Stories that feature ‘Beatles’

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.

Cute, clean-cut and clever

This story takes place in 1964. It was told on January 5th, 2011 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

I’d been in the business for five years when the Beatles first fell into my lap, in 1964. I had a regular folk concert series going that was very well attended, I was organizing some shows with Henry Mancini, Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis, and I’d branched out into jazz concerts too. One morning I got a call from Jerry Perenchio, the Los Angeles talent agent who earlier had handled Mancini and Mathis for MCA, the largest booking agency in the country.

Jerry was a cut above the average talent agent in a few ways: he was intelligent, had a sense of humor, and was interested in things outside show business, a rare thing among agents. He had a sense of ethics _ another unusual quirk __ and at the same time he could be self—serving and ruthless. He’d got his start booking bands for fraternities in his college days. I liked him.
“You’re gonna be called and offered the Beatles,” Jerry told me. “They’re gonna be big. They’re gonna do business. Don‘t miss it.”

I did not know the Beatles from Adam. All they were to me was one more of the English pop bands that were capturing the fancy of American teenagers that year. But they had just released a series of records that were selling phenomenally, so the timing seemed right. The money wasn’t that big, even for the early 1960s. I guaranteed a take of $25,000 or sixty percent of the gross for General Artists Corporation, which was running the tour, and I booked them into the International Ampitheatre, with eleven thousand seats.

It was a hall that until then had mainly seen rodeos; before I put the Beatles there, the only musical act to play the Ampitheatre had been Elvis Presley.

We were sold out by mail almost the moment we announced the show on the radio. We had to go back on the air right away and tell people, “Don’t send your money in. There are no more tickets.”

It was obvious that something new had happened. What it was, I didn’t have the vaguest idea. The Beatles were a terminally cute, clean·cut, clever group with original songs that were not particularly profound — lightweight love songs, bubblegum music. Their dress was unusual but not at all threatening. Somehow they and the British acts that followed them in had touched a chord among young Americans that American music had not.

If this reflected something that was going on in society, it might have been that they’d found the handle to some of the same anything-is-possible feeling that John Kennedy’s administration had successfully locked into with its rhetoric of “new beginnings.” This was still a time when most people thought we might be able to get somewhere by appealing to peopIe’s morality, joining hands and singing songs. There was a great notion that the world was going to get better.

What I couldn‘t see was how this Beatles phenomenon really connected with that. I was doing concerts with Pete Seeger — now there was a singer who could articulate people’s hopes for change. Peter, Paul and Mary, the most successful of the pop folk trios, seemed to have something significant to say. I was managing the Chad Mitchell Trio, another pop folk group whose political satire was on the cutting edge for several years. Miriam Makeba, the extraordinary singer Harry Belafonte had brought over from South Africa, was a regular on my stage. And there was Bob Dylan, who was just then shaking up the country’s intelligentsia. In this company, the Beatles seemed lightweight, unconnected to what was going on in America. Maybe they were inspiring the kids, but they weren‘t inspiring me.

Sellout

This story takes place in 1967. It was told on April 2nd, 2010 by Frank.  1 Comment

If you had told me then that Chicago would remember me as the man who brought the Beatles, I would have laughed at you. It was August 1966. A week earlier, John Lennon had set off an uproar with his offhand observation about art and life. It was all over the papers in this country: “We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first — rock ‘n roll or Christianity.”

Maybe he was right, but some people were saying Lennon had put his foot fatally in his mouth this time. The Beatles’ very career was threatened. The press was in a tizzy. A movement was taking shape in the South to ban Beatles records from stores.

Lennon had refused to say anything more in England. But the group had promised a press conference in Chicago to kick off their fifteen-city tour of the United States, and now hundreds of press types were pouring in from all over the world to see if there would be an apology. Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, was flying over to handle the onslaught himself. And there I was at the ramp at O’Hare Airport, waiting for Brian Epstein.

Jack Mabley, in his column for the Chicago Herald-American that day, was thundering that the Beatles should take their money and go home. I had brought in Mabley to introduce the Beatles form the stage at the last concert they did for me, but he had apparently changed his mind about them since then. Len O’Connor, a commentator for the big WGN radio station, added a loud attack on the air. I guessed that if even these guys had had such a profound change of heart, it meant proper society must be pretty thoroughly shocked. Epstein was sure the reporters would have his boys’ heads for it.

They could have them, for all I cared. My main concern at this point was to get this over with and get home. I didn’t have much to say to Epstein about anything. I was much more interested in Vladimir Lenin’s views than in John Lennon’s. I guess I was in the minority on both those matters, but I was used to that.

In any case, I was just the promoter. My job was to put the asses in the seats, and if I did it well, I expected to be left alone.

Norman Weiss, the Beatles’ booking agent at General Artists, had called at the last minute and asked me to meet Epstein myself with a limousine. In my eight years in the business I had occasionally been forced to hire limos for artists, but I had drawn the line at attending them personally. This time I reluctantly agreed, sure that this was the final step in my progress as a sellout.