Stories about events in 1966

Irv Kupcinet

This story takes place in 1966. It was told on August 24th, 2012 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

Brian Epstein had told me to set up three separate press conferences before the Comiskey Park concerts. The first would be for television crews, the second for the print reporters, and then all the adults would be shooed away and the band would answer questions from the editors of high school newspapers. When I pushed into the packed room for the first conference to introduce Sherman Wolfe, my public relations man, who was going to run things, I thought for a moment we had it backwards and we’d brought in the high school kids too early. Then I recognized the faces of some of the TV reporters. Not one of them was too old to be a son of mine. I was forty, and I had reached the pinnacle of my career by putting on a chiIdren’s show.
So here, peering over a bank of news microphones, were the villains of the hour: the boys who had dared to link up somehow with the worldwide phenomenon of kids talking back, wearing their hair a bit shaggy, and threatening the underpinnings of proper society. The chance for some fireworks was good, I thought hopefully. Maybe Lennon would back up his assertion, take up the challenge from the O’Connors and the Mableys.
Any such hopes were dashed immediately. The whole point of the press conference was to capitulate, to back off, and from their point of view, they handled it very well. The four boys showed remarkable poise, and even kept their sense of humor.
Irv Kupcinet and I stood together afterwards and watched the room clear, young reporters dashing off in all directions to file their breathless stories. Ignored, we slipped out with Kup’s wife, Essie, and walked over to Maxim’s for dinner.
Irv Kupcinet was a tall, broad-shouldered man who had been a college football star and had a brief career in the pros. He was the best kind of celebrity columnist: he would actually dig for news. Kup would subject himself to these press-conference circuses when he could easily have covered the story from the office. He prided himself on his scoops. He often knew which acts I was going to book before I did. And he was at the top of his field. He knew everybody.
Nevertheless, here we were at dinner, left to ourselves. Nobody had thought either of us interesting enough to tag along with. I couldn’t have pinned it down then, but years later I recognized that feeling. It felt a little like missing a train on which you were used to being the conductor. I was ten years older than the artists and the reporters who were covering them, twenty years older than most of the fans, and Kup was fifteen years older than me. In eight years in the business, I’d made the transition from irreverence to irrelevance.

Miss Chicago

This story takes place in 1966. It was told on July 30th, 2012 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

A local beauty queen, either Miss Illinois or Miss Chicago, cornered me in my office a few days before the Beatles’ Comiskey Park show in 1966. She said she could barely tell me how thrilled she was to meet me, because it was her ambition to “be with” all the Beatles.
I tried not to look as embarrassed as I felt. The big promoter is supposed to be used to this kind of thing, but I had always managed to avoid it. I was in the promotion business, not the procurement business. This time, I decided it was not for me to be so judgmental. lf that’s what tums you on, then God bless you. I agreed to introduce her to the tour manager, who promised to introduce her to the four kids. I never found out if she accomplished her mission.
That was fine with me. In a strange sense, it was the beginning of my decades of grappling with male chauvinism. It was the first time I had been confronted with a woman doing what so many men dreamed of doing.
Of course, this was all a bit delicate compared to what became routine in the business a few years later. By the end of the 1960s the more successful rock bands had developed a neat four-part job description for the promoter: get us the limo, get us laid, get us stoned, get us out of trouble. All the Beatles wanted to get, in those innocent early days, was out of the concert hall in one piece.
To the guardians of public propriety, the idea that young girls could be expressing such unprecedented and open sexual interest in males, even these androgynous, unprepossessing boys, was quite confusing. Suddenly women were acting out their fantasies just like men had always tried to, and with somewhat more success, in many cases. It was a harbinger of the kind of independence that was beginning to pop up all over the culture, in the most unexpected places, and it would be years before the establishment figured out how to meet it on its own ground, get friendly with it, and remove its teeth.

King and I (1)

This story takes place in 1966. It was told on July 7th, 2011 by Frank.  1 Comment

Dick had gone out for lunch, leaving me and Margaret in the railroad apartment that was the Triangle Productions office. Standing alone in my part of the flat, in what had been the dining room, I could hear Margaret shuffling through papers in the filing cabinet in the room overlooking Superior Street. I cleared some debris off my chair, kicked my shoes off and threw my tie on top of one of the heaps of books and paper that covered my long wooden desk.

Someone knocked on the door and Margaret went to answer it. There was a silence, and then she called out, “Franlk?” I sighed, got up and shuffled over to the archway that opened onto the living room. A solidly buiIt man in a brown coat smiled at me from the landing, crossed the threshold and held out a hand, which I took. “Dr. King,” I stuttered. He laughed and said, “Martin. Call me Martin.” He was alone except for a thin, sharp-faced young man who followed him in the door, hauling a heavy black briefcase. “We were in the area, Frank, and I thought we might stop in and interrupt you,” Dr. King said, hanging his coat over the back of a chair and straightening his tie. “Have you met Andy Young?” I shook hands with the younger man. I fished around under the desk for my shoes with one hand while I tried to stuff my shirttail into my trousers with the other.

Giving up on the shoes, I motioned the two of them into the room we still used as a sort of living room, pointing to a pair of chairs facing a sofa. I sat down on the sofa. I knew it was my turn to say something, but I just looked at Dr. King, waiting for him.

He was about my height, but he was not as stocky, which is to say he was not nearly as big a man as I’d guessed from the pictures I’d seen. He looked about the same age, too — nearing forty. His presence filled up the room in a way that I’d never seen before and haven’t seen since. It was the kind of presence that’s made up of understatement.


This story takes place in 1966. It was told on September 5th, 2010 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

It was about 1966 when I first got a phone call from Sigmond Zarchevski. He identified himself as a senior culture ministry official from Poland. He was in New York. “Let me get right to the point,” he said. “I saw your Chad Mitchell Trio perform at Carnegie Hall two nights ago, and I have never seen a more exciting group of singers. How can we get them to visit Poland?” It turned out we would both be in New York about a month later, so we agreed to get together. A month went by, and I was sitting down for dinner with Zarchevsky in New York.

Zarchevsky was a cultural bureaucrat, so I wasn’t surprised that he was conversant with the arts and culture. He was also, it turned out, sophisticated politically and we found that we could relate to a lot of the same things. He had fought with the partisans in the civil war, and had been a communist in the pre-war Polish party, which was one of the best — it had been purged by Stalin three times. He was fully acquainted with Deutscher. He had a historical appreciation of Trotsky.

Tragically, I thought, Zarchevsky reflected the view of many honest Communists who I think thought they could cheat history. “I understood what Stalinism is,” he told me. “l understand the problems in the Polish Party and the Polish state. But in spoite of it all, we are still the future. In spite of ourselves, you might say, we will overcome Stalinism. Bourgeois democracy surely has no future: for better or for worse, we are it.” Zarchevsly had met some of the CP periphery in New York. He thought they were political morons. “You are the only political person I have met in America,” he said expansively.

After that I made a point of meeting Zarchevsky whenever he was in the UNited States. We kept trying to set something up for a Trio, but the Polish Culture ministry couIdn’t even pay their air fare. “At least you, Frank, should go to Poland,” Zarchevsky told me more than once.

I did not hear from Zarchevsky again. Two years later, word came that he had died of cancer. I found out from the man who was named to replace him.

“My name is George,” he told me on the telephone. “I am right now in Chicago. May I meet with you?” There could have been no clearer contrast between the two men. Where Zarchevsky was urbane and continental, George looked so much the caricature of the broad-faced Polish peasant that you could picture him playing the lead in some of those dumb Polish jokes. The first time he came to our office he was wearing an orange sport coat and he was dead drunk. It was noon. Next to Zarchevsky, I thought, this man certainly doesn’t bathe the Polish culture ministry in glory.

I took George out to lunch, mainly to get him out of the office. “My former boss left your name on a list of excellent American contacts,” he said. “He spoke quite warmly of you.” I thanked him, wondering how I would break the news that the Mitchell Trio was no more and that he was wasting his time on me.

“I am to invite you,” he continued, “to come to Poland next year for our biennial international contest of performance and talent. You will be the American judge.”

This was the first I had heard of this angle. “Sopot is a typical middle European resort town,” George told me. The pop music festival was created because they had a ten-week classical music festival, and they had an extra week to fill and wanted tourists to come to Sopot. It takes place in a gorgeous natural amphitheater in the forest. Without thinking too much about it, I realized that I wanted very much to go to Poland and be a judge, and I accepted the invitation.

In the interim, I almost forgot about my promise to attend, until George would come through town and I would see him for another drunken luncheon. George was always drunk, and he was always trying to cage records or tickets. I tried, on one of these visits, to get him to talk politics, but he was a stone wall. With George, what you saw was evidently what you got.
When the time came to make the trip, I paid wholesale for a box of Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd records for George’s kid and brought them along.

George was waiting for me at the Warsaw airport, which was the first surprising thing. There was very little traffic to contend with, and none of the sense of a major country’s international hub. It wasn’t that I felt like I was going into the cold war enemy’s territory, it was more like going into the airport at Michigan City.

The first day I went to the Warsaw ghetto, alone. The next day George appeared at my hotel room. “I am to take you all over,” he pronounced. We took a cab to the Whispering Forest, where 40,000 partisans were killed in World War ll. Afterward we sat down at a restaurant on the edge of the forest that had been Chopin’s home. It was one of the better restaurants I had ever eaten in. Once again I attempted to bait George into a little politics.

Finally, George banged his hand on the table. “You want to know about politics?” He demanded. “You want to know about communism? My parents were killed in World War II lighting with the partisans.

“At the age of fourteen I went too,” he said. “l was a part of the young communist league. Most of my family was killed. It didn’t matter. We were fighting the fascism, building the future.” He stopped, stared at me for a moment, and held up the half—empty bottle. “Now, there is only one future that I know of,” he said, and paused again.

I worried that I had lost him.

“This is the most corrupt regime in the world,” George said suddenly, putting the bottle down hard. “The bureaucracy is strangling the country and the only thing I live for is my son and my booze. And my dacha in Yugoslavia.” I thought it best not to point out that he hadn‘t mentioned his wife.

“Don’t talk to me about communism,” he said. “Don’t talk to me about socialism. I know all about it. I‘m living it. You are not.” We both were silent for a while.

“You may have romantic ideas,” he said finally, glaring at me. “That is probably why Zarchevsky took a liking to you. He was a romantic too.”

George delivered me to the festival the next day, where I met his wife and handed over the records to his son. After that his responsibility for taking care of me was over. He had told me more about Poland and Eastern Europe I than I cared to know. If I had been more perceptive, I suppose I might have detected the seeds of the future in what I’d seen, but all I really took from it was that you can’t judge a man by the color of his jacket.