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BellaOnline's Classic Film Editor


Remembering Esme Chandlee

Guest Author - Amber Grey

In the history of Hollywood, there will always be that first woman who broke the glass ceiling and set the standard for generations of women in her field. Oscar-winning writer Frances Marion, Hattie McDaniel, studio design chief Edith Head, staff photographer Ruth Harriet Louise, even today with Kathryn Bigelow being the first female director to win an Oscar. The same can be said for Esme Chandlee considered one of the first, if not the first, woman to lead the way for women in Public Relations for Hollywood's top stars.

Born Barbara Esme Ward, Chandlee's mother owned a string of well-known bookshops in the Los Angeles area in which the studios would utilize as a way of looking into properties or books to turn into film adaptations. One of her most successful investments was for "Gone With The Wind" by Margaret Mitchell. Meanwhile, her step-father was an actor contracted under MGM Studios.

When America entered World War II, Chandlee worked for the Navy as a civilian, using her secretarial skills for secret documents. Although she wanted to continue working in the Navy, as the war came to a close, Chandlee was discharged. Her mother had made a few phone calls, getting in touch with Edith Farrell of the script department for MGM Studios. They needed someone to run the fan mail department and Chandlee took it. Her hard work paid off, as Farrell recommended her as a production secretary for the legendary David O. Selzick. But Chandlee rejected the opportunity because of Selznick's expected early hours at the studio. Instead, she took a job with Howard Strickland, working closely with billings and advertising which she credited later for helping her with clients.

Once she became a part of the studio's publicity department, Chandlee represented a handful of Hollywood's icons - Clark Gable, Katherine Hepburn, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, James Stewart, Spencer Tracy, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Leslie Caron and Lionel Barrymore - to name a few.

On Clark Gable's last day with MGM Studios, Chandlee had asked if he needed anything. He responded with, "I want to ride off the lot quietly with you in the car." When Chandlee made her own departure from MGM, she brought Gable with her as a client when she joined the PR firm, Cleary, Strauss and Irvin as an associate in 1958.

Three years later, Chandlee would start her own production company aptly named, Esmee Chandlee Public Relations. Her first clients included John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands. She would later represent Tom Selleck and Sam Elliot. Chandlee had taken a down-on-his-luck Selleck under her wing when she saw his talent and good looks. She represented him until her retirement in 2007.

During her career, Chandlee served as the president of the Hollywood Women's Press Club and the Publicists Guild. In 1984, she received the guild's highest honor, the Les Mason Award.

In her 2001 interview for Archive of American TV, when asked what was her advice to aspiring publicists, Chandlee responded with, "Try to do your job under whatever conditions. If you don't like the conditions, as they say, get out."
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