Home Up



Written by Rick Archer




I mark the February 1979 opening of Cowboy as the dawn of the Urban Cowboy Era here in Houston.  However, on a personal note, January 1980 was the date when Disco became a memory and my world turned completely Country-Western. 

At the time, I got the feeling I stood alone as the city's only Country-Western teacher.  Without any knowledge that I was preparing for something big, my risky Meyerland and Fright Night gambles were responsible for my surprising head start.  Perhaps there were other teachers, but if so, they operated in distant circles unknown to me. 

In the annals of military strategy, ancient Chinese military general Sun Tzu stands premier.  Sun Tzu wrote a masterpiece titled The Art of War.  He listed 13 major principles such as the use of deception and the importance of speed during the attack.

The French leader Napoleon, something of a military genius himself, listed 115 maxims on how to win a campaign.  Take, for example, his first maxim:

"Frontiers of state are either a large river, a chains of mountains, or a desert.  Of these obstacles to the march of an army, the most difficult to overcome is the desert.  Mountains come next and broad rivers occupy third place."

General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a brilliant Civil War tactician, agreed with Sun Tzu and Napoleon on many things.  However, General Forrest claimed there was only one military principle that truly mattered... Get there first.

In my case, the events of 1980 would demonstrate the value of General Bedford Forrest's statement time and again.  'Getting there first' would prove to be quite an advantage.

Of course, Forrest knew what he was doing.  He picked his targets and moved swiftly to the attack.  Not me.  I used a slightly more unorthodox tactic known as 'Dumb Luck'. 




To my complete shock, my dance career had suddenly been given a new lease on life here in January.  Although I was very grateful, this strange turn of events struck me as totally wrong.  Let's face it, I never bargained for this.  Indeed, I had resisted the coming of the Urban Cowboy Era with every ounce of my being.  And yet a series of remarkable events had prepared me to teach Western despite my intense negativity.  My situation was so weird, I asked myself if it was possible for people to succeed in spite of themselves. 

The answer was yes, of course.  I need look no further than my own situation.  For the second time in my life, through a major Quirk of Fate, I had accidentally prepared for a major dance phenomenon without the slightest idea of what lay ahead. 

Back when I received all the breaks necessary to become Houston's first Disco teacher, I was 99% convinced that Fate had surely been involved.  Now to see it happen again with Country-Western dancing, I upgraded my certainty to 100% that Fate was involved.  I could not get my mind off the Arabic saying that what is destined will reach you even if it lays underneath two mountains.  Who could deny that Fate and Fortune had moved a mountain to turn me into a Disco teacher?  Then while I clung desperately to Disco, the only thing that ever made me truly happy, Fate and Fortune had moved yet another mountain to make me a Western teacher.  

Me a Western teacher?  C'mon now, this is ridiculous!!!  You know and I know that of all the people in the world, I did not have any business being a Western... much less the ONLY ONE.  And yet here I was poised to take advantage of another potential dance phenomenon.  How could I possibly be so Lucky? 

Or maybe the better question was why wasn't I smarter to begin with?  During the Western Transformation of Spring 1979, I had all the information I needed to realize that Western would one day replace Disco.  So why didn't I simply accept the inevitable and start visiting the Western clubs immediately?  

Not me.  That would have made too much sense.  Rather than take the obvious step to at least investigate what was going on, I avoided visiting Western clubs like the plague.  I resisted the coming Western phenomenon tooth and nail.  I vowed that I would 'Never' teach Country-Western dance.  As they say, Never say Never.  Here I was in January 1980 prepared to teach Western just as it was ready to break wide open.  Was I lucky or what? 

Sure I was lucky.  But I was also Stupid.  I had already explored the possibility of the existence of 'Cosmic Stupidity'.  Now I began to wonder if there was corollary phenomenon known as 'Dumb Luck'. 

The definition of 'Dumb Luck' is something wonderful that happens unintentionally and without planning.  Would the Reader be willing to agree that definition pretty much summed up my sudden emergence as the city's only Western teacher?

I was so dumb, I was the last person in Houston to realize that Cowboy was a palace, not a dump.  Then came Fright Night which was the direct result of my stupid decision to teach a class blind.  Due to to my last-second Fright Night enlightenment, I barely got the advertisement for my lucrative January Class Factory Western class published under the wire.  If I had waited one day longer, no doubt Deborah would have found someone else to teach the January 1980 Western class instead of me. 

If that wasn't 'Dumb Luck', then what was it?  Indeed, it was the move to get a class listing inserted into Class Factory for January that propelled me to the head of the line in 1980.  Although I did not know it at the time, I would later realized by the slimmest of margins the spotlight would shine on me at the very start of a large cultural phenomenon. 

I knew I had been lucky many times.  For example, running into Deborah at the Lance Stevens Country Crash Course back in July 1978 had been the stroke of good fortune that seriously elevated my dance career to begin with.  That chance meeting had been 'Luck'.  However, this last-second Fright Night rescue was much different.  This was something I should have figured out for myself, yet I had been totally blind.  I actually felt embarrassed that I was so ridiculously ignorant that Fate had to come along and bail me out. 

Kicking myself hard for my negligence, I doubted if it was possible for anyone to be dumber than me. However, oddly enough, while writing my book, I suddenly realized that the phenomenon I refer to as 'Dumb Luck' extends past me. 

As I did my research, I came to realize the producers of Saturday Night Fever and Urban Cowboy were the beneficiaries of considerable 'Luck' in addition to their skill.  In addition, as we shall see, these men were also guilty of colossal misjudgments only to be bailed out by 'Dumb Luck'.  Before I begin the tale of my own Urban Cowboy adventures, I would like to share two remarkable 'behind-the-scenes' stories that deal directly with Luck and Dumb Luck.




When it came to Saturday Night Fever, Robert Stigwood was unbelievably lucky.  However, he wasn't just lucky, there is considerable evidence that he was also dumb lucky. 

Stigwood began his career as a music producer.  Born in Australia, Stigwood moved to England at age 21.  Stigwood had a college degree, but no idea what to do with it.  After a series of dead-end jobs, Stigwood discovered he had an interest in promoting local rock bands in Portsmouth. 

Climbing the ladder, Stigwood got his start in the mid-Sixties as the manager of Eric Clapton.  It was Stigwood's idea to pair Clapton with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.  This led to Cream, the superstar rock band that briefly rivaled the fame of the Beatles and Rolling Stones. 

Along the way, Stigwood managed The Who (Tommy, Pinball Wizard) as well as the Bee Gees from Australia.  The Bee Gees were in awe of Stigwood.  They described him as a creative genius with a very quick and dry wit.

Stigwood was an aggressive manager who wasn't afraid to take chances.  Stigwood had a favorite saying. 

"There are a lot of ways to become a failure, but never taking a chance is the most successful." 

Unfortunately, Stigwood's bold style got him in a lot of trouble early in his career.  Stigwood was the victim of a bad move that led to one of the funniest anecdotes in rock 'n roll history.

In 1966, Robert Stigwood tried to poach another manager's act into his own fold.  The manager, Don Arden, took exception. 

Don Arden:  "I had to stop these overtures – and quickly!  I contacted two well-muscled friends and hired two more equally huge toughs.  The five of us went along to nail this cocky impresario to his chair with fright.

There was a large ornate ashtray on his desk. I picked it up and smashed it down with such force that the desk cracked – giving a good impression of a man wild with rage.

My friends and I had carefully rehearsed our next move. I pretended to go berserk.  I lifted the impresario bodily from his chair, dragged him on to the balcony and held him so he was looking down at the pavement four floors below. I asked my friends if I should drop him or forgive him.  In unison they shouted:  'Yeah, do it!  Go ahead and drop him!'

Stigwood went so rigid with shock, I thought he might have a heart attack.  Immediately, I dragged him back into the room and warned him never to interfere with my groups again." 

Stigwood learned his lesson.  From that point on, Stigwood stayed closer to the rules and enjoyed considerable success. 



the bee gees


Robert Stigwood parlayed his early success in the music industry into productions on stage and in film.  Stigwood learned early on to mix music with drama.  Nearly every one of his productions involved music. 

Among Stigwood's stage credits were Tommy, Evita, Sweeney Todd, Hair, Pippin, Oh Calcutta and Jesus Christ Superstar.

His movie credits would include Grease, Tommy, Gallipolli, and Jesus Christ Superstar as well as musical film extravaganza Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Stigwood's main passion was to do Grease, the exciting 1971 musical.  By a twist of fate, his efforts to bring Grease to screen would accidentally lead Stigwood to produce an even more famous project, Saturday Night Fever.  

The Bee Gees were an the Australian rock group that consisted of three brothers, Barry, Andy, and Maurice Gibb.  The Bee Gees had gotten their start in the late Sixties.  With Robert Stigwood as their manager from the start, the group immediately scored some initial hits.  Thanks to their instant success, the Bee Gees were said to be the next Beatles. 

However, they fizzled almost as fast as they sizzled.  You know the story... drugs, booze, distractions.  As of 1975, the Bee Gees were washed-up has-beens who were being referred to in the past tense.

Fortunately Stigwood had enduring faith in the Bee Gees Stigwood had a real soft spot for these guys.  They were always his pet project.  The problem was that once a rock band loses its moment, it is very difficult to regain it. 

By the time the mid-Seventies rolled around, the Bee Gees were toast.  Although they were terrific songwriters, they had not had a major hit in years.  Their music consisted of gentle ballads at a time when Hard Rock was the dominant sound.  It didn't look good for the Bee Gees. 

Fortunately Stigwood stayed with the Bee Gees.   Stigwood told the three brothers that he believed in them.  He encouraged them to keep working and keep writing.  "You know what they say.  The harder you work, the luckier you get.

Stigwood promised that sooner or later their luck would turn.  Stigwood had a suggestion.  Why not move away from ballads, the Bee Gees staple, and take advantage of the growing American interest in dance tracks?  Good idea.  The Bee Gees moved to Miami and began experimenting. 

In 1975, they crafted a dance-oriented disco song titled Jive Talkin'.  To their surprise, it became their first #1 hit in four years.  Jive Talkin' started their comeback.  The band liked their new sound, so they stayed with it.  You Should Be Dancing was released released in 1976 and quickly became their second dance track to hit #1.

Robert Stigwood was pleased that his suggestion had worked out so well.  At the same time, he was surprised at the amount of interest in this unorthodox dance music.  Disco music was hardly his cup of tea, but Stigwood understood that success in this business was unpredictable and difficult to attain.  His advice was if it works, stick with it.

The script for Saturday Night Fever appeared on Stigwood's desk out of nowhere.  This huge break should be referred to as 'Luck', a wonderful accident so speak.  The moment he saw the word 'Disco', one can imagine his fondness for the Bee Gees played a major role in his snap decision to pursue the project. 

However, it turns that out that the Bee Gee's last-minute inclusion in the movie soundtrack would be the perfect example of that Robert Stigwood was the beneficiary of Dumb Luck in addition to his considerable Luck.




Nik Cohn was the next piece of the puzzle.  Born in London in 1946, Cohn got his start as a rock critic.  Always the clever guy, by the age of 18 Cohn was a fixture on the swinging London Mod scene of the late Sixties.  He partied with rock stars and hung out with his celebrity friends on tours. 

With an ear for gossip, Cohn figured out a way to make money off their fame.  He contributed briefings about mods and rockers to The Observer.  Along the way, Cohn wrote a 1969 book about the history of rock 'n roll in Britain.   

Nik Cohn had an odd claim to fame to say the least.  Cohn was a close friend of Pete Townshend, lead singer of the Who.  Cohn was an avowed pinball maniac and Townshend loved watching him play.  Cohn's obsession with the pinball machine became the inspiration for Townshend’s classic song Pinball Wizard

Cohn was an adept climber.  He parlayed his media position into a circle of important contacts within the British music business.  One of the men he rubbed elbows with was Robert Stigwood.  Since Stigwood was the manager and booking agent of the Who at the time, this illustrious rock band became Cohn's connection to Stigwood's business operations. 

Nik Cohn spent time on the set during the 1974 filming of Stigwood's film version of Tommy featuring the Who.  In the process Nik Cohn became a close friend with Bill Oakes, president of RSO Records (Robert Stigwood Organization).

In 1975, Oakes invited Cohn to come join him in New York.  After crossing the Atlantic, Cohn crashed on the couch in Oakes' apartment.  Cohn soon landed a job with Clay Felker's New York magazine to cover the New York music scene.

One night Nik Cohn followed a tip and took a taxi over to Brooklyn.  He visited a nightclub known as 2001 Odyssey, a Disco hotbed.  Previously Disco had been a phenomenon limited to New York's gay bars.  Cohn was fascinated to see this new style of dancing had migrated to a working class neighborhood.

Cohn's visit gave him an idea.  It seemed that Disco was spreading like a virus.  His experience with the music scene suggested there was a story here.  Cohn went back to Oakes' apartment and immediately started writing.

Cohn's first idea had been to pitch this idea to Clay Felker at New York magazine.  Then it crossed his mind that perhaps the Stigwood organization would be interested in his story as well.  As an afterthought, Cohn handed the story to his friend Bill Oakes and asked him to pass the story on to Kevin McCormick who was in charge of film development for RSO.

Kevin McCormick knew who Nik Cohn was.  The two men had worked together on another movie project.  The moment McCormick read the story, he saw the potential.  McCormick made sure the story reached the desk of Robert Stigwood.

Stigwood was sold from the start.  This story just might be the answer to the huge John Travolta gamble he had just taken.



After Nik Cohn finished his story, he went to work on getting it published by Clay Felker at New York magazine.  Cohn actually went to the trouble of tracking Felker down while he and several friends ate dinner one night at a posh New York restaurant.  Talk about aggressive!

Cohn told Felker his idea depicted a world of lower-middle-class, lower-IQ youths who lived in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx in the mid-1970s.  These teens and young adults wrapped their entire lives around Saturday nights in the Disco clubs. 

To Cohn's dismay, Felker just laughed in his face.  Ridiculous.  Then Felker rubbed in it.  With Cohn standing there, Felker embarrassed the young man by asking his dinner guests what they thought about a story covering the Saturday night dance ritual of young working-class Italian-Americans.

They all scoffed.  Who gives a flip about a bunch of poor kids who like to dance on Saturday night?  They had heard it before.  That story was as old as Beach Blanket Bingo, Motown and Elvis Presley.  Felker said forget it.  To him, Disco music was a fringe phenomenon exclusive to young people. 

Cohn was crushed, but he wasn't going to give up that easily.  He approached Felker's partner Milton Glaser who decided to champion the story.  Despite mixed feelings, Felker gave in and let the story run.  Nik Cohn's story, Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night, was published on June 7, 1976. 


Nik Cohn was about to get lucky, very lucky. 

When Robert Stigwood saw the article appear in New York magazine, he panicked a little.  He had just signed John Travolta to a million dollar contract and needed a movie for Travolta to star in.  Stigwood could not take a chance of letting this story get away.

Stigwood told his lawyer friend Fred Gershon that this movie could worth a hundred million dollars.  Gershon wasn't quite so confident, but negotiated rights to the story nonetheless.  To his surprise, Nik Cohn began playing hardball.  He had heard from his friend Bill Oakes just how interested Stigwood was in this story as a script for a movie. 

Previously Nik Cohn had agreed to $10,000 as the price for an option on his article.  Kevin McCormick was already on board to produce the movie.  To Stigwood's surprise, at the last minute another producer materialized who had heard about the story before the Cohn's deal was finalized.  Gosh, too bad, suddenly the price had gone up.  Gershon smelled a rat.  He suspected that Nik Cohn was pitching this story to everyone with a phone number.  Sensing they were being hustled, Gershon suggested that Stigwood back off.

Stigwood wouldn't hear of it.  He had to have this movie, so he personally took over the negotiations.  "I'm going to pay the kid whatever it takes."  Stigwood nailed it the deal down by offering Cohn a first shot at the screenplay for a guaranteed $150,000, as well as percentage points in the soundtrack album. 

Fred Gershon was aghast.  He had never heard of music percentage points for a writer.   Stigwood said this was at Nik Cohn's insistence.  Cohn was very shrewd.  Using his own instincts plus the inside knowledge his friend Bill Oakes unknowingly passed on, Cohn could see the soundtrack would obviously be important to a dance movie.  Cohn was indeed sharp.  This incident was very likely the first time a writer had ever gotten points for a music album, certainly when the property was little more than a magazine feature. 

Nik Cohn was a born hustler.  Now we know why Cohn pushed Clay Felker so hard... he was trying to run up the selling price of his story!  Cohn's greatest accomplishment was getting Felker to print his story.  Since Felker was dead set against it, Cohn had to move mountains to get Felker to move on his story.  However, once the story was published, Cohn was off to the races.  Now he had the credibility he needed to raise his asking price. 

Given Clay Felker's initial lack of enthusiasm, it is a small wonder the story ever got published.  However, even more amazing, the story was a complete fraud.  That's right... the Tribal Rites story was a total fabrication. 

Twenty years after Saturday Night Fever came out, Nik Cohn admitted the story which inspired the script was a fraud.  However Cohn swore he had a good excuse.  Cohn explained that he had run into a serious language barrier. 

Raised in England, Cohn complained he could not understand a single word the uneducated Brooklyn teenagers were saying.  Their accents and terms were such a complete mystery to him, Cohn gave up trying to understand.  He simply observed for a while, then went home.  Cohn decided to fib.  Facing a deadline, what else could he do?  Cohn said he based his story on Rebel Without a Cause

Put on your dancing shoes, James Dean.  "You're tearing me apart!"

Believe it or not, two years later Cohn changed his story again.  This time Cohn admitted the problem had nothing to do with the language barrier.  In reality, Cohn never even set foot in the nightclub.  On the night he visited 2001 Odyssey, just as the taxi pulled up, there was a fight breaking out on the sidewalk.  Cohn decided it was safer to stay in the taxi and watch.  To his surprise, one of the fighters lurched over to Cohn's cab and threw up. With that, Cohn told the driver to get him the hell out of there. 

As they drove away, Cohn caught a glimpse of a tall, confident figure standing in the club doorway.  Dressed in flared crimson pants and a black body shirt, the man was coolly surveying the action.  Cohn was impressed by the man's aloof demeanor.  There was a special quality to this mysterious figure as if he was operating on a different plane from the rest.  On the spot, Cohn had his hero.  He wrote a completely fictional story using 2001 Odyssey as his location and the unknown figure as his star.  

Cohn had once hung around a charismatic street hustler named Chris at a spot called Shepherd's Bush in London.  Basing his main Disco character on Chris, Cohn worked from there.  When Cohn was finished, he added a note that insisted 'everything in this article is factual.'

That, my friends, is the very definition of chutzpah.  Yes, sad to say, there was no real-life Tony Manero.  Just add Tony Manero to the list of Santa Claus, Easter Bunny and tooth fairy disappointments.

Nik Cohn had pulled off one of the great scams in literature.  Lying through his teeth, Cohn had parlayed a 15-page short story into a small fortune.  There were countless other perks as well.  As a reward, Nik Cohn got to hang out with the biggest stars and attend premieres with beautiful singers draped on his arm.  Not bad, huh?

Here's my favorite part.  During the Nineties when Cohn's career hit a stand-still, Cohn hit it big with his first mea culpa.  I assume he got paid for the story.  Then two years later, Cohn hit it big with another mea culpa.  I assume he got paid for that story too.  Who would have ever thought that lying could be so lucrative? 

Let's face it, there’s nothing quite like seeing the words ‘based on a true story’ in a movie.  Great selling point, yes?  No doubt there was much sanctimonious criticism when the truth came out that the entire story was imagination.  But in reality, there was only one real victim - Clay Felker.  Nik Cohn leapfrogged to the stratosphere using Clay Felker's shoulders as his springboard. 

Now we know why Clay Felker was so determined to pay everyone back with Urban Cowboy in return for being duped by Cohn's bullshit Tribal Rites in the first place.  The desire for redemption clearly burned deep in this man. 

I for one applaud Clay Felker.  There is some fascinating Karmic Justice in the way Felker parlayed being deceived and taken advantage into creating a fortune of his own.  Nice work, guy.




Although I consider Robert Stigwood to be an unusually Lucky guy, there can be no doubt the man possessed considerable talent as well.  His 1976 decision to sign John Travolta to a three-movie deal was sheer genius. 

Welcome Back, Kotter was a 1975 television sensation.  The show was based on a sarcastic, street-smart high school teacher who takes a group of incorrigible yet loveable teenagers under his wing and shows them the light.

From the start, John Travolta had been the undeniable break-out star of the show.  However, he was not without his critics.  Some suggested Travolta couldn't act his way out of a paper bag.  Ironically, since Travolta was a high school dropout, it was said he was just playing himself. 

Maybe so, but his popularity was off the charts.  Travolta could not go out in public without being mobbed.  By the second season, Travolta received more than 10,000 fan letters a week.

What was Robert Stigwood thinking?  Producer Stigwood had just placed a million dollar bet on this young TV star.  A million dollar contract for some kid with no longevity, no track record? 

The insiders thought Stigwood had gone nuts.  In the history of television, so far no one had ever made the transition from TV star to movie star.  Therefore the idea of paying a million bucks to an untested actor was quite a stretch, especially since many assumed that Travolta was barely more talented than Vinnie Barbarino, his dumb but sexy TV character. 

Fortunately, Stigwood was privy to something others were not aware of.  Stigwood had been a fan of Travolta well before Welcome Back, Kotter.  Back in 1971, Stigwood had auditioned Travolta for the lead in Jesus Christ Superstar

Although Stigwood noticed Travolta had oodles upon oodles of talent, there was one problem... Travolta was only 17.  Too young for the part.  Nevertheless, Stigwood penciled a note on a yellow pad: “This kid will be a very big star someday.

Around the same time as Travolta's youthful audition, Stigwood had his eye on something else: Grease.  Stigwood was a huge admirer of the musical that debuted in 1971.  Based on a hunch, Stigwood had taken out an option on Grease.  He planned to make it a movie after the play ran its course.

When Stigwood saw Travolta, he immediately visualized Travolta as a great fit for the movie version of Grease somewhere down the road.  Once Travolta confirmed Stigwood's initial instincts with his Kotter breakout, Stigwood decided to lock up Travolta to do Grease before the kid's price climbed any higher.  Stigwood was convinced that Grease was the perfect vehicle for the cocky teen heartthrob.

Then came the bad news.  Grease was suddenly off-limits!

There was a clause in the contract for Grease that said Stigwood's option would have to wait until 1978 in case the musical was still going strong.  Was Grease still going strong in 1976?  You betcha.  It was Stigwood's bad luck to take out an option on the longest running play in Broadway history.

No problem.  Stigwood assumed for a little cash, the producers would let him start filming sooner.  Wrong.  The producers refused to let Stigwood proceed early.  Uh oh. 

Stigwood was heartsick.  He had signed Travolta based on the gamble the show would be available soon.  It was 1976 and he would have to wait until 1978 like the option said.  To wait two years was utter madness.  Travolta was hot right now!

This was serious bad luck.  Or was it?  Stigwood certainly thought so.  However, anyone familiar with Fate knows that sometimes bad luck has a way of turning into good luck. 

In this case the Stigwood's ambitions were rescued when Nik Cohn's Disco story appeared out of nowhere.  Stigwood quickly realized that Cohn's story would be perfect for Travolta's talents.  Now wasn't that a nice little coincidence??  It almost makes you wonder if Fate was involved.




Robert Stigwood was in a serious hurry to take advantage of the handy appearance Cohn's story and Travolta's contract.  He wasted no time finding a director.  To his surprise, the talented John Avildsen was available.  Avildsen was chosen to direct Saturday Night Fever based on his recent work directing Rocky After seeing a rough cut of Rocky, Stigwood hired Avildsen on the spot. 

However, Stigwood knew he was taking a chance.  A keen observer of talent, Stigwood could see Avildsen was abundantly gifted.  However, Stigwood wondered why a director of Avildsen's caliber was available.  Was Stigwood missing something?  He checked around and discovered Avildsen had been fired from Serpico

In other words, Stigwood knew full well he was taking a risk with the temperamental director when he hired him. 


Sure enough, almost from the start, Stigwood regretted taking a chance on Avildsen.  To begin with, the temperamental director quickly insisted on hiring a temperamental writer. 

Avildsen wanted screenwriter Norman Wexler.  Not so fast!  Stigwood pointed out that Nik Cohn was already working on the script.  Avildsen replied that Wexler was a genius.  Did Stigwood want his movie to rest on the talents of an amateur with a 15 page magazine story or hire a proven talent? 

Stigwood saw Avildsen's point and relented.  Then he asked his director a question.  If this Wexler guy was so good, then why was he available?  "Because Norman Wexler is a madman."

Avildsen wasn't kidding. Wexler was a real-life Jekyll and Hyde.  A Harvard graduate with an IQ of 180, Wexler had done brilliant work on Serpico, a truly superior movie.  At the same time, his psychosis made him fearless with delusional grandeur.  He was a vicious, vindictive paranoid who was shockingly uninhibited. 

Throughout the filming, Norman Wexler terrorized various people on the set with his antics.  When Wexler was off his medication, he could turn very aggressive.  One day Wexler showed one of the female extras the .32 caliber pistol he was carrying.  He was trying to impress the woman, but it had the exact opposite effect.  No one gave Norman Wexler the slightest bit of trouble after that.  


No one in the industry would touch Wexler, but Stigwood had decided to take a chance.  Wexler was not only a genius, he was desperate for work.  Stigwood had a hunch Wexler was likely to pour his soul into the project.  Indeed, Wexler's script was so brilliant one has to wonder if his own pain gave him so much insight.  Wexler captured the bleak lives of the oft-struggling Brooklyn street kids far too well. 

In the meantime, Stigwood had growing doubts about director John Avildsen.  Rocky had just been released and Avildsen was getting a ton of press.  Perhaps Avildsen's success with Rocky had gone to his head.  Avildsen seemed to be getting John Travolta confused with Rocky's Sylvester Stallone.  Taking a page out of West Side Story, Avildsen told Stigwood he wanted to use Travolta for a big fight scene in the club.  Avildsen's vision was some sort of West Side Story rumble, the Disco version of Sharks versus Jets.  Stigwood,s assistant Kevin McCormick tried to explain this was a different kind of movie.  Trying his best to patient with the volatile director, McCormick offered a compromise.  Why not let some of the extras have the fight if it was that important? 

Avildsen wouldn't listen.  It had to be Travolta throwing the punches.  No one else would do.  McCormick asked the writer Wexler what he thought.  Wexler said the fight was not consistent with Travolta's standoffish character.  McCormick put his foot down and say no. 

Angry at Wexler for not backing him, Avildsen pointed out that Wexler was insane which justified bringing in another writer.  McCormick gave Avildsen the 'too many cooks' cliché, but it went right over the director's head.  Avildsen put his foot down, so now Saturday Night Fever had its third writer.  

Avildsen's next move was to irritate Travolta.  He decided Travolta was a rotten dancer and way too fat.  He told Travolta to lose 20 pounds.  When Travolta didn't move fast enough to please Avildsen, he brought in Sylvester Stallone's Rocky trainer to accomplish the feat.  Although Travolta was incredibly insulted by Avildsen's blunt criticism, to his credit, the actor decided to cooperate.

The final straw was the music.  This was a movie about music and dancing.  They were about to film, but there was no music.  Everyone noticed the problem, but they were so frightened of John Avildsen, they kept their mouths shut.  What was the hold-up? 

John Avildsen had been told to line up the Bee Gees, but had ignored the suggestion so far.  Why was this?  Avildsen could not stand the Bee Gees!  He considered them to be washed up has-beens plus he couldn't stand grown men singing in falsetto.  So he had chosen to disobey what was more or less a direct order. 

At the time, Stigwood was nowhere to be seen.  During the pre-filming stage, he was preoccupied trying to sign the Rolling Stones to his record label.  Someone in the negotiations was getting very greedy and Stiggy was sick of dealing with Piggy.  Finally Stigwood had his fill and walked away from the deal.  On the return flight to New York, Stigwood was still really irritated over the blown deal. 

So was Stiggy in a good mood?   Probably not.  The moment Stigwood learned that shooting was just about to begin and that Avildsen did not want to use the Bee Gees, he blew his top and began screaming at the top of his lungs. 

Stigwood could not believe Avildsen had refused to contact the Bee Gees.  Robert Stigwood considered the Bee Gees his protégés.  He had developed them from the start.  He owned their management, their record label, and their music publishing rights.  Since he had embarked on this project specifically to help assist the Bee Gees with their new Disco music career, getting them on board was a foregone conclusion. 

Try to imagine how Stigwood felt upon learning on the eve of filming that the Bee Gees were completely in the dark.  Furthermore, so far no one had agreed on a single song for the movie.  Stigwood was staring at a Musical without Music.  This was worse than the Sound of Music without Edelweiss or Do-Re-Mi.  Stigwood was at a complete loss.  What was he going to do without the Bee Gees?

Stigwood called Avildsen into his office for a meeting.  When Avildsen called the Bee Gees a bunch of washed-up white guys who sounded like teenage girls when they sang, Stigwood nearly had a stroke.  Just as the arguing reached a Saturday night fever pitch, the telephone rang.  It was Fate calling. 

Stigwood answered it himself and started to smile.  Grinning, Stigwood turned to Avildsen. 

"Well, John, guess what?  I have good news and I have bad news. 

The good news is that you have just been nominated for an Academy Award for directing RockyCongratulations! 

The bad news is that you're fired."


SUBCHAPTER 529 - dumb luck


John Badham was hired to take Avildsen's place.  However, amidst the chaos of this change on the eve filming, everyone seemed to forget there was still no music chosen for the film. 

Meanwhile the Bee Gees had no idea what was going on.  They were busy mixing a live album in the north of France

One day when Travolta was doing dance rehearsals, someone put on the Bee Gees song 'You Should Be Dancing,' a hit which had been released the previous year.  

Travolta said, 'Hey, that's a pretty good song.  Nice beat.  Why don't you see if these Bee Gee guys have any other songs?'

When Stigwood heard what Travolta had said, he had a panic attack.  Despite his direct orders, the Bee Gees had still not been contacted.  His heart racing, Stigwood immediately got on the phone.

Stigwood told the Gibb brothers that the song You Should Be Dancing was great and that Travolta liked it.  Then he told them a little bit about the movie... it was a low-budget film with Travolta playing the cocky dance stud surrounded by countless adoring women. 

Then Stigwood got to the point and asked the guys if they had any other songs they could contribute.  Or if they felt like it, maybe they could write the entire soundtrack.

The three brothers were fairly shocked.  This request was completely out of the blue.  The Bee Gees looked at each other and nodded, 'No way, forget it!

Feeling a bit guilty, the brothers spoke up.  

'Look, Stiggy, you can't just ring us up and expect us to drop everything we are doing.  You know damn well we can't just snap our fingers and pull a hit song out of thin air.  Besides, we have our own album to do.

We're sorry, but we don't have the time to sit down and write music for your film.'

With regret, Stigwood said he understood and hung up.  Stigwood was forlorn.  He wasn't mad at the brothers, but it hurt him to know he taken on this project specifically to help them and now the opportunity had gone to waste.

Afterwards the brothers kicked it around.  Barry Gibb pointed out that Stigwood had been their friend through thick and thin.  Even when things were rough, Stigwood believed in them. 

They started to nod.  It was true, Stiggy had always been there even when they totally screwed up their career.  With their conscience prodding them in the right direction, the brothers changed their mind.   In an extraordinary show of loyalty, the Gibb brothers stopped what they were doing and began to work 'feverishly' on this out of the blue project.

The thing is, the Bee Gee's sudden change of heart wasn't ordinary Luck, this was Dumb Luck.  Everyone had dropped the ball on the Bee Gees and yet at the very last minute, Stigwood got his guys on board with his desperate SOS plea.

I have wonder if Robert Stigwood was as curious about Fate as I am.  If so, he had to be embarrassed that Fate had to come along to bail him out. 

What happened next was crazy.  Once they got started, their imaginations were on fire!!  The three brothers wrote five songs in one weekend, every one them destined to be mega-hits.

Staying Alive
How Deep is Your Love?
Night Fever
More Than a Woman
If I Can't Have You

One week after the phone call, Barry Gibb handed Stigwood seven dance tracks.  In addition, two previously released songs, Jive Talkin' and You Should Be Dancing, were on the album. 

The Bee Gees would be rewarded beyond their wildest dreams when they became the featured artists on the upcoming blockbuster SNF music album.  The soundtrack became the top selling album in history until Michael Jackson's Thriller.

Ah, Fate and its twists and turns.  Destiny was breaking right for the Bee Gees.  Despite having no idea how their music would be used, these catchy songs would lead to an amazing comeback in their career. 

Thanks to their uncanny burst of creativity, the Bee Gees would soon become the hottest group on the planet. 




As we have learned, in 1976, like magic, everything came together for Robert Stigwood.  Three parts - perfect story, perfect actor, perfect music - fit together so perfectly that one might actually be tempted to give the concept of 'Synchronicity' a closer look. 

Synchronicity is a term synonymous with 'meaningful coincidence'.  To believe in Synchronicity is to believe in the old saying that there are no accidents.  Not everyone agrees with this far-fetched idea.  Synchronicity is one of those mumbo jumbo terms like esp, mojo, sixth sense and voodoo that skeptics relegate to the dustbin of pseudoscience. 

So is there any reason to believe in Synchronicity?  Good question.  In my opinion, the easiest way to make a case for Synchronicity is to point my finger at Saturday Night Fever


Not much was expected from this movie.  Keep in mind this was supposed to be a low-budget throwaway project.  All Stigwood was trying to do was keep Travolta busy until Grease became available.  And yet by complete accident, Stigwood was able to hit a gold mine with Saturday Night Fever because he caught three talents... Travolta, Bee Gees, and Wexler... at the absolute hungriest part of their careers.  Working together, Stigwood and his talented men came up with something transcendent. 

People might ask if anyone knew in advance how special the movie was going to be.  Bill Oakes, right hand man to Robert Stigwood, said that his boss was certain this was going to be a big hit.  However, to everyone else at Paramount, the success of Saturday Night Fever came as a huge surprise.  Before the release, the smart-ass muckamucks at Paramount thought the movie was a joke.  Oakes was especially resentful of their condescending attitude. 

"Paramount didn't care a lick about our movie.  They gave us an office on the lot the size of a broom closet and called Fever the studio's 'little disco movie'.  I could not stand that phrase. 

Senior executives for Paramount would visit the Fever set.  They would snoop around, complain about this or that, then ask disparagingly, "Well, Billy, how's your little disco movie doing?"  

The suits thought the whole thing was rather silly because they believed Disco had run its course.  Actually, there was some truth to that.  Back in 1976 when the Nik Cohn article appeared in New York magazine, many people in the music industry believed that Disco music with its repetitive electronic background and vapid lyrics was on the way out. 

In the years to follow, Saturday Night Fever was credited with kicking off the Disco Era, but in truth the movie breathed new life into a genre that was dying.  The point here is that Saturday Night Fever did not jump on a swelling bandwagon, but rather resuscitated something out of nothing.

Although I speak of 'Luck' as a major factor, there was clearly a great amount of skill involved as well.  One of the smartest moves Robert Stigwood made was to release the music before the film's debut.  This strategy was both innovative and brilliant.  No soundtrack had ever been released in advance before. 


Here is an anecdote that bears out the effectiveness of Stigwood's move nicely.  Michael Eisner, head of production at Paramount, was skiing in Vail, Colorado, two weeks before the movie opened.

"I heard Staying Alive at the bottom of the ski lift.  Then it was playing at the top of the lift and I heard it again in the restaurant at the top of the mountain.  Something was definitely going on, so I called my boss Barry Diller, head of Paramount.  I said, "Barry, what do you think?  Do we have a hit here?" 

Then the movie opened.  Travolta was the biggest damn thing that ever happened.  In the first 11 weeks, the movie made $11 million.  Over time, it would gross $285 million.  The soundtrack was not only the best-selling soundtrack of all time, it would hold the record for 14 years, an eternity in this business.  Someone really knew what they were doing with this music."

Oh boy, they sure did know what they were doing with the music, didn't they?  Let's wait till the last minute, then call the Bee Gees.

Well, if you can't be smart, then be Dumb Lucky.

Robert Stigwood caught a real break with the script as well.  Stop and think about it.  Nik Cohn had written something inauthentic off the top of his head, then insisted he be allowed to write the script as part of his deal. 

However, Cohn had little or no experience at writing a movie script.  Stigwood was fortunate that John Avildsen recognized the mediocrity of Cohn's work and insisted on hiring Norman Wexler over strenuous objections.  To Stigwood's amazement, Wacko Wexler took a fake 15 page magazine story and gave this low-budget movie a truly extraordinary script.

Avildsen told Travolta that he was fat and couldn't dance a lick.  Deeply offended, Travolta worked his butt off to prove Avildsen wrong.  The point is that the so-called disgraced director John Avildsen actually made a huge and largely un-credited contribution to the success of this movie.

However, the most incredible break of all had to be the inclusion of John Travolta.  It was uncanny how Travolta was tailor-made for the role as the cocky yet moody dance stud.  Dinah Manoff had this to say.

"There was an energy surrounding John unlike anything I had ever experienced.  It wasn’t even lusting.  It was being in the presence of something epic.  I had never been around a charisma that was at its peak that way.  I cannot describe it to you.  There is no other movie star I have ever been around who carried the energy John did in those days with Grease and Fever. And the funny thing is that John didn't even know how good he was.”



Every once in a while a movie comes along that no one expects much from, but somehow it becomes special.  Most people point to Casablanca as the best example.  In a similar fashion, Saturday Night Fever became a classic as well. 

Despite the low expectations for Stigwood’s scrappy low-budget Disco movie, this hard-hitting story of directionless youth with Travolta as the Dancing James Dean packed quite a punch.

Travolta was very convincing as the ambitious young man who yearned to make something of himself.  Saturday Night Fever struck a chord with audiences all over the world

The movie changed John Travolta’s life.  What Marlon Brando and James Dean were to the Fifties and Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison to the Sixties, Travolta achieved equal status in the Seventies.  Saturday Night Fever gave the decade its cultural identity and John Travolta became a pop culture phenomenon. 

Thanks to Robert Stigwood's gut-feeling about his boys, Fever revived the career of the Bee Gees.  Their original music score anchored the best-selling movie soundtrack album of all time.  

And the box office?  Saturday Night Fever would go on to gross $285 million.  Its combined box office and soundtrack sales would make it one of the most lucrative films in history. 

And yet lost in the all the hoopla was the original budget... $3.5 million.  Robert Stigwood truly had the Midas Touch.

As for me, considering the importance Saturday Night Fever had on my life, I studied Robert Stigwood with intense curiosity.  How do successful people become successful? 

In Stigwood's case, it was obvious that he had a keen eye for talent.  Another characteristic was Stigwood's willingness to bet on his own instincts.  Of course talent and original ideas are a pre-requisite to success.  However, often the difference between a successful person and an unknown is the courage one has to bet on one's ideas and take a calculated risk. 

Most of all I could not escape the feeling that Stigwood was lucky.  In fact, I am surprised at the number of successful people who cite 'Luck' as a major factor.  Many tales of successful people involve being in the right place at the right time.  Thanks to a lucky break, they were chosen for a position ahead of other people just as talented and just as ambitious.

To me, the story of Robert Stigwood is pure Fate.  At this one magic time in his life, everything turned to Gold.  Even when Stigwood screwed up... John Avildsen and the Bee Gees story for example... things worked out to perfection.  Personally speaking, I think someone up there liked Robert Stigwood. 

To me, the funniest thing of all is that the entire phenomenon started on a fake story.  Without Slick Nik and his brazen nerve to pass off a fairy tale as the Real Thing, Disco would be little more than a footnote as silly music from the Seventies. 

There would be no Bee Gees megahits, no Travolta superstardom, no Disco acrobatics, and no nostalgic Disco parties complete with ugly clothes, bad jokes and funny hair. 

All this because some English stiff made up a wild yarn and sold it as truth.  Barry Gibb once said to Nik Cohn, “This is all your bloody fault, isn’t it?”  Cohn just nodded.

I don't approve of Cohn's methods, but Nik the Slick was definitely Destined to be a part of this unusual story.  No doubt Nik Cohn was riding a Magic Carpet Ride of his very own. 

Nik Cohn definitely got lucky.  But you know what?  So did a lot of other people!  Stigwood, Travolta, Cohn, Wexler, the Bee Gees to name a few.  Throughout the behind-the-scenes story of Fever, I got the feeling that everyone involved suddenly became smarter, more instinctive and creative than at any other time in their life.  Everyone was at the top of their game. Using a sports cliché, it was a career year for everyone.

The way Fever worked out so perfectly defies the imagination.  In fact, so many things clicked, one might believe Robert Stigwood had the Wheel of Fortune spinning in his direction and brought everyone else along for the ride.

Do you believe in Synchronicity?





Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Life definitely has its ups and downs.  Here is a very curious footnote to the saga of Saturday Night Fever

Robert Stigwood's next project after Fever was a 1978 rock musical titled Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Robert Stigwood hatched a plan for a movie based on the legendary Beatles album.  As Stigwood was fond of saying, "There are a lot of ways to become a failure, but never taking a chance is the most successful." 

Stigwood had purchased the rights to use 29 Beatles songs for a play.  Now he was determined to do something with them in a movie.  The concept was to reproduce an MGM-style musical using Beatles music.  Unfortunately, this was a very complicated idea.  Stigwood made the mistake of hiring someone who had never written a script for a film. 


Financially, Stigwood came out okay.  The movie cost $13 million and box office was $20 million.  However, critically speaking, people considered the movie an embarrassment.

In 1978, the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton had both reached mega-stardom.  They sold millions of records, had their faces plastered on magazine covers and played sold-out concerts to venues across the globe.  Then this movie came along and made them a laughing stock for a while. 

Casting the Bee Gees and Frampton as stars of the movie seemed like a sure winner.  What better way to sell countless billions of records?  But instead it all went wrong.

A cursory look at the reviews should be enough to get the idea..."the film is humorless", "a film with a dangerous resemblance to wallpaper", "ranges from barely tolerable to embarrassing", "it just doesn't work", "quite possibly the silliest movie ever conceived", "mind-bogglingly awful".

When asked about the film in a 1979 interview, George Harrison expressed sympathy for Stigwood, Frampton and the Bee Gees.  He acknowledged they all worked hard to make Sgt. Pepper only to see their efforts bomb miserably.

Harrison went on to say of Frampton and the Bee Gees:

"I think it damaged their images and their careers, and they didn't need to do that.  It's just like the Beatles trying to imitate the Rolling Stones.  The Rolling Stones can do it better.  Now that I think about it, I don't think me and my mates could have saved this movie if we did it ourselves."


Robert Stigwood passed away in 2016.  His death allowed music critic Bud Wilkins to say what he really thought about Stigwood's Sgt. Pepper.  Here is an edited look at Mr. Wilkin's 2016 article titled Through a Glass Sparkly: Robert Stigwood and Sgt. Pepper.

"The recent passing of music impresario-turned-film producer Robert Stigwood motivated me to cast a cold eye back over his cinematic legacy.  Let us invoke Sergio Leone’s classic The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as a way to review the man's work.

The Good:  Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), Tommy (1975), Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Grease (1978).  These properties prospered, one supposes, in direct proportion to Stigwood’s non-involvement in their making.

The Bad:  The still-suppressed Moment by Moment (1978), with Lily Tomlin’s bored hausfrau romanced by an aimless drifter called Strip (Stigwood touchstone John Travolta), as well as a couple of ill-advised sequels, Grease 2 (Greasier) and Staying Alive (a baldly defiant statement of intent from House Stigwood).

The Ugly:  And then there’s what, by any yardstick, must be recognized as the absolute apotheosis of Stigwoodian awfulness: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band."


So what is my point?  In this tale of two movies, everything Stigwood did in Fever turned to Gold and everything Stigwood did in Sgt. Pepper turned to Coal. 

One movie... Saturday Night Fever... succeeded far beyond anyone's imagination.  The perfect script appeared at the perfect moment to take advantage of the perfect actor and the perfect music group all at the same time

Think of all the things that had to go right.  You had an unproven TV actor, a fraud magazine writer, a temperamental Diva Director, an insane script writer, a controversial mid-stream change of directors, plus a washed-up rock band who had no idea what was going on till the last possible minute. 

And yet everything broke right to turn what should have been a forgettable Grade B flick into one of the most famous movies in cinema history.  Everything clicked.  That, my friends, is the power of Synchronicity. 

Stigwood had the sense to stay with the Bee Gees, he saw the star potential in John Travolta, he understood the value of the Nik Cohn story, and he had the foresight to release the music ahead of time.  Seriously, anyone who can turn a $3.5 million investment into a $285 million bonanza gets my vote as some sort of All-Seeing Wizard. 

And yet how do we explain the sad fate of the pathetic Sgt. Pepper movie? 

Sgt. Pepper had everything going for it... big stars, big budget, great music, Stigwood's reputation... and yet it flopped miserably. 


In my opinion, Robert Stigwood was the beneficiary of an amazing run of Good Luck during Fever and just the opposite in Sgt. Pepper.  In the case of Sgt. Pepper, whatever could go wrong, did go wrong.  Poor Robert himself admitted he had some very Bad Luck with his Sgt. Pepper project.  Hmm.  It seems we all have our tests, don't we?

As for me, I strongly identify with Stigwood.  I take Stigwood's rise and fall seriously because his story reminds me of my own career.  Like Stigwood, I did one really great thing in my life... I created a wonderful dance studio.  There was a moment in time when everything I did clicked just like the Synchronicity of Saturday Night Fever.  It was an amazing time.  No matter what I did, it worked!  For a while there, I really thought I was the sharpest knife in the drawer. 


Then one day late in my career I decided to embark on a new project.  I had my skill, my experience, the proper location, plenty of funding, a great web site, a great mailing list, contacts galore, and a terrific reputation.  I could not fail.  It was a no-brainer.

However, the moment I started, everything that could go wrong did go wrong.  Looking back, I don't recall making a single mistake.  I did everything right.  I was prepared, I was polite, and I knew what I doing.  But it didn't matter!  Many small disappointments spread out over six months added up to the point where I realized I was wasting my time. 

Since I didn't need the money, I folded my tent and moved on.  At the time, I thought about Achilles.  Not only could I see Achilles staring incredulously at the poisoned arrow sticking out from his vulnerable ankle, I knew exactly what must have passed through his mind.

"Oh, for crying out loud, there is no damn way Paris could have hit my ankle from a hundred yards away!  Those blankety blank Gods did this to me!  I am sure of it!"

The failure of my second project was truly one of the most fascinating moments of my life because it made me humble.  Back at the start of my career when I was a hopeless klutz, I succeeded thanks to one lucky break after another.  Now at the end of my career when I didn't need anyone's help, I received one bad break after another and failed.  Very curious. 

I took a good hard look at my failure and came to one very important conclusion... if it isn't meant to be, then all the talent in the world won't make a damn bit of difference. 


The message could not have been more clear.  When I was young and foolish, I succeeded.  When I was old and wise, I failed.  By the laws of Reality, it should have been the other way around.  However, by the laws of Mysticism, what is meant to be is meant to be.

“What is destined will reach you, even if it be underneath two mountains. What is not destined, will not reach you, even if it be between your two lips.” 

Arabian Proverb


After my failure, what happened next? 

My failure helped me to accept it isn't what I want to do, it is what God wants me to do.  I once created the largest dance studio under one roof in America, but I know in my heart I could not have succeeded without Divine assistance.  That is the basic tenet of my entire story.  What I discovered is that talent, while important, is never enough.  God's Will is more important.

So what did I do next?  I was so dumbfounded at my failure, I was actually MORE CONVINCED in Fate than I had ever been in my life.  That is when I decided to write my book.  I decided my story was so preposterous, it needed to be told.

Writing Destiny has made me realize that maybe I am not nearly as talented as I hoped I was.  If it wasn't for all my Luck and Dumb Luck, I doubt my dance career would have amounted to much and this book would have never been written.

If one accepts the concept of Fate and Destiny, then the story of Robert Stigwood... and myself... can be summed up very easily.  When you're Hot, you're hot.  When you're Not, you're not.  There are some things over which we have no control.





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