Monday, May 11, 2009

Travels with Dom

Dom DeLuise was a halogen light in a 40 watt world.

The first time I met him was backstage at The David Frost Show, and little did I know that a short 7 years later, I'd be standing next to him waiting to go on stage at Sahara's Lake Tahoe Resort watching as he walked on stage to open for Pat and Debby ("You Light Up My Life") Boone.

But there is a lot more to the story.

I worked with Howard Rothberg. Dom was on his way to London for an appearance on The Muppet Show, and Howard had arranged a Trans-Atlantic crossing on Cunard for his entire family. He only had to do one 45 minute lecture for the pasengers and they gave him 3 suites and airfare for everyone. It was a sweet deal.

I showed up at his house on Corsica Drive in Pacific Palisades to escort the DeLuise family to the airport. After meeting his wife Carol and three sons, Peter Michael and David, we all piled into the family station wagon for the trip to LAX. They had to stop in NY first to pick up his mother, and then get to the ship for the crossing to London.

It was quite chaotic, and naturally Dom was besieged with fans. But instead of signing autographs, he had these little pre-signed printed cards, and he gave them out to people. They disappeared into the crowds at LAX and I drove the car back to his house.

To this day, I have no godly idea why we didn't get a limo.

Back to Lake Tahoe....

We arrive two days in advance, and the pressure is on. There is a lot riding on this engagement. Pat and Debby Boone are very popular, and this is a big deal. It marks a calculated strategy to not only increase his ability to make money, but to elevate him to headliner star status.

Dom's a natural comedian, but putting together an opening act is no small feat. He is going to bring back "Dominik The Great" a flawed magician he first made famous on The Gary Moore Show. There were costume changes, special effects and a whole slide show of pictures of his family and growing up in Brooklyn.

We were on stage rehearsing when the VP of Entertainment walked in. I don't remember his name, but I went up to introduce myself and he asked me who was on stage. I thought he was joking. It was hard to miss his name. There were posters at the airport and all town...not to mention this big marquee at the front of the Hotel with his name on it. I decided to go along with the joke.

I said," That's Dom DeLuise". His response floored me. "That's NOT Dom DeLuise", he shot back. "Dom DeLuise is on The Carol Burnett Show."

Oh my god. He thinks Dom is Tim Conway....and that's who he thought he booked. It was one of the few times in my career that I was speechless.

He was very confused, scratching his head for a few moments as Dom was rehearsing 'Dominck The Great' on stage. He was hilarious. The buyer started to laugh and I could see that all it took was a good joke to avoid a disaster.

Dom was a big hit. All went according to plan, and Dom appeared regularly in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, and Atlantic City. But I never told him about what happened.

Here's another great 'inside' true story...

Robin Williams became famous on TV as Mork. What you probably don't know is that Dom DeLuise was the first choice for the part.

Here's what happened. Jerry Paris and Dom were friends and one day during the kid's softball game in Pacific Palisades, Jerry asked Dom to do a small cameo in Happy Days. Dom, who always found it hard to say no to his friends, agreed and Jerry sent over the script and contract.

We told Jerry that Dom wasn't doing any television...especially the #1 rated show on ABC. We had just passed on resigning for the next season of Dean Martin Roasts, and there was no way we were going to piss off Dean Martin, Greg Garrison and NBC.

They would just have to find someone else to put on a red costume and play an alien named Mork.

And the next person they picked wasn't Robin Williams...but I'll save that story for another time.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A guy named Buddy

My father was in the fur business in NY, and he knew a guy named Buddy. He was always well dressed, but never seemed to work. My Dad would work all day marking fur pelts, going to auctions, working on deals. Buddy would just hang around.

When I first went away to college he told me that Buddy wanted to give me a going away to college gift. He asked me what I wanted and I told him a typewriter would be great. He came back the next day and said he needed a specific model number. The next day a brand new Smith Corona showed up from Buddy. It was as hot as the asphalt streets on a summer day, but I didn't care.

There wasn't anything Buddy couldn't get - or people he didn't know. And he was always helpful.

So, fast forward three years later and I am a freshly graduated college graduate looking for work. Naturally, Buddy wants to help. I went into NY to meet with Buddy. It was my first 'meeting'...and boy it was interesting.

There was Buddy in the middle of all the action. He looked at me and said...'So kid, what do you wanna do?" I told him that I had worked for David Frost and got my degree in Journalism. He was not impressed. He asked again...So Kid, what do you wanna do?

I'm a quick learner...'Work in television" I said. Buddy looked up and smiled and pulled out a stack of business cards and started flipping through them. He'd stop and dial the number. " Hi, It's he there?" He called every major talent agency in NY and a few other people. They all called back. He set me up with the William Morris office in NY, The Ashley Famous Agency and a few more.

One of my more interesting encounters was in a coffee shop across from the Brill Building. My 'interview' was with a night club owner from New Jersey. He had enough gold rings and chains hanging around his neck to go into escrow on a house. He says " A friend of mine tells me you wanna work in television, is that right? He then starts to tell me about the clubs he owns and that he's also a personal manager for the group that recorded The Peppermint Twist.

He then gives me the name of another friend of his who is looking for a guy to run their television department. The production company was called Bryantson Films and the name was Lou Peraino.

The next day Buddy calls me and let me know that if I want the job with Mr. Peraino it's mine. The title is Director of TV Development and the starting salary is $65,000 a year. Gulp! It was 1974. I had just graduated college and two months past my 21st birthday. I got dizzy...and just a bit giddy! Who needed a job in the mail room at William Morris!

So, I asked my Dad what he thought. He said it was probably a legit deal, but that if I said 'yes'...then I could never say 'no'. What that means is they could ask for tickets for the Tonight Show, or for you to stand on a street corner holding a bag of money.

All of a sudden the mail room at William Morris looked more interesting.
I called Buddy and told him that I was going to save up and move to LA, which was conveniently true. More importantly, I didn't want to piss off Buddy.

A few years later, Louis Peraino was found guilty as part of the Federal investigation behind Deep Throat and The Devil and Miss Jones. On Tuesday, May 3, 1977 that story appeared in Daily Variety...along with my being named Associate Producer of The Victor Awards Show.

And only in Hollywood would those stories appear on the same page!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Operator, This is Howard Cosell

He was standing backstage and reading through his notes...quickly. He would glance at the page and turn it. He went through about 9 pages in less than a minute. And he remembered everything.

That is the power of a photographic mind, which that day took the form of Howard Cosell. He was one of the most colorful, pompous, intelligent, and popular personalities in professional sports broadcasting because most fans couldn't stand him...and he didn't care. With his prolific memory and self importance, Howard would pontificate on almost any topic at the drop of a dime. He was 'always on'.

If you were born after 1977, here's a classic clip of the classic on air banter between Howard and 'The Champ".

Back to the story.

Howard was a guest host on The David Frost Show, which itself was, on paper, a brilliant idea. By that time, I was also the cue card writer on the show, but he didn't want any cue cards. He was very nervous and we could all see it. This wasn't a broadcast booth or radio studio. The great Cosell was not broadcasting a fight or football game, he was interviewing movie stars on a stage. He was out of his element.

The show was less than entertaining, and like elective dental surgery, we were all glad when it was over.

I was sitting with some friends in the dressing room after the show and Howard walked in. I am sure he did not notice us. He went straight into the make-up room, and sat down in the big 'barber's chair' that was surrounded by mirrors. He looked in the mirror, tugged at his hair, and loosened his tie. The make-up room became what he didn't have on stage....a broadcast booth.

He threw off his coat, sat back in the chair and picked up the phone as if it were a microphone. Then, without missing a beat, boomed into it as if he were broadcasting Monday Night Football,

"Hello Operator, THIS IS HOWARD COSELL."

And it wouldn't have suprised me a bit if the operator responded with..."Yeah, sure you are".

Friday, March 6, 2009

Whatever Alice wants...

Alice Cooper came to Las Vegas as the guest of Barron Hilton in 1977 because his manager loved Las Vegas and Alice loved playing golf .

Each year, Mr. Hilton turned over the main ballroom of the Las Vegas Hilton, and hosted The Victor Awards Show where big Hollywood stars and professional athletes came together to raise money for The City of Hope.

There is only one Alice Cooper. He is one of the great musical talents and stars of our time. He was perfecting the art of 'rock opera' long before anyone else. His stage performances were pure theatre, and world famous for breaking all the rules.

But my job this particular weekend was to make sure that his appearance on the show and his stay at the Las Vegas Hilton went off without a hitch. So, my opening line was Whatever Alice wants", which meant keeping him and his 'entourage' happy. It was an easy gig...all he had to do was show up and give out an award. And play golf.

About 2 hours after they arrived, Alice was already on the golf course. As a guest of Barron Hilton, there was no trouble getting the best tee times. I am sure that few if any people there even recognized Alice Cooper the rock star.

The other two members of the entourage were his manager, Bob Emmer and his wife Sue. She was happy to go directly to the Las Vegas Hilton spa. Bob and I got to know each other. Alice was there to give out the award for Golfer of the Year, so we went over the schedule for his spot on the show.

Mr. Hilton hosted a private reception high atop the hotel with breathtaking views of Las Vegas which Alice and the Emmers attended. It was a chance to meet and take photos with the other presenters and sports stars.

It was amazing to watch how everyone wanted to have their picture taken with Alice Cooper. He 'worked the room' like a pro and talked to everyone. He was exactly NOT what any of us had expected.

There were a few 'requests' over the course of the weekend in terms of photos or adjustments to schedules. Without exception, the answer was always yes...and then he always added Whatever Barron Wants.

By the end of the weekend, it had become a running gag. We coined that phrase, which we still use to this day whenever we see each other.

But the 'Barron' had one more request of Alice before the weekend was over.

I was also working on a TV show called KidsWorld, which was a kid's version of 60 minutes where youngsters interviewed famous stars. Larry Einhorn was the Producer and Director of The Victor Awards...and KidsWorld. Small world.

So, enjoy Beth Einhorn's interview with Alice Cooper from 1977 in Las's what 'the Barron' wanted...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My First Hollywood Home - 4616 Cahuenga

I arrived in California on July 28, 1974 after a 4 day cross country drive and went directly to my first apartment at 4616 Cahuenga Boulevard in Toluca Lake.

A mutual friend of Fabian who was living in LA had found the place for me before I left New York. When I pulled into the driveway, my apartment was ready and waiting. It was a typical 'California' complex, 24 apartments encircling a big pool with palm trees. What I didn't know is that the people who lived there were anything but typical.

Don't get me was great. We had Hollywood stars, a LAPD detective, a retired pit boss, two writers and a hooker. It's where I met my wife, and learned to cook. There were parties, dinners and a few earthquakes just to make life interesting.

My rent was $150.00 per month for a fully furnished one bedroom apartment. Universal Studios was down the street, as was NBC and Disney and Warner Bros. Toluca Lake was (and still is) home to hundreds of movie and TV stars.

We had our share of resident stars. Ben Murphy (photo on the left), was starring in the ABC hit, Alias Smith and Jones. A young actor, Bruce Boxleitner, who would go on to star in Tron, Babylon Five and How the West Was Won was my downstairs neighbor. But the real stars of the building were the resident managers, Roberta and Earl Kirk.

They held court poolside, regaling residents and visitors alike with their stories and opinions. Roberta did all of the talking...for the first few weeks I didn't think that Earl could talk. She started as an extra in the early Mary Pickford films, and then went on (as she told it) to run a Hollywood brothel and then as social secretary for Sunny Sund, the heiress to the Don the Beachcomber Restaurants. Earl was a pit boss for Ben Siegel. That's all I ever knew about him. He was the strong silent type.

I became Roberta's pet project. She took me around and made all the introductions in Toluca Lake. Breakfast at Patys, lunch at Lakeside. Yes, there actually is a small lake right next to the famous Lakeside Country Club. Because it was so close to the studios, it was a who's who of Hollywood. Errol Flynn, Walt Disney, W.C Fields, Bob Hope, and Bing Crosby all lived there. Going to the post office on Riverside Drive usually meant running into Jonathan Winters.

I was living and breathing Hollywood, and I was as obnoxious as a 22 year old know it all could be. I lived on the second floor, but paid to have an extra phone jack installed by the pool so I didn't have to run upstairs every time my phone rang. Not that it rang that much anyway.

Here are two of my favorite stories from those years.

The Girl Across the Pool.

Betty Evans lived directly across from me overlooking the pool. I was there about two weeks when one night she came home early and closed the curtains to her apartment. About two hours later, 4 guys came walking up the stairs, knocked on her door and went into her apartment. My imagination took over. What in the world was going on in there?

The next morning I went straight to Roberta. It seems as though Betty was a great cook, and she had formed a food club. These 4 guys paid her to buy and cook them dinner once a week. My illusions about Betty were gone. But I still didn't know what she did. She kept pretty much to herself. Then one morning she emerged from her apartment wearing a girl scout uniform. Betty Evans ran a cooking club for 4 single guys and was a professional girl scout. I was in Hollywood for sure!

The First Hollywood Manager
Mike and Gert Froug lived in the rear apartment, which was part of the old Weddington Mansion. Roberta introduced me, and I spent many days (and a few dinners) with them soaking up stories about early the golden days in Hollywood.

Mike was Mary Pickford's business manager. He was an accountant by trade and met Pickford early in his career. We would sit in the kitchen telling me stories about how they built Pickfair, working with the studios, the whole thing. I could kick myself for not getting a tape recorder. It was amazing to hear. Without really knowing it, he created the concept of the Hollywood manager. He told me how once signed Dick Powell as a client by getting him to autograph a piece of paper that turned out to be the signature line of a cashier's check for $50,000.

Mike was 80 and still sharp. He could sit down with a pad of paper and add a row of numbers 8 across and 8 deep in his head. Some people can say they've seen it all, Mike was one of the few who started it all.

When my father came out to visit, we had dinner with Mike and Gert. I thought my Dad would enjoy Mike's stories about Hollywood. Upon hearing that my Dad was a furrier, Gert came out with an old Lambskin coat and asked my father what she should do. My father, who was not known for his tact, suggested that she cut it up and use it as a cushion for the toliet seat.

I loved my first Hollywood home at 4616 Cahuenga...and it only took me about 4 months to learn how to pronounce it.

PS. The apartment is still there, although the pool is gone and the rent is now $1500. Sometimes, I really miss 1974.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Rusty in 5.....

Every Saturday morning, my father would drive me 10 miles to Freeport at 5am. That was the only way I could get to WGBB, where I was the Saturday morning news announcer.

It was a pretty simple job and I loved it. First, I'd check the AP and UPI wire machines for national and regional news stories and the local weather. Then I'd check the morning edition of Newsday or the Long Island Press for coverage of local high school & college sports. I got the scores and then add my own descriptions like; Baldwin Smashed Great Neck 17-8, or Long Beach High squeaked by Rockville Center 6-5. I had 5 minutes twice an hour. The only thing they really showed me was how to rip the paper off the machines.

My next radio job came a few years later while I was going to University of Nebraska at Lincoln. I worked weekends as a DJ for the local country-western station, KECK-Proud Country. I knew nothing...nothing...about country music. But I knew how to run a board and had a good radio voice and delivery.

The program director selected the records to play. They were all color coded. Red songs in the first 15 minutes, Yellow songs in the 2nd segment and so on. A song would be playing on the first turntable, I was cuing up the second song and picking out the third song while reading over the ad copy. And we had to keep a live FCC log of everything we did. You really appreciate the value of 5 seconds when you're on live radio.

I had no idea of who these singers were, and almost got fired my very first day. I was on the air for about two hours when I saw a song that I liked, Drift Away. For some reason I thought it was the Dobie Gray version, but it wasn't.

I wish I had an air check for what happened next...
" It's 45 right now in downtown Lincoln, looks pretty clear for tonight so all you guys and gals headed out to the Circle Barn on L Street should have a great time. We've got more great country music for you right now on 1520 AM KECK-Proud Country Lincoln Nebraska with...

Drift Away...."

By Narvel Felts??????

I started to laugh really hard and couldn't stop. Live. On the Air! Narvel Felts? You've got to be kidding! What happened to Dobie Gray? I hit the button and the song started. And so did the calls. The first was from my boss. It went downhill from there, but thankfully I didn't get fired.

Later that year when KECK held their annual Proud Country Festivalat the Lincoln Arena, I meet Narvel Felts. Nice guy. Naturally I didn't mention a word about our 'first meeting'.

That night I had the pleasure of introducing a young 16 year old singer in one of her first appearances. She was nervous, and I stood backstage with her dad and sister.

The song was Delta Dawn, and the singer was Tanya Tucker.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Body Slam for Robocop

I have worked with a number of 'characters' in my career... Spiderman, Darth Vader, The Chipmunks...even PacMan.

But putting together a national promotion for RoboCop was one of the more unique experiences in my life.

In the late 80's and early 90's professional wrestling had become dominant in sports entertainment. Working with Jan Keane and her team at Orion Pictures, we created the ultimate RoboCop tie-in promotion.

It was the perfect movie promotion. We wanted access to their vast cable audience, and they wanted a movie star who could get in the ring!

It took months of discussion, negotiations and meetings in Los Angeles and Atlanta. Turner owned World Championship Wrestling with huge wrestling stars like Nature Boy Rick Flair, Sting, Lex Luger, Sid Vicious and The Undertaker.

Finally we agreed on a venue and started to put the promotion together. It would be one of their biggest live and PPV (Pay Per View) events of 1990- Capitol Combat!

First, we needed to get the RoboCop costume and the stuntman willing to do the job, since we all knew that Peter Weller was never going to do this. So we hired one of the stuntmen from the film and got one of the actual 'costumes' from filming. They had a number of suits built, but we couldn't use the close-up suit because they didn't 'walk' and the arm movements were limited.

We went to Atlanta to tape the TV spots and meet the Turner and WCW executives. They gave us a tour of their wrestling school, and we met Sting. No, not the singer...the wrestler.

Talk about first impressions...what do you say to a guy with a full face of make-up, bright blonde hair in spikes who is wearing black spandex tights? Try it sometime...small talk with a professional wrestler ain't easy unless you're a fan.

A few short weeks later it was on to Washington D.C., and the surreal world of live professional wrestling. The Turner and Orion press departments had done a great job of building excitement for the appearance of RoboCop in the 'squared circle'. The stadium was sold out, and the PPV orders were breaking records.

We arrived the day before for rehearsals. That's right, rehearsals. Each wrestler has a storyline to follow, and they work out their movements in the ring in detail. They had signals, the ref's help and it's all staged for the cameras and the audience for maximum entertainment. It was like watching a rehearsal for a Soap Opera, but with lots more makeup and supplements (wink and a nod).

The wrestlers arrived by limo in designer suits and diamonds. They certainly didn't look like Wall Street bankers, but it was all business. We worked on the storyline, and how RoboCop would enter the show. Not all of them liked the idea, but the hardest part was getting the stuntman to be able to climb into the ring wearing the costume.

Another difficult problem was his size. RoboCop in a theatre is 30 feet tall, in real life he's 5'8". Against a 6'6 wrestler he doesn't look that menacing. Some quick thinking and a few blocks of dry ice solved that problem...and we made sure that nobody got too close.

I had never been in a stadium that was that loud. It was like standing next to a jet engine at full throtle..the entire night. The fans were unbelievable. It was fully choreographed frenzy the likes of which I had never seen. The matches were amazing to watch. And they roar from the crowd just added to the excitement.

When Robo walked down the gauntlet to the ring, the wrestlers scattered in all directions and everyone went absolutely crazy.

It was perfect.

PS. The smoking rules in theatres were different then, and the distribution team at Orion put out a special 'no smoking' policy trailer for theatres months before the release. If you missed it then, enjoy it now.

The Rocky Screening

I loved working in Television. It wasn't until 1976 that the thought of working in the movie business even crossed my mind.

But it did one night at a special screening for a new movie called Rocky.

Rogers and Cowan was the #1 PR firm in Hollywood and was led by the founders Henry Rogers and Warren Cowan. Henry brought clients like Ford to Hollywood, while Warren and his team represented every major Hollywood star. Tom Wilhite worked in their TV department and we had worked on a couple of projects together. They always had stars to book, and we always needed stars to appear on shows.

I called Tom on a regular basis to book KidsWorld, which was a kid's version of 60 minutes. Each week, a star was interviewed by a 12-15 year old kid. The show ran for almost 7 years, and it was great fun.

One day Tom called me to pitch a new young actor named Sylvester Stallone. And he pitched hard...but he was unknown and we needed recognized names. He told me about this new movie, and the next day I got an envelope with the name ROCKY emblazoned across the back.

I had never been to an 'Academy Screening' before. It was at the new theatre on Wilshire. Tom was at the door and the theatre was packed. I took my seat and waited for the film to start.

120 minutes later, over 1,000 people were standing up, yelling and applauding wildly. I had never seen a reaction to a movie like that before...and haven't seen one since. It was amazing. They didn't want it to stop.

The audience made their way down to the lobby of the theatre and that's when I started to notice the people around me. They were movie folks. And unlike the TV people I was used to, these men and women were different. But in a good way. There was this subtle elegance and self assurance that just filled the air while they were waiting for the movie makers to come down the grand staircase.

And then the lobby erupted even louder than before. It was a movie coronation, and Sylvester Stallone was the new king. That night he had become a movie star in front of my eyes.

I knew I was witnessing something special, and I stood there watching the spectacle and celebration around me. That was the moment that I knew that this was where I wanted to be.

A footnote. I never booked Sylvester Stallone for Kids World, and years later worked at MGM on Rocky V...but to this day I have never met Sylvester Stallone.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Oh My Godzilla

I never had more fun working on a movie that I did on Godzilla.

For the most part, marketing movies is a long and hard process. It takes months…there are always problems…and you seldom get what you want. Godzilla was exactly the opposite. We secured the rights to the movie and got everyone (marketing, sales and production) in a room together and came up with a strategy. It was done in a matter of weeks with a real team effort from everyone at New World.

Understand that this was a Godzilla movie dubbed for the the US market…bad lip sync, toothpick models and a small man in a rubber suit. You know…everything you'd expect a Godzilla movie to be. But the ‘big guy’ was coming back to the big screen, and we had to make sure that people knew it.

Only the hard core Godzilla fans knew that Raymond Burr was in the first Godzilla movie. We put together a small cast and shot a few new scenes with Mr. Burr. We used footage from two other New World classics, The Philadelphia Experiment and Def Con 4 .

Most importantly, we wanted to make sure that the audience had a good time, so my wife Jill had a great idea and we put ‘Bambi Meets Godzilla’ on the head of the film. If you haven’t seen this, you’re in for a treat.

Next, we were faced with a monster of a PR challenge... so we decided that it was time to put Godzilla on the road. We made arrangements to bring in the actual costume from Japan. Godzilla may look 100 feet tall on film, but as costume he barely broke 5' . And the suit was 100% rubber, which means that it was very very heavy. We hired a small stuntman (which is not the easiest thing to do). After he fainted in the costume during rehearsals, we threw in an extra oxygen tank to make sure he didn't collapse live on national television.

Godzilla returned to NY, for a visit with Regis Philbin, who had just started his syndicated show, and then it was on to Times Square and a BBQ at Shea Stadium. But the fun didn’t stop there. We had put together a big deal with Dr. Pepper and they saturated TV with a huge (naturally) campaign to support one of the most obvious product placements ever filmed. We were shameless.

But for me, the best part wasn’t the 250 ‘beach patrols, or the Godzilla parties, or the merchandise or the classic poster or the 10 foot standee…it was the song.

My wife Jill is a terrific singer, and she had an old demo that I thought was just what we needed. And it was free. We laid down some updated instrumentals for one of the few movie monster love songs ever to have been re-recorded.

The campaign worked. We got tremendous PR, the promotional screenings were packed and the movie was a hit.

I Was Afraid to Love You, the love theme from Godzilla went gold! And I should know. It cost me $250 to have the record goldplated and framed for my wife.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dress British

My life as a personal manager started at company in Beverly Hills called D'Blity.

D'Blity was an acronym for Dress British, Look Italian, Think Yiddish!

A group of very talented comedians from Chicago's Second City had come out to LA to claim fame and fortune. I was working at Columbia Pictures TV for Ed Fishman and Randy Freer on an NBC game show called The Fun Factory. We hired them for the show. They were very talented and funny writers and performers. It was a daytime comedy-game show. It was the first and last of the genre.

I was lured away by their manager...a smooth talking man named Stan Sirotin. I would come to find out later that smooth was the least of his issues. But I packed my bags and left game shows to become a manager. Personal management is a hard business. It's faith, compromise, baby sitting and full time problem solving. It is also a business of feast or famine, and the feast was about to end.

Stan was the expert. His wife Beryl kept the books. I was a manager and next door to me was Jerry Cutler. Jerry was part manager, part client and full time Rabbi for the Synagogue for the Performing Arts. If Jerry wasn't auditioning for a congregant, he was giving Bar Mitzvah lessons to Charlie Matthau. We were down the street from a Chinese take out place and a block away from the Friar's Club. It was a perfect recipe for disaster.

Stan fashioned himself as a real Hollywood deal maker. One minute he was helping negotiate a deal for a Johnny Carsey's wife (Marcy) for her first job at ABC as the Manager of Comedy. The next minute, he was renting Neil Diamond's house in Malibu. But Stan's greatest gift was also his worst. He didn't know how to tell a client that some jobs were better than others. He recommended everything. For Stan, it was 'all great' because there was a commission.

He talked Mert Rich into doing a local show on KNBC called The Busing Game. The title alone screamed...stay away. Not Stan. He bought the rights to a movie called Spade Cooley, because he was told that Dustin Hoffman was interested. They guy who sold him the rights was a producer of pornographic movies from the Valley.

And it went on like that for about 6 months. Each day was a new adventure, into Stan's own little Hollywood. The breaking point for me came one day when I looked out my window. Across the railroad tracks was the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Each day, one of the maintaince guys would come out and hose down the sidewalk. Nobody in LA ever uses a broom. Anyway, it pouring and this guy walks out in rain gear and an umbrella and starts hosing down the sidewalk.

It was time to go.

And I went from the famine to feast. Within a few days, I hired by Howard Rothberg who represented Mel Brooks, Anne Bancroft, Dom DeLuise, Larry Gelbart and Richard Dimitri. At D'Blity I couldn't get my calls returned...and literally the next week my phone didn't stop ringing.

PS. That small group from D'Blity went on to great success. Execpt for Stan. He had some legal troubles a few years later in Pasadena and the last anyone heard had moved to France.

The clients did much better. Mert Rich is an award winning TV producer and writer in Los Angeles. Marcy Carsey went on to become one of the most successful TV executives, and with her partner Tom Werner created some of the best shows on TV, including The Cosby Show and many more. Mitch Markowitz's writing career took off with movies like Good Morning Vietman and Crazy People, Dick Blasucci is the executive producer of MAD-TV, Bette Thomas directs feature films, and Doug Steckler became a big star on LA Radio.

And I moved to Seattle where it rains all the time.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bette Midler's First TV Appearance

If you're lucky, there are a few times during a career in this business when you get to see a real star emerge for the first time. I've been lucky a couple of times.

The first time for me was late March 1970.

I saw and heard Bette Midler in the back of the Little Theatre with Budd Friedman, Karen Prettyman, Bob Carman audition for The David Frost Show.

Her accompanist was a skinny kid named Barry Manilow and she was there because Karen had seen her a few nights before singing at the Continental Baths on 10th Avenue

When the audition was over, we all sat in the back of the theatre eating french fries from Nathans. The date was set, April 7, 1970. Bette Midler was one step closer to becoming a star.

That was when she made her first national television appearance on The David Frost Show.

She was nervous. Although it's hard to imagine now, but she stood like a statue next to the piano and sang Chapel of Love. He voice was powerful, and the audience rose to their feet. It was an amazing debut.

She made three more appearances on the show on May 7th, June 1st and June 5th. Sometime after her first appearance, Bob Carman called The Tonight Show.

Bob was the dean of NY television talent producers, and had worked closely with Johnny Carson for years. Carson had actually worked much earlier in his career at The Little Theatre taping a show called Earn Your Vacation. No doubt that Bette Midler's talent got her on The Tonight Show, but it was Bob's call and a copy of her performance on The David Frost Show that sealed the deal.

While it's true that Johnny Carson and The Tonight Show launched her career, it always annoyed me a bit that I never heard her publicly give credit to Karen Prettyman and Bob Carman who gave her that first opportunity.

But I am glad I was in the studio that day to be among the first to see Bette Midler live.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Oscars Part I

I became a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1987, and have enjoyed every minute of it. It’s a lifetime long as I keep paying my yearly dues.

As a member of the Public Relation’s branch, I was nominated for membership by two existing members and then voted by the entire branch. My boss was one of the people who nominated me, and it didn’t hurt that he was also the President of the Academy at the time.

There are lots of benefits to being a member, but the three best are; getting nomination screeners at home, attending screenings and going to the Oscars.

I had been member about 7 years when we moved to Seattle. I was able to keep busy and remained involved, but I wasn’t in LA very much. A friend of mine was a member of the PR Branch membership committee and told me a funny story.

During their annual membership meeting, they review all current members. When they came to my name, one of the group chimed in, “I heard he was dead”. My friend started to chuckle and assured the group that I was very much alive and working. The next year when I went to the Oscars, I made sure I said hello to that fellow member to let him know that the reports of my death were premature.

We almost never paid for movies when we lived in LA. There were Academy screenings every week, or studio screenings all the time. During the ‘award season, my Academy card would get us into any theatre in town. It was a far different story when we moved to Seattle. The first few years, I couldn’t even use my card in theatres up here. And I become a ‘regular movie customer’. It is an experience I strongly recommend to my friends who are still in the studio system. I am not complaining it just took some time to ‘adjust’.

There are only about 8 members who live in the Seattle area. So when I first went to use my membership card to get in it was always an interesting process. The kids at the box office would swipe it on the credit card machine. That usually led to a long stare at the card and then a call to the theatre manager, who repeated the same process. Eventually I would get inside.

Every fall, the ‘screeners’ start arriving at our doorstep for consideration. We get all of the major films, most of which are still in theatres. After 20 years, we have quite the movie collection. When the practice first started, we used to get lots of swag and very elaborate packages for the films. One year, Paramount sent their entire collection in a box set that my name engraved on a silver plate on the box. It was really getting out of hand.

The Academy tried for years to stop it, but no amount of pleading or threats worked. Then they hit on the solution; any studio that continued to excessively promote their films with elaborate packaging or gifts of any kind would be denied their allocation of tickets for the Oscars.

Now we get the movies in recycled sleeves. The scripts come as paperback booklets and the tradition continues. I 've cast my vote, and now I am getting ready for this year’s Oscar Awards.

The Oscars Part II

Going to the Oscars is fun. Seats are awarded by lottery system, and we’ve gone to the awards ceremony every year since 1987.

Since we only get two seats, it’s a family ‘contest’ about who comes with Dad. I always get the cheapest seats…$50 each. The orchestra is reserved for the nominees and the studios. For me, the show is on the red carpet and in the lobby. I spend very little time in the ‘nosebleed’ section.

Where else can you go to the men’s room and stand next to Steve Carrell. Or say hello to Jennifer Aniston getting away from the photographers on the third floor lobby.

I have a specific red carpet strategy. Security guards are constantly asking people to move inside and keep walking. The later it gets the more ‘insistent’ they get. We just like to zig zag to make sure that we see everyone. What should be a 7 minute stroll usually takes about 30 minutes. Then we plant ourselves on the side of the stairway leading up to the Theatre. It’s great fun to see old friends and famous people walking up the promenade to the theatre entrance.

We take our seats about 10 minutes before the show starts. After the first break, it’s down to the first floor lobby. There are bars all around and people are all over. The Oscars are the olympics of ‘people watching’ and oh the people you see. I go back to my seat from time to time, mostly to catch the performance numbers. Once in a great while there are interesting acceptance speeches. But I enjoy watching the winners come back to the lobby from the press room Oscars in hand, and start calling on their cell phones and celebrating with friends and colleagues.

By the end of the night, everyone is hungry. Those who have won go to parties. The rest wait to get their cars from the valet. Then it’s the annual question. Where to eat at 11pm wearing an evening gown and tuxedo?

We usually wind up at Jerry’s Deli on Ventura Boulevard…

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Movie Toothfairy

Larry Gelbart is one of the finest writers in the world; from Your Show of Shows, to MASH, Sly Fox, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Tootsie and so many more. For for a brief period of time in the late 70's, I had the privilege of working for him.

It's also hard to write about a writer of Larry's stature without feeling absolutely unworthy. So, let me just tell you one of favorite stories about Larry.

I was working for his personal manager, Howard Rothberg. Howard worked out of his house high in the Hollywood Hills above Sunset, with a view of LA from downtown to the ocean. I was in the big time, and learned more about the industry my first day in that office than I learned the entire previous year.

The client list was a who's who of Hollywood; Mel Brooks, Anne Bancroft, Larry Gelbart, and Dom DeLuise. It was funny and fun...but also very intense.

I was sitting in the office, and a messenger came by from Warner Brothers. It was his participation (profit) check from 'Oh God'. Although I had seen big checks before, I had never seen that much money on one check . I called Larry and his wife Pat answered and wanted me to run the check over to his house ASAP. Ten minutes later I was knocking at the door and gave Pat the check.

The next day Larry called and (like an idiot) I asked him "So, what did you do with the check?" He paused a minute, and I could see him through the phone as a little smile came over his face and he said...

" I put it under my pillow," he said, "to see if the Movie Tooth Fairy would bring me another one!"

Pure Gelbart.

Enjoy this interview from 1998.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Moms Mabley

The first time I saw Moms Mabley I was 15 on a date. She was the opening act for The Temptations at Madison Square Garden.

It was also in the middle of the famous 1968 New York City garbage strike. We were sitting on the top level at The Garden, and Moms walked on stage to a thunderous cheer. Then she told this joke:

"I have the solution for this damned garbage strike. I want all you brothers and sisters out there to go to the hardware store and buy some white spray paint. Then go spray all your garbage white. When you've done that let me know and I'll call Governor Rockefeller and tell him to get all this white trash outta here".

Less than I year later, I am working at the David Frost Show. A group of us are outside the studio, and a brand new Rolls Royce pulls up. Out comes most elegantly lady I had ever seen. She was wearing a full length mink coat and a very large diamond ring with a pearl necklace. I had no idea who she was. At 16, I was still a few beers short of a six pack. At first, I assumed she was going to Sardi's, but she turned and walked into the studio.

My assignment that night was the dressing rooms and make-up. I was to escort the stars to their positions on stage. I loved that part of my job, because I got to hang out with two incredible women, Franny Barbero and Bobbi Armstrong. Franny was the wardrobe mistress and Bobbi was the make-up artist. There are some really interesting stories to tell about them, but we'll save that for another time.

Anyway, I go into the dressing rooms; and there is Franny, Bobbi and the woman who drove up in the Rolls Royce. They're all old friends and just talking away. They sat down to play cards. They introduced me to "Jackie" Moms Mabley. The expression on my face was: 'no way, impossible...can't be. I just stood there and watched as these three old show biz friends played cards and enjoyed each other's company.

She told them about the Rolls, which was a gift from Tom Jones. I just could not believe that this elegant woman with the jewels, fur and Rolls Royce was Moms Mabley.

Franny gave her the 30 minute warning, and she went to her dressing room. The elegant lady with the fur coat, diamonds and pearls emegred a few minutes later.

She was transformed...and there was Moms Mabley standing right before my eyes. She took out her dentures, took off the rings and was sitting there in her housecoat and slippers while Bobbi did her make-up.

She went on stage and had the audience in the palm of her hand. I don't think David knew what to do, but he tried his best to interview her. It was obvious who was in control of the audience that night.

The world needs more performers like Moms Mabley.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dinner at Spago

This is a true story about a PR stunt for the movie Girls Just Want to Have Fun that seemed more like a fire drill than anything else.

And I was driving the fire truck.

New World Pictures was a ‘mini-major’ with very high visibility in the industry. A great team led by Harry Sloan (who is now running MGM), Larry Kuppin and Bob Rehme bought it from Roger Corman two years before. The studio was releasing 20 films a year. The TV group had projects with HBO and the networks, and we had just started a Home Video Division. It was a busy place.

We were putting together the final PR and promotion plan for the ‘soon to be’ cult classic, Girls Just Want To Have Fun, when Tony Angelotti and I were called to Co-Chairman Bob Rehme’s office.

Bob was at Spago for dinner the night before and noticed that there was construction across the street on Sunset. He looked at Tony and me and said, “Guys, we should try to get a banner for Girls Just Want to Have Fun on that new building…everybody at Spago will see it”. We nodded our heads in agreement, because you just never said no to Bob.

Spago was ‘the’ place in Hollywood. And it sounded like a good idea. We left the office and Tony looked at me, and with a twinkle in his eyes said, “Now what?” Roger Armstrong from our PR agency had the bad luck to be in the office for a meeting.

How do you get a banner on a building that is under construction? Money. We certainly didn't want to go back to Bob and tell him that it was too we brainstormed and came up with what we thought would be a less expensive solution.

A big balloon with the logo on the side… like a baby Goodyear blimp. Roger was on it, and found the balloon. And we cut a check. He got the permission from the building owner. And we cut a check. Roger worked out the details with the construction company. And we cut a check. He went out to the site and worked out the logistics with the foreman. And we cut a check.

We were set, and naturally over budget. We called Bob and told him the good news (but we left out the budget part). He was happy. Roger called from the building. He had good news and bad news. The balloon is up, but no one can see it because there are no lights on the building, and by 6 pm it’s dark.

Oy! We make an executive decision, and rent a big Kleig light. Roger rents three parking spaces, and we park it in the Tower Records parking lot across the street and shine it on the balloon. More checks to cut.

Perfect… now the Hollywood ‘A’ list at Spago can see Girls Just Want To Have Fun while they enjoy their goat cheese pizza and wine.

Well, almost. Spago was right on Sunset Boulevard… in the heart of the ‘Sunset Strip. To the south lay the Los Angeles basin with its incredible views of lights stretching to the Pacific Ocean. But to the North, were the Hollywood Hills.

And that was the problem. As soon as the spotlight went on, the shots started. Some of the more 'colorful' sharpshooters of the Hollywood Hills were using the Girls Just Want to Have Fun balloon for target practice.

After three days and nights of trying to patch and repatch that damned balloon we had all enough and took it down.

And if that wasn't enough. Bob never went to Spago.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Count is in Town.

Unless you’ve spent way too much time watching Sesame Street, The Count can only be one person.

Count Basie.

He was in a class by himself, and I was fortunate enough to work with him twice in my career. The second time was for a benefit in Los Angeles a few months after our first daughter, Rachel was born. We were in a Lamaze class and our coach, Sandra Jaffe asked me to help put a benefit together. The Count Basie Orchestra played at our fundraiser and it was a great success.

But one of my favorite stories happened a few years before that, when I was working as a production assistant for Sammy Davis Jr. on his talk show Sammy and Company. There are some great stories from those days, which I will recount at a later date. For now, let’s me tell you what happened when I met Count Basie.

It was the morning of what was certainly going to be an amazing day. Mr. D and his team had booked an all star list of some of the greats in jazz music to appear together on his show. There was Joe Williams, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughn, and Count Basie.

My job was to pick up ‘The Count’ at the airport. Now, before you get ahead of yourself, I picked him up without mishap. With his pick-up information in hand, I headed out to the National Airlines Terminal at LAX to meet his flight from Miami.

It was a hot day in LA, and I was dressed in my usual attire, jeans and a t shirt. I was 23 and that was about the extent of my wardrobe. I parked the car and went to the gate to meet The Count and his group.

The plane was on time and we managed to get the luggage and everyone into the station wagon without a hassle. The Count decided to ride shotgun as I started back to the studio.

He was quiet for a few minutes. Then he looked at me and said; ‘How’s the weather?”

“Hot” I said. And with that came a line that only Count Basie could deliver.

“Well, it’s cool now”, he said. “The Count is in Town!”

Monday, January 19, 2009

Gene Kelly Danced!

All she said was "I want Gene Kelly to Dance".

I had just booked Gene Kelly at two mall appearances, and that along was tough enough. Dance? I don't think so. Besides, dancing wasn't part of the deal.

He had already approved the schedule and signed the contract. His first appearance would be at the newly opened Omni Center in Atlanta (now the CNN Center), and then by private jet for the opening of the Greenville Mall. And he was making more than we had paid anyone else.

The chances of Gene Kelly agreeing to dance on a portable stage in the middle of a shopping center in Greenville South Carolina, was hard to imagine. Really hard to imagine.

But, I picked up the phone and called, Mort Viner who was Gene's agent. We got along well, and I told him what my client wanted. He laughed for 5 minutes. And then, as only a good agent did, he stopped laughing and said..."He'll do it for an additional $100,000 + plus expenses".

Now, I was between a the proverbial rock and hard place. I called her back and gave her the 'good news'. I told her what 'dancing' involved, knowing full well that Mort didn't expect to negotiate...or for me to even come back with a counter offer.

Then I the asked her what she really wanted. "I just wanted to see him dance a little", she said.

Ok, that's different. I had a plan.

The first appearance at the Omni Center was a big hit. They got great local coverage, and the place was mobbed. He did advance phoners (although he did call the papers collect), and was every bit the professional that I knew he would be.

His next appearance in Greenville went off exactly as we planned.

I told them to place the entrance to the 'stage' as far upstage right as possible, and then place the microphone as far downstage left as possible. He would have to walk the full diagonal of the stage, some 50 feet. The instant his foot was on the stage, play the soundtrack from Singing in the Rain.

I was banking on the fact that it would be hard for a dancer to just 'walk' 50 feet on stage in front of an audience.

As soon as he was on stage, it happened. Gene Kelly danced.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Rusty Citron, Come on Down!

There are a few people who really made an impact on my career. Johnny Olson was one, but not in the way you might think.

Johnny Olson is best known as the 'voice' of The Price is Right. For years, millions of people heard him tell winners and losers to 'Come on Down'! I don't know who came up with the slogan, but he made it famous.

This story starts on Lincoln's Birthday in 1967. I took the train to NY and went to NBC. I had been down to the studios before many times. I think I took the NBC Tour about 5 times. For me, it was a magical place. They were setting up for a full day of taping of The Match Game. That was the first time I heard and met Johnny Olson.

In order to keep the audience happy, Johnny would come from backstage and would play the game with members of the studio audience. He had a stack of crisp new $5 bills to give away every time someone raised their hand with the correct answer.

A concrete brink couldn't have kept me in my seat. Johnny would ask a question, and I would jump up. By the end of the day, I was a rich kid...with three crisp new $5 bills in my hot little hands.

I walked back to Penn Station to catch the train home. I was crossing Broadway in front of Ripley's Clothes on 44th Street, and there was a kid giving away free tickets for The Merv Griffin Show. I noticed that he didn't seem to be much older than I was. Another free television show. Yes!

After the show, went to the box office, and asked for a job application. They asked if I was 16. I lied and said yes. I took that application and went home. My head was spinning. Could I possibly get a job in NY working as a page on a TV show? It didn't seem possible.

I worked for weeks on the letter and filing out the job application and finally sent it in. It was over a year later when the call came to my house. I was at school, but my sister was home sick and took the message.

And that's how I got my first real job, as a page on The David Frost Show....but that's not the end of the story.

Fast forward 15 years. I have my own entertainment agency in Hollywood. One of my biggest clients was Melvin Simon, the shopping center developer. We were working on some new campaigns and I had an idea. What about 'Come on Down'. It was perfect, and they said yes.

The next day, I met Johnny Olson for lunch in Hollywood at the Cock and Bull on Sunset. He agreed to the campaign, and then we talked for hours. I told him the story about how me got me started and what a fantastic experience that was for a kid of 15.

We had a great time, and Johnny honored me by saying (in his on air voice), Rusty Citron...Come On down!

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I was 17 when I got a house account at Sardi's.

Working next door to one of the most famous restaurants in the world certainly had its benefits. I was making $3.15 an hour. It was one the best jobs in my career. …and I have some great stories about that famous restaurant.

Tony the Doorman

Tony was a big man... and the first person you would meet going in to Sardi's, and the last person when you left. He was the doorman. He had a long red coat with a ‘captain’s hat. In the winter, he put on ear muffs and gloves. I remember how cold he looked as he would stand outside for hours on end…opening the front door, and helping people into and out of the endless line of cabs that lined 44th Street.

One evening between shows, I was hanging out in the lobby talking with my best friend Art Rosalin. He was the audio engineer on the show (who would be the best man at my wedding 8 years later). It was a very cold night, and we started talking about Tony.

He was standing there in the freezing cold. His cheeks were beet red, and he when he wasn’t working the cabs he would wait just under the canopy to escape the blowing wind.

I felt sorry for Tony.

Art looked at me and said; “Don’t be a putz, look at how mich money he's making.” So I watched. A cab would pull up, and he’d get the door, and then he’d get a tip. Get into the cab, Tip. Get out of the cab, Tip. Open the Door, Tip. It all happened so fast that I was missing it. It was like watching a brilliantly choreographed dance of dollars.

One day in March, Tony didn't show up for work. I went inside and asked Martin, who was Vincent’s MaĆ®tre Di, where Tony was. Oh, he said, “He’s on his three week vacation to Sicily”.

I didn’t feel sorry for Tony anymore.

My Mother's Stuffed Cabbage.

My mother made great stuffed cabbage. And when she made stuffed cabbage it was cause for celebration in our house. One day she wrapped some up for me to take to work for dinner. I was very happy. No tuna sandwich that night, no sir Some good home cooking. But there was a problem. I didn’t have a way to heat it up, and you certainly can't eat stuffed cabbage cold.

So I walked next door with my dinner wrapped up in foil, and asked Martin if he could heat it up in the kitchen. About ten minutes later, he is walking through the restaurant with the aroma of my mother’s stuffed cabbage filling the air. Vincent smelled it and he asked if he could have a taste…a small price to pay for heating my dinner. It was a hit. He wanted the recipie so he could put it on the menu!

I went home that night with the good news. I had visions of my mother’s stuffed cabbage on the menu of the most famous restaurant on Broadway.

I don’t know why she said no…but I never brought dinner to work again after that.

Meeting Joseph Papp

On Broadway there were only a few people that were really important. Among that elite group was Joseph Papp. If you don’t know about Joseph Papp, then I suggest you click here and learn more about him. It's a better story if you know who he was.

Marty Grupp was one of the musicians in the Billy Taylor Orchestra, and the musical contractor for the show. I think he was also the musician’s shop steward. That made him an important person. And I was beginning to learn about important people.

Even though I was ‘technically’ too young (17) to be hanging out at the bar at Sardis I went with Marty Grupp, so it really didn’t matter. The bar was packed as usual.

We were sitting at a table and Marty asked me, “Kid, who do you think is the most important person at the bar?” I wasn’t sure who was even there, so I got up and walked over to the bar and started looking. I started to eliminate people. That guy wasn’t wearing a tie, another looked nervous. I started to look at their cufflinks, shoes, watches and suits. How can you tell if someone is important by how they dress?

You know how this is going to end, right? It’s easy now, but I was clueless then.

I went back to the table, and picked out the guy who I thought looked ‘important’. Marty started to chuckle. We got up and walked over to the middle of the bar. He pointed out a guy off in the corner, all by himself. I didn't even see him at first. He was a rumpled looking man with this far away look in his eyes. He wearing a shirt, jeans and was absorbed in reading the newspaper. Marty said, "Rusty, that’s the most important guy here. And he knows it and that's all that matters. He doesn’t need to impress anyone. Come on, I’ll introduce you".

And that’s how I met Joseph Papp.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Fat Man's Prayer

The David Frost Show was very popular. We won the Emmy Award in 1970. Incredible artists, politicians and personalities from Andy Warhol, Spiro Agnew and Noel Coward to Tiny Tim and Howard Cosell appeared on the stage at The Little Theatre.

And we used to get mountains of mail asking for autographs and photos along with the usual amount of hate mail or praise. Every once and a while there would be a surge in requests for copies of something seen or produced on the show.

The most requested item was from the appearance of Victor Buono on March 11, 1970.

Now, for those of you who don't know or may not remember Victor Buono; he was a very large man. He had a commanding presence on stage and a powerful voice. His career ran the gamut from his Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor as Edwin Flagg in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane playing opposite Bette Davis and Joan Crawford to King Tut in the Batman TV series.

It was on that day that he recited one of the funniest poems I have ever heard. And with compliments to a great actor and poet, I give you:

The Fat Man's Prayer
by Victor Buono

Lord, my soul is ripped with riot,
Incited by my wicked diet.

We are what we eat, said a wise old man,
And Lord, if that's true, I'm a garbage can!
I want to rise on Judgment Day, that's plain,
But at my present weight, I'll need a crane!

So grant me strength that I may not fall
Into the clutches of cholesterol.
May my flesh with carrot curls be sated
That my soul may be polyunsaturated.

And show me the light that I may bear witness
To the President's Council on Physical Fitness.
At oleomargarine I'll never mutter,
For the road to hell is spread with butter.

And cake is cursed, and cream is awful,
And Satan is hiding in every waffle.
Mephistopheles lurks in provolone,
The devil is in each slice of bologna,
Beelzebub is a chocolate drop,
And Lucifer is a lollipop!

Give me this day my daily slice -
But cut it thin and toast it twice.
I beg upon my dimpled knees,
Deliver me from Jujubees.

And my when days of trial are done
And my war with malted milks is won,
Let me stand in the heavenly throng
In a shining robe - Size 37 Long!

I can do it, Lord, if you'll show to me
The virtues of lettuce and celery.
If you'll teach me the evils of mayonnaise,
The sinfulness of hollandaise

And pasta a la milanese
And potatoes a la lyonaise
And crisp fried chicken from the south!

Lord, if you love me, SHUT MY MOUTH!


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sweet Baby James

Being a page for The David Frost Show was a pretty simple job. I only had three things to do; whatever I was told, seat the audience, and stand around and look busy. I did them all pretty well. But there were some days that were better than others.

On this particular day, my assignment was to help ‘seat the audience’ and greet people and VIP guests in the box office lobby. Easy enough, right? Well not on this day.

Each guest’s appearance on the show was the responsibility of the producer and a booker. We had a great staff of talent coordinators and producers. Karen Prettyman was one the show’s best talent bookers working for producer Bob Carman. She looked like Cher…tall and pretty (like her name) with straight dark hair and piercing eyes. She was also the lead music booker for the show…and we had lots of great musical acts.

I usually arrived at 3pm in time for rehearsals, but on this day I was 30 minutes late and the rehearsal was over. James Taylor was the musical guest for the show. I don't remember who else was booked. The audience started lining up at 3:30, and we started seating at 4:30 for the 5:30 taping. The reserved seats in the audience were roped off.

My assignment that day was to be at the box office and greet the VIP’s. All was going pretty smoothly. I escorted guests downstairs to the dressing room and did what I was told. About 5pm a man wearing jeans and a long winter coat comes into the box office. He looked a bit confused and lost. I asked if I could help him and he said he was there for the show.

Ok. I asked him if he wanted a seat, and he looked at me strangely and said sure. So, I open the door and escorted him to a seat in the downstairs audience right section. Everyone was settling in. The cameras and sound were getting set, the show photographer was taking his place and I returned to the lobby.

10 minutes before taping and Karen comes running into the lobby. She’s panicked. She picked up the box office phone frantically trying to get information. Naturally, I ask her if I can help. She tells me that her musical guest for the show, James Taylor hasn’t shown up yet. It’s a disaster.

Then I ask the absolute dumbest question of my life. How do I know it’s the dumbest question of my life? Because its 35 years later, and I still remember it!

I turned to Karen and said: “Who is James Taylor?”

She gives me one of those ‘if looks could kill’ stares and says something like; Oh he’s only the hottest musician today, with the #1 hit that’s playing on EVERY radio station, Fire and Rain. THAT James Taylor!

I then ask the second dumbest question of my life. ‘What does he look like?” Again, with the look. "He’s tall, with long hair, looks like a hippy and is wearing…. "

Oh my God! I sat James Taylor in the audience!

Karen to follow me inside to the theatre and I said, "Is that him?', pointing to the tall stranger I sat in the audience.

I don’t know what the expression on my face was, but I could feel the blood draining from my body, and my dreams of career in Television rapidly turning into life as a ditch digger.

We got him backstage in time, and the show went off, as they say, without a hitch.

So today, when someone asks me what I was doing the first time I heard James Taylor sing Fire and Rain, I know. Believe me, I know!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Booking Steven Spielberg...

Very few people outside the film industry knew who Steven Spielberg was in 1976. But everyone knew the film he directed, the blockbuster Jaws.

I was standing near the entrance to the Universal Studios Tour waiting to meet him to film a Kidworld interview, when it occurred to me I had no idea what he looked like. I guess it was the panicked look in my eyes and the clipboard that gave me away. I turned around and heard, ‘Are you Rusty?” It was Steven Spielberg.

What I think makes this story interesting is how I booked Steven Spielberg for the show, what happened after the interview…and later that night.

It’s hard to describe the impact that Jaws had in Hollywood. Everyone was talking about it. And there were ‘Steven Spielberg’ sightings all over town. The stories were amazing. There were actually people impersonating him all over town; trying to get seats at Chasens, pitch projects and other bizarre stories.

I got a call that Steven Spielberg wanted to be interviewed for the TV show I was working on at the time called KidsWorld. Stars loved the show. It was a kid’s version of 60 Minutes. Stars were interviewed by 10-12 year old kids, and we went to their homes or offices so it was convenient, fun and great exposure.

Getting Steven Spielberg for KidsWorld would be a great booking, but I was skeptical because of all the stories, so I called his office at Universal and sure enough it was a bogus request. But when I told his secretary about the show and how easy it would be she thought he might like doing it. Sure enough, she called back and said yes. I suggested we do it at the Jaws stage (which was being constructed as an attraction on the tour) and that we’d meet at the tour entrance. Booking confirmed. I called everyone with the good news.

We decided to shoot the interview on the Orca. Little did I know that it was one of the actual production boats used in the filming. It was the first time that he had been down to this area and had been on the boat.

He went inside the cabin, where he said the cast and crew had all signed their names - Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Steven Spielberg. The look in his eyes said it all.

Someone had painted over the inside of the cabin and all the signatures were erased. They spend endless hours on this small little boat and now this personal tribute was gone.

He was obviously upset. We shot right on the boat, and he was just great with the young girl doing the interview. They talked about what he was like as a kid, and how he started in the movie business. He answered all her questions about filming the shark, who I later found out he named Bruce, after his lawyer!

When we finished he got up and I am sure made a few phone calls.

A few hours later I went to the premiere of A Star is Born in Westwood. After the screening, we walked down a red carpet that was two city blocks, lined with over 100 Klieg lights, marking our way to the premiere party at Dillons, a hot new club in Westwood.

The place was packed. The Hollywood elite gathered to celebrate. Sitting at well guarded table in the VIP section on the 3rd floor was Steven Spielberg. He called me over and introduced me to the film’s star, Barbra Streisand. What a way to end the day, December 18, 1976.

I never knew who called pretending to be Steven Spielberg, but I am glad I had the chance to work with the real one.

PS. I booked Steven once more for the ABC Show Kids Are People Too. (I loved working on kid’s shows). He was a much bigger deal by then, and it wasn’t as easy to this time. But he remembered me and said yes. I met him at the gate at the ABC Prospect studios, and he was upset. His dog was sick and he really needed to get home. We pushed the segment, and as expected he was warm and inspiring talking with kids.

By that time, everyone knew who he was.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A really good cigar

I started my first company, with a box of 25 cent cigars from George Burns.

In July of 1974 I drove out from New York to Los Angeles to get back into Television. I was 21 with my BA Degree in hand. Within two weeks I was working on the 1974 LA segment of the Jerry Lewis Telethon (more on that later) and very quickly built up a great rolodex as a talent coordinator.

About 2 years later Tom Hallick, who was one of the stars of 'The Young and The Restless', told me about a personal appearance he just finished in Springfield Illinois opening a shopping center. He was like a kid in a candy store. They paid him more money for one day then he made all week on the show. And he loved it.

They treated him like a movie star. He signed autographs, did local interviews and it was all first class.He told me that it took them almost a month just to book his appearance. The people in Springfield called the local CBS affiliate, who then called the network, who then called the agent, who then called the manager. And it went back and forth.

He said to me; '"Rusty, you've gotta meet these guys. You have everyone's number and it would be so much easier". I was game. I had two problems to overcome; first how do I make money and second why would I want to book personal appearances in shopping centers?

It took me about two seconds to figure out how to make money and make everyone happy. It took a month of planning, a trip to Dallas for a meeting with a guy named Buck Sappenfield, and a box of George Burns Cigars to figure out the rest.

George 'Buck' Sappenfield was the VP of Marketing for Melvin Simon and Associates. We had a 10 minute meeting in Dallas at the Shopping Center Convention, which was exciting enough by itself. I told him that I booked celebrities for TV shows and did a quick pitch on how I could make his life a whole lot easier for a 'small booking fee' which would include coordinating the travel and make it pretty much a 'turn-key' operation.

But I needed to 'prove' that I could deliver. He was holding a celebrity auction in 8 days at the Towne East Square in Wichita and needed something really 'big' and from Hollywood. If I could get something that would impress him, we were in!

We shook hands, and I knew exactly what to do.

Five days later, I got the call from Buck. He was ecstatic. A box of George Burn's Cigars autographed for his fans in Wichita.

It was the start of my first business, CTS and a 7 year relationship with one of the country's largest shopping center developers.
I went from a free box of 25 cent cigars to booking hundreds of movie, TV and music stars. We were booking multiple appearances every week all over the US and Canada. At one point, we had 12 pre packaged acts including; Fabian's Fabulous 50's Revue, The Ruby Red Slippers, Pac Man, Universal Studios Hollywood on Tour, Alvin and The Chipmunks and even Bob Speca The Domino Wizard.

It was crazy...and I don't even like Cigars!

My encounter with The Great One!

Which Way Kid....

There is nothing like Broadway.

And I was working there.Everyday I left school early to catch the 2:36 train in Baldwin to get to my job as a page for The David Frost Show at The Little Theatre on 44th Street. I was like a sponge, absorbing everything I saw and everyone I met. I have so many memories and stories from those days...this is one of my favorites!

It was a typical day. Everyone was getting ready for another night. Tony, the doorman at Sardi's was enjoying his early afternoon dinner. The box offices were busy selling tickets, and the offices above the theatres were humming with activity. A few doors down was the loading dock of The Times. They were getting ready for the midnight load when the big trucks carrying these enormous rolls of newsprint would be lining up to drop off their loads for the midnight print run of tomorrow's New York Times.

I was backstage at The Little Theatre, home of The David Frost Show where I worked as a page and cue card writer, when word came down from upstairs that Jackie Gleason was coming in from Florida to be the only guest for the entire show.

Jackie Gleason. The Great One would soon be walking through the door. For only the second time I could remember, David was on time because he knew better than to keep the Great One waiting.

He was so much more in person than I had expected. It was like watching the cover of Life magazine jumping off the page. He wasn't a big man, but he was larger than life. He had such a command of the room that nothing else seemed to matter. He was dignified, elegant, and smart.. he was The Great One. I could just imagine someone coming up to him and calling him "Jackie" and then walking away headless.

This was the second time that David had interviewed him, and he seemed to really enjoy doing the show. He wore a three piece suit and had his cigar. He was accompanied by his girlfriend...and they made quite a couple.

So now the show is over and it started to rain. Mr. Gleason arrives in the lobby from backstage. They are going to see a show at the Royal Box on 45th. I am standing behind him and he turns around and says 'let's go'...looking straight at me. I look at my boss, Jim McDonough with a 'go I go?' look in my eye and just grabbed an umbrella. And I am now walking behind the Great One (and his girlfriend) as they walk into Shubert Alley. The street was full of people, but no one bothered him.

We reached 45th Street and it happened.

He stopped and turned around and looked at me and asked: "Which way kid?"

You know how sometimes it seems like everything freezes in slow motion. That was what I felt like.

Then I heard words come out of my mouth, "Left, Mr. Gleason". We walked another 30 feet, I closed the umbrella, he said 'thanks', and they disappeared into the theatre.

I walked back to the Little Theatre, just glad that I remembered that the Royal Box was to the left.

And I went to school the next day walking just a bit taller.