I was working at The Washington Times in the 1980s when I first met Charlie Cinnamon. He arrived at our newsroom flacking a new production company that brought Elizabeth Taylor to the stage in a revival of The Little Foxes. When I moved to South Florida in 1994, there he was again, representing the linked Broadway series of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Charlie – as everyone who knew him called him – was an old-line press agent. A natty dresser – did he also sleep in those double-breasted suits? – he was tireless with his story pitches, enthusiastic to a fault, even when he knew what he was representing was second-rate, and like all great salesmen, a lover of the product he was selling – live theater.
It is startling to realize that I have known and worked with Charlie for 35 years. And devastating to acknowledge that is all it will be, for he died this morning, just two days shy of his 95th birthday, after suffering a stroke last month.
Charlie was a mentor and theater history source to the journalists and critics who knew him, a booster of culture in South Florida, including the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, a pet project he founded and helped to run for more than half a century.
Born in the Bronx, the youngest of eight children in an Orthodox Jewish family, Charlie returned stateside from fighting in World War II and enrolled at New York University, majoring in journalism. But his real studies were 40 blocks uptown, as he immersed himself in the heyday of Broadway, seeing the great plays and stars of the post-war golden age, wondering how he could forge a career related to the theater.
The answer came with a move to Miami and soon after, a job as public relations director of the Coconut Grove Playhouse. That led to a 26-year stint working for Israeli producer Zev Bufman, who created The Elizabeth Theatre Group, the short-lived company that coaxed Taylor onto the stage in The Little Foxes and Private Lives. Charlie remained discreet about his celebrity clients, but over lunch and a lot of coaxing one could sometimes get a few dishy anecdotes about Taylor and her ex-husband co-star, Richard Burton.
Modest to a fault – the spotlight belonged on the clients, not on himself – Charlie garnered virtually every civic award given by a Miami arts group. He received the highest honor of the Carbonell Awards for his outstanding achievements in the arts, was named Man of the Year by Miami Beach’s Fine Arts Board, was the first person to have his footprints in the Jackie Gleason Theater’s Walk of Stars and he received The Medal of Honor from the City of Miami Beach, its highest honor. And many, many more.
Most theatergoers, of course, never knew of Charlie’s contributions to the South Florida arts scene, and that is exactly as he felt it should be.