The worse the investment, the easier it is to get people to invest. This was the first time I encountered that principle in my show business life. Something makes people invest in pop concerts, plays, movies, when similar odds in another field would send them running. In a word, the upside is limited, and the downside is not.
I think our investors lost thirty-five cents on the dollar. I knew nothing about taxes, or I would have known it would cost somebody in the seventy-percent bracket thirty cents on the dollar, so an investor who lost thirty-five cents on the dollar really ended up losing only about fifteen cents.
In the end, the reputation I gained from that first Johnny Mathis series gave me a foothold in big-concert promoting, because even though I lost money, I was seen to be handling it professionally.
I knew everybody who put up money, except one fellow my accountant had brought in, Kevin Norman of Norman Lock Co. He had lost five thousand dollars. Norman came into the office one day in November. We were there putting together the Henry Mancini and Andy Williams concert at the Arie Crown Theater, and Barbra Streisand’s first solo concert the week after that.
Norman said he wanted to see me. I was overcome with guilt. I didn’t ask what the guy wanted; I figured he was going to read me out for being an opportunist and not even calling him. But all he wanted was to buy a block of tickets for the Streisand show. After the business was concluded, he said, “You know, you did a great thing for me.” I thought to myself, let’s see… he was probably in the seventy percent bracket, which meant losing fifteen percent of his five grand. That’s not so terrible, but I didn’t think I deserved to have it put on my tombstone that I’d done him a great favor. So I said, “Why?”
He said, “Well, I was sitting in the Pump Room later on, and Eddie Bracken was there. He overheard that I was an investor in the Mathis show.” One the strength of that introduction, Norman had produced two Broadway shows, he told me, one of which closed in Connecticut and the other on Broadway the first night.
I was not in that business, but I knew a little about how people invest in theater, I knew they sank four grand or ten grand apiece into a show. I asked, a little rudely, “So, how much did you put into it?” He said, “Twenty thousand in each show, and it was the greatest experience of my life.” I was speechless. But if he thought it was the best thing that ever happened to him, who was I to argue?
I never did have the nerve to call Norman again. Mathis came back a year later for a one-night show that sold out instantly, and I never lost another penny on a Mathis show.