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Honoring Bobby
Robin Wright ("The Conspirator") with Bobby Zarem at the 2010 Savannah Film Festival

There are a lot of monuments to a lot of people in Savannah.

James Oglethorpe, Tomochichi, Johnny Mercer, Nathanael Greene, Casimir Pulaski, The Waving Girl, monuments to veterans of the Revolution, the Civil War, the Spanish–American War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam. The list goes on and on.

There’s one very important Savannahian who has no monument, but probably deserves one.

Then again, you could say the Savannah Film Festival itself is Bobby Zarem’s monument.

Native Savannahian Bobby Zarem, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Film Festival last week, is not only the most renowned and longest–tenured publicist to the stars, in many ways he wrote the job description.

From his own humble beginnings — he was a sickly child, he says, who found solace in the movies — Zarem became a force to be reckoned with in New York and Hollywood, representing such stars as Arnold Schwartzenegger, Dustin Hoffman, and Jack Nicholson.

He didn’t only create legends about others. Quite a few legends have grown up around Zarem himself.

Story goes that Al Pacino’s character in People I Know is based on Zarem. Story goes that Zarem originated the legendary and endlessly imitated “I Love (Heart) New York” PR campaign.

His claim to fame is not bluster or BS, but rather an abiding and sincere love of the magic of movies.

His specialty in courting stars and studios isn’t a loud phone call or a garish billboard campaign, but something endlessly more charming and old–school: A long, beautifully written letter, written in longhand.

One thing we know for sure: There’s no way the Savannah Film Festival is the success it is today without Zarem.

For years the line has been that guests of the Savannah Film Festival came straight out of Zarem’s Rolodex — the reference to that office implement from another era being another tribute to his traditional ways.

“As a child here in Savannah I fantasized about Hollywood and movies,” Zarem said when accepting his award.  “And now Savannah has become everything I dreamed about back then.”

What he humbly left out, but what the audience knew, is that he has been instrumental in Savannah becoming everything he dreamed about.

With Zarem now in unofficial retirement back home in Ardsley Park, it will be interesting to see whose “Rolodex” SCAD turns to in the coming years to keep the success of the Festival going.

President Paula Wallace of SCAD has certainly displayed an ability to manage a growing and vibrant organization.

Maybe the next good step would be a nice statue of Bobby in front of the Trustees Theater.