Joint Chiefs Nominee Had Hollywood Upbringing

Nominee Adm. Mike Mullen has the requisite military background to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But his family background is somewhat unusual for a military leader: He grew up in Los Angeles, where his father was a well-known publicist for movie and television actors.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

For more on Mike Mullen and his early years, we turn now to DAY TO DAY's senior producer, Steve Proffitt.

STEVE PROFFITT: Mullen grew up in Hollywood's golden era. Both his parents worked in the entertainment industry. His mother, Jane, was for a time an assistant to the great entertainer Jimmy Durante. His father, Jack Mullen, was a well-known and well-respected publicist back in the days when they were known as press agents.

Mr. PETER GRAVES (Actor): Yes. His father, Jack Mullen, he was a crackerjack publicist in a pretty kind of loony business, in show business.

PROFFITT: That's the actor Peter Graves, perhaps best remembered for his role as Jim Phelps in the TV series "Mission: Impossible." Graves was one of Jack Mullen's many clients. He says the publicist started out working for MGM Studio and later branched out on his own.

Mr. GRAVES: Jack was a genius at it, and was one of the most respected publicists and journalists in the entertainment business in Hollywood.

PROFFITT: According to Graves, the powerful Hollywood columnist Heda Hopper adored Jack Mullen, and he developed other strong relationships with a variety of powerful and influential Hollywood writers.

Ms. ARMY ARCHERD (Columnist, Variety): Hi, it's Army Archerd.

PROFFITT: The venerable daily Variety columnist, Army Archerd, counted the Mullens among his friends and neighbors. In a voicemail, he told me he remembers Admiral Mullen as a boy.

Mr. ARCHERD: I think you can find some stuff that will be useful to you if you can log on to my blog, www.armyarcherd.com.

PROFFITT: Archerd notes that the family of four boys and a girl were no strangers to stars. Jack Mullen's clients over the years included Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Phyllis Diller, and Carol Burnett.

Peter Graves remembers the family too.

Mr. GRAVES: And they had these four strapping boys that I certainly had met them all when they came to "Mission: Impossible." A great pack they were, as I said.

PROFFITT: Mike Mullen went on to get an appointment at the Naval Academy, where people like Virginia Senator Jim Webb were among his friends and classmates. He rose through the ranks, no doubt drawing on some of the PR lessons he learned from his father, who died in 1972. For instance, Admiral Mullen, known to enjoy his iPod, figured it was a good way to connect with sailors. So he started a weekly podcast.

(Soundbite of recording)

Unidentified Man #1: Welcome to the chief of naval operations podcast for July 16th...

PROFFITT: In a recent podcast, Admiral Mullen talked about meeting with sailors and their spouses at the San Diego Naval Station.

Admiral MIKE MULLEN (U.S. Navy): We get great questions, great engagement, and some of those things come back and have a significant impact on Navy policy.

PROFFITT: None of the Mullen children followed their parents into a Hollywood career, a fact that doesn't surprise actor Peter Graves. He says their father, Jack Mullen, was a serious guy, interested in lots of different things, who raised his kids to have similar broad interests.

Mr. GRAVES: I'm sure that good Jack, with that great Irish face and a slightly out of place nose, must be looking down from heaven and then smiling.

PROFFITT: Actor Peter Graves.

Jack Mullen's son Mike steps before the cameras tomorrow for his close-up in confirmation hearings as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Steve Proffitt, NPR News.

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