Gil Schwartz, the CBS network’s longtime chief communications officer who, under the pen name Stanley Bing, skewered corporate misbehavior throughout the business world in columns for Esquire and Fortune magazines, died on Saturday at his home in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 68.
His wife, Laura Vienty, said the cause was cardiac arrest.
For more than 20 years Mr. Schwartz was the tough-talking but charming spokesman for CBS and a confidant of its top brass, most notably Leslie Moonves, the chief executive who resigned in 2018 over sexual harassment accusations.
But it was as Stanley Bing, an alter ego that he kept secret for many years, that Mr. Schwartz found his greatest renown.
A former actor and playwright, he began his witty, often stinging columns for Esquire in 1984, when he was a rising executive at Group W, the television division of Westinghouse Electric. He dreaded what would happen if his bosses found out.
“I was Zorro, Clark Kent, putting one over on Perry White,” he wrote in an essay for The New York Times Book Review in 2018. “But with this cool little secret came the fear — debilitating, crushing, sleep-destroying. Because, you know, I simply could not be fired. I had a mortgage, a little girl about to go to a preschool that cost more than my car each year.”
Instead of being fired, Mr. Schwartz’s bosses seemed to relish his secret identity. In 1992, as he was preparing to promote his second book, “Crazy Bosses,” on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” he outed himself to Burton Staniar, the chairman of Group W. “I laughed hysterically and then attempted to strangle him,” Mr. Staniar said in an interview with The Times in 1996.
Two weeks later, Mr. Schwartz said, he was promoted to vice president.
By the mid-1990s his side gig had become an increasingly open secret, and he seemed more delighted than terrified to be called out. In 1996, after he was named the top P.R. executive at CBS following its acquisition by Westinghouse, he was asked to confirm his extracurricular career. He released a coy statement: “It is inappropriate for Mr. Schwartz to speak on the record, since he is accustomed to disavowing Mr. Bing, other than occasionally impersonating him at parties.”
By then, he had moved his Esquire column, titled “Executive Summary,” to Fortune for twice the money that Esquire had paid him. In Fortune he renamed it “While You Were Out.”
For one Fortune column, in 2004, he was inspired by an executive suite struggle at Disney between the chief executive, Michael Eisner, and his handpicked president, Michael Ovitz, writing:
“Eisner and Ovitz and Ovitz and Eisner. Ovitz and Eisner and Eisner and Ovitz. Bright, shiny stock options tied up with string … these are a few of my favorite things! Hm? Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve been singing. This whole two-titans-locked-in-mortal-conflict thing has got me in a merry mood.”
He also wrote 12 other books under the Bing pseudonym, most of them humorous riffs about management, including “What Would Machiavelli Do? The Ends Justify the Meanness” (2000) and “Sun Tzu Was a Sissy: Conquer Your Enemies, Promote Your Friends, and Wage the Real Art of War” (2004). He wrote three novels, among them “You Look Nice Today” (2003).
Gil David Schwartz was born on May 20, 1951, in Manhattan and grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y. His father, Bill Schwartz, was a professor of social work at Columbia University, and his mother, Ruth (Efron) Schwartz, was a social worker.
With his parents’ encouragement, Gil helped his younger brother, Michael, who is deaf, learn to communicate by speaking evenly to him and moving his lips in a deliberate way so that Michael could read them. “Gil told me because of that demand, he developed what he called his ‘radio voice,’” Michael Schwartz, now a law professor at Syracuse University, wrote in an email.
After graduating from Brandeis University in Massachusetts with a bachelor’s degree in theater arts and English, Mr. Schwartz became an actor and playwright and performed in an improvisational troupe called the Proposition. He founded another improv group, the Next Move. To support himself he took on odd jobs, including driving a taxi and selling typewriter ribbons.
But with a wife and two young children and wanting a steady income, Mr. Schwartz turned to a corporate career in 1980, taking a job as a speechwriter for Teleprompter, a cable television company, which was acquired the next year by Westinghouse.
He found an outlet for his humor in Esquire, where the articles editor, Dave Hirshey, had hired him a few years earlier to write for the The Daily News’s Sunday magazine as a freelancer. Mr. Hirshey recalled that when Mr. Schwartz handed in his first Esquire column, he used the name Stanley Bingham.
“I said, ‘What was that, your name in the old country?’” Mr. Hirshey said in a phone interview. “It was shortened to Bing, and he started this high-wire act of having one foot in corporate machinations and another in business satire.”
Mr. Schwarz remained the top spokesman for CBS for nearly 23 years, counseling top executives like Mr. Moonves, Peter Lund and Mel Karmazin and overseeing a staff of more than 100 publicists. He performed parody songs at the network’s annual affiliates meeting dressed as celebrities like Johnny Cash, Liberace and Gen. George S. Patton.
He was, in many ways, an old-school public relations executive, doling out information to reporters as easily as he would play hardball with them. Writing as Stanley Bing for Esquire in 1994, Mr. Schwartz described the ideal traits of someone in his job. Referring to one of them, he wrote, “The ability to feel deep, stupid loyalty is a must.”
His own loyalty was tested in 2018 as accusations of sexual misconduct against Mr. Moonves mounted. According to a draft report of an investigation by outside lawyers for CBS, Mr. Schwartz learned about some of the charges in late 2017, not long after the Harvey Weinstein sex-crime allegations broke. Mr. Schwartz drafted a resignation letter for Mr. Moonves, but Mr. Moonves didn’t sign it. The report said Mr. Schwartz had not told the CBS board about what he knew.
In addition to his wife and brother, he is survived by his daughter, Nina Pajak; his son, Will; a stepdaughter, Rachel Bender; a stepson, Kyle Bender, and two grandchildren.
The Bing and Schwartz names had been intertwined for so long that when he concluded his essay for The Times in 2018, Mr. Schwartz seemingly strained to disentangle them.
It was, he said, a “good time to thank the other for all the good he, uh, we, I mean, they have done for my, um, that is, our lives over the years. I might also add that Stanley Bing has a new novel out. I’m eager to see what it’s going to do for us both.”