Life Stories

LIFE STORIES: Hannibal native managed Hollywood elite

Hannibal native Mike Marx, a semi-retired publicist/manager to numerous movie stars, is surrounded by memorabilia from Hollywood's Golden Age Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, at his home in rural Hannibal, Mo. Marx is holding a copy of his book, which features candid pictures of some of Hollywood's biggest stars. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson
Phil Carlson 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 5, 2017 10:15 am

HANNIBAL -- Kicked back and sipping an iced coffee outside Java Jive on a quiet Monday afternoon, a half-dozen or so passersby greeted Mike Marx over the course of an hour and a half.

He jokingly referred to himself as a local celebrity -- the small town boy who went to Hollywood to become a mover and shaker. Dropping names of clients like William Shatner and Bob Crane, he said he used to speak to celebrities the same way he addresses acquaintances on Hannibal's Main Street today.

"I always just talked to them like I'm talking to you," he said.

A native of the Hannibal-Quincy area, Marx, 74, grew up watching "Truth or Consequences" on TV. He romanticized the depiction of Hollywood in the show, and when he made it out to Los Angeles for school -- majoring in drama at California State University, Northridge -- his first visit was to Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.

"I always wanted to go to California," he said. "I heard it was the land of milk and honey."

His first brush with stardom came through a radio program he hosted in college. He called up ABC to find out if any celebrities might be available for an interview. ABC set him up with Mick Jagger, who was performing with the Rolling Stones on a TV show called "Shindig."

"I still have the recording of the interview," Marx said. "A couple years ago I heard it for the first time. I was wondering if I had done a good job. I was quite proud. I didn't sound stupid or anything."

An acquaintance, Clu Gulager, had recently scored a role on NBC's "The Virginian." Marx asked if he could visit the set, and Gulager brought him on. Marx began to visit as often as possible, getting to know some of the other stars of the show in the process and becoming somewhat of a fixture on the set. Sometimes he would roam the lot -- although his pass was only for "The Virginian" -- peaking in on different TV shows and occasionally stepping onto some movie sets.

"A lot of the things I did back then, nobody could do today," he said. "I stayed my distance though and didn't make any noise, so they must have figured I was OK."

His first stay in California was brief, and he came home to help his father run the family farm over his first summer break. Serving in the Navy Reserves, he was called up to active duty from 1966 to '67. After his time in the military, a series of odd jobs saw him work for a time as an orderly at Blessing Hospital and an insurance agent in St. Louis.

"These jobs were just my way of getting by until I could make my move back to L.A.," he said. "I definitely wanted to get back to California."

He spent a vacation in L.A. eagerly seeking out a job opening at the top public relations firms, television networks and talent agencies. On June 1, 1969, he got a call that a mailroom clerk at Rogers, Cowan & Brenner -- the leading PR and marketing agency in the industry -- had been drafted, and the position was his if he wanted it.

"I was starting at the bottom," he said.

A year later, he hadn't progressed and was becoming frustrated. Looking to quit, the personnel officer told him "not to cut his own throat" while searching for another job. He found an opening as a publicist a week later. His first client was the English rock band Deep Purple, but six weeks later, the office lost the account, and he was without a job.

It took him six more months to break back into the industry. This time joining Hanson and Schwam Public Relations. Gene Schwam would become Marx's mentor and educate him on the inner-workings of the industry.

Schwam was a publicist and a manager. Without Schwam's support, Marx likely wouldn't have ascended to the level he did. Since moving back to Hannibal, Marx tries to visit Los Angeles at least every two years. Each time he returns, he makes visiting Schwam a priority.

"I would have had to have had somebody's help," Marx said. "He would take me on all of his meetings with him so I could learn. He would have dinner parties at his house, and I was the only one out of the office that he invited. He took a liking to me I guess."

Marx's first client with Hanson & Schwam was William Shatner. Shortly after, he signed Bob Crane as a client.

"We worked together on getting Telly Savalas as a client," he said, "and Ed Asner."

After five years, Marx went out on his own, parting with Hanson & Schwam on good terms.

"Gene was all in favor of me going out on my own, a big supporter," Marx said.

Mike Marx Enterprises, a public relations and management agency, was formed in 1977. The first client he ever managed was actress Linda Scott. He ran into Patti Page at a time when she didn't have a publicist and brought her and Sue Ane Langdon on at his new company.

"It's a lot of work," he said. "You have nobody to help you if you're going to go out by yourself."

Mike Marx Enterprises grew to represent between 50 and 60 clients at any given time. It became more of a management agency than a PR firm.

After 30 years in the industry, Marx decided to retire in 1999 and return to the more tranquil environment in which he was raised.

"The last couple years it just wasn't fun any more," he said. "I decided to just hang it up."

He misses the relationships he developed over the years but not the city itself. The transition took him "from the fast lane to no lane." Although Hannibal is his hometown, moving at a slower pace was still initially difficult.

"People don't realize how tough the business is. People live on a dream that doesn't happen very often," he said. "I'd say I got close to my dream."

He couldn't completely give it up, though, and describes himself as "semi-retired," while "keeping a hand in it." A few years ago actress and singer Appolonia, a close friend, called him out of the blue, asking him to consider re-entering the business. When another former client called a few days later, he took it as a sign. It wasn't long before he found himself working with dozens of clients again.

"I look back at all the people I worked with, the people I got to know and become friends with, and it's mind-boggling," he said. "Sometimes I wonder if it isn't a dream."

Staff Writer Matt Dutton will bring you a story detailing the life of a local resident each Monday.

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