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Ryder, Murphy Make Emotions Swell At 2017 ICG Publicists Awards

Actress Renee Zellweger (right) presents the Presidents Award to Nanci Ryder (left) at the 2017 ICG Publicists Awards.

By: Marjorie Galas

Days before the Oscar telecast, publicists representing all forms of content annually convene to celebrate a year’s worth of achievements at the ICG Publicists Award Program. There is always a lot of strong, positive emotions in the air as old friends and colleagues reconnect. This year’s event, held February 24th 2017 in the Grand Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel, turned the emotional notch even higher.

After ICG Publicists Awards Committee Chairman Henri Bollinger emphasized the impact the publicists have made in the past television and theater season, The Presidents Award was bestowed to Nanci Ryder. Ryder, a long time “power publicist” with clients who’ve included Reese Witherspoon and Leonardo DiCaprio, was diagnosed with ALS in 2014.  The disease, a focus of the 2017 Oscar shortlist documentary “Gleason”, is a progressive neuro-degenerative disease that robs affected individuals of all basic motor functions.   With her focus now fixed on fighting ALS, many of her clients have subsequently joined her, forming “Team Nancy” – the top grossing ALS Walk fundraising team for two consecutive years.

Former client and longtime friend Renee Zellweger was on hand to present Ryder with her award. Although Ryder made her way to the stage to accept the award, she’s no longer able to talk.  Armed with an acceptance speech Ryder had typed out, Zellweger broke into a wave of tears that spread throughout the crowd.  The actress faltered only for a moment, then cheerfully presented her friend’s excitement at accepting the award.

“I am doing some of my best acting for you,” Zellweger jokingly said to Ryder.

Ryder’s speech also began with a joke, stating “It’s a bad time to receive anything following the word president.”

Ryder reflected on her start in the industry: she relocated to LA at the age of 19 with no job or prospects. She dabbled in assorted positions until she discovered the world of publicity. She rose up the ranks and eventually opened her own company where she worked for 30 years until the effects ALS set in.

“Now (to former client) Michael J. Fox – I’ve borrowed some of your tricks and am raising money for research,” said Ryder.

After paying tribute to Ryder, Jeffrey Katzenberg received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Katzenberg reflected on changes in the industry that have greatly affected publicists.  Initially, just getting a film show in a theater was a major hurdle; now, a success on opening weekend is critical.

“Box office on opening weekend is crucial to competing with everything else out there, if you don’t have success then you aren’t going to be competitive,” said Katzenberg. “Films these days even have to compete with political tweets!”

Before Ryan Murphy approached the stage to receive the Television Showmanship of the Year Award, he was feted by frequent collaborator, actress Sarah Paulson. After musing at the fact that publicists do not have their own guild, Paulson credited Murphy for capturing the zeitgeist of modern day people, particularly women.

“He loves telling the story of women, including women over 40, 50, and 60.”

Murphy, who lovingly declared publicists the “modern day town cryer” revealed his earliest inspiration was film producer Michael Todd (Around the World in 80 Days) and continues to hold his work to Todd’s standards.

He was a true showman and remains my idol,” said Murphy. “He added elements of socially conscious themes to his work.”

After confiding that he had been feeling creatively burnt out, he turned his attention to making an impact in the discrimination. He described the Half Foundation, the org he fully described at the MUAH Awards a week earlier.  He posted his first open position, and anticipated a small reception.  The quantity of applicants surprised him.

“For 25 slots, 650 women applied,” said Murphy. “This was my ‘The Revenant’ feeling.  I decided to carve out that horse and snuggle up and get ready to fight on.”

What follows is a complete list of winners for the 54th annual ICG Publicists Awards:

Maxwell Weinberg Publicist Showmanship Motion Picture Award  – Deadpool

Maxwell Weinberg Publicist Showmanship Television Award –  This Is Us

Excellence in Unit Still Photography for Motion Pictures Award – ANDREW SCHWARTZ

Excellence in Unit Still Photography for Television Award – JOHN JOHNSON

Les Mason Award, the highest honor publicists can bestow on one of their own-ROSALIND JARRETT SEPULVEDA

Press Award –  GRAE DRAKE, Rotten Tomatoes

International Media Award – BRENT SIMON, China