Stories that feature ‘Abner Greschler’

My brief TV career (2)

This story takes place in 1959. It was told on July 24th, 2012 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

Jim McGuinn stayed up all night and edited the tape of our TV variety show pilot. The next morning he showed it to ABC and got a pretty fair response. Then that afternoon he showed it to CBS. Mike Dann, the programming chief, loved it. He said, “If you guys can come up with half the sponsor, I’Il put it on.”
Jack Sobol at Screen Gems gave us some sage advice, which we ignored. He said, “lt’s not selling season, and there isn’t any money left. This money only remembers what you did for me today. If you show this thing now and don’t get any sales, lt’s gonna be yesterday’s news next selling season.“ But we had been told by Mike Dann that we had a great show, and we were not about to wait around.
Sobol also told us we had to get an agent. Get an agent? We couldn’t get an agent to return our phone calls. Those who heard about it thought it was a big joke. Then I remembered that I knew Abner Greschler, the hotshot agent on the West Coast who had been the Gateway Singers’ first manager. When I took over the Gateway Singers I had paid him the money they allegedly owed him, so he would at least take my calls. I called Abner and started telling him the story.
Abby often talked on two phones. He always called you collect, unless you put a stop to it by refusing the call. He was a very smart, fast man, the prototype of a Hollywood agent. So he was listening to me and doing two or three other things, until I said, “and Mike Dann likes this.”
He interrupted me: “Did Mike Dann see it?” I told him what McGuinn had told me. Abner immediately called Dann, with me still on the phone. Suddenly a change came over him. He had confirmed that CBS was interested.
Abner thought he was going to sell this show as country-western. All he knew was that CBS was interested and that this could be a hot property. So he said, “Send me a telegram giving me 90 days on it.” Jim sent him the wire, because nobody else was talking to us, and we both went home to Chicago to wait for Abner to produce a miracle. I‘m not sure Abner ever saw the show.

The Gateway Singers

This story takes place in 1962. It was told on January 20th, 2011 by Frank.  1 Comment

Albert Grossman had sent me to the West Coast to do some booking chores. I met Maryanne Polar, the promoter for college concerts in the area, at her house in Berkeley. We made the arrangements for Lehrer to play there the following summer. After we talked I had the rest of the evening to myself, so I went to the Hungry i to hear a group I had heard about. I sat down at a table near the back of the room to listen.

I’d just lit my second cigarette when a small black woman emerged from the wings and walked to the microphone at center stage. Three white fellows, carrying guitars, followed and arranged themselves behind her. They launched into “Putting on the Style,” and then they did a version of the old gospel song “This Little Light of Mine.” They closed the set with a literate, sarcastic little song about “Dr. Freud.” I was their fan before the set closed. I had never heard anything like it. These four people could sing up a storm, they were smart, they were funny, and they looked absolutely incredible. When they took a break and went backstage I got up and followed.

They were called the Gateway Singers. They had a regular gig at the Hungry i, but somehow they hadn‘t been able to get much further. Their first manager had been Abner Greschler, the man who had discovered Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and had brought British films to American television. He was one of the legendary Hollywood sharks, but he was a courtly man, meaning that after you shook hands with him you would usually wait until he left the room before you counted your fingers.

Greschler would only have managed an act like this one if he saw instant money. He never got it, because they never made it, but he tried hard. Somehow, in spite of it all, they had not broken big. There had to be a reason. They acknowledged that they had made some mistakes. Before their first album, Greschler had got them contract offers from Decca and Capitol, two of the more aggressive record labels in the business. Decca had won a reputation by recording the Weavers, the legendary folk group that hit big with “Goodnight Irene” in 1950, but by this time the company’s arteries had hardened and it was content to rest on its catalogue. Capitol was still a hungry, hustling outfit without a lot of big names. The Gateway Singers went with Decca. The Kingston Trio chose Capitol.

I didn’t care. I told them they were the most exciting thing I’d seen. I thought they would be offended if I told them their act was more commercial than most folksingers, but I said so anyway. Elmer Lee Thomas, the lead singer, nodded. “lt’s meant to be slick,“ she said. “Yes, we’re more commercial than most folk groups, but we’re also more provocative. Just our being together is a statement.”