IF YOU WERE a sportswriter and you got a call from Joe Goldstein, your blood ran cold. This was not because the publicist was a threatening presence, one of those Kiton-clad Svengalis paid mostly to keep clients out of the media. No, Goldstein was perpetually praiseful (he liked to tell journalists their work was "routinely brilliant"). His voice made you shiver because he had called yesterday and would again tomorrow to push his latest project.
Whether he was repping Joe Frazier, Bob Hope, the New York City Marathon, Evel Knievel, a horseshoes tournament or—this must have been his most challenging client—the Palisades Parkway, Goldstein was relentless. The publicist, who died of a stroke last week at age 81, saw himself as "a practitioner who enlightens the American populace and brings joy to the world." An NBC executive once called him "the Jewish equivalent of the Chinese water drip."
But wearing you down was just one of Goldstein's methods. He could dazzle, too. When the Meadowlands opened in 1976, Goldstein released an army of carrier pigeons in Times Square; their prompt arrival at the sports complex in New Jersey would demonstrate its nearness to civilization. For a moment the sky was black with birds, but after many pigeonless hours only a pair alighted at the racetrack. Of course, a disaster meant 10 times more column inches than a well-oiled publicity stunt, so the drinks were on Goldstein.
It was the tale of Jamin, though, that showed the man's genius. Attempting to publicize the International Trot at Roosevelt Raceway in 1959, Goldstein announced that the French trotter was pining for a rare kind of artichoke. The vegetable was found in California and shipped to what is now JFK Airport. TV, radio and print outlets covered the transfer of the artichokes to a helicopter, which rushed them to Jamin. But do horses really eat those things? To quote Goldstein, "That's not the point."
The point was getting and keeping clients by being a full-service publicist. His wife, Helene, hand-sewed the trunks that Frazier wore in his first fight with Ali. And Goldstein never stopped. There are seven messages on my voice mail. Five are from him.