In early summer 1974, the newly opened Dominique’s restaurant at 20th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW was on the verge of becoming the newly closed Dominique’s.
That’s when the man who had loaned Dominique D’Ermo the money to open the restaurant called his cousin Charlie Brotman for help.
Brotman, known as Washington’s top sports promoter, met with D’Ermo and came up with the idea of waiters racing down America’s Main Street on Bastille Day, France’s version of the Fourth of July, while balancing a champagne-filled glass on a tray. The winner of the event would be awarded a trip to Paris for two, courtesy of Air France.
With his connections to federal and city officials, Brotman secured the permit to block a lane of Pennsylvania Avenue all the way to the Capitol.
The publicity stunt produced a plethora of local and national press coverage and became an annual ritual.
“There are restaurants all over the country that do this now,” the 87-year-old Brotman said with obvious pride.
While most octogenarians are content to bask in their memories, Brotman remains the co-chairman of the D.C. Sports Hall of Fame selection committee, and hopes to return as the chief announcer of the Presidential Inaugural parade in January 2017, duties that he began handling 60 years earlier.
What’s more, Brotman, who sold his eponymous public relations company in 2011, recently began working part-time for Reingold Link, a strategic communications firm in Northwest Washington.
“Some people whom I’ve told that my dad has a new job think it’s beyond belief, but he has to be active,” said Debbie Doxzon.
Brotman, who wore bright red socks with the Nationals’ logo on them on the day he met with a reporter, was seemingly born to be the publicist that he became.
“I don’t think Charlie ever had a client who didn’t love him,” said media executive Andy Ockershausen, Brotman’s friend of nearly 60 years.
Hob-knobbing with presidents, movie stars and world-class athletes wasn’t the path that Brotman planned as a popular but indifferent student at McKinley Technical High School in the mid-1940s.
Brotman’s Russian Jewish immigrant parents, Milton and Esther, owned a small grocery store called Mother’s Market in Northeast Washington.
Female customers would wait in line to be served by the gregarious Milton rather than Esther. Their only son inherited the father’s charm.
Brotman’s parents kept kosher, and it pained his Orthodox father to have to work in the store on Saturdays.
“Our neighborhood wasn’t Jewish at all,” recalled Brotman, who took a streetcar every day after school for almost a year to meet with the rabbi who prepared him for his bar mitzvah. “Neither were my schools: Emory Elementary, Langley Junior High and McKinley Tech. I didn’t have any Jewish friends when I was in elementary school. People would say something anti-Semitic and then they would quickly add, ‘But I didn’t mean you, Charlie.’
When Brotman brought schmaltz and matzah for lunch at Emory during Pesach, some classmates asked what it was. And for years to come, “my nickname was matz and schmatz,” Brotman said with his distinctive long and loud laugh.
After Brotman followed two years in the Navy by dropping out of the University of Maryland, he thought that he might become a physical education teacher. Then Brotman saw a newspaper ad for a broadcasting school. Remembering how he had enjoyed handling the P.A. at high school football games, he applied.
Radio gigs in small towns in West Virginia – where he met Sada, his wife of 64 years – and Florida followed before Brotman got his break when he interviewed Calvin Griffith, who was then the new owner of the Washington Senators baseball team, for an Orlando station in the spring of 1956.
Recalled Brotman, “I get through the interview and Calvin says, ‘That was a good interview, Charlie. I understand that you’re from Washington.’
I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said, ‘Would you be interested in doing some announcing at Griffith Stadium?’ I said, ‘If that came about, I would think I had died and gone to heaven.’ He said, ‘Next week, we’re having auditions. … Would you like to compete?’”
A few weeks later, the kid from Northeast was introducing Dwight Eisenhower as the president threw out the first pitch at Opening Day. From there, Brotman announced or promoted just about every sport in Washington and got to know celebrities ranging from J. Edgar Hoover and George W. Bush to Muhammad Ali and Andre Agassi.
“My father was the original photo bomber,” Doxzon said, laughing. “He knew how to get into any picture. We would always kid him that the celebrity was actually in the way, that it was supposed to be a picture of my father and the other guy got in it.”
Among the notoriously short-lived teams that Brotman publicized were the Lions/Presidents of the Eastern Hockey League, the Tapers of the American Basketball League — he tried to coax fans to games by getting the owner of rundown Uline Arena to change its name to the Washington Coliseum — the Whips of the United Soccer Association and the North American Soccer League, the Capitols of the American Basketball Association – he had Barricini Chocolates make a chocolate basketball to give to a lucky fan — and the Federals of the United States Football League. None of them lasted more than two seasons, prompting Ockershausen to kiddingly say, “Charlie put more businesses out of business than anybody in town.”
Of course, Brotman also promoted more stable enterprises such as Rosecroft Raceway, the Virginia Slims women’s tennis tour, the PGA Tour, major prizefights, and the Touchdown Club’s lunches and dinners where he got to know such actors and singers as Elizabeth Taylor, The Supremes, Goldie Hawn, Arnold Schwarzenegger — who got Brotman to announce a President’s Council on Physical Fitness event at the White House at the last moment in 1990 — Bo Derek, Richard Burton, Ricardo Montalban and Sylvester Stallone. And who else in Washington has photos with both Richard Nixon and Meatloaf?
Those stars and a who’s who of sports of the 1960s through 1980s — Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle, Cal Ripken, Jr., Joe Namath, Julius Erving, Arnold Palmer, Joe Gibbs, Bruce Jenner, O.J. Simpson and Chris Evert, to name 10 — are framed for posterity with Brotman on the basement walls of his Takoma Park home of 57 years that also has seats from Griffith Stadium, RFK (nee D.C.) Stadium and Nationals Park, where he
announced the games of Washington’s baseball teams.
Brotman was the publicist for Sugar Ray Leonard, the area’s best boxer ever, and the voice for more than four decades of the men’s tennis tournament — the press box at William H. G. Fitzgerald Stadium was named for him upon his 2014 retirement. Brotman brought his signature announcement ending, “Thank you,” from the Senators’ games to the tennis matches at 16th and Kennedy Streets N.W.
“Sometimes I can’t believe that I’ve been in the company of people that I admire and respect and have achieved so much,” said Brotman, who has been elected to 10 Halls of Fame including the Greater Washington Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the Public Relations Society of America Hall of Fame. “I was nobody. I’m overwhelmed with what has happened to me. There’s an expression: The harder you work, the luckier you get. I’ve been very lucky, but at the same time, I have worked very hard on behalf of my clients. When I say thank you, I really mean thank you.”