Stories told in September, 2012

My brief TV career (6)

This story takes place in 1959. It was told on September 30th, 2012 by Frank.  5 Comments

Our TV pilot was back in business. This was our last chance, so I tried to make sure that it would be reviewed well and that the sponsor would get the kind of attention sponsors want. I had friends at the Archdiocese of Chicago who were folk fans. I suggested to them that if they liked the show, they should write Sara Lee.
The priests came through with interest, and between the real excitement and the rigged excitement, Sara Lee was overwhelmed. The numbers were medium — not great, but good enough to feel enthusiastic about. Kaplan told us the company was getting all sorts of praise for being on the cutting edge.
Soon Sara Lee told us they were picking up their option for the network. ABC even ran a little teaser that the show was going to be on in May, as a pilot for a future series. Once again contracts were being drawn up.
Then, in a completely unrelated part of the television world, Jack Paar took a vacation from the Tonight Show. Sam Levinson, another big Weaver fan, was tagged to fill in. Levinson decided he wanted to put his old friends the Weavers on the Tonight Show.
Maybe it was hubris, or maybe Levinson was really telling the world it was time to put the blacklist to rest. Either way, the shit hit the fan. The Weavers never went on the show, and the dominoes began to fall. Suddenly, nobody from Sara Lee or the network would talk to us. Our show was never picked up. And that was the end of my television career.
A year or so later, ABC began to air a remarkably similar show called “Hootenanny.” By then the time was ripe, and it was a modest success, with a three-year run on the network.
Pete Seeger was the only singer the show’s backers would not contemplate. Pete decided that at this point getting people on the show would do more damage to the blacklist than a boycott would, and many artists deferred to his judgment and took the gig.
There was a big fight in the folk community over what to do about this. I had my doubts about the wisdom of Pete’s position, but I said nothing. I felt it was not for me to make that judgment. In the end, of course, he was right.

My brief TV career (5)

This story takes place in 1959. It was told on September 20th, 2012 by Frank.  1 Comment

Some things have a life of their own. Jim McGuinn worked very hard showing our TV pilot around town and talking it up, but he was getting nowhere until about a year and a half later, when we went to see Manny Kaplan, the vice president of Sara Lee bakeries. He loved it. He said he’d put on an hour-long special in Chicago, option it for the networks and, if it played well on the networks, sponsor the series. We persuaded Red Quinlan at ABC, one of the more courageous people in television, to take a chance on it. We were back in business.
This version of the show had the Second City comedians, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and the Weavers. Kaplan insisted on the Weavers — he was a big Weaver fan. We set up an outdoor shoot at the University of Chicago campus, where we figured we would have a receptive crowd. We were wrong.
There’s nothing particularly exciting about a location shot. There are interminable delays while cameras are adjusted and wires are fixed, and for the students — who were there for a backdrop, nothing more — it isn’t much fun to sit there in the cold wind and wait. How many times can you do a take before boredom sets in? Before long there were boos and catcalls. But we had a usable tape.


This story takes place in Uncategorized. It was told on September 8th, 2012 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

I was unemployed after getting laid off from US Steel, and didn’t know what I’d do for a living. A friend I’ll call Dave, whom l‘d met in a poker game when he was a fundraiser for the Progressive Party, told me I should try what he was doing. Like everyone else on the blacklist, Dave had been forced to find a way to survive, and like a lot of other radicals, he had entered the field of Jewish fundraising. They didn‘t take over the field; the field took them over. Israel Bonds, World Relief, you name it. The more marginal the group, the fewer questions were asked.
Dave called me and offered me a job for fifteen or sixteen thousand a year. “You can probably live on your expense account,“ he said, “find a Jewish maiden in Kansas City whose father owns the local dry goods store, and marry her.” Dave (who years later became a high-level administrator at a prominent Jewish religious institution, proving that he knew what he was talking about) added one more element to what I understood about fundraising. “lt’s all blackmail and vanity,” he said. “You go to Mr. Hyman So-and-So or Mrs. So-and-So, and say, ‘We’ll make you the Torah Man of the Year.’ Then when it’s four weeks before the dinner and no tickets have been sold, you go to Hyman and say, `Hyman, you‘re gonna be disgraced before the whole community.’ So Hyman then gets the pitch and he pays for the dinner — he pays for his honor. You blackmail Hyman and then he blackmails all his friends.”
I had raised a fair amount of money in my career as a radical organizer, and I would do so again many times — for the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, and some of the more obscure leftist movements. But to extort Jews for a living was another matter. I knew it wasn’t for me.

Classical wars

This story takes place in Uncategorized. It was told on September 3rd, 2012 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

The Orchestra Hall people had none of the problems I’d expected with the incongruity of playing folk music on their stage. Richard Dyer-Bennet had played there, Robeson had played there, the Weavers had played there.
The truth was, I found out, that these classical fans overlapped heavily with the folk audience. WFMT, the radio station that pioneered the folk boom in Chicago with a program called the Midnight Special, identified its own listenership as the Lakeshore area, the poshest white Jewish and Protestant neighborhood in Chicago, plus a little section in Hyde Park for the liberals and the middle-class Jews. Studs Terkel weighed in weekly with an interview program that defied McCarthyism on the cultural and literary levels and, not incidentally, drew a broad spectrum of affluent, educated listeners.
That’s always been who comes to hear classical music, and it was pretty much a section of that audience, along with a section of the surviving old left, that came to support folk music, once they found out about it. Those were the first people I had to sell myself to: the Symphony fans, the intellectuals and the socially ambitious.
Walter Hendel, the assistant conductor at the Symphony, was a good example of that classical-to-folk music crossover audience himself. I met him early on while booking Orchestra Hall, and over time he began to come regularly to the folk concerts.
Hendel was chosen to become the music director at Ravinia, the Symphony‘s outdoor venue, which always had a modified pop schedule alongside its classical bookings. This was a big deal for a conductor. Conductors were paid quite well, but the way they made their real money was by hiring a colleague for ten grand or so to be guest conductor for a week, and then collecting an invitation back to the guest‘s home turf in return.
Somehow Hendel had had conceived the notion that I would have a better idea of how to produce non-classical concerts at Ravinia than the people who were doing it already. He also figured, l’m sure, that my presence would enhance his own prestige. That was fine with me — in fact, I was very excited about it. I was increasingly aware of the value of that sort of prestige.
What I didn’t know was whose toes Hendel had stepped on on his way to Ravinia. Earl Lutgen, the chairman of Ravinia, was also on the Symphony board. He ran a big advertising company and was every inch the refined WFMT sort. Being on the board of the Chicago Symphony is, for those who are concerned with those things, a terribly prestigious thing in the establishment pecking order. That meant there were a lot of second- or third-generation heirs and heiresses who had an interest in classical music and the money to back it up. It took longer then to buy your way into respectable society than it does today.
Lutgen called me late one night and in very unrefined language warned me I should have nothing to do with Hendel or I would never get to use Orchestra Hall again. In the end, the fight meant the deal with me was off. It was not that much different from the corruption and strong—arm tactics that characterized the pop world, the only difference being that this variety had several more centuries of refinement. The manners were better, because old money has had time to wash.