Dave McNary: An Appreciation

Variety's film and labor reporter has left the newsroom.

Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Double Dutch International

Dave McNary died three days ago, an unwelcome holiday surprise that seemed to cap a year of unwanted felicitations. We’ve all been trapped for the last ten months in a bad Hollywood movie nobody wanted to pay to see — not to mention a surreal four-year reality-show extravaganza greenlit by knaves — but Dave’s passing, after a stroke, wasn’t something any of us saw coming, I think. He was a young, vigorous 69 and leaves his wife Sharon and four sisters.

Although his title at Variety was “film writer,” and his range of output reflected that, he was notably the publication’s labor reporter. For a decade — my 2010-2020 stint at The Hollywood Reporter — that made us competitors, but we were friends too, before, during and after my ten-year tenure.

I met Dave mid-2007, after my law firm’s publicist had positioned me as a guilds expert and secured a lunch with Dave in the run-up to what became the Writers Guild strike. It was a great get for a small law firm with an even smaller entertainment department, and our publicist was as pleased as the proverbial cat that caught the canary — or, perhaps in this case, the cat that caught the McNary.

The lunch with Dave went swimmingly, and soon he was calling me multiple times a day. What sticks in my mind — besides the questions — was the nasal twang and laconic, unflustered nature even when (as he would put it) he had an editor breathing down his neck. Top it off, literally, with the ever-present fedora, and McNary was the picture of an old-time newspaperman. Although he wasn’t quite out of the 1940s and “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” he was quirky enough that he almost could have been.

Three years of blogging and of being quoted in Variety, then elsewhere, transported me to a place neither Dave nor I had anticipated, and one day in 2010 The Hollywood Reporter hired me to be its labor reporter, a story that’s been told here and here, and here.

When my first byline appeared, on July 18 of that year, it was front-page — on what was still a print daily — and I knew Dave would be surprised, so I gave him a call. It was a goodbye to our previous relationship as source-reporter and hello to a new one as rivals. But unchanged was Dave’s bemused, friendly manner.

From then on, we didn’t talk as much — we were too busy scooping each other — but it was always a pleasure to run into Dave at a union or management headquarters, or at the American Film Market. It was also a bit frightening to see how quickly he could type with two thumbs, filing stories on his cellphone as adeptly as a teenager texting a classmate. I was never able to match that speed even on my desktop.

A decade is an odd thing, a long time that passes in the blink of an eye. When I left The Hollywood Reporter this fall to take on new challenges in a hands-on role, Dave wrote a nice piece about my transition. Now I guess I’ve returned the favor, but it’s a debt I’d rather have left unpaid, at least for a few more decades.