Stories that feature ‘Chad Mitchell’

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.

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.

Orchestra Hall

This story takes place in 1961. It was told on July 14th, 2012 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

Orchestra Hall, the home of the Chicago Symphony, was one of the three major concert venues in Chicago, along with the Opera House and the Ampitheatre.
It was a rather austere-looking room, but its acoustics made it one of the finer symphony halls in the country. The Symphony played there Thursday nights, Friday afternoons (for the dowagers and the retired gentlemen), and Saturday evenings. Occasionally, when the Symphony was out on tour, there would be a Saturday open, but the only thing you could program very far in advance was acts that drew on Friday nights. That was perfect for folk music.
I built my first folk concert series around the availability of those Friday nights at Orchestra Hall. I had no cash to operate on, but I knew a few of the artists I wanted to book. You couldn‘t work that way forever, of course. I knew I had to find a way to get more tickets sold in advance, so I could build up some cash up front. But that would have to wait. For now, the performers and I were both winging it. They needed the exposure I could give them as much as I needed them.
By the middle of 1961, the Mitchell Trio and Miriam Makeba had agreed to come and play Orchestra Hall in the fall and winter. Harold Leventhal, who I knew from the Pete Seeger concerts, sent along Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. We were off.
I designed the series to look just like the classical series that were all the rage. As far as I knew, I was the first promoter outside the long-hair world to launch a subscription series like this, and that quickly gave me a degree of respectability that often eluded the lowly pop promoter. Many of the artists, not incidentally, liked the way some of that cachet rubbed off on them.

Selma

This story takes place in 1965. It was told on January 2nd, 2012 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

Studs Terkel called me and asked me to escort Alvin Albright, Clinton King and some other Chicago artists down to Selma. “These guys need somebody to take care of them,” Studs told me. Chad and the group were already there; they had come down on the bus with Belafonte. So we all flew together and got a hotel and went to Selma and marched.

It was a big, impressive march, but it was the wrong type of performance altogether. You had a crowd of mostly rural southern blacks, trying to listen to Peter, Paul & Mary and the Mitchell Trio. (At least there was Sammy Davis.) It all had an air of incongruity to it. But that didn’t take away from the value of their presence. What was important was that all these people showed up, and these southerners who had just taken their battle to a new level could feel that, at least for a moment, they weren’t alone.

After the march, Clinton King, Chad and I drove to Atlanta together. Everybody had dispersed. That was scary. Suddenly, released from the solidity of the mass, we realized we were in enemy country. Later on we found out about what had happened to Viola Lucey.

Those kids went through all the problems related to developing a movement in the 60s: feminism, racism, and whether they solved them or not, they were the early soldiers in the civil rights movement, and most of them were casualties. If anybody should get pensions, they should. In the beginning they played totally by the rules, did everything the way they were supposed to, and white society, instead of acknowledging the justice of their demands, all they did was terrorize and kill people.

The types they developed were the ones you see when a movement is at its high point. It makes people better than they are. Even I could see that in SNCC, even though I was a spectator and a voyeur.

Orchestra Hall

This story takes place in 1961. It was told on April 2nd, 2011 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

By 1961 people were coming out in pretty fair numbers for folk acts, and whatever the case had been a few years before, it was no longer politics that was selling the tickets. What the audiences wanted to listen to was happy, engaging, relatively depoliticized music, and in most cases I had what they wanted.

Of all the pop-folk acts I booked, the Chad Mitchell Trio was perhaps the most political, and even their sharpest stuff was really light social satire, chosen more for its attention-getting features than anything else. Folk artists were there to entertain, and there was nothing wrong with that. (Of course, some purists on the left looked down on it. There was always some theorist willing to try to rein in this irrelevant, frivolous pursuit with some line or other.)

Orchestra Hall, the home of the Chicago Symphony, was one of the three major concert venues in Chicago, along with the Opera House and the Amphitheatre. It was a rather austere-looking room, but its acoustics almost certainly made it one of the finer symphony halls in the country. The Symphony played there Thursday nights, Friday afternoons (for the dowagers and the retired gentlemen), and Saturday evenings. Occasionally, when the Symphony was out on tour, there would be a Saturday open, but the only thing you could program very far in advance was acts that drew on Friday nights. That was perfect for folk music.

I built my first folk concert series around the availability of those Friday nights at Orchestra Hall. I had no cash to operate on, but I knew a few of the artists I wanted to book. You couldn’t work that way forever, of course. I knew I had to find a way to get more tickets sold in advance, so I could build up some cash up front. But that would have to wait. For now, the performers and I were both winging it. They needed the exposure I could give them as much as I needed them. By the middle of 1961, the Mitchell Trio and Miriam Makeba had agreed to come and play Orchestra Hall that fall and winter. Harold Leventhal, who I knew from the Pete Seeger concerts, sent along Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. We were off.

I designed the series to look just like the classical series that were all the rage. As far as I knew, I was the first promoter outside the long-hair world to launch a subscription series like this, and that quickly gave me a degree of respectability that often eluded the lowly pop promoter. Many of the artists, not incidentally, liked the way some of that cachet rubbed off on them.

I had imagined that the risks involved in introducing lesser—known artists could be lowered by combining them with established acts, but that‘s not how it worked out. I thought the audience would be more inclined to take a chance on an unknown name when they saw it on a list with the Limeliters or Josh White, and besides, many of them had already bought tickets to the whole series, so they might as well come.

In practice, that first series was better for my image than it was for business. Most of the shows that fall and winter broke even; only Carlos Montoya and the Clancy Brothers made any money. But the point (not to mention a modest profit) was made. For the first time in my life I had some cash in hand. Next year I would do it again, with a bit of a track record to stand on.