Many of the great Hollywood publicists had died by the 1970’s, so tracing their histories can often be fruitless. When information is available, it’s like gold dust as so many great careers have gone undocumented. But the career of Pete Smith, an original disciple of Harry Reichenbach, is not only fairly well documented, but also very different. Pete Schmidt , as he was born, (1892 – 1979) was the son of a Brewery cooper, who dropped out of school at 13 to begin a low paying job as a stenographer-typist.
He made his first contact with show business in 1912 as a secretary of a vaudeville players’ union and later as reviewer for Billboard and The Player magazines. This led him to a career in the film industry as a publicist at Players-Laskey and Artcraft (both were units of what now is the Paramount Organisation). He later became publicity director. However, he decided to drop publicity altogether in 1930 and by 1931 was producing and narrating short films for the studio, which soon became popular with audiences for their folksy and inventive style.
They comprised a wide variety of subjects, from sports wrap ups to entertaining educational shorts. Some were in colour and others, presented as audiopics, utlized a 3-D technique. In 1936, Smith began producing his most celebrated series of shorts, the “Pete Smith Specialities”. “A Pete named Smith” as he introduced himself, produced and narrated some 300 shorts in all.
Two of these, PENNY WISDOM (about cooking , 1937) and Quicker ‘N A Wink (in ultra slow motion, 1940) won Academy Awards. In 1954, the year of his retirement, Smith was presented with a special Academy Award at the ceremonies for 1953. At age 86, despondent over his deteriorating health, Smith jumped to his death from the roof of a Los Angeles convalescent hospital.