On January 4th, my colleague, business partner and mentor of over 45 years, Robert Stigwood, died.
Robert was remarkable.
Our backgrounds and outlooks were very different but we bonded over my willingness to disagree with him. His sycophants feared losing pay and perks and were intimidated into silence. Robert wanted truth... I told him the truth.
Stigwood's lofty position emerged from what I'd characterize as a pathological belief in himself plus a willingness to take risks - whether at the roulette wheel, the race track - or similar risks in how he conducted business and his life.
He failed at times. No matter! Going against the grain, losing a company, he always got back into the game with resilience, tenacity and fortitude which defied logic but defined his success. "Ballsiness and luck" were his recipe for entrepreneurial success.
Robert was a true impresario who knew how to market/package/present with glamour, dazzle and insight.
We bonded in 1971. Robert had a personal matter which required an immediate need for an attorney arising from an automobile accident. His then attorneys were occupied. I was called. When I finished my assignment three hours after meeting him, there was never a record of an accident, there was no scandal and Robert Stigwood perceived me as someone who could discreetly make magic. He was intrigued further when I refused to work for him. My refusal proved prescient. If he "owned" me, I told him, I could never say what he valued the most, viz.: the truth.
We agreed upon a way of doing business: I would be his deep throat and be invisible. If there was to be criticism, he must be told (but only in private).
He said, "One day we will become partners and we will have fun!" (And we did).
I asked him to tell me his number one goal. He said, "To get out of the U.K. and to bring my public company private."
U.K. counsel told him that this was just about impossible. "Freddie, you'll find a way and when you do... we'll become partners."
It took over two years... but when it was consummated in June 1976, RSO became part of a newly reorganized U.S.-based company and we brought the U.K. public company private. I became Robert's partner in everything from All In The Family to Joseph and Jesus Christ Superstar and Tommy... as well as all of the record masters, the musical copyrights, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's management contracts along with rights to Clapton and the Bee Gees...
We made our first film together: Saturday Night Fever - followed by Grease (then some losers) - and there was Evita plus revivals of Superstar and Joseph and resuscitating the careers of the Bee Gees and Eric. In 1978, our "turnover" was 1/2 billion dollars (with merely 60 employees): It was Camelot.
And we did have fun and laughed a lot and shared the wealth with the artists and the employees.
Robert's crazy idea of a film about an unpolished Brooklyn guy is a fop in white Polyester, who dances to enhance his standing, illustrated the global phenomena of disco! This was pure Robert. He saw Travolta on Welcome Back, Kotter and said, "He's our Tony Manero." That's what Robert Stigwood was all about... His gut told him.
I could never have made those decisions, nor had the courage or the vision. The dynamic of our relationship was: "Freddie, this is what I want to do. Help me make it happen. Get us the rights to that Nik Cohn story in New York Magazine. Get me the financing, Make a deal and we'll make one hundred million dollars!" He was so sure... (He was so right!)
We performed our respective roles and it was terrific. We were the odd couple... It worked.
Grease was not the best reviewed of stage musicals, but Allan Carr had a cinematic vision and needed clout and money. When melded with Robert's vision (Robert wanted Olivia Newton John and to make another John T. film), Allan turned Olivia into a "tart" and John's hair Elvis blue-black! We "squeezed" filming Grease to the screen before John got back to shooting a new season of Welcome Back, Kotter. Fever and Grease remain part of the sociological/cultural history of the world... insinuated into new generations with regularity.
Robert, Myrna and Freddie lived in villas, jets, the maiden voyage of the Concorde from Paris to Rio, annual carnivals in Rio and Bahia, great yachts in the Caribbean sailing throughout the Mediterranean into North Africa, to the Pyramids to shoot locations with Mel Gibson, police escorts, private helicopters, hanging out backstage with Elton and Eric Clapton and Myrna and Freddie bringing Elton Ms. Mae West as a "surprise" guest to see, hear and meet Elton John. "A great coup!"
That's what I remember: outlandishly great outré adventures which became our lives. A tone set by Robert whilst learning from him how to live life to the max and how to study every business venture as a chess board and plan moves as a contrarian. He was galvanized into moving forward with the knowledge that he could lose everything at the gambling table of life.
Only when his wealth became so gargantuan, his success so tediously predictable, that the ennui set in... Sadly, it never left.
When I got off the merry-go-round, I was about 41 years old.
Robert was true to his word. We never had a written contract. We had a lot of fun. And we made a lot of money.
Robert also taught me how to spend money with whimsy, freely with a sense of folly and generosity of spirit - and a touch of recklessness... He said, "Darling, it's only a lubricant to make our lives go smoothly. Enjoy it."
Robert had fun... and he enjoyed it.
(I still do.)
Au Revoir old friend and thank you.