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Sherman Wolf, publicist for Beatles and movie studios, dead at 88

Publicist Sherman Wolf entertained the young Beatles when they performed at Comiskey Park in 1965 by supplying them with something they found wonderful and new: American comic books.

“They had heard of American comic books, but they had never seen them, so he went out and he got them a bunch,” said his son, Stuart. “They were very taken with them. They were like young kids who didn’t know what to make of all the attention and fame they were getting.”

A year later, Mr. Wolf escorted the Fab Four for a show at the International Amphitheatre. He probably held his breath at their news conference at the Astor Tower Hotel, where John Lennon apologized for the media firestorm he started by saying the Beatles “are more popular than Jesus now.”

In 1984, Sherman Wolf recalls the time he worked with the Beatles. A press kit from one of their tours is spread out in front of him. | Sun-Times file photo

It was a time when Hollywood movie studios and New York impresarios hired creative local publicists like Mr. Wolf to market movies and entertainers, schedule their interviews, and, at times, baby-sit them.

Some cooked up stunts. Mr. Wolf had actor Jack Klugman accompany Chicago Sun-Times turf writer Dave Feldman to the racetrack to see which one picked more winners.

Klugman did better than Feldman, Stuart Wolf said.

Once, Mr. Wolf guided director Alfred Hitchcock around Wrigley Field. As they watched the Cubs, “Hitch tells my dad three different ideas he came up with based around baseball, either for a movie, or his TV show,” Mr. Wolf’s son said.

When he took Henry Mancini to dinner, the restaurant presented the Academy Award-winning composer with a decorated cake that mistakenly identified him as creator of the song “Born Free.”

After that, whenever Mancini saw Mr. Wolf, he called him “Born Free.”

Another time, a contrite Mr. Wolf had to apologize to Gregory Peck after he yelled at him and hung up the phone, thinking it was a pal pretending to be the star of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

When singer Ella Fitzgerald forgot her gloves, he took her to Chicago’s best stores to shop.

He may have learned a thing or two about publicity from car-pooling with White Sox owner and promoter Bill Veeck. He wasn’t above staging weddings and pig races on the diamond, if it would get fans in the seats. Veeck once hired a 3-foot-7-inch little person to bat for the St. Louis Browns.

Mr. Wolf, who assured his family, “I had a very full life,” as he entered Northwestern Memorial Hospital, died Aug. 1 of complications from leukemia.

A South Sider, he attended Hyde Park Academy High School and the University of Illinois.

In college, he joined Sigma Alpha Mu. His pledge leader was Allan Sherman, a 1960s version of “Weird Al” Yankovic. Sherman struck it big with the camp song, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.” Mr. Wolf’s roommate was Arte Johnson, who acted on the chaotically comic 1960s TV show, “Laugh-In.’ ’’

In college, he discovered the restaurant Steak ’n Shake, beloved by many Illini, including Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert.

Ebert immortalized him in his writing, describing how Mr. Wolf, “a really nice guy,” was mortified by his faux pas at a party Ebert threw to celebrate a move to a new home. Mr. Wolf congratulated Ebert, saying, “It’s a real step up from that pigpen you used to live in.”

He didn’t know he was standing next to Ebert’s previous landlord.

“I don’t believe you’ve met my landlady from Burling Street, Mrs. Dudak,” Ebert said.

Mr. Wolf fled to the deck and told other guests, “I’m so embarrassed I could crawl into a hole. I just told Roger this place was a lot better than that pigpen he used to live in.”

Someone said, “I don’t believe you’ve ever met Mister Dudak, who is sitting right here next to me.”

Sherman Wolf and his wife, Peggy, in 1995. | Sun-Times file photo

After college, Mr. Wolf landed a job with publicist Aaron D. Cushman. Later, he started his own business, Sherman Wolf Advertising. Through Warner Brothers publicist Frank Casey, he began promoting movies for Paramount, 20th Century Fox and New Line Cinema, among other studios.

He loaned his employees money when they had personal calamities, even bailing one out of jail, said his wife, Peggy. Whether helping staffers or relatives, “He was just generous,” she said.

His first marriage, to Bobbe Press, ended in divorce. He also is survived by his other children, Julie Wolf, Brian Leahy, Karen Leahy, Jennifer Bakker and Jonathan Simon; a sister, Peggy Leon, and eight grandchildren. A celebration of his life is planned from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the family home. Friends are invited to share stories at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. For more information, email shermanwolffamily@gmail.com.