BULL STREET - The art of the Con

No Business Like Show Business

There is a lot I don’t know very much about and show business is certainly one of them. We have all been captivated by movies and plays and I for one, whenever I see one of them that is exceptional I say to myself, gee, if I could only have written that. I would love to have written the words and music to Man of La Mancha, My Fair Lady or Fiddler on the Roof.  Moreover, I really don’t think that George Lucas is that much smarter than I am but he invented Star Wars and Orson Wells did all of them one better with his Invasion From Mars. Sadly for me, I have had to live my life vicariously watching and listening to the works of others.

However, I learned the hard way what I don’t know and at least can now stay away from things that may cause my grave financial distress. I invested in both plays that have run for substantial periods of time and movies that have been some of the largest grossing films in history and in both these media forms, I have come up blank. I was the leader of a group that financed such films as several of the  “Superman” films and all of the “Rambo” movies. Among them, I think that my group had an interest in seven of the ten top grossing films of all time but, the money I made was literally a pittance.

Broadway was even worse. I don’t think I ever received 1-cent back in spite of backing three or four shows that all did pretty well. However, this was early on in my career and I since learned never to play in the other guy’s game unless you are going to do it full time, just as he does. With movies, the majors have such incredible “creative accounting” that you don’t have a chance. Moreover,  in order to prove that I was being fleeced on one occasion I seriously thought about paying to get an accounting and then bringing the thieves to court. However, my attorney informed me that it would be best if I had a big five accounting firm audit the books along with hiring some of the best show business lawyers in the world. The cost of bringing my intended action against the big movie studio would probably have cost me more than the national debt before I finished, or at least it sure felt that way every time I looked into that possibility.

However, Broadway makes Hollywood look tame. Producers in many cases own the theater that the play is being held in and often make their money by charging excessive rental charges. One particular Broadway play ran literally forever because the producer was paying himself excessive rent at the expense of the investors who, in spite of a three year run, never got back a dime. Moreover, everything on Broadway seems to come in over budget and when that happens, there is a mad scramble for money. The last money in is always the most expensive. For over a decade, I spent every Saturday having lunch with a friend whose only business was financing Broadway shows. Everyone on the Great White Way knew where we had lunch and it was open season there.

Whenever, one of them had gone over budget, they would join us for lunch, with or without an invitation. At other times, they hardly knew our names.  They were many of the celebrities that I had heard about for years. Writers, producers, directors and promoters all joined us at lunch over that decade and it was an exciting experience. Sometimes we would be pitched by two and three promoters at one meal. Mr. Friends’ deal was rather simple, he would put up all the money that was needed, but wanted it back immediately from the day the show opened right from the gross receipts. After all the money had been paid back, he then wanted interest,  a car, a driver and everything else that came in ever.

Some of the more aesthetic people we spoke to actually thought long and hard about giving my friend everything that he asked for. However, it seems that they just wanted to know that their baby was going to play Broadway. Moreover, this was for the plays that he didn’t care about one way or the other about but if he really wanted to own one, he would compromise a tad, but believe me, not very much. Before the play opened, the investors didn’t have a chance to get back anything but the clothes they were wearing. My friend would get his first and then after he had bleed the show white, the producers, writers and promoters who were waiting in the wings would then take the rest. Barnum must have been right, at least when it came to Broadway.  



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