A Guy Named Charlie Cinnamon Lives Here
By Brett Sokol
If you want to see Charlie Cinnamon roll his eyes, just refer to him as a “communications director,” a “media specialist” or any of the other bloodless monikers today’s publicists labor under. Cinnamon considers himself a press agent, and if that title conjures up a vanished smoke-filled world of hard-boiled newspaper columnists and whispered confidences straight out of Sweet Smell of Success, that’s an association he’ll gladly accept. Indeed, his old-school vibe is a big part of why Cinnamon remains beloved by several generations of local journalists. But he’s also a living connection to Miami Beach’s original late-’50s heyday, when Cinnamon himself was just another wide-eyed arrival from New York, fresh out of school and looking to make his way in a scene already being obsessively chronicled on the gossip pages.
“You have no idea how competitive it was then,” he chuckles, recalling his first gig handling PR for the now-defunct Empress Hotel. The Beach may have been filled with tuxedo-clad celebrities and free-spending swells, but the Empress was hardly the Delano of its day. “There were two daily newspapers then, but just getting a client even mentioned was a major accomplishment.” It was a visit to the theater that finally launched Cinnamon on his path to becoming a key behindthe- scenes figure in Miami’s arts world.
Accompanying a friend to the American debut of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, he found himself transfixed by the absurdist musings onstage— even as much of the rest of the audience walked out. Come intermission, he was surrounded by empty seats. “I had to beg my friend to stay, but I’d never been to a play like that before! It was a whole new language of the theater!”
Still buzzing afterwards, Cinnamon wrote up an impassioned review for the Empress’ in-house newsletter, one that made its way to Playhouse owner George Engel, who promptly ran it as an ad in both of Miami’s daily papers. Then producer Zev Buffman hired Cinnamon as his own publicist, a move that quickly turned him into the go-to person for Miami theater. It’s also a template for the role Cinnamon continues to play to this day: more enthusiastic fan than hype artist. His tools of the trade have changed a bit—“I finally had to retire my typewriter,” he quips—but not his warmly personal approach. “Twitter? Are you kidding me?” he scoffs. “Effective public relations is still based on real relationships, not mass e-mails.”
Accordingly, Cinnamon is more than a little dismissive of what passes for modern-day celebrity. His idea of a truly charismatic star? “Elizabeth Taylor,” he answers, practically purring. He remembers accompanying Taylor to the opening night of her 1981 Broadway debut in The Little Foxes, fresh off his stint promoting the play’s Fort Lauderdale warm-up run. The Manhattan throng gathered outside took on a frightening intensity as hulking security guards were forced to usher Taylor’s entourage through a back alley and into a waiting limousine. Amid the frenzy, Cinnamon found himself tossed headfirst onto the limo’s backseat floor as Taylor’s fans banged on the windows and frantically pushed their faces up to the glass for a peek inside. “It was crazy! Then I look up and Elizabeth is just sitting there very calmly with a big grin on her face. ‘More!’ she says. ‘I want more!’” Cinnamon raises an eyebrow: “Now that was a star.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY LYALL ASTON