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NEAR TRUTHS: REMEMBERING
AN ALPHA WOLF

With our recent editorial deep dive on radio promotion, its colorful cast of characters and its heightened importance during the pandemic, we’ve inevitably done more than a little reminiscing about the greats in biz history who played the game at the highest level. Names like Palmese, Ienner, Thyret, Phil Q, Minor, DiLeo, Barbis, Benesch, Wax, Wendell, Coury, Bettencourt and Leach all come to mind.

But if there were ever an all-star team of the greatest pros—or a FedEx Hall of Fame (where Quid Pro Quo was the motto)—the late, great Polly Anthony would be the MVP choice of many bizniks. The rare combination of a titanium work ethic and a determination to win not unlike LeBron James was part of Polly’s legacy. Yes, she was capable of the double sincere, but wielded it with considerable grace and a genuine feeling that she cared about others—especially the artists she represented.

Polly came up inside the CBS system in the Walter Yetnikoff era, making her bones in Epic’s West Coast promo department, led by the legendary Frank “Tookie” DiLeo as Michael Jackson exploded. She earned the top promo job at Epic after DiLeo, who helmed the Thriller campaign, went off to manage MJ (he also credibly played mobster Tuddy Cicero in Goodfellas; his own legacy could have come straight out of a Scorsese epic). Polly was one of the very few execs from Team Walter to not only survive the transition to Tommy Mottola’s leadership but thrive in the Wolf Pack. Indeed, a case can be made that Polly was an alpha wolf.

After Tommy pushed Walter out and tapped Dave Glew to run Epic, Dave launched the 550 imprint; Polly became 550 GM and then Epic’s chief. She and her close friend and mentor Michele Anthony ran with the other overachievers of Sony’s mid-’90s label group (Tommy, Donnie, Dave, et al), and achieved unprecedented chart dominance. Add Celine Dion, Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Titanic, J.Lo, Gloria Estefan and more to Jackson’s monster releases.

Polly reigned at Epic until Mottola and Glew exited and her longtime nemesis Ienner fired her. Jimmy Iovine quickly scooped her up to head Geffen.

Before she left the lair of the wolves, Steve Barnett replaced her at Epic, catapulting him on a meteoric run that’s still underway—and a young Jacqueline Saturn had begun her promo career under Polly.

Caroline boss Saturn, who shares that she first worked for DiLeo walking Laura Branigan’s dog, making Taylor Dayne’s egg whites and picking up Frank’s club sandwiches from the deli back in the day, remembers the fearsome figure Polly cut in the office. “I will always remember how Polly only rolled with the guys,” she says. “It was Steve Kingston and Rick Bisceglia, and she could out-party anyone and just left them in her dust. I have vivid memories of everyone coming to work dying of the worst hangover and her rolling in with her perfect outfit, acting like nothing happened. We were scared to say hello to her; you didn’t talk to her unless she spoke to you first.” Of course, Saturn has since become quite formidable in her own right—she is one of the few execs in the biz to transition from promotion to a senior-management level.

As for Polly, she was among the baddest of the badasses. She was renowned for her abundant grace under pressure and ability to close when the right time came. (She was also known for “fixing” anything resembling a cold streak by firing some top promo people.) She was charismatic and disciplined, ruthless and fun, relentless and hilarious. In short, quite remarkable. We lost Polly to pancreatic cancer in 2013, but her legend lives on.

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