An Eventful Life

Career brought man in touch with the great and near-great

The Mirror folded in 1963. But, says Strassberg, "It was expected. One of the typographical union strikes had affected the Mirror, then in competition with the New York Daily News. So I already had started my own public relations business more than six months before. . . . I let the executive editor know about my starting the business and told him that none of my clients would show up anywhere in the entertainment section."

The PR business led Strassberg, in the late '60s, into show business management -- he handled pop acts Little Anthony and the Imperials as well as the Chiffons. But by the end of the '60s, Strassberg and Little Anthony had amicably parted, and he was looking for a change of life. He and his wife threw the I Ching, and that was that.

He ended up at the Republic, a considerably less heady setting than the Mirror. "They didn't let me review Last Tango in Paris, 'cause it was X-rated," he says, with a marveling laugh. "They wouldn't accept advertising from X-rated movies, either. When I did my Top 10 list that year, I put it on my second list, of movies from 11 to 20. I buried it there, but I got it in."

Phil Strassberg
Phil Strassberg

He worked for the Republic until the mid-'70s. While covering the Arizona location shoot of Guns of a Stranger, a dreadful 1973 singing-cowboy Western starring Marty Robbins, he was even drafted into service as an actor. Seen as a shopkeeper in that film, with long black hair and a vaguely Fu Manchu mustache and beard, Strassberg looks more like a guy who'd throw the I Ching and get stoned with hippies in Taos.

"The guy who directed put his girlfriend in the movie, as the leading lady," he recalls. "She was terrible; she couldn't act. The kicker of the story is, she later became the mistress of the guy from the Philippines who got kicked out." He's referring to the pretty but acting-challenged Dovie Beams, who attained a very brief microcelebrity as the Other Woman in the life of Ferdinand Marcos.

Strassberg even took a spin on the other coast, spending two years in the late '70s with a PR firm in L.A. working with the likes of Gabe Kaplan, Diahann Carroll and even (reverent pause) Sinatra himself.

Unenchanted by L.A., however, Strassberg returned to the Valley. With another wife, he became a father for the first time in 1981, when he was in his 50s. When the marriage ended, he won custody of the two-and-a-half-year-old, and has been faced with the challenges of raising a teenager, as a single parent, during the period when most people are watching their own children do so. His now-19-year-old son Aaron, Strassberg says proudly, is currently working 40 hours a week and pulling down A's and B's at Paradise Valley Community College.

Our plates are empty. The fortune cookies have been cracked open to make their grandiose promises. I walk Strassberg to his car. His next adventure is coming up fast, and he's got errands to run -- he's preparing to drive to New Orleans in a few days for Mardi Gras, then to take a riverboat ride up the Mississippi. He's just now getting around to it.

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