Judith Johnson, a dedicated and successful publicist, died suddenly on October 2, 2006. She was a pioneer of theatre and entertainment publicity in Australia – one of its true champions.
Judith was an expert in developing strategies to enlist the interest of journalists, television and radio producers in running mostly positive stories and achieving maximum coverage for the product. She was brilliant at the publicist’s real task – to persuade people to accept the new, the experimental and sometimes, the potentially disastrous.
In her thirty year career, she publicised tours for dozens of visiting international artists as well as publicising over four hundred theatrical productions. Judith brought many to our attention who were already in the lime-light such as Lauren Bacall, Whoopi Goldberg, Sir Peter Ustinov, Rex Harrison, Claudette Colbert, Sir John Mills, Hayley Mills, Juliet Mills, Shirley MacLaine, Cliff Richard, The Bee Gees, Shirley Bassey, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras, Andrea Bocelli, Bryn Terfel, Kiri te Kanawa, Renee Fleming, Marcel Marceau and Philip Glass among many others.
Possessing a bright, friendly, persuasive personality, a keen intelligence and a great love of theatre, Judith was a formidable force, able to succeed in a highly competitive industry. Her successes were not only measured by the amount of publicity she was able to generate, but also by the respect and admiration she engendered in the media and from her colleagues in the arts and entertainment industries.
Judith always worked at full speed. Recently she was immersed in the business of getting maximum exposure for such performers as Debbie Reynolds, stage director Stephen Daldry, Tom Burlinson’s concerts, the 2007 tour of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake and the new Australian musical, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, which she was working on at the time of her death.
Whatever the backstage dramas, Judith was fiercely protective of the performers and shows that were on her books. She was indefatigable and genuinely loved artists and creative talent.
Occasionally, an aggrieved producer or editor would let off steam. “I’ll sort it!” was her catch cry and, without so much as another word, she invariably did. Most often, it was her level-headed humour, lack of pretence and sheer persistence that paid off and brought her many friends in an industry not short on ego and competing talents.
Judith twice promoted national tours of The Wizard of Oz. Lines from that show could have been written about her: In the end we are judged not by how much we love but by how much we are loved by others. The outpouring of love and affection for her after her sudden death has been overwhelming.