Ever since his birth in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, David Mirisch has been living a colorful life. He was raised as a scion of the famous Mirisch Film Company, a team of four brother producers who created 72 feature films, including three Best Picture winners and such classics as West Side Story, Some Like It Hot and The Great Escape.
Yet he struck out on his own in the arena of public relations because the elder Mirisch brothers ordered their sons to find work outside the company, fearing that their presence on film sets would be a frequent source of disruption, giving jealous crew members the opportunity to accuse them of nepotism.
Mirisch’s foray into media relations over the past five decades has paid off with his own impressive string of successes, as the Westlake Village resident has connected celebrities and athletes with more than 2,500 charity fundraising events, raising more than $35 million for an array of nonprofits. In a tribute to his 50 years of charitable work, the Museum of Ventura County will host an exhibit of photographs, awards and memorabilia from Mirisch’s illustrious life.
The exhibit should be spectacular, considering that Mirisch has worked with more than 500 personalities from film, music and sports, including John Wayne, Jerry Lewis, Raquel Welch, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, The Supremes, Merv Griffin, Wilt Chamberlain, Wayne Gretzky, Phil Esposito and more.
“I have a passion for the nonprofits that I’ve worked with over the past 50 years, and the fact that I have this desire to help other people is tied to nonprofits hiring me to run their events,” says Mirisch. “I’m nearly 83 and I’m still not retired. I’m working on five events right now. I’ve slowed down a little, where I’m not doing 25 events the way I used to. Instead, I have six that are regular clients, including an AIDS organization in Rancho Cucamonga, where every year I do a celebrity bowling tournament for them the past 16 years.”
Mirisch has seen a lot of changes occur in the world of celebrity journalism and public relations over his half-century in service to the stars. He recalls that PR firms used to be small boutiques with three or four staffers, as opposed to giant agencies with armies of publicists and their assistants at the ready to fight for attention in the media.
“When I reach out to different celebrities to invite them to events, I can never get the publicist on the phone,” says Mirisch, who has a documentary crew following him in the hopes of selling a Netflix series about his star-laden life. “It’s not persona-driven like it was with Johnny Mathis, Omar Sharif, Pat Boone and Perry Como, who dealt with me personally, not through assistants.”
One other major shift in the world of celebrity coverage is the fact that stars weren’t as open about their personal proclivities then. Some scandal-prone stars kept their PR reps busy trying to keep them out of the news for affairs and other illicit behavior, but Mirisch proudly notes that his wholesome, “all-American” clients rarely if ever caused a moment of trouble on that front. He also notes that silent-film star Mary Pickford was a longtime favorite client as well, for other reasons.
“Mary Pickford hired me with her husband Buddy Rogers for the Mary Pickford Film Festival held in theaters all over the country,” Mirisch recalls. “I called columnists like Irv Kupcinet, Walter Winchell and others, asking ‘Would you like to talk to Mary about her film festival?’
“I set up all these interviews but never met Pickford. The answer was, she and the husband wanted the public not to see Mary Pickford as she was then, but the way she was when she starred in silent films. What’s changed is the personal touch that public relations people have with their clients.”
The David Mirisch exhibit opens on Wednesday, July 18, and will be on display Wednesdays and Saturdays and by appointment through Aug. 18 at the Museum of Ventura County, 100 E. Main St., Ventura. For more information, call 805-653-0323 or visit venturamuseum.org. To learn more about David Mirisch, visit www.dmirisch.com.