Stories that feature ‘Billy Friedkin’

My brief TV career (3)

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

Being the innocents we were, Jim and I started setting up showings of our TV pilot on our own for the ad agencies. We rented the Gate of Horn and showed it to J. Walter Thompson, who loved it. They said, “This is too good to go on this summer. We’ve got the client for you and we’lI go on in January.” Wonderful. Fantastic. Sensational.
Now that we were getting somewhere, all sorts of people began to surround us. A lawyer by the name of Parsons came around, and all of a sudden it was “these wonderful kids need some help, and everybody knows that television shows run at a deficit.” Very quickly, I heard about a group that was going to buy a big piece of the show and help us kids out. I knew enough about capitalism to know that when anybody talks about helping kids, put one hand on your wallet and the other on your groin.
Meanwhile, J. Walter Thompson had shown our tape to Schlitz, and they loved it too. Papers were ready to be drawn up to put the show on the air in January, and heady things were happening. This was still very early in my career. All I could think about was that I was gonna be a television producer and have the casting couch and the office and the whole shtick.
Then I read a story in Advertising Age that the $18-million Schlitz account had gone from J. Walter Thompson to Leo Burnett. I guessed quicker than Friedkin and McGuinn could tell me what had happened. I may not have known much about show business, but I knew about politics, and I knew there was no way on earth that Leo Burnett was going to take J. Walter Thompson‘s last recommendation to Schlitz as their first television project. lf the project worked, what did Schlitz need Burnett for, and if it flopped, Burnett would take the fall.
The Schlitz people told us, “Don’t worry about a thing. You’re the first thing on the agenda with Leo Burnett.“ Six or eight weeks later we were called in again, and they said they would like to have a formal screening in their screening room. By this time we had spent $25,000 to sell a show that cost $5,000 to make, so we were grateful that at least we didn’t have to rent the Gate of Horn again.

My brief TV career

This story takes place in 1959. It was told on August 4th, 2012 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

I think what made show business interesting to me, at this point, was that it was one of the last corners of this overdeveloped capitalist economy that you could go into with no knowledge and no money — and I had neither — and start generating income in a short time.
Any business that shows tremendous growth and the chance for fortunes to be made overnight has its own rules, and they aren’t very nice.
Jim McGuinn was an independent television producer who had made his mark in kids’ shows on WGN television. Jim called me up one day in 1959 and said, “Let’s have lunch.” So we did: in those days having lunch was just having lunch. He said he had an idea for a television show about contemporary folk music, and would I be interested in being a third owner and being the talent coordinator. It sounded like a wonderful idea and I said sure.
Jim suggested that our third collaborator should be a very talented local director by the name of Billy “Gloves” Friedkin, who at that time had a bit of a reputation. So we formed a partnership. We conceived a show with the Clancy Brothers, the Chad Mitchell Trio and Josh White. Chad would host it.
We went to shoot it at the Village Gate in New York, because everybody was already in New York and we wouldn’t have any expenses. We shot the show in one night, for $6,000. There were a few people from the industry there, and they were skeptical. We were from Chicago, and on top of that we were making a pilot for $6,000, and pilots had to cost $60 or $70,000 in those days. And we were making it in April, when the traditional selling season was over.
I sent Ted to talk with Jim a few years ago to help jog my memory. Here’s some of what Jim remembered:

A young woman folk singer drove all night from St. Louis to audition for us. I remember she was very nervous, and her hand was shaking. We said settle down; we gave her some coffee and just talked, and finally she did lt. Her name was Judy Collins. So we used her.
We felt that the blacklist, which very much existed at that time, was improper, and if you‘re doing a folk music show you should stand behind the people who are really the legends of that field. We had every intention of using Pete Seeger, and all the others. We did use Josh White on the show.
After we booked the Weavers, I remember an agent from William Morris calling to say, “Why did you use those people? lt’s hurting the project.” And I said, “Well, we did, and that‘s the reality of it, and let’s get on with it.” So I kind of watched a certain pullback in enthusiasm by the William Morris office in New York.