When I first met my wife, Christian Cooper, she was an actress. My early courtship included shuttle flights between New York and Boston where she was appearing in the pre-Broadway run of Prettybelle, an Alexander Cohen production, directed by Gower Champion and starring Angela Lansbury.
Christian and Gower Champion backstage at Prettybelle
However, prior to her acting career, she had been a talented young singer. From the time she was 15, she enjoyed an after-school career as a background-singer for top recording artists such as Neil Sedaka, Carole King, Neil Diamond, Edie Gorme and others. She had an early shot at stardom with a single she recorded for Cameo-Parkway records (which later became Buddha Records and then, Casablanca). The song was SOS and while she was still only sweet 16, Cameo-Parkway sent her barnstorming America’s radio stations in a sailor suit and sailor hat to promote the single. She also performed in production numbers of the song on Hullabaloo, Shindig and Shiveree television musical shows, singing and dancing in her sailor suit, surrounded by a dozen supporting singers and dancers. However, although the appearances were exciting and gave her a modest feeling of success, she soon fell out of love with the way she and other artists were treated by the recording industry. She decided life might be better as an actress.
Teen-Aged Recording Artist, Christian Cooper, in “SOS” Sailor Suit.
When she graduated from John Jay High School in Brooklyn, she entered the Academy of Dramatic Arts to absorb its two-year preparation for life in the theater and the film industry.
Her acting career began slowly but, by the time we met, she had performed in a half dozen off-Broadway productions such as Dark of the Moon at the Mercer-Shaw Theater, and had appeared in minor roles in some dozen Hollywood films. Prettybelle was to have been her first big chance to make it to Broadway, but Alexander Cohen shut the show down before it left Boston.
When we married, in December of 1971, Christian entered a new career. She became my valued right hand in my small but successful new agency, Jack Byrne Advertising, Inc., which I had launched two years earlier. Christian adapted with ease to the different world of advertising creativity and production. She became our director of casting, fashion, wardrobe, music, and makeup and hair. She became the spokeswoman, jingle composer and recording artist for a number of our clients, such as Cotton Incorporated, American Bakeries, American Bakers Association, Seaman’s Furniture, Robert Hall Clothes, Paraphernalia, Jonna’s sportswear (which won her an EFFIE from the American Marketing Association), Bonds Stores, Gimbel’s Philadelphia, Franklin Simon, Lee Myles Transmission Service, Bonus Gifts Coupons and more.
Teen-Aged Background Singer at Brill Building waiting for Neil Sedaka.
But, by 1978, after six years of advertising, Christian felt a deep desire to return to the entertainment world. Jingles and “voice overs” were just not that emotionally and artistically satisfying to her.
During many nights, over coffee and hamburgers at our favorite window seat at Daly’s Dandelion (which was owned by our friend Skitch Henderson), while we watched the world walk by Third Avenue and 61st Street, we explored the ways and means of her re-entry into show business. We finally had an idea which seemed as promising as it seemed new.
We created the concept of a musical play in which the story line would progress to a finale that would eventually become a different reality after the run of the play was over.
The musical was to be called “Christian and the Lions.” It would be the story of a talented young entertainer and her struggle against the voracious predators of the recording and entertainment industry. These predators would be “The Lions” who try to devour her ambition in the streets of her struggles throughout most of the play . At the end of the final act, however, she has won her struggle for fame and the final number is staged as the opening number of her new career as Christian of a group destined for super-stardom, the new recording artists, “Christian and the Lions”. “The Lions” are now four male singer-dancers who, like The Pips to Gladys Knight, had, in the play, become integrated into the lead character’s act and into her life.
Our planned musical would end with the opening song of the new act, “You Will Be My Music”. After the run of the off-Broadway show we anticipated, the act would leave theater life behind and begin to appear as a club and cabaret act and as the “Opening Act” for major entertainers in the showrooms of Las Vegas, Reno and elsewhere.
The production concept of our show was that of a simulated reality. On the pasted-up billboards around the city, messages would be scrawled on different days over a period of weeks. The messages would appear to be “written” by people involved with the real life of Christian Cooper, the star of the advertised play. They were “real and spontaneous” comments by those who loved her. Or hated her. Or wanted her dead. Or in bed. On the street of the selected venue, during the half-hour preceding curtain time, as theater goers would approach the theater, they would pass by hotly contested arguments on the sidewalk about Christian, or a crazed fan, taking pictures of everyone coming to see the woman he obsessed over, and so on, all such street people would, of course, be performed by actors, dressed and directed by the show’s producers. In the audience, but unknown to the real audience, would be seated three or four actors representing different relationships with the show’s star, ranging from familial relationship to a former rejected lover. They would whisper to others in the audience, secrets they knew about the star, the cast, or about issues that arose in her life or in the show’s production.
We were quite excited by our new concept in theater verity.
I drafted a play outline and script of first act. We were happy with the results. We were sure we could get backing and, if necessary, I would invest into off-Broadway start-up costs myself.
We decided to solicit the help of the one man we felt could be key to our play’s success, Bernard Johnson. Bernard was one of Broadway’s and off-Broadway’s favorite choreographers. Bernard was the number one costume designer for black-oriented musicals and plays (including Raisin in the Sun). Bernard choreographed and costumed some of America’s favorite pop and soul recording artists (ex. Wilson Pickett, Melba Moore). Bernard knew everybody and more important, everybody knew Bernard. He was also a long-time friend and dance teacher of Christian and had worked for us on a number of our more elaborate television commercial productions (one for Lee Myles Transmissions had a cast of one thousand extras whose moves Bernard directed.) He had designed Christian’s “sixteenth-century” wedding dress, its pill box hat trailing a 20-foot train, for our marriage at New York’s Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. At the reception, in the famed disco, The Hippopotamus, Christian stood alone on the dance floor, zipped the antique satin dress down until it fell to the floor and revealed herself in a skin- tight, white-satin jump suit with matching white satin boots ready to disco. (Bernard also created my wedding suit which was a maroon version of Wilson Pickett’s forest green tuxedo, a signature to his performances at the time).
More than all he had done for us, Bernard was a beloved friend. We knew his involvement would be priceless. We hoped he would find some time for us or, at least, guide us to those of less stature who might have talent that we could trust.
On a Friday evening, in December 1977, we met with Bernard, praying he would see the possibilities of this show and realize the cleverness of our step-by-step, theater verity scheme. We had dinner at Daly’s Dandelion and talked show business the entire evening. When we parted , he took the drafted play script with him to study over the weekend.
On Monday evening , we met with him again and he said, “Oh my God, I just love it.” He talked for a minute or two about the concept of the show but he talked even more about the concept of ultimate act and how he loved the name, Christian and the Lions. I was both excited and relieved to hear his positive comments.
Then, he paused, and nodding to himself, as though he had reached some agreement within, he added, “But, what do you say about our speeding up the process some?” I said, “Sure, how?”
Bernard leaned forward , “Let’s pretend the show has completed its objective. Let’s pretend it received good reviews and had a two-year run. Let’s produce and book Christian and the Lions. He looked at us and waited for an answer.
I didn’t get the point. “OK, we’re pretending, now what?”
“That’s not my point! I mean let’s just pretend the whole play thing happened and get on with what it was about in the first place. Let’s just start now and produce Christian and the Lions, Part II, the Act itself.”
“You mean forget about the play?” Christian asked.
“Your play is a means to an end. Forget the means. You can be at the end in the same time it takes you to produce the play.”
In a few words, he explained that he believed we could waste as much as two years on the play before launching what could be a major entertainment career in even less time. Bernard truly believed in Christian’s performing potential. He’d sung with her, danced with her, worked with her upon a number of projects. He said, “Jack, you married Miss Worlds-Most- Underrated-Superstar”. Why do you think Gower was so caught up with her magic?”
Gower Champion met Christian while he was directing Prettybelle. They became “Very Good Friends”, much to my considerable concern during the months I was courting her. She took him to Salsa parties where she showed him her Salsa steps and her Black American soul. He took her to his favorite places to dance where they could dance while his peers stared at the dark and beautiful young replacement of Marge now following Gower’s magnificent lead on the floor.
But, most threatening to me was that he also took her to places where no dancing was allowed. To me, Gower was a most impressive man, totally cool, totally controlled, gifted with perfect face and perfect grace. I don’t know whether he thought he was in “competition” with me. But, I suppose he couldn’t have been or I would never have won.
Bernard’s point was, if you’re going to invest in Christian’s future, put the money on the talent itself.
Bernard was more excited than we were about the prospects. He said he didn’t think there was any female performer at the time who could have the impact of Christian. He said that we should package her as a star with everything that goes into that packaging and say to the world at her launch “Yo, World!. Wake up! This superstar lady has always been here. Where have you been hiding?”
Although I saw my favorite play fading away, I appreciated Bernard’s thinking. I, also, trusted his opinions regarding Christian’s talent far more than I trusted my own. In the show business profession, Bernard had “been there-done that” a lot. I was an ad man.
Bernard reviewed the current crop of popular women performers pointing out, in each case, some flaw that Christian did not have. Speaking of one superstar, whose wardrobes he had created and whose show he had choreographed and produced, he said, “Just one of Christian’s thoughts would bust that girl’s head wide open!”
Once we accepted his advice, Bernard enthusiastically agreed to produce Christian’s show. He would direct the staging, design the wardrobe, choreograph the dancing. He would also help us find “The Lions” and the musical talent that would assure success. The works. That was all we needed to hear. Our confidence in the project rose to new heights.
From that night on, I took on “Christian and the Lions” as a client. I began to think of it under the same business discipline of objectives and strategies, problems and opportunities, that I applied to selling everything from Dow Chemicals to cotton fiber, from Barney’s to AT&T. We had to establish our long- and short-term objectives, to determine our primary target markets, to identify the problems and opportunities we faced in forming our strategies needed to reach our objectives. Marketing 101.
I set to work on a “Christian and the Lions” marketing plan.
The primary objective was to produce a career for Christian that would maximize her potentials as a major entertainer. The long term objective was Diana Ross level concert performances, hit recordings, Las Vegas Showrooms, superdome appearances … a superstar. The short term of objective was to successfully introduce a rounded performer with “star potential” to appear in the better club and cabaret venues and as an “opening act” to established star attractions in the major casino hotels in Las Vegas and major resorts throughout the world. The concept and casting of Christian and The Lions had that opening act exposure in mind. A fast moving song and dance group who could heat up the audience prior to the Big Star’s appearance. The strategy was basic, to compose the Christian and the Lions troop supporting our to-be superstar with three or four kick-ass male singer-dancers of varied racial characteristics and a tight five-piece band strong in percussion and heavy in bass to drive the booties of Christian and her Lions. More than just an opening act, we would be presenting somebody soon ready to be the Main Attraction. Therefore, she and her group would have Main Attraction wardrobe, arrangements, and choreography. The act would present a balance of original music, to showcase Christian’s creativity, with inventive interpretation of classic pop hits to provide benchmarks of comparison to stars whose previous performances had “owned” those songs.
Christian and Bernard began to put the show together. She worked with a vocal coach four days a week to help open up her voice and to strengthen her technique in order to assure that her throat and vocal chords would survive the wear-and-tear of the anticipated two and three-shows-a-night, six-days-a-week schedules she would face in her early bookings. Each day, she set time apart for her own private sessions with her tape machine to create and record sample vocal tracks of her own material.
Bernard introduced us to Chapman Roberts, noted Broadway musical director and the genius of behind the vocal arrangements of the famed The Harry Belafonte group. Chapman proposed four outstanding singer-dancers and “The Lions” were selected. They included Patrick Jude who had recently finished two years performing the difficult part of Judas in the Broadway musical hit Jesus Christ, Superstar, having replaced Ben Vereen in the celebrated role. The three other selected Lions had worked with Chapman before as a group. Bobby Clay Ferguson, Ray Patterson, and Paul Binotto all had strong Broadway musical backgrounds. They were (not intentionally) color-balanced. Patrick and Paul were white, Bobby and Ray were black.
INSERT VARIOUS PHOTOS OF KEY PEOPLE REHEARSALS ETC.
“Lions” Paul, Bobby and Ray rehearse with Christian at Carrol’s Studios.
Bernard and Chapman worked together with Christian in selecting the popular songs to be covered in the premier show as well as in selecting two of her own compositions for inclusion. The strategy was to concentrate upon the “covers” for our first audiences. The best way to showcase her talent was to pit it against known arrangements and renditions of classic hits established by top entertainers.
Bernard and Chapman agreed that, be it cover song or Christian’s own, top arrangers in the industry would be needed to maximize the potential of Christian’s interpretations. As marketing strategist, I felt that the association or her name with top industry professionals would help attract our targeted industry people to come see her at launch. We had agreed on a plan to get the act booked into some quality New York City club and to induce to come there as many industry Influentials as possible. The show plan and musical selections were established with such a booking in mind. We were fortunate in signing the best.
The legendary Sy Johnson arranged You Will Be My Music by Joe Raposo, which was to open the program; Arthur Jenkins, Jr. was chosen to arrange Christian’s song, Premonitions; Gene Casey arranged Len Ron Hanks and Zane Grey’s Back in Love Again, Kander & Ebb’s And All That Jazz, and Stephen Schwartz’ Corner of the Sky; the up-and-coming Ray Chew was chosen not only to play keyboards and conduct the premier-show band but to provide highly inventive arrangements of Kander & Ebb’s Coloring Book, David Schoenfield’s Then Came You and Billy Preston & Bruce Fisher’s classic, You Are So Beautiful, which was to be the finale of the premier. The ten-number show was rounded out by Christian’s powerful The Honeymoon is Over, arranged by Arthur Jenkins, Jr. and by Tommy Bernfeld’s Petty Grievances, arranged by Sy Johnson.
I had begun to establish a revised plan. Instead of looking for a regular showcase venue, we would hire a hall and have one major, one-night industry wide event. This strategy would concentrate her impact and would focus our efforts and our funds. It was an all-or-nothing at all approach but I felt we had greater potential of success than spreading her introduction out over an extended period of time. And, we would have full control of the venue and the performance.
The members of the band were as carefully selected as had been the Lions. For the premier show, Ray Chew would conduct and play keyboards. (Ray had worked with Ashford & Simpson, and would go on to work with “all the divas”: Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Alicia Keyes, Yolanda Adams, to name a few.) He was expensive and would not continue with us on future performances but this was THE money performance.
For the future, Nat Adderly, Jr. (son of famed coronetist, Nathaniel, and nephew of saxophonist, Julian “Cannonball” Adderly) would replace Chew. The rest of the band also had strong credentials and talent; Keith Loving, Belafonte’s touring lead guitar, was our lead guitarist, Chico Rinder with a beat that drove Christian’s booty with a passion was on bass, Paul Kimbarrow on drums and Babafumi Akunyun served up the percussion.
Equal dedication was paid to wardrobe creation. Christian would have six costume changes in the show with three occurring in just one number, And All That Jazz. The Lions would have two costume changes and the band would wear custom-designed tuxedos. By the time, the wardrobe was being produced, Bernard’s small wardrobe cutting and sewing group was particularly stressed as they were also cutting and sewing the entire wardrobe for the 40-member cast of EUBIE, a major Broadway musical to be opened in Philadelphia during the same week planned for Christian’s premier performances on June 12th. (EUBIE opened on Broadway on September 20th, 1978).
While the professionals went about preparing the “Act”, I went about developing the communication strategy. We knew well that nobody who was anybody in the industry ever came to see an unknown act. Traditionally, the act would invite an A&R man from a record company or an account executive from a talent management company to a particular date at a particular venue and hope to create interest from one of scores of these shots at getting taken seriously. This meant you had to get a quality booking in Los Angeles or New York to get these scouts to scout you. As for those who ruled these companies from the mountain tops, you might meet them after your second platinum album.
Our ultimate objective was to reverse everything, our strategy was to bring the mountain tops to Mohammad, or Christian (who was our religion). We felt their words trickling down their mountains would carry their A&R men and account executives in boatloads. Our first objective was to be 100% sure that the talent and the show presented would not disappoint anyone coming down from the top of the mountain. With our plan of a one-time showcase to attract everyone who was “someone”, a single yawn could end the world of entertainment as we hoped to know it.
Our first objective was on target and virtually done.
Our second objective was to get those top executives to attend.
Based upon degrees of difficulty in reaching objectives, it was certainly equal to the first.
I was a Member of the Friars Club. My membership carried some influence, for just an advertising man, but I was by no means “a major player”. Our club officers at the time were entertainment industry legends. Frank Sinatra was Abbot. Milton Berle was Abbott Emeritus. Buddy Howe, the CEO of International Creative Management was Dean of the Friars. William B. Williams was Prior and a personal friend. Also a personal friend, Oscar Cohen of Associated Booking was Treasurer. Others on the Board included Red Buttons, Sammy Davis, Jr., Johnny Carson, George Burns and Alan King.
Consulting with Friar friends like Oscar Cohan led me to the conclusion that, to attract the top entertainment executives, three conditions would have to be met. First, the site of the presentation would have to be convenient and bear some special quality. Second, the other attendees would have to be peers of the invitee and of equal prestige for him to even consider attending. Third, the invitation would have to come from someone who was respected and not connected with Christian in either a business or a family way.
After a search of potential sites, most of which were not available, too expensive or not suited to our show’s type of presentation, we struck our first pay dirt. The Maisonette, a famous New York supper club located in the prestigious St. Regis Hotel, had been closed for nearly a year. It was an ideal site; it had a separate marquee entrance on East 55th just off Fifth Avenue. It had a reputation equal to the internationally acclaimed hotel in which it resided. It could lend a special image to the presentation itself because it added a high-quality flavor to the announcement. The invitation could include, “Now, for this very special occasion, the St. Regis will re-open New York’s most elegant supper club, The Maisonette.”
I spoke with the St. Regis management and discovered that the physical condition of the Maisonette was virtually as it had been upon its closing night. The tables and chairs were still in place. The wall paper, chandeliers, carpets and even the rest rooms were all in good repair. And, because no conflict of other business existed, we could occupy the premises for twenty-four hours a day for up to three days, if needed, for preparation. Based on the high profile of the invitees, the St. Regis management was quite cooperative. They agreed to reasonable room fee. We could occupy the Maisonette for three days for the price of one. The St. Regis would provide table setups and food and drink service at normal hotel prices. The hotel had sufficient personnel to service our needs within operations of its famed King Cole Room and its room service staff.
So, we had the special location, the first of our criteria.
Now, who could we use to invite top people to this special place to see our special entertainer?
We knew it could not be someone who was connected with the production of music or its publishing because peers would feel the inviter was on an “inside track”. It couldn’t be a producer or venue owner for the same reasons. But, at the time, recorded music sales were driven by plays upon the radio. Recording company, music publisher or showroom operator, the people you wished to influence the most (and to be closest to) were New York City’s highly influential disk jockeys. But, there were disk jockeys and Disk Jockeys. Talking with Oscar Cohen, he suggested Hal Jackson.
At that time, Hal Jackson was the most powerful man in music radio. He was vice-president and music director of soul-oriented WBLS-FM, New York’s highest rated and most influential music station. What first played on WBLS was copied in a week upon a thousand stations around America.
I agreed we should try to get Hal but, as a second choice, we Friars had our own famed disk jockey, Prior of the Friars, William Breitbard, better known as William B. Williams..
Without question, his was the most established and nationally recognized name in music radio. His Make Believe Ballroom had been WNEW-AM’s gift to the record marketing industry for decades.
Willi B. just happened to be a friend of mine. Of course, my agency had been very strong in buying New York radio time for our retail clients like Barney’s and Lee Myles and Robert Hall but, Willi B. was a friend from a different environment.
In New York, birds of a feather flock together at “roundtables”. At the roundtable at Hanson’s Drug Store on 51st Street and 7th Avenue gathered the “Corn Exchange”, Jack E. Leonard, Jerry Lewis, Buddy Hackett, Dean Martin, Red Buttons, Jack Carter, Phil Foster and all the leading comics.
At the roundtable at Algonquin on West 44th, gathered the literary leaders, Alexander Wolcott, Robert Benchley, Franklin P. Adams, Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Ring Lardner, et al.
Of course, by 1978, some of the more famous roundtables were becoming filled with empty seats as members left the group to box with God.
But, at the Brasserie on 53rd Street off Park, a roundtable large enough to seat 12 still survived. What the Hanson Roundtable had been to humor and the Algonquin roundtable had been to literature, the Brasserie roundtable was to wheels and deals. Its membership was occupationally diversified but chauvinistically focused, one had to be committed one hundred percent to making it in New York City. Members spun tales, talked New York politics, shook hands, helped lift one another, ridiculed the world and generally felt superior. On any one day, six to ten would gather around the table but the group had a membership of some thirty deeply-committed New Yorkers.
Abe Beame was one. Governor Carey, came whenever down from Albany. Alby Goldstein, head of Key Foods and Elmer’s Restaurant was one. Norman King, the media mogul, (who had opened his first business in the “steam room” at the Friar’s Club because he couldn’t afford an office), was a regular, as were Limousine Mogul, Bill Fugazy and his brother, Lou. The fighters came, Rocky Graziano, Jake LaMotta and his brother Joey, and Frankie Gioseppe “Gio”.
I was one of the group. Willi B. was another.
So, I first approached Willi B. with the idea of hosting Christian & The Lions at breakfast at the Brasserie. He, as one who had met and had openly admired Christian’s talent, shape and beauty, immediately agreed to be a co-inviter and host at the show.
Next, I called Hal Jackson and asked him if he would meet with Christian and me at his WBLS-FM office to hear a proposition. He agreed to meet us without hesitation. At the meeting, he appeared to immediately sense Christian’s star power. It is likely he also sensed that some revenue for his station came via commercial business Jack Byrne controlled, but he did not show that. He was obviously pleased, as well, to team up with Willi B. for the hosting role. The two represented the ultimate in white and black power on America’s radio.
There was perhaps another factor. At that time, Hal himself was being overshadowed by his own superstar disk jockey. All the music world was listening to Frankie “Hollywood” Crocker on WBLS-FM. Our plan would help to re-establish with the leaders of the music producing industry that Hal Jackson was still the head man at WBLS-FM.
Oscar Cohen and I had also felt that it wouldn’t hurt to have some “celebrity” on the invitation team, somebody who people would like to meet and in whose presence they would like to spend some time. I happened to have on call, just the right man, my very good friend, Rocky Graziano. From 1970, when Rocky became spokesman for Lee Myles Transmission Service, which was my client, we became working partners and close friends. Rocky loved Christian and our son, Kareem, and his live-in cousin, Stacey. Rocky lived on Second Ave. and 57th Street just a block away from our home. Two or three times every week, between 7 and 7:30 am he would drop by while walking his mastiff for coffee, a noge, and talk about his and my career and a lot of other stuff.
Rocky was the most popular and most available celebrity in the history of New York City, bar none. Everybody knew Rocky and loved him, from The Raging Bull, Jake Lamotta, whose life Rocky virtually saved by teaching him stand up comedy and putting him on The Martha Raye Show, to New York Governor Hugh Carey who, whenever down from Albany, would spend the evening with Graziano at Rocky Lee’s bar on second Avenue; from Mario Cadenza who worked on the Sanitation Department truck that picked up the garbage on along East 57th Street where Rocky lived, to Ronald Reagan, soon to be President of the United States.(A picture of Ronald as president and Rocky, appeared later on the cover of Rocky’s second biography, Somebody Down Here Likes Me, too.)
We had our team.
The printed invitation would read:
Hal Jackson, William B. Williams & Rocky Graziano invite you to a private entertainment industry preview of a unique new performer…
Christian Cooper, in a unique new act, Christian & The Lions.
Opening Page of Invitation to Show
Two of the conditions were met, the right site and the right hosts. But, we still would need to convince each invited top executive that he would spend the evening in the company of his peers.
The solution was, like most solutions to marketing problems, simple but effective. We decided to include, with each formal invitation, a guest admittance card specifying the name of who was to be admitted upon presentation of the card. A letter would accompany the mailing of the formal invitation and the guest card. The letter would advise the recipient that this invitation was only valid for the specific person or persons named on the admittance card. The invitee was advised to call the RSVP telephone number provided if he or she desired to recommend the addition of someone to the invitee list or to make a substitution for a name on it. The invitee was requested to first check the accompanying invitation list to determine whether the person who he or she might suggest had not already received an invitation.
That was the Big Idea in the plan. The List of Peers.
The invitation list covered a number of leading corporate moguls of the music and recording industry and of influential New York media and included a number of substantial celebrities from entertainment and sports. We invited every personality we had met through my business or Christian’s former performing career. We invited only the top executives in each firm or media of our interest. The guest list was of “invitees” not of “acceptances” and that is what gave it its special eye-popping energy.
Bob Hope was on the list, as were Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, Merv Griffin, Lionel Hampton, Gower Champion, Angela Lansbury, Frank Sinatra, Jr., Egon Von Furstenberg and Betsy Von Furstenberg, Harry Belafonte, Quincy Jones, David Frost, Geoffrey Holder, Alan King, Carl Reiner, Bobby Short, John Lindsay, former Mayor of New York and many more people we had had contact with, even if only once, and “knew”.
Top talent managers were on the list such as Buddy Howe, CEO, and Marvin Josephson, President, of International Creative Management and Lou Morris and Lee Stevens of William Morris Agency and Norby Walters of his own agency, and Ronna Luxembourg, Ron Alexenberg and Sal Chianti of MCA Music. Record industry giants were on the list including Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records, Morris Levy and Phil Karl of Roulette, Fred Hine of Polydor, Bruce Lundwall of CBS Records, Jacques Morali and Neil Bogart of Casablanca, Chris Blackwell of Island Records, Nat Tarnopol of Brunswick and Kenny Gamble of Gamble & Huff. Clive Davis was invited.
New York’s most popular disk jockeys were included like Danny Dan Daniels and Harry Harrison of WABC-AM, Ted Brown and the Redhead of WNEW-AM, Dan Ingram of WABC-AM and Gene Klaven of WOR-AM. From sports, in addition to Rocky Graziano, there were two world-boxing champions on the list, Heavyweight Jersey Joe Walcott and Lightweight Carlos Ortiz. One New York Knicks hero was invited, Clyde W. Frazier, who had been our spokesman for Ripley Clothes.
The list of TV personalities was equally strong though heavily weighted towards the WABC Eyewitness News Team of Roger Grimsby, John Johnson, Doug Johnson, Spencer Christian and Tex Antoine, all of whom had been our friends and been to affairs within our home. But, also on the list were Mike Douglas and Roger Mudd of WCBS, Joe Franklin of ???, Doug Sinfel of the Today Show, and Bruce Morrow of WNBC-TV and Stewart Kline of WNEW-TV and a number of others.
There were industry critics and columnists on the list, such as our friend, Earl Wilson of the New York Post, Frank Meyer of Variety, Roman Kozale of Billboard, Vy Higginson of Unique-New York, Lorna Wilherson of Black American, Maria Tio of Essence Magazine, Jay Cocks of Time magazine, and a group from After Dark. Jimmy Davis of the NY Daily News, Alan Rich of New York Magazine, and Phil Dougherty of The New York Times.
The “Invitation List” was extensive and intensive. It contained about 200 names. We were seeking attendance of about half the number we had invited.
Page 3 of Invitation.
Chuck Cassidy, my advertising associate, designed the invitation itself, and his work was warm and inviting. He sketched a partial face of Christian that graced its pages and made one want to see more of her. The invitation was sizable, with two folds of 6″x10″ which, when opened, provided an 18″ by 10″ spread. The spread presented all of the important participants in the show, including the industry-known production group, the talent and the show program with all songs listed with their composers and lyricists and famed arrangers. A dozen names immediately recognizable to the industry were presented. This was all part of the strategy of helping the mountain-top recipient of the invitation to be comfortable with the level of the event and want to be there, even if just to associate with mountain-top peers.
Finally, the time came to send out the invitations and then, to wait, our hearts in our mouths, for the response. We anticipated it would require a number of follow-up calls just to get executive secretaries to put our invitations upon those immaculate and impressive executive desks they served and to urge those impressive executives to make decisions in favor of their attendance. Despite our “marketing strategy”, we were afraid we still had a way to go to succeed.
We were wrong.
In two days time, the acceptances began to come ringing in. With many of them came further requests for others to receive invitations. A number of industry people, who we had missed or ignored, called and, though miffed, politely requested guest invitations which were sent by return mail.
Within ten days, we had 250 acceptances.
The Maisonette could seat only 150 guests. Very happily, we were forced to plan for two shows for the night of Sunday, June 11th, one at 7pm and one at 9pm and we managed to balance the guests into each of the two time slots. In between the shows, there would be an open bar in the St. Regis Red Room that immediately adjoined the Maisonette.
We were quite proud of our marketing skills. Our hearts quickened and so did the pace.
During the week before Sunday, all was frantic. We booked Carroll Studios on West 41st Street and 9th Avenue for some 48 hours of rehearsal. The choreography was complex and physical and Christian and the Lions gave it their all. The band rehearsed in a separate studio for similar hours and then the full entourage rehearsed on Friday and Saturday until Saturday night.
Christian had not yet seen her wardrobe because, to complete it for Sunday, Bernard’s shop still had an all-night sew fest ahead of them. Fortunately, the wardrobe for the Lions and the Band had been completed and had been delivered to The Maisonette dressing room.
It was past midnight when Christian and I arrived home and began to pretend to relax for the big day ahead.
For the day of the show, we had arranged for a room for Christian and one for the Lions so that they could rest and cool out until Showtime. Late Sunday morning, Christian left for the hotel to spend time focusing upon the night ahead and relaxing both body and throat.
The Band and the Lions were to arrive at one p.m. to leave plenty of time for handling last-minute problems and for a final dress rehearsal of the music and choreography.
At about 12:30pm, the telephone in my home office rang.
It was Bernard Johnson and he was about as excited as a man could be while still being able to speak and not forcing heart failure.
“Jack,” he shouted into the telephone, “We have a big problem. Nat Adderly left the score at Carroll’s last night!” The score was comprised of the complex arrangements for each of our five musicians for each of the ten songs in the show. Without it, the show, literally, could not go on. I said, “Well, tell him to go pick them up.”
He responded, “Carroll’s is closed on Sunday, really closed. I mean there is no answer on the telephone and it’s locked up like a Federal prison.” I said, “Well, who knows someone who works there, or who owns it? We can call them at home.” He responded, “Nobody knows anybody personally and I don’t have the faintest idea who owns Carroll’s.”
I said, ” Where are you?” He told me he had just arrived at the Maisonette and that Nat had called him there. I said, “Whatever you do, make sure no one tells Christian or the Lions.” I was terrified that the tension such an emergency could cause might tighten their throats and damage their performances.
I then told Bernard that I would try to trace the owners through the police or whatever other way I could and that he should try to think of any other solution he could.
I called the police precinct for Carroll’s neighborhood and spent 30 minutes trying to get simple cooperation. When I finally got it, I was told that they had found the names of the owners of the premises since this information was required by NYC fire laws. But, for some reason, they had neither phone numbers nor addresses for the owners. They admitted that their information wasn’t too helpful. I said to them, “For God’s Sake, what if there’s a fire or some other major emergency?” They replied that the building would have to be entered by one of a variety of physical means other than use of a key. I hung up and decided I should visit the premises and look the situation over. It was 1:15 pm.
I got in a cab and directed him to 41st Street and 9th Avenue. But, as we were speeding south along 9th Avenue some five blocks north of West 41st Street, the driver moved the cab aside to permit a siren-wailing, hook-and-ladder fire truck to pass. It was immediately followed by a red fire chief’s van which in turn was followed by a second fire truck which my cab then pulled up behind to take advantage of speeding through the cleared space. As we followed the fast moving red pack, all came to a near halt and turned east on the west-bound 41st Street and stopped. They were right in front of Carroll’s Studios. My taxi, of course, could not turn east on a west-bound Street so he drove across the intersection and pulled to the curb in front of the Port Authority building. He said, “Hey, did you know you were coming to a fire?”
I was bewildered. Firemen were filling the street in front of Carroll’s. I paid the driver. I said,” I was coming to get a bus.” I closed the taxi door. I looked towards Carroll’s and saw immediately the enormity of the entry problem. Caroll’s entire frontage was blocked by a massive pull down grill with three fist-sized locks attaching it to the ground. Two firemen were kneeling down studying the locks.
There was no sign of smoke.
There was no smell of smoke.
There was no smoke.
And, where there is no smoke, there is no fire.
I could see that the fire chief had come to the same conclusion. He was shaking his head and obviously cursing whomever had placed the false alarm.
Then, I realized they might think there was a cause to this effect. I should not be looked upon as the “causer”. Less than an hour before, I had asked the police how they could enter without an owner’s key. I had asked what would happen if there was a fire. And, I had given my name and phone number. I decided to enter the Port Authority building and disappear.
As I entered the building, I heard a voice say, “Psst! Jack.” I turned my head and stared into the cupid like face of our producer, gentle Bernard Johnson. I said, “Oh, No!” He responded by asking, “Did you see anything? Have they got the gates open yet?” I said, “They’re looking for the perpetrator, who I now assume is you.” He told me how he had had this inspired thought about half an hour after we had spoken and how he had come down here to make the call to the Fire Department from an area phone.
I was dumbfounded by his audacity. I was also impressed by his commitment and amused by his crazy solution to an impossible situation. But, I was also worried that there might be some repercussions especially after my discussions with the local gendarmes who, I was sure, would soon be milling around with the firemen, putting two-and-two together and deciding I was four.
Realizing there was going to be no break-in, and that we should leave, regardless, Bernard and I crossed through the Port Authority Building to Eighth Avenue. The police had failed us. The fire department had failed us. What was left? It was now nearly 2:00 pm.
The need was to find someone who knew someone who worked at Carroll’s.
I had a new idea. Carroll’s larger competitor was S.I.R., Studio Instrument Rentals serviced the band industry seven days a week. I suggested Bernard go back to the Maisonette, try to maintain everyone’s cool and make busy work for the act, like rehearsing the choreography which would not require the arrangements. I would check S.I.R.
I got a taxi to 520 West 25th Street where the S.I.R. vast facility was located. S.I.R. had in house over a dozen studios for rehearsals or present industry showcases and thousands of musical instruments for band rentals from Marine Band Harmonicas to Steinway Grand Pianos. It had amps, monitors, speakers, lights, scaffolding and whatever else one needed to put on a musical show for everything from a Bar Mitzvah band to a headliners concert ta Madison Square Garden.
When I arrived, I went straight to the office and asked “Do you guys know anybody at Carroll Studios?” The first answer was, “You don’t need Carroll’s, S.I.R. has everything you’ll ever need.” I said, “We have a complete score left in their studio last night and we have a show today. And, they are closed today.” The joking ended, but still nobody in the office knew anybody in Carroll’s. I said, “Mind if I ask inside?” They didn’t.
I stepped outside the office and shouted, “Does anyone here know anyone at Carroll Studios?”
Silence. So I jogged a hundred feet into the building and shouted even louder, “Does anyone here know anyone at Carroll Studios?”
No answer. I jogged to the stairwell and ran up the stairs to the Second Floor. “Does anyone here know anyone at Carroll Studios?”
The silence persisted although I could hear people talking and a band was apparently rehearsing in a studio to the rear.
I climbed up one more flight. Then, louder than ever with the hopes that the entire building would hear me. “Does anyone here know anyone at Carroll Studios?”
Silence for a few seconds. Then, a distant voice called out. “What’s that?”
I replied, full voiced, “Does anyone here know anyone at Carroll Studios?”
“Yeah, I do.” The voice called back. I walked rapidly down a large open warehouse space towards the voice, “Where are you?”, I called. “Right here” he replied. I came to the entry to an inside room and saw by the opposite wall a strong young warehouse organizer. I jogged over to him.
I said, “Hi, I’m Jack Byrne, I don’t think we’ve met but this is an emergency. I have a show opening in three hours and the entire score is locked in a studio at Carroll’s and they’re closed today. I need to reach somebody who can get to the owners to let me in.” There was pleading in my voice and hope in my eyes. “Do you know somebody who can help.”
He laughed. “Hi, I’m David. Do I know somebody? I was out until three-thirty this morning with the man himself, George.” I reacted, “George the owner?” I presumed he meant the owner.
“Nah, much better than the owner. George is late security. He locks the place up at night. George has to let the owners in. He’s the man with the keys. I said, “Oh, My God!” and “Thank you, Jesus”. Then I asked, “Can you help me get to George? Do you have his number?”
He told me George didn’t have a number or a telephone. My heart sank to the warehouse floor. “Do you know where he lives?”
“Sure I dropped him off there this morning, he’s on 137th Street in Harlem, near Lenox.” My heart rose up again.
“Can you take me there, David?” He nodded, “I get off at five.” I said, “If your boss will let you leave now, I’ll pay extra to you for the lost time.” It was already getting near 3:00 pm.
We were in a cab five minutes later on our way to George’s house. With the cab giving that extra push a waving extra $50 bill creates, we were in front of George’s apartment house in under twenty minutes.
As he went to get out of the cab, David said, “George is gonna be pissed, this is his day off and he tries to cool out all day. I bet he’s not even awake.” I pulled a hundred-dollar bill out of my wallet and handed it to David, “Pass this under his nose, maybe that will help wake him. Tell him it won’t take him more than an hour round trip. And, there’ll be one for you, too, if you can get him to hurry.”
David was back in ten minutes. “It’s OK. He was sleeping but he’s cool. He has the keys. Now, he’s getting dressed.” I virtually collapsed in the cab knowing this nightmare would soon be over. “But, first, he’s gotta walk his dog.” OK, not so soon.
The apartment door opened. A man and his dog exited unto the street. Both were yawning. George was thin, tall, unshaven, wearing what looked like pajamas under a soiled raincoat. His dog looked just like him, sleepy and not too kempt. George waved weakly at David and started slowly up the street following the sniffing animal at the end of the leash. I said, “David, follow him, encourage him, tell him I’ll give him another hundred if the dog shits now.” David said, “Hey, George isn’t about money. His dog comes first. He even gave him the same name. His dog’s name is George, too. Don’t mess with George and his dog, George, or they’ll both be back in the apartment sleeping and you’ll be a hundred dollars richer but without a score.”
I had faced a thousand threats in my life but none were more threatening than those three little words, “isn’t about money.” I sat quietly on the taxi seat squeezing my buttocks in prayer that George, the dog, would do the same.
The Georges had disappeared around the corner. We waited five minutes. Then, George, the dog, appeared, moving fast, pulling George, the man, behind him and smiling a dog smile and half snapping back at his leash as though to play. He looked for all the world like a dog who had just enjoyed a long-awaited dump. George, the man, had a small but full plastic bag in his hand attesting to the fact. I was happy for all of us.
George threw an “I’ll be right with you’ expression towards us and disappeared back into his apartment building.
In a minute, he was back and ran towards the cab. “We’re on our way,” I thought, “Thank you again, Jesus”. But, George suddenly stopped and patted his raincoat pockets. He looked up at us and held his palm up flat and facing us and said “Sorry, forgot the Carroll’s keys.” He turned and hurried back and actually was back in less than another minute and squeezed into the cab beside David. It was now nearly 4:00 pm
I said, “Glad to meet you. George. I am so glad to meet you, George.”
George said, “Lucky I was half awake. I wouldn’t never answered that door if I was still tired. Back of my mind, I knew I had to walk George before he did me a disservice, you know what I mean.” I blessed George’s digestive system.
I said our legal case containing the music scores was in Studio C. He replied, “Yeah, your guys were in there pretty late last night.”
I said, “We were pretty stupid to leave the case there.”
George answered, “Shit! One time, a band left a girl background singer there. She’d fallen asleep on an exercise mat. They forgot all about her. I locked up the place at midnight and went home.” He shook his head. “Girl was still there when I opened up in the morning. Band never even missed her. And, she’d slept through it all. I don’t know what stuff she was doin’ but it sure kept her peaceful.”
It was 4:30 p.m. when we arrived at Carroll’s. The cab waited. George pulled out the big keys for the three massive locks, opened them and raised the grate with the sweetest screeching sound ever heard by the ears of Man or manager. He opened the front door and, then, the inside door and I was off and running up the stairs to Studio C. There, sitting on the piano, ready to go to work was the thick black legal case. I grabbed it and clutched it to my chest as I picked up the phone on the studio wall and fumbled in a quarter with the hand holding the phone and dialed the Maisonette Room phone. Bernard answered. I said, “I’ve got the stuff and will be there in twenty minutes.” He said, “Thank you, Jesus. Christian came down here five minutes ago and told me we should get started with the dress rehearsal. I told her we had a little more time to get the sound system working right and the band tuned and then we’d get started.”
So, Jack, you wanted to be in show business. It was 4:30 pm exactly.
I paid David his hundred dollars, gave George another fifty and took off for the Maisonette. The cabbie kept up the pace, got his fare plus fifty and I was inside carrying the most precious treasure since the Ark of the Covenant. At the door to the showroom itself, I signaled Bernard and he came to me immediately. “Who knows?”, I asked him. “Just the band, I think.” Then, he added, “The Lions have been restless. Bobby Clay has been giving me a “Whasup?” looks for an hour now. Raymond and Paul look like they’re politely waiting for whatever. I rehearsed their steps until they said they knew them backwards already so I stopped.” He told me the musicians were avoiding conversations, disappearing to the coffee shop, to the bathroom, to the hotel lobby, and walks around the block. He made a mock sweep of the back of his hand across his brow and said “Whew, what a cliffhanger!” I said, “You better hope the Fire Department doesn’t trace that call to us, or we may have a neck hanger!” We laughed and laughed, almost hysterically, in our relief over the events of the day. We had both put so much into this show. This day had nearly broken us. But, nearly is not a problem, I thought.
It was 4:45 pm and we were on time for our 5:00 pm dress rehearsal.
He then cut off his chuckles and added, “One of the problems with the dress rehearsal is that two of the dresses aren’t here yet!”
Bobby Clay Ferguson having heard our joviality had walked over. “What’s so funny on a Sunday, man?” He asked. Bernard answered, “Producer’s choke, I mean, joke. I’ll 411 you later. Now, let’s call Christian and get on with our rehearsal.” Bobby backed off. Bernard started to go inside. I called after him, “Where are the dresses?” He stopped and looked back at me, “Gloria’s bringing them down from Harlem, but she’ll have to finish them here.” It was now two hours to Showtime.
At least, I still had something to worry about.
By this time, the hotel staff had begun to prepare the room. They were preparing each of thirty Maisonette round tables with services of silver and water and wine glasses for seating’s of six and placing a chimney lamp with a yellow candle inside in the center of each table. Candles were to be lit just before show time. On each table was a small metal stand, holding a large index card with a printed table number.
I checked the Red Room. The buffet had not yet been laid out but the deep ice layer was spread and bowls and platters were ready for filling. The Red Room bar was stocked and one of our two bartenders was polishing bottles and rinsing glassware preparing for our sure to be thirsty guests.
My own office staff had arrived and were setting up a reception desk for greeting arrivals, checking invitation cards. On the desk was spread a blueprint of the Master Seating Plan which would help our people to direct arrivals to their assigned table.
We had tried to mix the table seating in such a way that no two competitors were at any one table. The typical table would have someone from a record company, a publishing company, a performance venue, and an entertainment media. The remaining seating would be for a celebrity and/or a sports figure.
For those who insisted upon seating together, we were willing enough and the plan was flexible enough for the staff to accommodate change.
By six-thirty, the invitees for the first performance started to arrive. I was surprised at how spirited everyone seemed. There was an immediate atmosphere akin to an awards show or a college reunion. Everybody knew somebody. Some seemed to know everybody. Many were excited to see again industry people they had “grown up with” but now found themselves too busy to share time together.
My man, Rocky, was there as a greeter. Willi B. was there as a greeter. Hal Jackson was there as a greeter. All were star attractions and guests surrounded each one.
Gower Champion, Director, with Christian during “Prettybelle”.
Gower Champion came to me and gave me a manly hug. I whispered to him, “Wait until you see your little star shine tonight”. He answered that this had been his dream for Christian ever since he’d met her working together on the musical, Prettybelle. He also told me that I was a very lucky guy and he knew she kept me young and happy. She did.
Carlos Ortiz, the first Puerto Rican world lightweight champion, gave me a kiss. To parallel Rocky Graziano, former middle weight champion, on English language radio, I had signed Carlos to be the spokesman for Lee Myles Transmissions for the Spanish radio market. The commercials proved to restore his former recognition as “King” in Spanish New York and even in his native Puerto Rico where Lee Myles also had franchises and radio advertising. Carlos often expressed that I had saved his life. Jersey Joe Walcott introduced me to his wife. Joe Walcott was a sweetheart of a man for one with sledgehammers for fists. He also, through Rocky’s introduction, had been grateful for working with me on a number of TV commercials.
World champions, Rocky Graziano (standing left) and Carlos Ortiz and Jersey Joe Walcott (seated right). Buddy Howe, CEO International Creative Management, is standing 2nd from right.
Lionel Hampton came early and apologized that he couldn’t stay for the whole show because he was in transit to the airport to catch a nine o’clock flight to the coast. Despite his tight schedule, he said he had wanted to see Christian perform for at least a few minutes. Hamp (also known as “Gates”) was another “sweetheart”. I had met him first when he had played, of all venues, at The Plaza Hotel bar mitzvah of the son of Norman King, a controversial broadcast media figure and one of our Brasserie round table group. Later, Hamp had worked with me and Christian on a number of musical projects for the bakery industry.
The bar had filled up, the canapés were being consumed with abandon and most people were milling around rather than taking their seats because the occasion had become more of a reunion party than a presentation.
Earl Wilson and his wife, Rosemarie, arrived for the first show with his son Earl, Jr. and his wife , Susan. We had known Earl for years. It was a night when Christian and I were dining with Earl at the Copacabana, where Dionne Warwick was appearing, that I put the ring on Christian’s finger and we announced our engagement. That evening, Earl had brought us backstage to meet Dionne who had also crossed the color line in marriage. She appeared delighted to meet us, perhaps because we were reaffirming her own life choice. It had been a special night for Christian and me.
At one time, I had selected Earl and his son Earl Jr. as co-spokespersons and partial co-writers for a series of radio commercials for Barney’s. The father-and-son team had proved quite likable and was given a lot of media exposure in New York. Later, Earl Sr. had told me that the popularity of the series had saved Earl Jr. from oblivion and helped to launch his career as a playwright.
To me, media was power. Radio was my special power. I found I could use my clients’ money to make money for them while simultaneously making some other contribution to some cause in my own world or to some particular individual who could benefit from such exposure.
At the time of Christian’s launch, I was experiencing a lot of proof positive that what goes around comes around.
Bobby Short arrived. Another story. Blackwell perennially listed Bobby as one of “America’s ten best dressed men”. In the late 1960’s, J.Allen Murphy, an executive in Jack Byrne Advertising, suggested Bobby might be available for radio work. I quickly wrote scripts that integrated him into our Barney’s radio series as a “fashion consultant” to our spokesmen team of Jay and Day. His spirit on mike was elevating; his voice was rich as vichyssoise; his manner was grand and he gave Jay & Day and Barney’s some needed “class”.
Bobby reported that he heard more reactions and praise for his radio performances than for his world-famed, season-long engagements at the Cafe Carlyle where he became an icon.
Bobby had been a guest at our wedding and, years later, in an emotional conversation told me that day and that wedding was “The most religious experience” of his life.
Knowing Bobby is a special experience itself. I was delighted to have him with us at the Maisonette. A crowd of “typical fans” gathered wherever he stood. After all, Bobby was the darling of all the “old money” set, not just the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Jackie Onassis and Gloria Vanderbilt, but, “new wealth and aspiring billionaires came to pay homage to the “most cultured entertainer in the world” (an image Bobby appreciated but received with a wink in his eye).
But for all the celebrities in sight, my biggest thrills came when seeing Ahmet Ertegun and Don Kirschner arrive, and Morris Levy and Ronna Luxembourg and Buddy Howe and the other mountain-top dwellers of the recording, music publishing and talent industries. They were why everyone else was here and all the preparation was done and money spent. To attract a dozen keys to the kingdoms of entertainment.
The room was growing full. People began sitting down. I broke away to the dressing room to see how the wardrobe was doing. It was five minutes before seven o’clock. Gladys James, Bernard’s chief dressmaker, was at Christian’s feet. Christian was wearing a stunning blue evening dress that I recognized as the final costume for the “And All That Jazz” number. Gladys was hemming the skirt. I said, “How’s the wardrobe going?” Gladys answered, “Pretty good. Another ten minutes on this.” I said, “Good.”
“Then we just have one to go”, and she pointed with her sewing needle towards a glorious white gown stretched across two chairs. “That’s the finale dress?” I asked. She said, “Yep, it’ll take about half an hour or so.”
Not wanting to create any more tension than might already exist and still thinking of the voices first, I said, “OK, fine. I’ll go out and see how the guests are doing.”
I saw Bernard as I stepped out of the dressing room. “These are important people. They may get impatient”, I said with some intensity. He answered without his usual reserve, “You think you’ve got problems, Jack? You think you’ve got problems? The producers of EUBIE are ready to can my ass. They’ve had to push back their opening preview two nights because I’d tied up everybody with Christian’s wardrobe!” I grabbed him by the arm and said, simply, “Thank you, Bernard. I’m so sorry we caused you such trouble.” He replied, “I love your lady, Jack. That’s what it is. It’s as simple as that.”
I calmed down, straightened my tie, got a fresh vodka on the rocks, walked to the space in front of the stage, and commenced a thirty-minute monologue about show business, about Christian’s background, about relationships with people in the room, about how impressed we were with the audience, about the City of New York, about talent marketing and anything else I could think of to pass the time. I tried not to appear that I was vamping until ready but it became obvious to some that I was, especially to those who knew me personally. Some of them helped me pass the time. Oscar Cohen interrupted me to tell everyone how he had met me first in 1970, when JBA wanted to use the name and 12-year old likeness of his client, Louis Armstrong . It had been for a now-famous commercial for Barney’s which every New Yorker knew. It featured 12-year old Barney with his 12-year old “peers”, Humphrey Bogart, Casey Stengel, Fiorello LaGuardia and Louis. Oscar pointed out that the handsome suit he was wearing had been received instead as a “commission for obtaining Louis’ permission”. This got a few laughs and took some time. Bobby Short then reminisced about the great notoriety he received from doing Barney’s radio spots.
Finally, thirty minutes had passed. The band came out behind me and started to prepare their instruments. The time had arrived. I thanked all the guests for coming and said I believed they would find every moment worthwhile once the show began. I walked off, the lights dimmed; the band began the beat.
From the wings, off stage right, the four tenor and falsetto voices of Patrick Jude, Bobby Clay Ferguson, Ray Patterson and Paul Binotto chimed in to begin a Chapman Roberts vocal exchange of the words, “You will be my music”, repeating the five words in a variety of harmonies. Then, Ray Chew, on the keyboard, and the band commenced the opening bars of the Joe Raposo song in Sy Johnson’s arrangement. Finally, Christian Cooper, wearing a finely fitted, chocolate-brown tuxedo walked into sight and the light from the wings, stage left and, to a welcoming burst of applause, began the opening number of her new career.
I stood off to the side, trying to study house reaction but finding it hard not to simply drink in the beauty and the talent and the goodness of the woman who I loved.
The show rocked ‘em and socked ‘em. The big number, And All That Jazz seemed as exciting as when it had been introduced on Broadway in Bob Fosse’s, Chicago. Christian and the Lions were dancing fools. The song started with the star in her chocolate-flavored tuxedo, but halfway through, the Lions gathered around her to block audience view and she stripped from the tuxedo revealing the hot red, rhinestoned, leotard underneath. She shimmied like ‘Sister Kate’, she stretched and strode and kicked her leg a full 180-degrees up towards the chandeliers. The Lions churned out complex steps like The Temptations but with a lot more Bernard Johnson bounce in them. As the song’s climax approached, the Lions took over the stage as Christian stepped behind the curtain, still singing her song. There, as she sang, she stripped off the leotard while Gloria dried her with a hotel towel. Dry, she was “poured” into that slinky blue shimmering evening gown they had just finished and slipped into elegant high blue shoes. A plush red foxtail stole was thrown over her shoulders, and she swept back into sight, still singing. The transformation had taken eight seconds. The crowd roared and applauded with pleasure at the quick change and at her dramatic costume. Christian belted out her final line…
And……. Alllll …………Thattttt ……Jaaaa-aaa-zzzzzzz! That Jazz!”
I was crying. I’m crying as I write this. It was such a perfect performance, such a combination of music and arrangements and wardrobe and talent at every point, that my emotions couldn’t handle it. As much as I had believed in her, I now saw for the first time what Bernard had seen all along, she was a superstar. Whether the public would learn that was incidental. She was one already, at that very moment before my very eyes. The Maisonette audience apparently agreed for they stood and cheered and even whistled as she left the stage and the Lions began the opening to the next number.
Later in the show, Christian performed a ballad. A sad ballad. Her own ballad. It was called, The Honeymoon is Over, and she had written it six years before when our honeymoon ‘was over’ and I became heavily committed to my advertising business and to my nineteen-year old daughter and my ten-year old son from my previous marriage both of whom had become especially needing of my attention.
The Lions left the stage; the lights were dark, except for a single spot on a single stool placed stage front and center. The only other illumination was the warm flicker of the thirty candles on the thirty tables in the room.
As the strains of the opening music were played, Christian emerged from the dark in her evening gown, walked slowly and pensively towards the middle of the stage and quietly moved into the spot and took a seat on the stool. She began her story by speaking these words,
“Well. I guess the honeymoon is over…. For him … but not for me…”
The ballad was received with nearly the same enthusiasm as the “Jazz” showcase number. It was a bittersweet moment for me because I knew the pain I had put her through back then, but now she had turned that pain into words and performance that could reward her a thousand fold. I realized more than ever before that my wife was a “pro”. Pain was something “a pro used to grow” in almost any field of endeavor. Christian had certainly used it this time around.
Audience emotion stayed with the show right to the finale. The final number was to be an audience-directed message of Christian’s love for them employing as her message, You Are So Beautiful, by Preston and Fisher in a splendid soulful arrangement by Ray Chew. For this, Christian had gone off stage to be poured into the gown which I had seen lying on the chairs in the dressing room, still to be fitted, just an hour and a half earlier.
Lights were dimmed The Lions, who were now in fitted lace-trimmed white shirts and, equally fitted, black satin vests and pants, filed unto the stage singing the opening harmonies of the song. Then, a spotlight caught Christian entering from the opposite wing in a gown as ethereal and breathtaking as the finest Broadway or Las Vegas showroom had to offer. It was a superbly elegant, pure white satin gown with wide, feathered, angel-wing sleeves and a white feather train sweeping the stage behind her. The audience applauded the gown. It was a Bernard Johnson masterpiece. Knowing it’s recent history, I couldn’t help but wonder how many pins were keeping it together.
The special hook to Ray Chew’s special arrangement was the segue near the end of You Are So Beautiful to Me to the opening number, You Will be My Music. The closure was perfect. Where the show had begun, it ended, but the key had come up an octave and the energy had soared to the mountain tops.
What had been an unknown presence one hour before was now a known performer.
And, the people who knew that were the people who count, making the final message in the finale far more meaningful. I was sure that many people in the room felt that they would be pleased to be Christian Cooper’s “music”.
I was first in line.
During the intermission before the 9 p.m.show, the Maisonette and the Red Room became especially crowded as people from the first show stayed and talked excitedly with one another and with friends who had arrived for the second show.
Overwhelmed with relief, joy and pride inside, I tried to remain cool on the surface. Earl Wilson and his wife Rosemarie came to me. She kissed me and told me how much she loved Christian. Earl said, “You’re the Greatest Impresario since Flo Ziegfeld!”
I said, “I bet you tell that to all the husbands.” But, I was mighty pleased to hear his praise.
Norby Walters, agent to Cissy Houston (later to become known as Whitney’s mother) and other well-established talents, introduced himself. He said he wanted to handle a piece of “the girl” for perhaps a 25% management fee and would like to sit down with me as soon as possible. He also informed me that he was the prime supplier of talent for Shepheard’s, which was in the Drake Hotel on East 55th Street and Park Avenue and, except for the Rainbow Grill, was the most respected nightclub in New York. He said, he was certain he could arrange a booking for her within weeks even if he had to boot somebody out.
His offers confirmed what I had hoped even more than I had felt, that Christian was a superstar waiting to be discovered. But, I was cautious with Norby because I hardly knew who he was and our prime marketing targets were the Big Guns, International Creative Management, William Morris, Guns like that.
I told him I was very pleased by his interest and would, of course, be in touch with him, but that we hadn’t even yet presented our second show of the night and it was too early to start any serious discussions. He was not pleased. He told me he knew that I was not too long in this business and that I may not be aware of how influential he was, especially in New York. He said I should not be fooled by those “billion-dollar bullshitters” who lure you in and then turn you over to “some little fart who still needed somebody to wipe his ass”. Norby was colorful. I thanked him for his interest but not for his advice.
Then, I started looking for a billion-dollar bullshitter.
Frankly, the Guns I wanted most to hear from were Buddy Howe of International Creative Management and Harry Steinman of the Rainbow Grill. Both were booked for our second show.
Many first show attendees were still seated between shows. Among these was a table of three world boxing champions, Jersey Joe Walcott, heavyweight champ, Carlos Ortiz, lightweight champ and Rocky Graziano, middleweight champ. At the table were Mr. and Mrs. Charles George. Charles was president of Lee Myles Transmissions and he had three broadcast advertising spokespersons at the show. Two were at the table, Rocky and Carlos Ortiz, and one was to appear again, Christian Cooper. Also at the table was a beloved Broadway writer and character, Eddie White, and a “once-a-contender” and now a regular presence in Hollywood’s gangster flicks, Frankie (Gioseffe) Gio. I had just stopped at this table of friends and client when Buddy Howe, having arrived for the second show, walked over to us. He knew the fighters, but especially, Rocky, and said to me, “Wow, would I like to have a picture of this”. I thought to myself, “Wow, would I like to kiss your feet!” and replied to Buddy, “No problem”. I called over our event photographer, Julie Spedale, who had worked on many Jack Byrne Advertising projects, and who I had hired to cover Christian’s new career from its early days of rehearsals. Julie recorded the moment and promised to send a print to all.
I hoped it would be the first of many pictures with Buddy Howe, the most influential manager in all of entertainment.
The second show was even more crowded and a lot more casual. A number of people who had seen the first show had asked to stay for the second. We were pleased to comply and folding chairs were spread amongst the more formal table seating.
And, the second show had even more pace than the first. Whatever jitters that performers felt in the first show were gone for the second, erased by the first show’s response. Now, Christian and the Lions were able to step it up a notch. The dressmakers, Bernard, and the rest of the show crew could now sit back and enjoy it. I no longer felt compelled to read body language for response or to count the house.
After the second show, many people came to me to express interest. Without question, the two people I remember best were Buddy Howe who said, “ICM would like to manage a piece of Christian. Get in touch with me Wednesday or Thursday.” The second was Harry Steinman who said, “The Rainbow Grill’s presently running a Peter Jackson revue, Viva! Viva!, now, but that’s just for the summer. We’d like Christian to open our Fall Season.”
With a peaceful, even vapid, smile on my face, I walked into the post-show party to imbibe with my beloved show-biz friends, mostly new and a few old.
I said to myself, “My job here is done.”