ELTON IN THE USA

@The Guthrie

Elton John is on his ‘Farewell Tour of the US’. But wait, that could change. The multi talented French star, Maurice Chevalier, enjoyed his first farewell tour of the US so much he took two more farewell tours after.

I worked many Elton John concerts in arenas, theaters, and even a private show for the managers of Best Buy stores. The finest was at the U of MN’s Northrop Auditorium. The 1st half was John on piano and Ray Cooper, the fine percussionist from the UK, on a variety of things including a large gong. He was actually on the gong at one point, hanging on and beating time. The 2nd half was Elton going alone. The sound system was a new package of the Clair Brothers, the top audio company on the road. What a concert!

I worked Elton John’s 1st US tour when he came to the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Sue Weill, promoter extraordinaire of the Walker Art Center booked him, and I handled the lighting. Gosh, thinking back I can’t get over how shy and polite this young man was then. Little did anyone realize he would be the UK’s biggest star after the Beatles.

Here’s a reblog from March 2013 of that experience from the Old Hand.

Elton John’s first USA tour was in 1970. One of his stops was the Guthrie. Like all these concerts at the theater in those days, the sound was provided by a local company and the lighting by the Guthrie. Sometimes the acts brought in a lighting designer; but most of the time, I was the designer as well as the electrician. Even if a lighting designer came with the act, I usually ended up designing the show because very few designers knew how to light on a thrust stage.

When Elton came for sound check, I asked him about his lighting needs. He just shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know and would leave it up to me. He said that he didn’t require anything fancy. Such a polite ‘chap’. He always called me ‘sir’.

As usual, we did two shows that evening. Both were sold out. Elton put on two great shows. In the last show, he loosened up and did things that he didn’t do in the first show. He really attacked the piano. Hands, feet, standing up, spinning around on the bench.

His manager sat next to the lighting board up in the booth. He clued me in on what the next song was going to be so I could think of what kind of ‘look’ would work. At the end of the last show he asked what I thought of Elton. ‘What do you think? Do you think he’ll make it big? I mean really big.’

‘Well’, I said, ‘He puts on a good show, that’s for sure. I really like his Jerry Lee Lewis  piano playing. Good voice. Should do good. Except –  those glasses. Get him contacts. Nobody is going to make it really big wearing glasses.’

We were tearing down the sound and Elton came on stage and thanked us. When he shook my hand, he mentioned his manager had told him that I liked the shows. Nothing was said about my not liking the glasses though.

I worked him many time since, but never again at the Guthrie. He outgrew small venues quickly and played the big arenas like TargetCenter. Like any arena show, big effects were added, often at the expense of music. Nothing like the pure concert he did at the Guthrie.

Although, well after he made it big, he did forego the arena shows and did an acoustic tour. He played at Northrop, at the U of MN. He reverted back to his ‘not requiring anything fancy’. It was minimal, great sound system, and basic lighting. The first half, Ray Cooper, the great percussionist, joined him. The second half it was just Elton. Certainly one of the best concerts I have ever worked. In spite of the fact he still was wearing glasses.

A while back, a very talented cartoonist, Joel Orff, had a weekly cartoon, Great Moments in Rock and Roll, in a local paper called The Pulse. A stagehand, Rich Labas, suggested to Joel that he get together with me and do some of my stories. I asked him to use the name Old Hand on our stories. That’s the Old Hand in the hat. He did several, Elton, Prince, James Brown. And then the paper folded. Joel does his magic for a paper out in California now. Here’s his cartoon of my story.
Joel’s work can be seen at much better at:
http://jorff.com/

http://jorff.com/rock/EltonJohn.html

EltonJohn

For his farewell to the Twin Cities he is playing the Xcel Center, an arena in St. Paul. While I worked his 1st Concert here, I won’t be working his ‘last’ one.

Advertisement

TRUCKING IN THE BIZ

Trucks are as much a staple of today’s show business as computers and exorbitant ticket prices.

The first use of a truck as the sole transportation of a Broadway show was in 1949 when the hit show, Mr. Roberts., went on a national tour. But the transformation of trucks as the prime mover in show business didn’t happen overnight.

The standard method for the moving of scenery and equipment centered around railroads. The traveling shows used horse and wagons and then graduated to trucks to get everything from the theater to the boxcars and from the boxcars to the next theater. Railroads had a made big investments in spurs, side tracks where boxcars could be taken off the main rails and left to sit while they were loaded and unloaded, building them convenient to theater districts in the large cities.

For the most part the system worked, and producers were reluctant to change even though trucks as sole transportation eliminated the cost of double handling and having to book trucks in two cities. It served the major cities of the east and even extended as far west as Chicago. The consensus was they could not sell many tickets in the ‘lesser’ cities, like ‘Peoria’, cities that had no railroad spurs for show business.

The interstate highway system we take for granted today did not begin in earnest in 1956. People might have ‘got their kicks on Route 66’, the main road to the west coast, but their kicks involved a lot of driving on narrow unpaved sections of road and found that gas stations and diners far far apart. Taxing the people for good highways was out of the question, a socialist idea.. Therefore, the winning reason for our interstate highway system was we needed good roads to transport missiles needed to fight the Cold War. And the highway system that changed the face of America was begun… even though the overpasses were too low to allow missiles in transport to pass under.

Also the modern diesel engine that is the standard in the trucking industry wasn’t introduced until 1964. It rapidly replaced the fleets of gasoline straight-trucks with 18 wheelers tractor-trailers which hauled much more freight and cut back on the cost of fuel and drivers.

Clark Transfer, the company that took Mr. Roberts on that first tour, was well established around the Philadelphia area as it had trucked theatrical posters and such for years. TV Guide started in the Philadelphia area and Clark was it’s trucking company to carry the increasingly popular magazine to major cities in the northeast.

The company, after the success of the Mr. Roberts’ tour continued to press the idea of live shows being trucked across the country. In 1954 they had eleven shows on the road. Oklahoma and Guys and Dolls were the big musicals of the day and Clark brought them to cities that would never get them because of the lack of a railroad spur. These tours proved that even the ‘lesser’ cities, like Peoria, were well worth stopping at. Clark also hauled some legit shows, several large ballet companies, and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Up to the early 60’s, these tours were basically one truck and one bus. Then there was a big mistake made in the Met Opera Spring Tour. The railroad took the opera sets for Norma to Memphis instead for Atlanta. Clark had trucks with the tour that were used to get the sets to and from the theater to the trains, and Clark came to the rescue. Charlie Hackett, Clark’s main teamster, took a truck to Memphis and brought Norma to the theater in Atlanta and the show opened just a half hour late, a feat that impressed Sir Rudolph Bing, the artistic head of the Met Opera, and Joe Volpe, the head carpenter of the Met, who would go on to replace Rudolph Bing as the Met’s artistic head.

Volpe took two major steps prior to the next tour. He told the railroad ‘forget it’ and hired Clark Transfer to do all the moving from city to city for the Spring Tour. Charlie Hackett was in charge of the forty to seventy truckloads needed to put on the seven different operas in a six day period. That masterful juggling of trucks foreshadowed the multi- trucks extravaganzas of today’s overproduced and overpriced shows like Phantom, Les Miz, and the many modern ‘operas’ of Andrew Lloyd Weber and others that are so popular today.

Northrop Auditorium of the U of Minnesota was the keystone of the Met’s spring tour since the inception in 1945. It’s almost 5,000 seat were sold out for each of the operas into the mid 1980’s. It is also where I first began my show business career. I came the second year of the change to trucks so I never worked the rail travel of the Met or any other traveling shows…except one, which I will write about in coming posts.

And just as a mistake with the Met Opera that changed the way a segment of show business traveled, a mistake in the Beatles first tour of the U.S. opened the door to the overproduced and overpriced rock/pop/country concerts and festivals with their multitude of semis trucking them to major cities, ballparks, farm pastures and the like… semis that carry staging, lights, sound and more sound, even musical instruments, and of course the swag, overpriced tee shirts etc..

In 1964 the Beatles came to the US with performances at Carnegie Hall, Washington D.C. ballpark and on the Ed Sullivan Show. Their fans demanded more. In 1965 the Fab Four performed 32 sold-out shows in 26 venues in just 33 days all across the U.S.. While their screaming fans, from teeny- boppers to housewives, didn’t care if the shows were for the most part technical disasters, the industry noticed both the vast potential of this expansion of the music industry and the fact that the technical atrocities of the tour had to be addressed if it would succeed without the need of the tsunami of Beatlemania.

The tour had been organized by a New York corporation; but the local promoters in each venue were responsible for the stages, lights, and sound, which were handled by local companies that had no experience in large venues. Some outdoor venues, like Minneapolis, put stages put in the center of the field with the audience surrounding the performers who moved their sets four times each performance to face another segment of the audience. Lighting was weak.. often relying on a couple of carbon-arc spots lights too far away to do a decent job.

And the sound!!! Forget it! The squeals of the audience mixed with the feedback of the speakers drowned out the weak sound systems. The audience knew all the songs by heart and sang along. Nobody demanded their money back… but not all concerts would feature an act like the Beatles.

The logical solution was to supply the right staging, lighting, sound and experienced technicians and the idea of trucks to move everything from venue to venue. Now even small town America, like Peoria, could pay outlandish prices to see the same live music as large city audiences enjoyed.

Trucks brought much needed work to stagehand locals that had lost so much when vaudeville died.

Clark Transfer took a stab at getting into the rock and roll trucking; but the pop music industry had always been a cut-throat business, singers, musicians, composers were cheated out of their rightful dues, and the eruption of this music in the 50’ and 60’s amplified the no-holds-barred way of business. Clark backed off and stuck with the stable business methods of the ‘fine arts’, leaving rock and roll trucking to small, often one- owner-one-truck, outfits. These were soon gobbled up by large corporations that also got into other aspects of the business, like promoting, oversupplying equipment, providing roadies at cheap wages, tying up artists and their works, selling expensive tickets and adding surcharges, etc.. But the music public must not mind it because…

And these corporations, for the most part, no longer own their own fleet of trucks. Now most of the show business trucking is done by owner-operators with the companies acting as an agent to give work to the least expensive truckers. This gives the blue collar the romantic aura of ‘independence’, he desires, and the white collar still has control and greater profits, he desires. But the music truckers must not mind because…

Another growth aspect is husband and wife owner-operators. One drives while the other sleeps. The shows gets to the next venue in time without the practice of keeping two log books, one to show the boss, one to show the highway cops. And the only losers are the prostitutes working the truck stops.

And now that I have bitten the hand that fed me and my family for so long, I would add that show biz trucking has given me a lot to laugh about. Stay tuned for some of the laughs.

And Stay Safe.

OLD JAZZ VOICES

Louis Armstrong had a sold-out gig at Northrop Auditorium at the U of Mn.. The band drifted in from the bus for the sound check, but no Louis. The road manager told me that Mr. Armstrong didn’t take the bus and would be along shortly. I relayed this to Eddie Drake, the Comptroller of Concerts and Lectures. Eddie checked at the end of sound check and did not like it that Armstrong had not made it yet.

Come half-hour and still no Louis. Eddie Drake was getting nervous. The road manager told him no sweat, Louis would along.

The opening act went on and still no Louis. By now Eddie was beyond nervous. The last thing he wanted was to have to call off the show and return the money for the full house. The manager assured Eddie that Mr. Armstrong would show up soon.

The opening act was were playing their encore and Drake was standing in the wings signaling them to stretch it out when I got a call from the Head Usher.

She told me Mr. Armstrong was in the front lobby and asked if I could come up and bring him backstage. If he was still there when the audience broke for intermission they would mob him for autographs.

I told Eddie and he signaled the act to keep stretching.

Drake was waiting when I escorted Louis backstage. He was livid. Normally, after he has a glass of water and vodka, his nose takes on a red glow. The glow was redder than usual and even his cheeks were looked like they were on fire.

He glared at Armstrong and asked why he was so late. But he didn’t wait for an answer. He made a crack about professionals arrive on time.

The manager walked over and reminded Drake that he told him Louis would be coming. And nobody calls Mr. Armstrong unprofessional.

‘Well, Eddie said, looking up at the manager who stood a good half a foot taller than Eddie, ‘Maybe unprofessional is too strong. I should have said it was inconsiderate. He should have been here for sound check.’

Louis, who until then, answered laughingly, ‘Oh, I know how those boys sound. And those boys know how is sound. Sound does right for them, it’ll be right for me.’

‘Mr. Armstrong doesn’t need to be at sound check,’ the manager said,.‘Besides I told you he had things to do and would come when he was finished.’

Drake said that an act should be in the theater at half-hour.

Louis laughed again and said the first half-hour call was for the opening act. He showed up at the half-hour before he had to go on.

I tried not to laugh. Eddie was so angry, even his high forehead was red.

The manager took Louis by the elbow to walk him away; but Eddie wasn’t through. He continued his rant. Louis stopped and turned back to him.

It was evident that Louis Armstrong was having fun. He had that familiar smile on his face and a glint in his eyes.

Eddie threw out what he considered his biggest reason why Armstrong should have been in the Hall with the rest of his band. “What if your instrument didn’t arrive? When you come this late it would be impossible to get you another one in time for the show. Did you ever think of that? Huh? Huh?’

‘Well then I’d just blow one of the boys’ extra horn,’ Louis replied, reaching into his shirt pocket and pulling out his mouthpiece.

‘It’s not the horn, man.’ He held up his mouthpiece. ‘It’s the mouthpiece. Fits my lips good. Always carry with with me so I don’t lose it. Had it since I was jamming on the street for nickles. This is the instrument that counts. Put it in any horn and old Satchmo is ready to blow.’

‘Tell you what,’ Louis continued, ‘Get me an empty peach can. I’ll cut a hole in the bottom, stick my mouthpiece in the hole, and I’ll go deep, seriously deep.’

Eddie shrugged his shoulders, threw up his hands, and went back to his office. He needed another glass of his special water.

Louis turned to the road manager and laughingly asked, ‘Something I said, you think?

‘Yeah, I wonder if you’ll be laughing if he comes back with an empty peach can,’ the manager said. ‘I know I will be.’

PS: The audience got what they came for that night. What a concert! Mr. Louis Armstrong gave us what we wanted to hear… even if he was fashionably late to the theater.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

If James Lombard, the founder and ‘Impresario’ of the Concerts and Lectures at the U of MN, had his way the season would be nothing but classical and operatic soloists, artists he looked up to; but the Regents decreed that there be one jazz concert each season. The season after Louis Armstrong, had, in my opinion, two main acts in one concert, Wes Montgomery, great jazz guitarist, opened the concert, followed by Cannonball Adderley on alto sax. Eddie Drake told me it was a package deal. Only nine musicians total in the two groups. He said they alternated as to who opened and who followed.

Wes Montgomery opened. He had broken into mainstream jazz a few years before. He was backed up for this concert by his two brothers, Buddy and Monk and an organist. They didn’t disappoint. Instead of the usual 30 to 45 minutes for the front act, they played a full set, with encores, almost an hour and a half. No jealousy from the ‘main’ act. Most of them were in the wings enjoying the Montgomery boys.

The sad thing was that a few weeks after this concert, Wes Montgomery died of a heart attack.

(Six years later I worked a Duke Ellington concert at the Guthrie, and the Duke died shortly after.)

Cannonball Adderley had also been adopted into mainstream jazz a few years before. He had his brother, Nat, on coronet. Nat was the one constant in any of Cannonball’s quintet. The other three positions fluctuated musicians over the years.

At intermission I was surprised when I saw James Lombard stride in backstage. He never came for concerts he considered beneath him. Later, Eddie Drake told me that Lombard showed up because he was curious to see any one who was named Cannonball.

Lombard always looked the part of an impresario, the man in charge. Tall, broad shouldered, distinguished gray hair. Suits that cried they were too expensive for most men.

He always walked as if all eyes were on him and with his height advantaged he looked down on most everyone he talked to. If you looked up the word pompous in the dictionary, you would probably see a picture of James Lombard.

I was waiting for Lombard to come up to me when Cannonball Adderley tapped me on the shoulder.

‘Hey, man,’ he said, ‘Who do I see about the bread? Never play a gig without the bread upfront.’

I brought him over to where Lombard had stopped. Then since it was a money talk, I walked away, but I didn’t get far before Lombard called me back.

‘Don,’ he said in his low bass voice, ‘Would you send one of your crew to Dinky Town and bring back a loaf of bread? Mr. Cannonball says he has to eat before he goes on.’

Cannonball looked at me and slapped his forehead.

I explained to Lombard that Adderley didn’t want bread bread. Bread was jazz talk for money. He meant he wanted the money upfront before they played.

Lombard stiffened up and said, briskly, ‘He should have said spoken in English. Bread! Bring him down to see Drake. I don’t have time for this nonsense.’ He gave a loud haroomph and walked off stage. He got what he came for. He met the man named Cannonball.

‘Hey, man, is that cat for real,’ Cannonball asked me, ‘Or is he jiving with me?’

I told Cannonball there wasn’t a jive bone in that man’s body. He was born with the stick up his…

‘Cat needs to loosen up,’ Cannonball said. ‘I got some gooooood stuff…bet that would mellow him out.’

PS: Another great concert even if Lombard didn’t hang around to listen.

In these days of darkness, I suppose the method of mellowing out prescribed by Cannonball is a favorite among many people. As for me, I found that my day goes better if I start it out by listening to Louis singing…

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

I see trees of green

red roses too

I see them bloom for me and you

and I say to myself

What a Wonderful World

And that is a wrap for today. Please, please, listen to the medical experts and Stay Safe.

Oh, if you want to read a tale of a famous musician that didn’t make it to the theater on time, here’s one you might get a kick out of:  https://donostertag.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/screamed-james-brown/

COFFEE WITH ALI

This is a reblog of a post I did June/8/2014, right after Muhammad Ali died.

It recalls an isle of calm for me in the sea of fire. Civil Rights Protests. Anti-Vietnam Protests. Looting, destruction, and shouts of blame from both side of the political aisle.

When this incident took place, we had Hope. We knew that once things calmed down the Civil Rights would take hold in fact not just word. And we knew that we would never go to a War again unless it was really needed, and we would never allow the War to last very long.

But like the song says: ‘We were young and foolish.’

I need an isle of calm today so I brought it out and read it. So topical! Topical in that it follows my Dalton Trumbo posts regarding a man standing up for his beliefs, only to be persecuted by politicians whose only belief is pandering to the lowest common denominator. So topical! I wish today’s violent ‘protesters’ could hear the words of Muhammad Ali, a man known for his violent art, speak with the wisdom of Martin Luther King, a man known for his non-violent speech.

There was this old bulll standing in the middle of the railroad track and far away the train was comng fast. But that old bull just stood there and the people all admired the old brave bull. And the train blew a warning…anotherand another as it came full steam head on. And the people oohed and aahed because that old bull never flinched. Just stood his ground…And…

And all those people that oohed and aahed when the brave bull was standing tall in the center of the tracks, just looked around at what was left of him scattered in little pieces for a good miles, yup, all those people who called that bull brave a short time before changed their tune.

Boy, was that bull ever stupid,” they said, and walked away.’

Thus spoke Muhammad Ali talking about Violent Protesting.

Today I have Hope. I believe that when the stupidity of the politicians is removed from the equation, the genius of our medical scientists will find a cure and a vaccine for the Virus. As far as the Civil Rights issue is concerned…Hatred and genocide are embedded deep in the history of this country.

ali rip            The Champ and I spent the better part of an hour, just the two of us, talking and drinking coffee in the stagehands’ room, my office, at Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota.

I called him Champ, even though he no longer had the belt, lost it, not in the boxing arena, but in the political area.He was on a lecture tour, Pro  Civil Rights, Anti  Viet Nam Involvement. Although the latter was the stated reason for taking away his right to be called World Champion, the former had earned him powerful enemies, just as it did for Martin Luther King. Overlooked by the main stream press, the Champ had a third point he stressed, namely Anti Violence. After his speech at Northrop, there was to be  an interview and a Q&A with reporters from TIME. Finally what he was actually saying was  more important than his celebrity status.

Today Americans accept his views; but in the late 60’s, these views were tinder for the fires that were spreading out across the land. But the Champ spoke his piece and stood his ground even though it was highly controversial and had cost him greatly. It wasn’t that he was wrong, it was just that he was ahead of his time. I had always felt strong about Civil Rights; but it really wasn’t until our status in Nam changed from advisory to full scale combative, that I took a better look and decided against us being there.

When the Champ and his welcoming committee walked backstage, he commented on the aroma of coffee coming from the open door of my room. One of the committee said he would run to Dinky Town and get him some coffee. I told the Champ that I would be glad to bring him a cup in his dressing room. He nixed both offers and instead said he wanted to go in the room, drink coffee and relax. When some of committee tried to follow us in, he held up hand. He told them to stay out, close the door, and see to it that nobody bothered him until he came out.

He commented that he realized they meant well, but he was getting tired of the constant ‘meaning well’ pressure of people. He said he was tired of the tour, tired of being away from home, his wife, and especially his little baby girl, Maryum, his first child. He slumped down in the chair, and when I handed him a cup of the fresh coffee, he raised the cup in thanks. I respected his need for silence.

In those days, boxing was followed much more than today. Early TV had free major matches weekly. And sitting across from me was a boxer I had followed since his Olympic days. I remembered listening to a radio as he did something nobody thought he would, take the title away from Sonny Liston. Oh, there was no way I would have called him the ‘Greatest’ at that time. His best was yet to come.

But, that day, I was more in awe of him as a great human being than a great athlete. It takes a brave person to stand up for one’s beliefs the way he did and at what cost.

When he finally did break his silence in the room, he spoke of being afraid his little girl, Maryum, wouldn’t even know her daddy, because he was away so much. She wasn’t even a year old yet, and he heard that the first year of a baby’s life was so important in their life. And she wouldn’t even know her daddy.

I assured him she would know her daddy, even though she wasn’t seeing much of him at this time. I told how I had worked two jobs for years, and now at Northrop, I was averaging over eighty hours a week, and my sons, only four at that time, always knew their daddy. He had nothing to worry about. He smiled and said he hoped so.

He opened his wallet and took out several pictures of his little Maryum and asked if I had any pictures of my sons. He looked at my pictures and wasn’t satisfied until he remembered their names and could match the name with the right boy.

We didn’t talk about his boxing career, about civil rights, and about his refusal to be drafted. We just talked. There was no chucking or jiving, no boasting and poetry on his part. His public image was set aside and he presented his personal side. Just two men, two fathers, talking, taking the time to know a little about each other.

He was interested in what went on at Northrop. I told him about the various attractions: lectures, music, dance, even a week each May of seven different Metropolitan operas on tour and how much work and how many stagehands it took to put them on. The Metropolitan Opera was familiar to him because of where the building was in relation to Madison Square Garden.

We did touch on boxing when I mentioned that recently Paul Newman had been at Northrop talking against our involvement in Viet Nam, the Champ told how much he liked Newman playing Rocky Graziano in SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME.

I related how I got so excited watching Sugar Ray Robinson defending his crown against Graziano on TV, that I knocked over and broke a lamp. He laughed and asked who I was rooting for, and I told him Sugar Ray, my favorite boxer. He said Sugar Ray was his favorite too.

The time flew by. He finished off his second cup of coffee, thanked me, and followed as I led him to his dressing room. Naturally, his committee followed also, ready at his beck and call for anything he might want, or anything they think he might want. As much as I admired the man that day, I wouldn’t have traded places with him. I could see one of the reasons he was tired and just wanted to go home and play with his baby.

My coffee with Ali took place almost a half century ago. I remember seeing his arm raised in victory many times. I remember seeing his arm raised as he lit the Olympic torch. And I remember he raised his cup in thanks for my coffee. I was so fortunate to have sat and had a quiet talk with the man now referred to as ‘The Greatest’.

R.I.P. CHAMP

There were event entering into this story and after; but I will save them for another time. Right now I am too sad because he is no longer with us.

GUILTY AS CHARGED

This is a reposting I did when Cosby’s hidden secrets burst into public knowledge three years ago. After the verdict of guilty as charged I thought I should bring it back if only to remind myself of how wrong I had been all those years I enjoyed working Cosby.The sad part is why, if these criminal acts were known for decades, why wasn’t Cosby stopped years ago?

Does money, power and celebrity status entitle a person to be above the law?

OH YES, MR. BILL

n-BILL-COSBY-STATUE-large300COSBY STATUE REMOVED FROM DISNEY WORLD

When I thought about starting this blog, I knew I would have to include some anecdotes about working with Bill Cosby, having worked him so many times over the years. I pieced three stories together, one about the first time I worked Cosby, another quite a few years later, and one that slammed the door on me ever communicating with him except what was needed in working his show. But just about the time I was going to post the finished product, Cosby’s protective wall of unique celebrity status and of course his money, began to spring a leak.

The rumor that he had been accused of doping and then raping women that had been around for years, suddenly erupted when a young black comedian, Hannibal Buress, who had a routine about Cosby always putting down young Blacks, ended it one show by screaming out, ‘you rape women’! The accusation went viral. Women came forward in public with stories about how they had been doped and raped by Cosby as far back as 1965, a year before my first story of that post occurred.

I revised my blog post, dropped the last anecdote, and replaced it with information that was coming out about the accusations. That deleted story had taken on a new meaning for me.

Cosby had changed over the years, especially after the senseless murder of his son, Ennis. The fun-loving guy backstage had become a somber man who spent as much time as possible in his dressing room. Respecting his grief, we no longer expected him to joke around with us as before.

It was between the two shows Cosby was performing at Northrop. A young woman came into the stagehands’ room and asked for me. She had Children’s’ Cancer Fund tee shirt and asked if I would take it to Cosby and have him autograph it so it could be auctioned off at the next benefit. She said it had all been set up and Cosby was expecting it.

            Cosby was very good about supporting  good causes. I suggested that she come with me and I would point out his dressing room, and she could go in and ask him herself.

            She jumped back and said, ‘No! I was warned not to go into Mr. Cosby’s dressing room.’ She extended the shirt and marker to me and said, ‘They said you would do. Won’t you?’

            ‘Sure,’ I laughed and took the shirt across stage. At the time I thought that the word ‘warned’ she used seemed a bit hard. Instead of just saying I was told not to, she said she was warned. At the time, I figured somebody was afraid she might commit some kind of gaffe meeting a big time celebrity like Cosby.

            I knocked and Crosby growled, ‘Come in.’

            He was sprawled out on the couch watching a March Madness basketball game on TV. He turned his head, saw who it was, and turned back to the game.

            I spread the shirt out on the table and laid the magic marker beside it. I told Cosby what it was for and he said he knew all about it. I didn’t really think he would sign it right at that moment, but he stood up and went to the table.

            ‘They told me some woman would bring the shirt in to me,’ he said as he signed his name. ‘What, she scared of me? Thinks if I get her in my dressing room, I’ll jump her bones.’

            ‘Oh, no,’ I answered, ‘I think… I was going to say she was just shy, but Cosby threw the shirt at me.

            ‘I don’t care what you think!’ He turned and went back to the couch. ‘Just get out! I want to watch the basketball game.’

            ‘Well, excuuuuuse me,’ I said as left the room, trying to slam the door, but it was rigged to close slowly. And even though I worked him several times after, that was the last time I ever talked to Cosby except when I really had to.

I had attributed his rudeness up to the fact things had to be getting to him. He changed over the years and for good reasons. His son’s death, his lack of a TV show, never really had movie career, his audience was getting old and his preaching about what the young people were doing wrong was not gaining him any new fans, his books were no longer best sellers, and comedy album were things of the past. He was growing old and was completing a very full week of work.

He had already done a benefit, which I worked, at the Convention Center, in midweek. He had done two shows the night before at Mystic Lake Casino, and now two shows at Northrop. He had to be tired.

Over the last few years he worked a lot of benefits, good pay, short hours, probably the hottest attraction in shadow-show business. And he knew how to play it. When he got the gig to do a benefit or an industrial expo, he contacted promoters in the town where he was to play and try to fill out with other shows in other venues. He was an easy show to sell tickets for, and the shows sold out with very little lead time and advertising.

And while I was giving him the benefit of the doubt, I was unaware of his secret reputation as a rapist. But Cosby wasn’t; and when I said the woman refused to go into his dressing room, it must have hit home. At the time I thought he was just referring to the old racist view that blacks all wanted to rape white women.

But as the rumors and accusation hit the public press, I thought back on Cosby’s anger and his words about her afraid he would ‘jump her bones’. And I remembered her using the words ‘warned not to go into his dressing room’. Who warned her, I have no idea, but somebody, maybe the promoter, might have known about the rumors and wanted to insure nothing would happen on his watch.

And this incident also happened around the time of a lawsuit against him on a dope/rape charge. He paid the woman off and it didn’t generate much negative publicity. Another case of a woman trying squeeze money out of a celebrity. After all this was Bill Cosby, not some meth-head playboy.

The first post I wrote about Bill Cosby was titled OH NO, MR. BILL!!! , giving him the slim benefit of the doubt.  Now, we just found out that back in 2005, Cosby admitted in a deposition he bought drugs to use to rape women. The deposition was sealed when there was a monetary payoff made and the woman who brought suit against him was satisfied. A recent lawsuit forced that deposition to become public, and as soon as all the women named as victims who were going to testify in that suit, agree to it the entire deposition will be made public. Just the part that has been revealed already has proven that Cosby, by his own sworn words, to be a liar, a hypocrite, and someone who actually purchased drugs with the intent of using them to rape a woman..

And when all this negative publicity hit, Cosby acted like a complete fool. Many of his upcoming gigs were cancelled, but a few promoters stuck with him, and during these shows Cosby actually tried to joke about the ‘lies’ people were telling about him. He zeroed in on one accuser calling her a liar and now is being sued by her for defamation of character. This conduct caused other women to come forth and volunteer to tell their experiences with dope and rape, and Bill Cosby.

The New Jersey Supreme Court will decide if criminal charges should be brought against him for rape because there is no statute of limitations for rape in New Jersey, where one of the accusers said he raped her.

Even if he skates on criminal charges,  the rest of his life will be spent in court fighting lawsuits. This pressure would be hell for anyone, let alone somebody in his late 70’s. And I can’t imagine him getting much support and sympathy from his wife of 50 years as the accusations and lawsuits pile down on him.

While this type of conduct that of a rich celebrity resorting to drugs and raping a multitude of women, surprises the majority of us, it recently was proven that it happens as in the case of Darren Sharper. Sharper, rich, handsome, intelligent, and articulate, a former NFL star and a current TV commentator, pleaded guilty in four different states to drugging women and then raping them. He is currently serving time for his actions.

Some women raped by Sharper admitted they would have been afraid to even mention it if it hadn’t been for the women coming foreword in the Cosby affair. And, I imagine the women in the Cosby affairs stand a better chance of being believed because of the confession of Sharper that proves these things do happen, even if the celebrity in question is ‘America’s favorite father’.

Cosby is 80. If he actually serves any time it will be a ‘life sentence’ at his age. And after this verdict many of the other accusers are in the wings waiting. 

Cosby was a real pioneer in breaking the barriers for Blacks in television. Now he is a ground breaker in criminal justice for the rich and famous sexual creeps.

KGB & THE CELLIST

cellist

The KGB caused fear in the people they ‘guarded’ on tour in foreign countries. Not so with the great cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich. He laughed at the agents that were sent with him on his tours. He defied his ‘jailers’ and the power of the Kremlin with a wicked sense of humor. I was so fortunate not only to hear him perform, but also to see that wicked sense of humor.

Born into a long time classical music family, he was taught piano by his mother at the age of four, began his study of the cello by his father at the age of ten. At sixteen, two years after he gave his first solo performance, he was admitted to the Moscow Conservatory and five years later became a professor of the cello at the Conservatory. He won first place in three International Music Awards before he was 23 and at the age of 23 was awarded the Stalin Prize, the highest civilian honor in Russia.

Not only a great favorite of audiences, Rostropovich was in great demand among composers. He premiered over 100 cello pieces written especially for him by such composers as Dimitri Shostakovich, who was one of his teachers at the Conservatory and a life long friend. Others included Sergei Prokofiev, Leonard Bernstein, and Benjamin Britten.

From his early years Rostropovich was an outspoken critic of the lack of freedom in the USSR. When Shostakovich was dismissed as a teacher at the Conservatory for writing a piece condemning the lack of breaking out of the strict classical tradition, Rostropovich, only 21 at the time, quit the Conservatory. He believed in the concept of artists without borders and championed the cause of civil rights for everyone.

In spite of his ideals, he was permitted to tour, first in Western Europe, and then America. He toured accompanied by two KGB ‘translators’. His wife, a prominent soprano in Moscow opera, and their two daughters had to stay behind in Russia and were also under the ‘protection’ of the KGB during these tours.

One of the orchestras that had him as a guest soloists was the Minnesota Orchestra under the baton of the Polish born conductor and composer, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.

The Orchestra’s home at that time was Northrop Auditorium at University of Minnesota. I did not work for the Orchestra directly; but I was the stage manager for Northrop, and as a result I was present for the week of rehearsals leading up to Rostropovich’s guesting with the Orchestra.

The first rehearsal started with Rostropovich coming on stage to the standing applause of the Orchestra members. He acknowledged their tribute with his ever present smile and a quip about not being able to follow his entrance. Then he and Skrowaczewski talking to each other in Polish. In addition to being a world class cellist, he was also a respected conductor, and there was no secret about who was really conducting when Rostropovich was involved in the pieces where he soloed. Rather than show up Skrowaczewski, he made his suggestions in Polish. Although there were times when he stopped the rehearsal to make a change himself.

Rostropovich sat down and just before the oboe sounded to have the concert master begin the tuning, he raised his cello bow and called a halt to the start of the rehearsal.

He explained that he was neglecting his manners and he wanted to introduce the two men, one standing stage right, the other stage left. ‘These are my two translators,’ he said. ‘You will see a lot of them this week. They never are too far from me in case I don’t know a word in English. That lump under their suit coats, is their translation books. I think.’

He motioned for the big man standing in the wing stage right to come on stage. ‘This is Bear,’ he said. ‘I forget his real name, but I call him Bear, the symbol of Mother Russia. Suits him, don’t you agree.’

He got no argument from anyone. The man was huge. He had dark black hair and a shadow of a black beard. He lumbered on stage and stood next to Rostropovich.

The problem with having the Bear for a translator is he only knows a few words in English. Show them Bear, your extent of the English language.’

It was evident the man didn’t have the slightest idea of what Rostropovich was saying in English. Rostropovich said something to him in Russian. And then waved a hand to the big man and ordered him to speak his favorite word in Russian.

‘Vodka!’ the man bellowed out.

Now in English.’

‘More vodka,’ Bear said. He had a big smile on his face.

Rostropovich smiled and told the man he was proud of him. Then he said something to him in Russian.

‘Nyet! Nyet!’ the Bear said shaking his head.

English! Speak in English!’

‘No? No?’

Rostropovich laughed. ‘Yes, it is no.’ Then he spoke to the orchestra. ‘The word for please is seldom used anymore. Now the key word is Siberia.’ He spoke softly to the Bear but he said the word Siberia loudly.

The ‘translator’ opened the left side of his suit coat and revealed a large shoulder holster with a very large gun in it.

Rostropovich said he must have been wrong about the bulge being a translation book. ‘In the Soviet Union, a translator is spelled KGB, I guess.’

He thanked the Bear and motioned him back to his position. Then he turned to the man standing in the wing on stage left.

‘Now this man, who looks like he is a direct descendant of Genghis Khan, I call him, Sir. Everyone calls him Sir. Even the Bear calls him Sir.

‘When I was assigned my two companions and my wife and daughers were given their group of protectors, I was shown a film of the Bear lifting weights. And a film of Sir doing his thing. He did a lot of grunting and weird noises. And he did a lot of chop motions with his hand and kicks with his feet. He destroyed numerous wood pieces and cement blocks. Bear was impressive but Sir was scary.

‘It was explained to me that these two were experts at finding the way back home to Russia. If I would get lost, say here in Minneapolis, these two would be able to find me and help me back to Russia.’

Having finished his introductions he suggested to the Maestro that the rehearsal should start. Even though it was just a rehearsal, both he and the Orchestra were in prime form. When he was doing a solo, he captivated the attention of the Orchestra. They sat taking in every note, instead of looking bored and even some leaving the stage when they were not in use.

After the break, Rostropovich once again spoke to the Orchestra. ‘I have had to promise to the Ministry of Arts that I would make sure you all knew about this cello that I am fortunate to play. Now you might look at it and listen to it’s sweet tones and think that it is the work of an old Italian Master like Stradivarius, perhaps a 1711 Duport Strad; but I can assure you, this is not the case. It was built by a Russian Master just a few years ago. It seems as though the Soviet Union has broken the secret of the old Italians and now make instruments that rival theirs.

‘And if you believe that, I break the secret that the Ministry of Agriculture will soon introduce their latest achievement, a flying pig.’ He waved to his two companions and assured them in Russian that he fulfilled his promise to the Ministry of Arts.’

Strad or Russian- made, there wasn’t anyone in the theater that didn’t believe Rostropovich could have rigged a broom handle and strings to a cigar box and still played beautiful music.

The rehearsals that week went by swiftly. My crew and I spent a lot of time in the wings watching and listening, both to the music and to the words of Rostropovich. The concerts, one in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul, were received with rave reviews both by the audiences and the critics, many of whom came from cities that was not on Rostropovich’s tour.

While on this tour, Rostropovich continued to fight for his ‘artists without borders’ and the inhumanity of the U.S.S.R.. One of his most vocal fights was to release Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from his imprisonment in gulags for committing the Soviet sin of criticizing the inhumanity of Stalin. Imprisoned in 1945, Solzhenitsyn was a teacher and historian, and the latest in the line of great Russian novelists. After his sentence ended in 1953, he was sent into exile in Kazakhstan. Basically still a political prisoner. It was during this imprisonment and exile that he began to write his works.

In 1960, he sent the manuscript of his novel, A DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH, to a publisher. The book impressed the publisher; but also frightened him because it was so anti-Stalin. The publisher brought it to the government. Surprisingly, he was told to publish it. Premier Khrushchev thought it would be a good tool to erase the stain of Stalinism that was hindering Russia both at home and in the world. It became a best seller in Russia, although it was largely unknown in the West. It was even used as a schoolbook along with several Solzhenitsyn short stories.

But when Khrushchev was removed as premier, the stranglehold on the arts resumed, and Solzhenitsyn became a non-person in the Russia. In 1965, the KGB seized all of his writings and warned him to stop writing.. He managed to have his manuscript for what would be his most famous work, THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO, smuggled into Estonia. However, by now, he had become recognized in the West as a great novelist.

He also developed a severe form of cancer, which he wrote about in his novel, THE CANCER WARD. His cancer went into remission and he lived to the age of 89 when he died of a heart attack.

Led by the very vocal Rostropovich, the cries of releasing Solzhenitsyn from exile were heard not only in Russia but around the world. It worked.

Solzhenitsyn was released from exile in 1970. Rostropovich had just come home from the tour which had included Minneapolis. Being the kind of person that backed up his demands, Rostropovich brought Solzhenitsyn into his own home. This fact was did not go unnoticed by the Soviet government and the KGB. Both artists were subject to close scrutiny and harassment by the KGB.

Both Rostropovich and his wife were forbidden to leave Russia and their musical engagements were cut back to almost nothing.

To make matters worse, in 1970, Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature, making him a household name around the world. He refused to go to Stockholm to receive the award however. He felt that if he left Russia, he would never be permitted to return. The idea of having a special ceremony in Moscow to present him the award was turned down the Swedish government who felt it might harm Soviet-Swedish relationships.

(In 1970, the Guthrie Theater, where I was now working, gained exclusive rights to the one play, (?) by Solzhenitsyn, ARTICLE 58/A PLAY. They premiered it at the end of the season and brought in a guest director, Michael Langham, who would come back the next season as the Artistic Director. The play ran in stock for almost a month to full houses. It was reviewed by critics from all over the world. It was long, sad, and had probably the largest cast ever for a Guthrie production. It was also a work of art. To my knowledge I don’t think it was ever done by any theater since then.)

In 1971, the KGB tried to assassinate Solzhenitsyn using a favorite weapon, ricin. The attempt failed. In 1974, he was exiled and sent to West Germany. From there he went to Switzerland and finally to the U.S., where he spent 17 years. In 1994 he returned to Russia.

Unlike the non-person, Solzhenitsyn, Rostropovich was a considered a Russian treasure. They touted him as the greatest cellist of all time. To disgrace him as they did Solzhenitsyn was not feasible. And they could not get him to back off on his artists without borders talk and his criticism of the lack of freedom in the Soviet Republic.

Add to this, Rostropovich was more and more setting the cello aside for the baton of a conductor. He felt that with the new movement in classical music, the movement espoused by Shostakovich way back in his Moscow Conservatory days, he was one to interpret it to orchestras and audiences around the world. The government loved him as a great cellist; but as a conductor, he was just one of many.

Rostropovich was ‘allowed’ to leave Russia with his wife and children in 1974. He was not allowed to come back as a cellist or conductor anywhere in the Soviet Union. He came to America where he became Musical Director and chief conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C.. Unlike Solzhenitsyn, who never accepted living in the West with it’s ‘TV pop culture’, Rostropovich embraced life in the West.

He conducted orchestras all around the free world. His fame as a great musician increased and the smile that he was famous for never left his face; nor did his love of his fellow man.

In 1989 when the Berlin Wall was taken down, he went to Berlin and gave an impromptu cello concert along side the Wall. In 1990 he had his Russian citizenship restored. In 1991, when he saw footage of tanks outside of Moscow ready to move in during a political crisis, he got off a plane and talked himself into being allowed to join Boris Yeltsen in an effort to prevent the tanks from moving on the city. Two years later he conducted the Russian National Orchestra in Red Square during the constitutional crisis.

He lived a full life right up to his death in Moscow from intestinal cancer just prior to his 80th birthday. His death was mourned around the world. His list of achievements and awards go on and on. He will be remember as one of the greatest cellists, a great conductor, and a great humanitarian.

And for those of us who were fortunate to have met him, he will be remembered as a brave man with a wonderful sense of humor. A man who laughed in the face of the KGB.

COFFEE WITH ALI

ali rip            The Champ and I spent the better part of an hour, just the two of us, talking and drinking coffee in the stagehands’ room, my office, at Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota.

I called him Champ, even though he no longer had the belt, lost it, not in the boxing arena, but in the political area.He was on a lecture tour, Pro  Civil Rights, Anti  Viet Nam Involvement. Although the latter was the stated reason for taking away his right to be called World Champion, the former had earned him powerful enemies, just as it did for Martin Luther King. Overlooked by the main stream press, the Champ had a third point he stressed, namely Anti Violence. After his speech at Northrop, there was to be  an interview and a Q&A with reporters from TIME. Finally what he was actually saying was  more important than his celebrity status.

Today Americans accept his views; but in the late 60’s, these views were tinder for the fires that were spreading out across the land. But the Champ spoke his piece and stood his ground even though it was highly controversial and had cost him greatly. It wasn’t that he was wrong, it was just that he was ahead of his time. I had always felt strong about Civil Rights; but it really wasn’t until our status in Nam changed from advisory to full scale combative, that I took a better look and decided against us being there.

When the Champ and his welcoming committee walked backstage, he commented on the aroma of coffee coming from the open door of my room. One of the committee said he would run to Dinky Town and get him some coffee. I told the Champ that I would be glad to bring him a cup in his dressing room. He nixed both offers and instead said he wanted to go in the room, drink coffee and relax. When some of committee tried to follow us in, he held up hand. He told them to stay out, close the door, and see to it that nobody bothered him until he came out.

He commented that he realized they meant well, but he was getting tired of the constant ‘meaning well’ pressure of people. He said he was tired of the tour, tired of being away from home, his wife, and especially his little baby girl, Maryum, his first child. He slumped down in the chair, and when I handed him a cup of the fresh coffee, he raised the cup in thanks. I respected his need for silence.

In those days, boxing was followed much more than today. Early TV had free major matches weekly. And sitting across from me was a boxer I had followed since his Olympic days. I remembered listening to a radio as he did something nobody thought he would, take the title away from Sonny Liston. Oh, there was no way I would have called him the ‘Greatest’ at that time. His best was yet to come.

But, that day, I was more in awe of him as a great human being than a great athlete. It takes a brave person to stand up for one’s beliefs the way he did and at what cost.

When he finally did break his silence in the room, he spoke of being afraid his little girl, Maryum, wouldn’t even know her daddy, because he was away so much. She wasn’t even a year old yet, and he heard that the first year of a baby’s life was so important in their life. And she wouldn’t even know her daddy.

I assured him she would know her daddy, even though she wasn’t seeing much of him at this time. I told how I had worked two jobs for years, and now at Northrop, I was averaging over eighty hours a week, and my sons, only four at that time, always knew their daddy. He had nothing to worry about. He smiled and said he hoped so.

He opened his wallet and took out several pictures of his little Maryum and asked if I had any pictures of my sons. He looked at my pictures and wasn’t satisfied until he remembered their names and could match the name with the right boy.

We didn’t talk about his boxing career, about civil rights, and about his refusal to be drafted. We just talked. There was no chucking or jiving, no boasting and poetry on his part. His public image was set aside and he presented his personal side. Just two men, two fathers, talking, taking the time to know a little about each other.

He was interested in what went on at Northrop. I told him about the various attractions: lectures, music, dance, even a week each May of seven different Metropolitan operas on tour and how much work and how many stagehands it took to put them on. The Metropolitan Opera was familiar to him because of where the building was in relation to Madison Square Garden.

We did touch on boxing when I mentioned that recently Paul Newman had been at Northrop talking against our involvement in Viet Nam, the Champ told how much he liked Newman playing Rocky Graziano in SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME.

I related how I got so excited watching Sugar Ray Robinson defending his crown against Graziano on TV, that I knocked over and broke a lamp. He laughed and asked who I was rooting for, and I told him Sugar Ray, my favorite boxer. He said Sugar Ray was his favorite too.

The time flew by. He finished off his second cup of coffee, thanked me, and followed as I led him to his dressing room. Naturally, his committee followed also, ready at his beck and call for anything he might want, or anything they think he might want. As much as I admired the man that day, I wouldn’t have traded places with him. I could see one of the reasons he was tired and just wanted to go home and play with his baby.

My coffee with Ali took place almost a half century ago. I remember seeing his arm raised in victory many times. I remember seeing his arm raised as he lit the Olympic torch. And I remember he raised his cup in thanks for my coffee. I was so fortunate to have sat and had a quiet talk with the man now referred to as ‘The Greatest’.

R.I.P. CHAMP

There were event entering into this story and after; but I will save them for another time. Right now I am too sad because he is no longer with us.

OH YES, MR. BILL

n-BILL-COSBY-STATUE-large300COSBY STATUE REMOVED FROM DISNEY WORLD

When I thought about starting this blog, I knew I would have to include some anecdotes about working with Bill Cosby, having worked him so many times over the years. I pieced three stories together, one about the first time I worked Cosby, another quite a few years later, and one that slammed the door on me ever communicating with him except what was needed in working his show. But just about the time I was going to post the finished product, Cosby’s protective wall of unique celebrity status and of course his money, began to spring a leak.

The rumor that he had been accused of doping and then raping women that had been around for years, suddenly erupted when a young black comedian, Hannibal Buress, who had a routine about Cosby always putting down young Blacks, ended it one show by screaming out, ‘you rape women’! The accusation went viral. Women came forward in public with stories about how they had been doped and raped by Cosby as far back as 1965, a year before my first story of that post occurred.

I revised my blog post, dropped the last anecdote, and replaced it with information that was coming out about the accusations. That deleted story had taken on a new meaning for me.

Cosby had changed over the years, especially after the senseless murder of his son, Ennis. The fun-loving guy backstage had become a somber man who spent as much time as possible in his dressing room. Respecting his grief, we no longer expected him to joke around with us as before.

It was between the two shows Cosby was performing at Northrop. A young woman came into the stagehands’ room and asked for me. She had Children’s’ Cancer Fund tee shirt and asked if I would take it to Cosby and have him autograph it so it could be auctioned off at the next benefit. She said it had all been set up and Cosby was expecting it.

            Cosby was very good about supporting  good causes. I suggested that she come with me and I would point out his dressing room, and she could go in and ask him herself.

            She jumped back and said, ‘No! I was warned not to go into Mr. Cosby’s dressing room.’ She extended the shirt and marker to me and said, ‘They said you would do. Won’t you?’

            ‘Sure,’ I laughed and took the shirt across stage. At the time I thought that the word ‘warned’ she used seemed a bit hard. Instead of just saying I was told not to, she said she was warned. At the time, I figured somebody was afraid she might commit some kind of gaffe meeting a big time celebrity like Cosby.

            I knocked and Crosby growled, ‘Come in.’

            He was sprawled out on the couch watching a March Madness basketball game on TV. He turned his head, saw who it was, and turned back to the game.

            I spread the shirt out on the table and laid the magic marker beside it. I told Cosby what it was for and he said he knew all about it. I didn’t really think he would sign it right at that moment, but he stood up and went to the table.

            ‘They told me some woman would bring the shirt in to me,’ he said as he signed his name. ‘What, she scared of me? Thinks if I get her in my dressing room, I’ll jump her bones.’

            ‘Oh, no,’ I answered, ‘I think… I was going to say she was just shy, but Cosby threw the shirt at me.

            ‘I don’t care what you think!’ He turned and went back to the couch. ‘Just get out! I want to watch the basketball game.’

            ‘Well, excuuuuuse me,’ I said as left the room, trying to slam the door, but it was rigged to close slowly. And even though I worked him several times after, that was the last time I ever talked to Cosby except when I really had to.

I had attributed his rudeness up to the fact things had to be getting to him. He changed over the years and for good reasons. His son’s death, his lack of a TV show, never really had movie career, his audience was getting old and his preaching about what the young people were doing wrong was not gaining him any new fans, his books were no longer best sellers, and comedy album were things of the past. He was growing old and was completing a very full week of work.

He had already done a benefit, which I worked, at the Convention Center, in midweek. He had done two shows the night before at Mystic Lake Casino, and now two shows at Northrop. He had to be tired.

Over the last few years he worked a lot of benefits, good pay, short hours, probably the hottest attraction in shadow-show business. And he knew how to play it. When he got the gig to do a benefit or an industrial expo, he contacted promoters in the town where he was to play and try to fill out with other shows in other venues. He was an easy show to sell tickets for, and the shows sold out with very little lead time and advertising.

And while I was giving him the benefit of the doubt, I was unaware of his secret reputation as a rapist. But Cosby wasn’t; and when I said the woman refused to go into his dressing room, it must have hit home. At the time I thought he was just referring to the old racist view that blacks all wanted to rape white women.

But as the rumors and accusation hit the public press, I thought back on Cosby’s anger and his words about her afraid he would ‘jump her bones’. And I remembered her using the words ‘warned not to go into his dressing room’. Who warned her, I have no idea, but somebody, maybe the promoter, might have known about the rumors and wanted to insure nothing would happen on his watch.

And this incident also happened around the time of a lawsuit against him on a dope/rape charge. He paid the woman off and it didn’t generate much negative publicity. Another case of a woman trying squeeze money out of a celebrity. After all this was Bill Cosby, not some meth-head playboy.

The first post I wrote about Bill Cosby was titled OH NO, MR. BILL!!! , giving him the slim benefit of the doubt.  Now, we just found out that back in 2005, Cosby admitted in a deposition he bought drugs to use to rape women. The deposition was sealed when there was a monetary payoff made and the woman who brought suit against him was satisfied. A recent lawsuit forced that deposition to become public, and as soon as all the women named as victims who were going to testify in that suit, agree to it the entire deposition will be made public. Just the part that has been revealed already has proven that Cosby, by his own sworn words, to be a liar, a hypocrite, and someone who actually purchased drugs with the intent of using them to rape a woman..

And when all this negative publicity hit, Cosby acted like a complete fool. Many of his upcoming gigs were cancelled, but a few promoters stuck with him, and during these shows Cosby actually tried to joke about the ‘lies’ people were telling about him. He zeroed in on one accuser calling her a liar and now is being sued by her for defamation of character. This conduct caused other women to come forth and volunteer to tell their experiences with dope and rape, and Bill Cosby.

The New Jersey Supreme Court will decide if criminal charges should be brought against him for rape because there is no statute of limitations for rape in New Jersey, where one of the accusers said he raped her.

Even if he skates on criminal charges,  the rest of his life will be spent in court fighting lawsuits. This pressure would be hell for anyone, let alone somebody in his late 70’s. And I can’t imagine him getting much support and sympathy from his wife of 50 years as the accusations and lawsuits pile down on him.

While this type of conduct that of a rich celebrity resorting to drugs and raping a multitude of women, surprises the majority of us, it recently was proven that it happens as in the case of Darren Sharper. Sharper, rich, handsome, intelligent, and articulate, a former NFL star and a current TV commentator, pleaded guilty in four different states to drugging women and then raping them. He is currently serving time for his actions.

Some women raped by Sharper admitted they would have been afraid to even mention it if it hadn’t been for the women coming foreword in the Cosby affair. And, I imagine the women in the Cosby affairs stand a better chance of being believed because of the confession of Sharper that proves these things do happen, even if the celebrity in question is ‘America’s favorite father’.

And that’s a wrap.

LUCILLE IS NOW AN ORPHAN

b.b. king            The first time I worked B.B. King, I almost didn’t work B.B King. He couldn’t find the theater.

Sue Weill of the Walker Art Center had booked him for  two performances, 7 and 10 PM, at the Guthrie Theater. Naturally both shows were sell-outs.

King wasn’t there for sound check; but that was no big deal, his group had played together for a long time and they knew what B.B. wanted. But as it grew closer to show time, King’s absence became something to worry about. There was no front act booked, but the band worked it out to play the part of a front act without B.B. until he showed up.

Thanks to a policeman who liked blues guitar, King showed up after the band had just been on stage for about ten minutes. He walked on stage to thunderous applause and the audience had no idea there had been a problem. He  didn’t need any warmup to make Lucille sing.

The band had taken the bus from the last gig. B.B. flew. When he jumped into the cab at the airport, he told the driver to take him to the Walker Theater. He knew he was being paid by the Walker and just assumed that was the name of the theater.

The cabbie knew there was a Walker Building downtown Minneapolis and that the State Theater was part of that building, so he took him there. Built as a vaudeville house, the Stage was transformed into a movie theater, then a church, and eventually reverted back into a legit house. At this period in time, the State was closed as a movie house and it would be a few years before it became a church. The theater was dark.

King went to the door and hammered on the glass. After a few fruitless minutes, he began to kick at it.

A cop drove by and saw this man kicking the door. He thought it was an attempted break-in. He drew his gun and ordered the man to lay down that case he was carrying, Lucille was inside; but the cop thought it might contain a weapon. As he was frisking him, B.B. explained who he was and why he was kicking at the door of the theater.

Luckily, the policeman, who was a fan of B.B.’s music, remembered reading that King was in town to play at the Guthrie Theater, which was about a mile away. He told King he’d get him to the Guthrie.

King paid the cabbie, hopped in the back of the squad car and with the help of the siren and the lead-footed policeman, got to the gig just a few minutes late. No harm done except between shows, B.B. got a lot of razzing from his band members.

It reminds me a similar story about Louis Armstrong, told to me by Eddie D., who was stage managing the show at Northrop Auditorium. Louis didn’t show up for sound check and still wasn’t in the theater at show time. There was a front act so between the front act’s performance and the intermission, there was about an hour’s fudge-time before Louis was to go on for his gig.

About ten minutes after front act went on, Armstrong showed up in the front lobby asking how to get backstage. Eddie said he angerly told Armstrong that he was late, and he also missed sound check. Louis just laughed and pointed out he was blowing horns way before they had sound checks and mics and speaker systems.

Eddie then argued that Armstrong was lucky his trumpet got there okay. He asked Louis what would happen if the horn got lost or broken and he had to come up with another one in a hurry.

Again Louis laughed. ‘This is all I need,’ he said, pulling his horn mouthpiece out of his pocket. ‘I always got this with  me. Ol’ Satchmo could stick this in a tin can and blow the blues if he had to.’

I never had the privilege of working Ol’ Satchmo, but I did see him in concert once. On the other hand, I never sat in the audience for a B.B. King concert, but I had the privilege of working a number of his shows. Outside of that first time, all the other B.B. King’s concerts, I worked at various theaters around the Twin Cities, had B.B. headlining a bill with others, the likes of Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Bonny Raitt and other Blues guitarists. Whenever he was onstage, the wings were filled with musicians, both local and nationals like Bob Dylan, Prince,Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, etc.. For those of us working one of his shows, it was more than a concert, it was an event.

Thrill is gone

It was a bad few weeks for R&B aficionados. We not only lost B.B. King, we lost Percy Sledge, (When a man needs a woman) and Ben E. King, (Stand by me). Thank goodness for recordings; because they will always be there whenever we want to enjoy their music.

R.I.P. old timers. You fought big odds and you won.  

CAPOTE AT NORTHROP

 (Or: How I Embarrassed Myself In Front Of 5,000 People)

 Warhold's CapoteCapote by Warhol

‘Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.’                                                                        Truman Capote

            The wasteful death of Philip Seymour Hoffman caused me take my CAPOTE DVD and watch again Hoffman’s great performance. Like Capote, so much talent cut short through human frailty.

            And watching that DVD reminded me of my experience working a Capote reading in Northrop Auditorium at the U of Minnesota. Quite a show! It opened with a ‘comedy act’ worthy of Laurel and Hardy. An act for which I take full responsibility.

            Capote was hot. Not only was his IN COLD BLOOD riding high on the Best Seller List, he was proclaiming that he ‘invented’ the ‘nonfiction novel’. He was taking almost as many bows for his ‘invention’ as the professor in the English Department who managed to get Capote booked for a symposium at the University of Minnesota.

            Northrop Auditorium seated almost 5,000 and every seat was filled, along with as many people as could stand along the walls. The English Department not only oversold the house, they neglected to print seat assignments on them. Hence, it was a scramble for seats. The only time I had ever seen the Auditorium that full was a noon hour talk by Paul Newman, who was there speaking out against the Viet Nam War.

            I was backstage manager; and because it was a ‘school’ event, I only had my student crew working. Lew Reeves, the Concerts and Lectures assistant, who normally would have been backstage to dealing with the talent, was busy in his office trying to dissuade the Fire Marshall not to order an evacuation of all the standees in the auditorium. An act that might cause a riot, which was a popular sport on campuses those days.

            The professor had wanted a Q&A session after Capote’s reading, but Capote called the shots. Payment in advance. The show would start on time. He would read something of his own choosing. It would be a book reading, not a book signing. At the end he would then walk offstage and disappear.

            At ten to, Capote was waiting to go on. Mr. English Department, as Capote called him, was standing next to the Voice of God mic waiting to introduce the star. English Department went up to Capote and explained that he would make an introductory announcement just before Capote walked on stage.

            ‘Sir,’ Capote said in a voice a few octaves deeper than usual, ‘I AM TRUMAN CAPOTE! I do not need an in-tro-duction, Sir!’ English Department slinked deeper offstage.

            Jerry, the head instigator on the student crew, offered Capote a stick of gum. Capote ignored him.

            When Paul Newman had made his appearance he walked on stage chewing gum. About half way through, he took out the gum and placed it carefully on the shelf inside the podium. When the speech was finished and Newman was giving a press conference backstage, a girl out of the audience worked her way to lip of the stage and told one of my student crew, who were all standing onstage seeing to it no one came up, that she would give him five dollars if he would get her the gum that Newman had been chewing. Sold! Immediately, every crew member was chewing gum. They took turns going into the lobby, sidling up a girls and selling ‘Paul Newman’s gum’. When they ran out of gum, Jerry went to the book store next door and bought more. That weekend they had a keg party to end all keg parties.

            Jerry then offered Truman the entire pack of gum, suggesting it would help if Capote’s mouth got dry during the reading. The gentleman that had accompanied Capote, and whom Capote merely introduced him as Old Friend, placed his hand on Jerry’s shoulder and asked him to please leave Truman alone.

            At Jerry’s mention of dry mouth, I looked to the little table beside the podium. The water pitcher, glass, and tray, that I had told Jerry to bring out ten minutes before, was not there. It was sitting offstage by the rail. I knew if I told Jerry I didn’t like his trick to get Capote to chew some gum, Jerry would just deny it and say it just an honest mistake, he just forgot to bring out the water. It was easier to grab the tray and bring it out myself. Mistake #1!

            I had just walked into sight of the audience when someone shouted, ‘Truman! Truman! We want Truman!’ Others joined in the chant and began to stomp their feet. Whether it was the unexpected noise of the audience or my anger at Jerry, or maybe I was just clumsy, whatever, I tripped and lurched forward. I managed to stay on my feet and not lose the three pieces, but the pitcher had tipped and most of the water was on the stage floor. The chant turned to loud laughter. I stomped off into the wings.

            Capote stood expressionless, his arms  folded across his chest. Old Friend was shaking his head. English Department had moved closer to the exit. My crew, fearful for their jobs, were all coughing, fighting to keep from laughing. The only one laughing was Bill Normington, the heat and vent man in charge of the temperature in  the house that evening. Laughing and pointing his finger at me.

            Bill, when he worked a show, always wore a suit with a loud tie, and his work shoes. He was tall with big shoulders and a Navy boot camp buzz haircut. When he was wearing his work clothes, he looked competent. When he was dressed in a suit, he looked comical.

            I refilled the pitcher and started to bring it out. Normington was still laughing, still pointing his finger at me. I shoved the tray at him. ‘Here, smart ass,’ I said, ‘You take it out!’ Mistake #2!

            Bill got a hand as soon as the audience saw him carrying the tray. He quickly took a little bow, and then proceeded to the podium. Legs shaking, feet moving erratically,  tray moving toward disaster, a perfect imitation of a drunken waiter. And the crowd loved it, clapping, laughing, encouraging Normington who milked it for all it was worth. He finally reached the little table and set down the tray. Naturally the audience burst into laughter and applause, and naturally the ham took a bow, and kept taking bows as he went off stage.

            My crew were howling, slapping hands with Bill. English Department had his hand on the exit door handle. Old Friend was shaking his head. Capote had not moved a muscle during the act. I was taking deep breathes and trying to keep my composure. I heard Jerry tell Normington to do an encore.

            ‘Don’t even think about it!’ I said. Then I pointed a finger at Jerry. ‘Get a mop and bucket and wipe up that water!’ Mistake #3!

            Instead of just going out and mopping up, Jerry, with his right hand, wrapped the onstage edge of the open main around his body, stretched the mop out with his left hand, and slooowly pulled the mop through the puddle. The audience, who could only see the movement of the curtain and one arm moving a mop, clapped and hooted and howled. The crew and Normington were shouting and laughing. English Department went out the door. Old Friend turned his back to the stage. Capote, as before, did not move a muscle.

            ‘Enough!’ I shouted to Jerry.

           ‘It’s all yours, Mr. Capote,’ I said waving my hand toward the podium.

            Capote finally moved. He placed his hands on his hips, turned to me, and said, in a voice that sounded like he was imitating Johnny Carson imitating Truman Capote, ‘Well! You don’t really expect me to follow that act, do you?’

            He did though. Walked out to the podium to a standing ovation. Most of the audience, myself included, had anticipated a reading from IN COLD BLOOD. We were surprised but not disappointed.

            Instead he read his new short story, A THANKSGIVING VISITOR, which he prefaced by saying he knew the audience remembered Buddy and Sook whom he introduced to the world in A CHRISTMAS MEMORY. (‘The world, no less,’ whispered Old Friend, who had moved next to me in the wing. ‘Oh, the ego!’) ‘This is a continuance of their story,’ said Truman.

            When he read the narrative and other voices, it was such a pleasure; but when he read the words of Soot, the elderly cousin and surrogate grandmother of young Buddy, it was a work of art.  Years later, I made a point to watch Geraldine Page playing Soot in the two televised short stories. She won Emmys for both performances, and rightly so; but even Page’s great portrayal, in my opinion, could not match Truman reading the words of ‘my friend’.

            And with the final words, ‘the chrysanthemums that burned, that growled and roared against a greenly lowering dusk,’ he closed his script and walked off stage, the only noise was the sound of his shoes on the floor. And as Capote disappeared  off stage, the audience rose as one entity and gave out the biggest applause of the evening. But Truman only heard muffled noise as he and Old Friend followed me to the basement garage to my car as per the plan. With Truman bending down in the passenger seat and Old Friend in back, I drove out, fooling everybody who flocked to the stage door hoping to get a book signed. We were well on our way to the limo that waited about a mile away, when Lew Reeves announced over the Voice of God mic, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen. Truman has left the building!’ to the disappointment of the audience. No encore! No signings! But each person left with a very special memory of a very special night.

            During the short trip, Capote referred to me by my name instead of something like Mr. Stagehand or New Friend. I felt honored at first; but when he placed his hand on my thigh, I realized he was just hitting on me. I pushed his hand away, twice. The third time, Old Friend came to my rescue. ‘Truman! Behave!’ And he slapped the back of Capote’s head.

            Capote kept trying to persuade me to come up to his hotel room, even if it was after I finished my work in the theater. He promised me a signed copy of one of his books. I kept saying no. Finally, Old Friend, came to my rescue again. He handed Capote a book that I had in the backseat and ordered him to sign it.

            It was a paperback, TWICE-TOLD TALES by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Capote laughed, saying Hawthorne was one of his favorite authors. ‘I’ve often thought I should have scarlet H’s embroidered on my shirts,’ he said as he signed the book.

            ‘Thank you, Mr. Don for the ride,’ he said as he got out of the car, ‘And thank you for the water,’ he added as he closed the car door.

            That sonofagun! As he got into the limo, I realized that not once, during his entire time on stage, did he even so much as take a sip of that damn water.

            I had met Capote when he was at the apex of his career. He was now acknowledged as an important American author. But he was also beginning his sad slow decline into being just a celebrity. Serious writing, for the most part just unfinished attempts and rumors, replaced by alcohol, drugs, talk shows, and parties. He became a celebrity, but at what cost? His death report stated that he died of liver cancer augmented by multiple drug intoxication.

            And now, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who had portrayed Capote in life, imitated him also in death. Two artists who gave so much enjoyment to others’ lives but had too little respect for their own .

 

            ‘I’m an alcoholic. I’m a drug addict. I’m a homosexual. I’m a genius. Of course I could be all four of these dubious things and still be a saint. But I shonuf ain’t no saint yet. Nawshuh.                                                                                                          Truman Capote