Andrew “Andy” Friedenberg seemed destined for a Hollywood-related career from a young age, considering he was on the student council with Robin Williams at a Michigan boys school and sang in choir with Kelsey Grammer at Pine Crest School in Florida.
After college and job-hunting dead ends in the movie business, though, he finally accepted a job of applying window tinting in San Diego. Before reporting to work, he made one last call to United Artists. Bingo, the timing was right.
Friedenberg’s early career as a regional studio publicist for United Artists, and later Columbia Pictures, spanned the late 1970s and early ‘80s. He rode herd on as many as 25 film releases a year, organized premieres and escorted movie stars on their media rounds.
Now he is spilling the popcorn in his memoir, “Celebrity War Stories: Confessions of a Movie Studio Publicist.” (One confession was that he once asked filmmaker (and vineyard owner) Francis Ford Coppola if he liked wine.)
But Friedenberg’s forté was orchestrating attention-getting film premieres on a shoestring budget.
For the world premiere of Sam Peckinpah’s “Convoy,” starring Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Burt Young and Ernest Borgnine, in Albuquerque, he scrambled to enlist local truckers and storeowners. The drivers paraded their semis, plastered with movie posters, through town to the theater, past stores that had added a line from the movie to their signage: “We’ve got us a mighty Convoy.”
When MGM’s 1978 film “Corvette Summer,” opened in Colorado, Friedenberg corralled drivers in the Denver Corvette Club to encircle a portable swimming pool filled with orange Jell-O to make a splash for the first film headlining Mark Hamill after “Star Wars.”
Sixty Corvette door keys were thrown into the gelatin, then 60 contestants were invited to jump in, one at a time, to retrieve a key. Only one of those keys unlocked the door to the prize Corvette that the lucky winner got to use for the summer.
Shortly after the Jell-O jump, Friedenberg was lured away by Columbia Pictures. He was assigned the Denver opening of “Blue Lagoon,” starring Brooke Shields, 16, and Christopher Atkins. He persuaded Continental Airlines to donate a trip to Fiji, where the movie was filmed, and also conjured up a contest to win-a-date with Brooke and a date with Chris.
When Brooke asked him to escort her to the movie’s L.A. premiere, he agreed, laughingly imagining the hordes of press wondering: “Who’s he?” when they got out of the limo.
Friedenberg has spent time with Ben Kingsley, Charlton Heston, Cheech & Chong, Dustin Hoffman, Ernest Borgnine, Peter Fonda, Tony Curtis, Willie Nelson, as well as directors Robert Benton, Randal Kleiser, Sydney Pollack and Robert Zemeckis, to mention a few.
After a string of five bosses in four years at Columbia Pictures, Friedenberg opted to be his own boss and returned to San Diego where his parents were living. But the cinema wheels continued turning.
He joined with the Port of San Diego to set up a floating Sunset Cinema Film Festival on a roving barge in the 1980s. Showings, including the movie “Jaws,” took place at the ports of Coronado, Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, National City and San Diego. For “Bathing Beauty” he brought in Esther Williams, the film’s co-star.
Friedenberg launched the San Diego Symphony’s silent film series and operated Cinema Summer at the San Diego County Fair. He partnered with Prado Restaurant in Balboa Park to show movies outside in the courtyard with dinner. In keeping with his entrepreneurial spirit, attendees were invited to bring their pooches to the dog show comedy, “Best in Show.”
He shares his passion with local film lovers through the Cinema Society of San Diego that he created 38 years ago and later expanded to Arizona. The society screens films, schedules chats with directors, actors and producers and offers access to special events.
His wife Beth, a travel agent, joins him in organizing art tours to various cities. Lately, Friedenberg has begun sharing his celebrity war stories on cruise ships.
Nevertheless, he balks when asked his favorite film. “It’s like asking, ‘Who’s your favorite child?’” He dislikes panning a film, although admits “sometimes I have to dig real deep to find out what I love about it.”
At film festivals, he comes across some jewels and some movies so bad, he sadly shakes his head: “I’ll never get that time back.”
The pandemic sidelined theaters and, for a time, relegated Friedenberg’s Cinema Society to online meetings. Now that live screenings are back, he is doing what he does best — promoting. For the recent screening of “Peace by Chocolate,” a documentary about a Syrian refuge who settled in Canada and started a successful candy company, he ordered chocolates from the company for the event.
The days when movie stars were shuttled from city-to-city to hype film releases have faded, but Friedenberg is convinced viewers still crave the big-screen experience.
He tested this theory last summer when he rented the outdoor “Cinema Under the Stars” venue in Hillcrest. “We sold out all 62 seats on Monday and Tuesday every week for eight weeks,” he says. “I selected the films and sat back. While everyone was watching the screen, I was watching them.”
“The tradition of watching the arts with strangers — sitting in the dark and experiencing a performance, play, concert or movies — will always be with us. People want to get out of the house, and they want to share the experience with others.”
Friedenberg has a screening room in his home yet loves going to movie theaters: “You can watch a Padres’ game on TV, but it’s nothing like going to Petco Park.”
Original posted at www.sandiegouniontribune.com