Stories about events in 1963

City Hall

This story takes place in 1963. It was told on June 20th, 2011 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

My first tangle with City Hall took place after the Beatles concert. I got a call from Col. Jack Reilly, who was Daley’s special events director, jack of all trades, the guy who made the river turn green on St. Patrick’s day. For the City Hall milieu, he was very sophisticated. He was married to a ballet dancer. The “Colonel” part was for real, I understood; he may have served with the CIA. He was a very smart hatchet man. He called and wanted to have lunch with me, and he showed me this leaflet that the city had put out. It practically directed City Hall employees to go out to Arlington Racetrack. And since Arlington Racetrack was outside the city, there was very little justification why the city’s ofhce of special events should be instructing city employees to go out to Arlington.

Marge Evert had somehow gotten control of the track from her brothers and sisters. She was the adopted daughter of Ben Lindheimer, who had founded Washington and Arlington racetracks and was the committeeman in the 5th ward. I already knew something of her reputation: she was considered a piranha. I also knew she was represented by the mayor‘s law firm. I went out there and had lunch with her, and she was at her charming best, which was not saying much. Between the time we left for lunch at the hotel (which the track owned at the time) and arrived, she fired one elevator operator, a young girl. I remember the lunch because she inquired about my wife and children, and insisted on ordering four pastries from her bakery for my three kids and my wife.

But she was trying to ingratiate herself with me, and suggesting that Arlington Park would be a great venue. And to the extent that any racetrack could be a good place for concerts, Arlington Park was. It was located in the suburbs. Certainly for square, middle of the road acts it would have been perfect. The problem was, a racetrack is a racetrack and you can’t make it into an outdoor concert hall overnight. But I thought it was worth a shot.
I talked to Herb Alpert’s people and they agreed to do it. And we set up the stage on the track and we were in business.

It never got better. We made a deal and I kept writing her confirming the deal, because I had some idea of who I was dealing with. I had lunch with her a second time to confirm things and this time I only got one sweet roll for Francoise. That should have let me know what was coming.

About five days before the event I got a contract that directly contradicted everything we’d talked about, and contradicted my letters. I called her lawyer up and he in essence said, there’s nothing I can do, sue if you want… sue the City of Chicago, that is. So we just went ahead with it. I remember we did $72,000. Alpert did fine. I lost $3000, which to me was like making $50, because it could have been much worse. I figured it was just a lesson to get the hell out.

Johnny

This story takes place in 1963. It was told on March 12th, 2010 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

It was a series of coincidences that made it possible for me to break into the pop concert business, and if they came perhaps a little before I was ready for them, that didn’t mean I was about to pass them up. Helen Noga, Johnny Mathis’s manager, wanted to do a week-long solo gig with Johnny in Chicago, and there was just nobody else around that was in a position to do it. Harry Zelzer was busy with a Harry Belafonte concert at the Opera House, and Zelzer was not inclined to take on competing attractions on the same night.

It was the summer of 1963. Mathis was the biggest artist I had ever booked, and the closest one to the commercial mainstream. For the first time I had to mount the whole elaborate backstage operation, hire an orchestra, arrange for special lighting, and do all the things that in the folk world would be regarded as outrageously indulgent. But I’d never had any religious commitment to the folk scene, I reminded myself. People could say I’d sold out, but I’d never been a member.

Mathis’s fee was forty thousand dollars, which seemed fair when I looked into it — it was his going rate. Of course I didn’t have forty cents, much less forty thousand dollars. I set up a limited partnership, with a friend and an accountant, and raised the money. The next problem was to find an appropriate venue. The Opera House was booked up with Harry, and the Chicago Symphony was playing Orchestra Hall.

There was one other place. Medina Temple was one of the better halls in Chicago, and it was in a pretty good location, but the Shriners had contradictory policies on renting it out. Their priority was operating the shrine and running around in their fezzes; that was what they had built it for. On the other hand, if you had the kind of show that could play that stage – a rather odd-looking apron that jutted out in a partial in-the-round sort of arrangement – you had an intimate room for forty-five hundred people, and the acoustics were said to be the best in the city.

My mistake was that I should have paid him the forty thousand for four or five shows in three days. The business was all going to be on the weekends: I wasn’t thinking about what we would do to bring people in Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. No matter how big your attraction, trying to get people into downtown Chicago at midweek is pushing it. On top of that, I don’t think Johnny’s crowd was used to seeing him outside of the small club circuit and the Dick Clark bandstand shows. Maybe it was a little early to try for such a large concert hall appearance.