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!

1 comment:

  1. Great story. I loved George Burns it's nice to hear that he's as nice as he always seemed. I want to read more stories like this!