Syd Silverman, 85; kept Variety boffo for 30 years

Syd Silverman, who for three decades was the owner of Variety, the show-business bible that transmogrified slanguage with neologisms like deejay, sitcom, and kidvid as it covered an industry in transition, from the cathode ray tube to YouTube, died Sunday in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 85.

His death was confirmed by his son Michael.

Beginning in 1957, the dapper Mr. Silverman was the president of Daily Variety, which was focused on Hollywood, and publisher of the New York-based weekly version, which he also edited from 1973 to 1988. Both publications were founded by his grandfather Sime.


During most of Mr. Silverman’s tenure, Variety’s reporters chronicled the entertainment business from a grimy brownstone in Manhattan’s Theater District, where typewriters and the absence of computerized typesetting evoked another era.

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Meanwhile, the trade paper’s editorial content spanned the 20th century, from silent movies to digital devices, as the industry was transformed by cable television, video recorders, satellites, and multimedia streaming, and by newer business models like syndication contracts and independent studios.

In 1987, Mr. Silverman sold Variety to Cahners Publishing, a subsidiary of British conglomerate Reed International. (It is now owned by Penske Media Corp.) A lifelong car buff, in 1990 he bought Vintage Motorsport magazine, which is published by his son Michael.

Sime Silverman founded the weekly version of Variety on a shoestring in 1905. He began Daily Variety in 1933, shortly before he died, and was eulogized as the “oracle of show business, the sworn foe of grammar, and the man who never let anyone pay a check.”

Sime wielded a thick black pencil that split infinitives, popularized inventive adjectives and nouns (hoofer, chantoosies, warblers, kidvid, boffo) and turned other nouns into verbs (authored, readied, helmed). Variety was a pioneer in printing movie reviews and is believed to be the first publication to list television ratings and movie box-office grosses regularly.


Variety’s inventive headlines were famous. When the stock market crashed in 1929, it proclaimed, “Wall Street Lays an Egg.” When rural American moviegoers rebuffed films with bucolic themes, it declared, “Stix Nix Hick Pix.”

In contrast to Sime Silverman, Peter Besas wrote in 2000 in “Inside Variety: The Story of the Bible of Show Business (1905-1987),” Syd was “ultra conservative in business ventures,” a “staunch defender of the status quo,” and a “measured vigilant administrator.”

“Sime lived for show business,” Besas wrote. “Syd was only marginally interested, to the extent it was necessary to run his business.”

He was born Syd Silverman on Jan. 23, 1932, in Manhattan and raised in suburban Harrison, N.Y. His mother, the former Marie Saxon, was a vaudevillian who starred in several films, including “The Broadway Hoofer.”

Syd graduated from the Manlius School, a military academy in central New York. (After a merger it became the nonmilitary Manlius Pebble Hill School.) He inherited Variety in 1950, at age 18, when his father, Sidne, who was president and publisher, died.


After graduating from
Princeton and serving in the Army for two years, Syd Silverman took over as publisher from Harold Erichs, his legal guardian, who had overseen Variety since Sidne died.

When the company was sold, Variety’s circulation was 33,000 (down from about 50,000 in the 1960s) and Daily Variety’s was fairly stable at 22,000; the papers generated nearly $25 million annually from circulation and advertising.

With declining weekly circulation, the new owners sought to appeal to younger readers who were more interested in the marketing and management aspects of show business. Among their early innovations was the publication of news photographs. (Variety had previously maintained that people who wanted their photos published should pay for the privilege.) The paper announced its new policy in 1989 with typical flair, under the headline “Variety Inks 4-Color Future; Nix on Pix is Eighty-Sixed.”

“It wasn’t an easy decision to sell something as personal to us as these papers,” Mr. Silverman told The New York Times in 1988.