Eric Scott, Brisbane theatre critic on www.absolutetheatre.com.au and author with ten books in print with another in process, plus more than 20 plays being produced over the years has written his memoirs – I Could have Been a Contender; Memoirs of a Black Sheep. This life story covers 7 decades from growing up in the back streets of Nottingham in the UK during World War II to lifetime writing about and writing for showbiz. He has met some of the superstars of showbiz and the excerpt from his book talks about just a few…
EXCERPT OF THE BOOK I COULD OF BEEN A CONTENDER.
“The manager of the Odeon Cinema, who knew my taste for swing music and was to become a good friend, gave me tickets to see a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert that starred legend Count Basie and his Orchestra.
Of course the show as marvellous as we watched the sleepy-eyed little man and his orchestra perform. After the concert I talked my way back stage. I just wanted to shake hands with the legend, but got more than that, I got a chat and an autograph, one of the few I collected over the years.
If I had collected an autograph from every star I met I would have a million dollars worth of words on paper, but I rarely did, meeting them was part of my job. I was a showbiz writer, not a fan (well not always).
In March 1958 I got another invitation from the Odeon manager to see a concert starring an American band of teen heartthrobs called Buddy Holly and the Crickets.
Despite the lurid tales of rock’n’roll, sex and drug abuse I found Holly to be a fresh faced young guy with a vibrant personality who was happy to chat while he drank a cup of tea and chewed on a biscuit to wind down before the second performance of the night.
It was also a rare interview because he was still with the Crickets – Jerry Allison and Joe Mauldin. I also thought they were worthy of asking for an autograph so they all signed my program – which I still have tucked away for a rainy day. That one is worth a few dollars.
The Beatles had just hit number one for the first time with Love Me Do when I met them. They were exuberant, brash, and loud in a dressing room filled with roadies and fans. It was there I learned the true origins of the famous Beatle haircut.
There was no doubt about the confidence and star quality of those four young men.
The next time I saw them was in November 1964 when I grabbed a scoop interview. The supergroup had conquered the world and were back from America to do a UK tour. Beatlemania was at its peak and the stars were avoiding crowds and the press at all costs.
I was a good friend of the Odeon manager (the group was to perform at the cinema that night) and mutual back scratching was always acceptable.
I rang him and told him the boys had gone rushing out to try to catch the Beatles before they hit Nottingham, but was there any chance of me getting to see them after they arrived?
There was a little silence and then he asked me what I was doing at that moment.
I told him I was doing nothing important.
“Pop over here then,” he said softly. “They’re here.”
My heart leapt and I felt sorry for my colleagues out in the cold waiting with the police for the Beatles, who were already in the city. My sympathy was short-lived however and I shot across the city centre to the Odeon where the manager was waiting for me in the foyer.
“They’re upstairs in the dressing rooms,” he said. “I don’t know you are here.”
I nodded and made way to the familiar dressing rooms.
I was told that George Harrison was in a dressing room that belonged to another entertainer on the concert bill, Michael Haslam. I knocked on the door: no answer, so I opened it and walked in to see a painfully thin and haggard George Harrison sitting and quietly reading a newspaper alone. He wasn’t pleased to see me but was polite when I informed that I was Press. “We’re not doing interviews,” he said. “You’ll have to talk our road manager.”
The dressing room next door was marked “Beatles”, so I walked in. There were two of them: John Lennon and Ringo Starr. Paul McCartney was somewhere else going over a new song with Mary Wells. The last time I saw Lennon he was a chubby faced singer who never stopped talking and signed every autograph in sight: “John Lennon: A Beatle.” This time his chubby face was honed to sharpness and he looked desperately tired.
Ringo however was as still as effervescent as ever. Laughing and joking.
Roy Orbison was a quiet gentleman and an impressive performer who talked about writing his songs while in hotel rooms. No raising hell for the star, he liked a quiet life.
Not so “The Greatest”. Muhammad Ali is the most charismatic man I have ever met.
As Cassius Marcellus Clay he went to Britain in 1963 to fight Henry Cooper, England’s finest heavyweight. We journalists knew all about the “Louisville lip”, “gaseous Cassius”, and were determined to bring the American blowhard down to earth.
We had heard that he was a fool with an IQ in single digits; boy did he disprove those stories. He came out with all the stock phrases, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”, “Henry would dive in five”. But there was no boast to the quotes; he said them all with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips. He had the world at his fingertips and was having so much fun telling us how he conned the world into thinking he was a bad guy.
We learned of his audience pulling tricks and if his fitness regime. When he left we were still stunned by the man. I became such a fan that I saw every one of his fights – on big TV screen and TV – but I saw them all from his beating of Henry Cooper and that shock knock down and his “whupping” of Brian London to the first time he downed Sonny Liston to the thriller in Manilla” and the rumble in the jungle.
I met him twice more after that – both in Australia.
One autograph I was happy to request was the late great Ella FitzGerald. I met her after a show. She was a quiet, elegant, and gracious lady who spoke softly and smiled gently as she said how much she appreciated her British audiences. I felt instantly that I was standing in the presence of greatness. She signed my program: “Yours Ella FitzGerald.”
There were other legends and legends in the making, like Tom Jones, who’s It’s Not Unusual, had shot him to chart stardom. I had a lot of fun with the down-to-earth Welshman. He had completed an energetic set and we sat drinking a light ale while he signed autographs for all and sundry.
Then there was Dusty Springfield! She was of course late for the interview. Why? Because of the perfectionism she was famous for. The sound wasn’t right and she wouldn’t leave until it was!
Stories of her sexual orientation hadn’t reached our city and I have to admit to being totally captivated by her. She was pretty, chatty and flirty. She told me the story of her panda eyes, how she left her mascara on for five days at a time because it set better, and of her hectic schedule that she did because “I need the money.”
She told me she was a bit tired and wished she could stay over and said, with a sexy twinkle of the eyes, that she was sure that someone would be able show her around. I thought I was in with a big chance there! But then came in Dusty’s pretty blonde secretary who had a steely look in her eye.
Dusty had to go to meet some fans and get ready to leave, she declared. She was sorry but the interview had to end.
I was a bit miffed to be cut off like that, but many years later I felt pretty good that the “secretary” had thought I was a threat!”
Erics Best Pics Collection.
I Could have Been a Contender; Memoirs of a Black Sheep is available on line as an e-book, Inspiring publishers, or from Eric himself who has copies available for -$25 inckluding postage. Contact Eric at [email protected] or 07 32724979.