Stories about events in 1968

Crazies

This story takes place in 1968. It was told on October 23rd, 2010 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

After 1968 it was becoming harder and harder to combine politics with my business life. It was getting more dangerous too, as the crazies took over the movement. Dick Gassen, who worked for me through January 1968, recalls that Rennie asked him for the plans to the Amphitheatre. Dick told me about it and I went crazy and said absolutely not. I was not interested in getting my business blown out by lunatics.

The civil rights movement had won great victories, which came about because of the rioting in the cities, but they were often more form than substance. Black and white, like rich and poor in the old saying, were both free to sleep under bridges. African-Americans had achieved the right to the same degradation that poor whites had always had.

In the end, for all their demonstrations and moratoriums, the antiwar radicals failed to make a connection with the mass of Americans. My own feeling was it was because they had failed to develop a comprehensive view of society and project a class analysis. In spite of some radical posturing, these movements never achieved any real commonality of purpose.

They were petulant young rebels who were angry that the Kennedys were not listening to them full-time. Part of their problem as radicals was they always had a relationship with the state department and the CIA, and they never broke ties with establishment figures. They seemed to think they should have some sort of entrée into a Kennedy administration. They met with them at a higher level than just adversaries negotiating. But at the same time they were being swept leftward by the antiwar movement.

Isserman has popularized the theory that it was a series of misunderstandings between SDS and Harrington and Howe, personal mistakes each group made, that determined that they didn’t quite understand each other, and history would have been different if there had been a fusion of the section of the old left that was intellectually led by Howe and Harrington – the “Other America” crowd – and the SDS. But at that time SDS was being swept leftward, and Harrington and Howe were being swept rightward.

The younger people had a kinship with the UAW and the social democrats, but that was disrupted by life, by major social events, and they were swept leftward, which speaks well for them, whether that was their intention or not. Today they are trying to pass themselves off as moderate social democrats, and claiming they were not trying to change the system so much as to modify some of its more grievous deficiencies, and the greatest deficiency they could identify was that nobody was listening to them, or not enough. That is the new wisdom that has come out of the whole group.

Chicago 1968

This story takes place in 1968. It was told on October 8th, 2010 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

Far be it from me to defend Richard Daley, but the truth is that the only thing that saved our movement from being totally discredited at the 1968 convention was the brutality of the Chicago cops and the stupidity and overreaction of Daley and Lyndon Johnson.

I had a full summer program booked that year, except for the weeks of the convention. I had arranged to bring Harry Belafonte into the Auditorium the week before the convention. When we set it up, nobody anticipated the kind of excitement that was going to take place. The booking was set probably six months ahead. I think Harry was on tour that summer and he liked the idea. He probably thought he was going to participate in some of the platform hearings; I don’t know. I thought we would get some business from the advance delegates and it was all fine.

By that time it was a week before the convention opened and Chicago was already a semi-poIice state. All sorts of threats were flying in every direction. Bobby Kennedy had been shot in June, but there was no sense that Armageddon was going to come to Chicago. My sense later on was that people had been warned to stay away, and if the cops had not provoked a riot, the whole thing that the Yippies organized would have been a sideshow, and anybody else’s attempt to intervene would have been incidental. I think it was Daley’s arrogance and ignorance that created this massive confrontation in which they beat the shit out of everybody in sight. And obviously the insanity of the establishment, given the lack of any cohesive movement by that time, just created its own mirror insanity in the resistance movement.

Harry did his concert series the week before the convention. The last night, Harry made a short speech deploring the violence that was taking place in Chicago. I’d sold half the main floor that night to Israel Bonds, and they were hysterical. I thought it was quite courageous, because Harry was really the greatest of the Jewish folksingers.

The net result of the events was that people dropped out and stopped fighting back. There was still moral outrage, but what really ended the war, without taking anything away from the peace movement, was that the Vietnamese were not going to give up and were defeating us militarily. And the soldiers had had enough and were starting to shoot the officers.

Sinatra redux

This story takes place in 1968. It was told on September 20th, 2010 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

My phone rang one afternoon and it was Mickey Rudin, Frank Sinatra’s lawyer, personal manager and so on. I’d met Rudin shortly after the first Sinatra date, when I’d helped him get some tickets to the Beatles concert in Los Angeles. He was already a powerful Los Angeles lawyer by then; later on, he succeeded Sidney Korshak as the elder statesman of show business. Rudin had a red phone on his desk that was a direct wire to the chief. (By coincidence, he was also a cousin to Milt Okun, the man who arranged most of the Chad Mitchell Trio’s songs, and those of Peter, Paul and Mary and who knew how many others.)

Rudin told me it was time for another Sinatra tour. “We’d like you to handle Madison, Cleveland and Detroit as well as Chicago,” he said. “Do you think you can do it? We’re arranging the dates ourselves this time around, so you’ll be dealing directly with me and Peter Epstein.” I refrained from asking what had become of Willard Alexander.

l’ve dealt with people who’ve been very tough negotiators, but when that spills over into a general neurosis, it’s something else. Talking to Rudin, I could feel the pressure coming all the way from the top. The contract came in the mail two days later, and it was indeed the toughest deal I ever signed: a guarantee of fifty thousand dollars, plus sixty-five percent of the gross. I had to mortgage my house. I had to take out insurance on Sinatra’s life, because in the event that he died they were not obligated to return the deposit. But I got out my pencil and did my figuring, and I did two other things: I made sure that I had more than one date, and I booked the International Amphitheater, a hall that did not charge a percentage. Otherwise the numbers didn’t make sense, no matter how big a draw Sinatra’s handlers thought their man was.

So we made the deal. I signed my life away.

I called Peter Epstein to see what his ticket needs might be. “Let’s get together and talk about it, Frank,” he said. “Come to think of it — did you get your invitation to our Pontiac party? Why don‘t we talk there?” Peter Epstein was the biggest Pontiac dealer in the world. He got that way by figuring out how to sell status, not just steel. One of his gimmicks was to throw a huge cocktail party to show off each year’s new line of Pontiacs. I had to hand it to him, it was probably one of the cleverer promotions I had seen. lt would never work today — everybody would know it was a scam.

But in those days to get an engraved invitation to a cocktail party was a big deal. I remembered an envelope, hand-lettered and silver—embossed, that had come in the mail the week before and I’d forgotten to open.

The party was a profusion of overdressed middle managers and their wives, milling about with martinis and exclaiming over the latest whitewalled wonder.

When Francoise and I got there, the booze was all gone and the buffet food was cold. We stood in a corner by ourselves, part miserable and part amused.

Soon I caught sight of Peter Epstein himself, gladhanding his way through the crowd. He was headed in our direction. When he saw us, he came over and I introduced him to Francoise, and we made the obligatory small talk.

I told Epstein what Mickey Rudin had said, and what he hadn’t said. “Willard? Oh, he didn’t handle things properly,” Epstein explained, leaning in close to us for privacy. “Too many people looking after themselves, if you ask me. Especially in New York — you had all the local promoters bringing their friends backstage, and they all thought they were going to be Frank’s new best friend.”

“I suppose Frank has all the best friends he needs,” I agreed. Epstein’s own patron in the court, I’d heard, was Jack Entratter, the man who owned the Sands Casino in Las Vegas and was without a doubt one of Frank’s very best friends. Epstein had worked hard to get this far into the inner circle.

Meanwhile, he and I were now bosom buddies. We had been through the Sinatra wars together once, and I was one of only two promoters who got dates the second time around. They’d found fault with everybody else. So my I star was still ascending.

Epstein resumed his rounds, and Francoise and I waited until he was safely out of sight and made our escape.

We did everything the organization asked for, but still we could feel the tension mounting as the dates approached. When the backstage crew flew in ahead of the tour, I did not recognize any of the faces — the old crowd had all been purged. I couldn’t stop thinking we were coming up short in some way and we would be next.

The last time I saw Dr. King

This story takes place in 1968. It was told on July 5th, 2010 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

The Summit Hotel was not my favorite place to stay in New York. It was a big modern thing, all glass doors in black marble walls, more of a place for straight-ahead businessmen than I liked. I preferred something smaller, less formal and far away from Midtown. But I was at the Summit on August 6, 1968 whether I liked it or not. All the hotels l liked were booked up.

I was in New York to see someone about a booking, I don’t remember who, and I was already late. Irritably I dropped my bags off in my room, walked down the hall and stood waiting for the elevator, realizing that I should have gone straight to the Village from the airport.

The bell dinged, the elevator doors opened, and there was Dr. King, holding out one hand to shake mine while his other hand kept the door from sliding shut. He was with Ralph Abernathy, another of the SCLC guys, and a couple of younger men I didn’t recognize.

“How about this! It’s my friend Frank Fried,” King told Abernathy as I boarded the elevator. “How are you, Frank? And how is Francoise?”

“Just fine, thank you,” I lied. Francoise was not well at all, but he didn’t need to know that. I told him he was looking hale, and wondered what he was in New York for. “We’re meeting with Harry tonight,” he replied, surprised. “Aren’t you going to be there?”

I told him Harry hadn’t mentioned anything to me, but King urged me to come along anyway. “It would be useful to have you there, Frank,” he said. I begged off. I didn’t think I could get out of my meeting downtown.

“So, what’s the word from the Kennedy camp?” he asked.

“Wrong guy to ask about that,” I protested.

“I might have known you’d be a skeptic,” he laughed. “What could have given me the idea you were a Kennedy man?” I shrugged.

“I’m thrilled that the Democrats are finally facing up to this horrible war,” l said, “but that doesn’t mean l think a primary fight inside the party is going to help anything.” The elevator spilled us into the lobby, where we stood blocking traffic until King motioned us off to one side. l couldn’t help noticing the stares from the upper-middle-class business types walking in and out of the elevators.

King was looking at me, waiting. “lt’s not that l don’t think it means something that the Democrats are dealing with it,” l said. “But we can’t forget that it’s only the struggle that’s going on in the streets that has forced it onto the agenda. That and the fact that we’re getting the shit kicked out of us in Vietnam.” King looked at me and said, “You see, Frank, the only way we can stop the war is if we shake up the Establishment, and the only man who can do that is Rockefeller.”

Ten minutes had gone by, and King and his men had to be off. l looked hard at him as we shook hands. l thought – and I still think – that Dr. King genuinely loved the masses, took responsibility for them. You could say he gave his life for them. But l don’t think he ever fully trusted them to solve their own problems. ln the final analysis, we were left with Rockefeller.

l wanted to chase after him, to stop him and say, “But, but…” But l didn‘t. Ten days later, he was dead.