdirected hit. There isn't a soul in the world that would kill Ronni Chasen."

Randall Wallace, director of "Secretariat," said he was supposed to meet with Chasen Tuesday afternoon to discuss efforts to promote his film about the Triple Crown winner and explore a possible Oscar campaign.

"It's such a shock and a sad thing to have something like this happen. For such a sweet woman to pass violently is especially sad," Wallace said. "I'm comforted by how many people share in the sadness. Everybody I've talked to has been so sad."

Wallace, who said he doesn't typically retain public relations counsel, hired Chasen because of her deep Hollywood connections.

"There were people who were newer in the business and have reputations as being hipper, but what I loved about Ronni is not just that she knew everyone, but everyone knew and liked her," Wallace said. "To be in a room with Ronni is to see people smile when she came up to introduce you, rather than wince."

-- Claudia Eller, Dawn Chmielewski and Susan King


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