Home NEWS Science Syd Silverman, 85, Who Kept Variety Boffo for 30 Years, Is Dead

Syd Silverman, 85, Who Kept Variety Boffo for 30 Years, Is Dead

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Sime Silverman founded the weekly version of Variety on a shoestring in 1905. He began Daily Variety in 1933, shortly before he died and was eulogized as the “oracle of show business, the sworn foe of grammar, and the man who never let anyone pay a check.”


The first issue of Variety in 1905.

“Iniside ‘Variety:’ The Story of the Bible of Show Business (1905-1987)” by Peter Besas

Sime wielded a thick black pencil that split infinitives, popularized inventive adjectives and nouns (hoofer, chantoosies, warblers, kidvid, boffo) and turned other nouns into verbs (authored, readied, helmed). Variety was a pioneer in printing movie reviews and is believed to be the first publication to list television ratings and movie box-office grosses regularly.

Variety’s inventive headlines were famous. When the stock market crashed in 1929, it proclaimed, “Wall Street Lays an Egg.” When rural American moviegoers rebuffed films with bucolic themes, it declared, “Stix Nix Hick Pix.”

In contrast to Sime Silverman, Peter Besas wrote in 2000 in “Inside Variety: The Story of the Bible of Show Business (1905-1987),” Syd was “ultra conservative in business ventures,” a “staunch defender of the status quo” and a “measured vigilant administrator.”

“Sime lived for show business,” Mr. Besas wrote. “Syd was only marginally interested, to the extent it was necessary to run his business.”


Syd Silverman and his wife, Joan, at a celebration of Variety’s 100th anniversary at Sardi’s restaurant in Midtown Manhattan in 2005.

Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

He was born Syd Silverman on Jan. 23, 1932, in Manhattan and raised in suburban Harrison, N.Y. His mother, the former Marie Saxon, was a vaudevillian who starred in several films, including “The Broadway Hoofer” (1929).

Syd graduated from the Manlius School, a military academy in central New York. (After a merger it became the nonmilitary Manlius Pebble Hill School.) He inherited Variety in 1950, at age 18, when his father, Sidne, who was president and publisher, died.

After graduating from Princeton and serving in the Army for two years, Syd Silverman took over as publisher from Harold Erichs, his legal guardian, who had overseen Variety since Sidne died.

Syd became the weekly’s third editor (following Sime and Abel Green) in 1973. Daily Variety was edited by Thomas Pryor from 1959 to 1988.

In addition to his son Michael, Mr. Silverman is survived by his second wife, Dr. Joan Hoffman; his other children, Marie, Mark and Matthew, from his marriage to the former Jan McNally, who died in 1997; and eight grandchildren.

Variety had been very much a family affair. Syd Silverman recalled that the paper’s distinctive logo was designed on a napkin by his grandmother Harriet. Three of his children had worked there.

When the company was sold, Variety’s circulation was 33,000 (down from about 50,000 in the 1960s) and Daily Variety’s was fairly stable at 22,000; the papers generated nearly $25 million annually from circulation and advertising.

With declining weekly circulation, the new owners sought to appeal to younger readers who were more interested in the marketing and management aspects of show business. Among their early innovations was the publication of news photographs. (Variety had previously maintained that people who wanted their photos published should pay for the privilege.) The paper announced its new policy in 1989 with typical flair, under the headline “Variety Inks 4-Color Future; Nix on Pix is Eighty-Sixed.”

“It wasn’t an easy decision to sell something as personal to us as these papers,” Mr. Silverman told The New York Times in 1988.

But with another generation poised to inherit the papers, he said, he hoped to avoid the family squabbles that undid other publishing dynasties.

“Right now we feel a commonality of interest, but in five or 10 years, as the family expands, who knows?” he said he told his children. “They asked some damn good questions, but in the end they agreed the sale was the best thing.”

Correction: August 31, 2017

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of a headline with this obituary misstated Mr. Silverman’s age. As the obituary correctly states, he was 85, not 90.

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