Sponsor of the 10th annual LA Music Awards
Warren Cowan (March 13, 1921 – May 14, 2008) was a prominent American film industry publicist. From 1950 to 1992, he was a co-founder and named partner in Rogers & Cowan, the world’s largest publicity firm; he established his own firm Cowan & Associates in 1994. At the time of his death, he was described as “one of Hollywood’s most powerful and innovative publicists”, known for his creative use of independent publicity.
He was born in New York City and attended Townsend Harris High School, a school for boys on the educational fast track. The son of songwriter Rubey Cowan and Grace Cowan, Warren had one older brother, Stanley.
While attending the University of California, Los Angeles, Cowan majored in journalism and represented actress Linda Darnell. At the age of 17, carrying a full load of studies, Cowan was moonlighting as publicist for one of 20th Century Fox’s biggest stars.
Rogers & Cowan
Cowan joined the firm established by his mentor, Henry C. Rogers in 1946, following three years’ service with the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. In 1950, he became a partner in the firm, which then changed its name to Rogers & Cowan. He was named president in 1964.
Rogers & Cowan became the biggest entertainment PR firm in the world. With a list of clients that reads like the entertainment industry’s “Who’s Who,” Cowan represented just about every major star of the late 20th century, from Paul Newman to Elizabeth Taylor, from Danny Kaye to Kirk Douglas, from Frank Sinatra to Tony Curtis, from Shirley MacLaine to Elton John. Whenever he was asked to name his favorite client, Cowan’s constant answer was always “the next one.”
During his career, Cowan created publicity campaigns for giant automotive concerns, saloon singers, fashion and cosmetic companies, hotels, and resorts, airlines, motion pictures, books, and even nations.
From the beginning, Cowan started the first celebrity charity-fundraisers, such as the first pro-celebrity sports event. It was a golf tournament, staged in 1950, on behalf of motion picture director Frank Borzage. He also created and promoted events for such humanitarian organizations as the John Wayne Cancer Institute, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and the Society of Singers.
Rogers began Hollywood’s Academy Awards campaigns, starting with Joan Crawford’s performance in 1945’s Mildred Pierce the year before Cowan arrived at the company. The buzz he generated helped win her the Best Actress Oscar. With Cowan’s arrival, the company created a formula that has lasted to this day. In 1997, for example, Cowan personally introduced the little-known Italian actor Roberto Benigni to his already famous American peers, all of them Cowan clients and Academy voters, on behalf of Miramax. Benigni and his picture, Life Is Beautiful, won three Oscars that year.
In 1988, Rogers & Cowan company was sold to Shandwick Plc., an English conglomorate. “It was the right move to make in some respects, but I found that I was doing too much that was administrative and too little that was creative,” Cowan said. In 1994, after a two-year non-competitive period, he launched a new company, Warren Cowan & Associates, where he remained the creative center of his business.
During a special ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., President Gerald Ford presented Cowan with the United Way’s prestigious Alexis de Tocqueville Award for his 17 years of outstanding volunteer efforts and called him “the most important United Way volunteer in the entertainment industry.”
The ceremony focused new light on the spectrum of Cowan’s contribution outside the public relations industry. For years, he has contributed his unique talent to support the activities of such civic and philanthropic organizations as UNICEF, the Scott Newman Foundation, The Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Foundation, the National Foundation for Ileitis and Colitis, the Young Musicians Foundation, and the United Way, where he was national committee communications chairman. He succeeded First Lady Nancy Reagan in the position in 1982.
In 1990, Cowan was honored by the Scott Newman Center at a benefit gala hosted by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in celebration of the Center’s 10th anniversary of promoting drug education programs. Cowan has been associated with the Center since its inception, and serves on the board of directors. Newman, in presenting the award to Cowan, said, “In the arena of public caring, he’s several dimensions higher. Others may appear to occupy the limelight, but no one works with greater diligence to better effect. He adds dignity to all of us, through his effort and we become beneficiaries by honoring him.”
On March 21, 2002, Cowan was honored as Mentor of the Year by the Volunteers of America at a gala event at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel, at the time owned and operated by his good friend -and client- Merv Griffin.
Cowan was married for more than a decade to Barbara Gilbert-Cowan, the mother of actresses Melissa Gilbert and Sara Gilbert and actor Jonathan Gilbert. Cowan had two daughters from previous marriages: Fox News Channel reporter Claudia Cowan (his daughter with actress Barbara Rush), and Bonnie Fleming. He had four grandchildren.