Town Crier

updated 05/10/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/10/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The BROWN DERBY IS LONG GONE AND SO is Ciro's. Even the venerable Beverly Hills Hotel has closed its doors for a refurbishing. But one Holly wood landmark from the glory days is still wide open for business. In his double-breasted tuxedo and graying toupee, celebrity columnist Army Archerd, 71, is the town's breeziest boulevardier, announcing the superstars to the public as they arrive for the Oscars and the Emmys and hosting the annual People's Choice Awards—shamelessly promotional activities of which he never tires. "There's always a new cast of characters," says the slight, peppery Archerd, leaning back in his chair in his plain and cramped Hollywood office. "Plus the old cast, the schmaltzy ones who get a standing ovation."

Archerd—who on April 27 marked his 40th year as the Hollywood columnist for Daily Variety, the showbiz bible—has himself become one of the honored and schmaltzy. Some 1,000 Hollywood heavyweights (including Roseanne Arnold, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson) turned out at a January gala in Los Angeles for the closest thing to Hollywood's Homer. He still serves up as many as 300 news nuggets a week in his daily "Just for Variety" column, which after four decades remains one of the best read industry pages in town.

It was Archerd who in the '60s detailed the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton-Eddie Fisher musical marriage-go-round. He was the first to report last year that Warren Beatty had secretly wed his Bugsy leading lady, Annette Bening (in fact Warren called him with the news), and was the first to reveal in 1991 that Julia Roberts had canceled her wedding to Kiefer Sutherland. In 1985 he broke what he deems "the biggest show business story ever"—that Rock Hudson had AIDS. Archerd is particularly proud of the scoop because it focused public attention on the disease.

Archerd scoops the competition because he has built an unusual trust among publicity-wary stars by befriending them early in the fame game. "He helped me at every stage of my career," says actor Louis Gossett Jr., recalling Archerd items that bolstered his reputation during lean times. Although Jay Leno quips that Archerd "knows where all the bodies are buried...except Hoffa's," the columnist downplays scandals and keeps private remarks firmly off the record. "You can trust Army," says Joan Collins, who has suffered her share of tabloid headlines.

Archerd has chatted up everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Chaplin star Robert Downey Jr., and jealously guards hundreds of 3-by-5 cards (each with a celeb's home phone numbers, plus the numbers of boyfriends and girlfriends). To him, the famous are almost family. "I feel that even when it's something unpleasant," he says, "I can call them up and say, 'I just heard this. What's going on?' "

The columnist was always starry-eyed. Born in the Bronx, Army (his real name is Armand) moved to L.A. at age 17 with his father, Herman, who owned a textile business, and mother Mina, a milliner. After graduating from UCLA, he worked in the mailroom at Paramount Studios before a hitch in the Navy during World War II. After the war, Archerd returned to Hollywood and became an Associated Press reporter and later succeeded columnist Sheilah Graham at Variety.

Archerd's 25-year marriage to his first wife, Joan, ended in divorce in 1969. (They had a daughter, Amanda, now 43, and a son, Evan, 40.) Twenty-three years ago he wed his second wife, Selma, 68, an actress who has had bit parts on Cagney & Lacey and in Lethal Weapon 3. They share a spacious house in Westwood, but he spends most of his time at work. There are still scoops to be shoveled and memories to hone. "Cary Grant once took me to a Dodgers game," he recalls. "That's some league to be in. But then," he reflects with a chuckle, "I'm always out of my league."

LYNDA WRIGHT in Hollywood

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