Saturday Night Fever
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BOOK TWO

 


CHAPTER EIGHTY SEVEN:

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER

Written by Rick Archer
 

 

 


SUBCHAPTER 366
-
The Inside Story of Saturday Night Fever

 


Rick Archer's Note:

I am a strong believer in Fate.  Due to 100 unusual experiences from my life, I have come to believe my dance career was predetermined.   Magic Carpet Ride is the book I have written to explain the unusual circumstances of how my dance career started.  The key event was the unexpected appearance of Saturday Night Fever in December 1977.  This unknown sleeper movie became a supernova which launched my dance career into orbit.  Considering the movie's dramatic impact on my life, when I began to write my book, I decided to study the events that led to the movie's creation.  To be frank, I was so astonished by what I learned, I believe the making of this movie is just as much a Supernatural situation as the events surrounding my own story. 

Assuming I am correct in my conclusions, then I am hardly the only person whose life has been directly affected by Fate.  I daresay John Travolta would be the first person to agree with me on the existence of Fate.  But why stop there?  As we shall see, there was an entire boatload of weird curiosities surrounding Saturday Night Fever

Saturday Night Fever became the career-defining moment for eight different men - Producer Robert Stigwood, Actor John Travolta, the three Bee Gees, Story Writer Nik Cohn, Screen Writer Norman Wexler, and 'New York' Magazine Editor Clay Felker.

Seven of these men would become rich and famous beyond their wildest imagination.  However, not everyone thrived.  One man failed to make a dime.  Not only that, his career and reputation were ruined in the process.  Two years later, this broken man became the main reason I would one day own the largest dance studio in America.  But we will save the story of Urban Cowboy for later.  Right now, the recent 2020 HBO special on the Bee Gees parallels this story to perfection.  If you have not seen this special, you should do so.  It is very well done.  I decided to share this story because it will help you understand many of the events in the two-hour Bee Gee documentary. 

The story behind Saturday Night Fever serves as the most perfect example of 'Synchronicity' I have ever witnessed.  I understand this is a bold statement, so let me share the unusual story of Saturday Night Fever.  Then my Readers can reach a conclusion whether Fate played a role here.  I will be curious to know what you decide.

Rick Archer, dance@ssqq.com

 
 


SUBCHAPTER 367 -
PRODUCER ROBERT STIGWOOD

 

When it came to Saturday Night Fever, Robert Stigwood was unbelievably fortunate.  However, he wasn't just lucky, there is considerable evidence that he also benefitted from 'Dumb Luck', i.e. a situation when someone succeeds in spite of themselves.

Robert Stigwood (1934-2016) 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. 

Stigwood got his start in the mid-Sixties as the manager of future rock star 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 three Bee Gee brothers were in awe of Stigwood.  They described him as a creative genius with a very quick and very 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 effective." 

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.  I gave 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 Stigwood bodily from his chair, dragged him on to the balcony and held him by his feet.  Stigwood screamed as he looked 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 the son of a bitch!'

Stigwood went so rigid with shock,  I thought he might have a heart attack, so I quickly dragged him back into the room.  I 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. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 368 -
CLAY FELKER

 

If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere,
Come on, come through, New York, New York.

         -- Frank Sinatra, 'New York, New York'
 

Clay Felker (1925-2008) was the man who breathed life into Saturday Night Fever.  He was the embodiment of Sinatra's New York, New York.  If Felker could make it there, he could make it anywhere.  Coming from Missouri, Felker was an outsider who wanted to be an insider.  He succeeded royally.  As editor of New York, one of the city's most influential magazines, Clay Felker became the ultimate New York insider.    

Clay Felker was said to be one of the best-connected people in the media business.  A celebrated man about town, Felker made it his job to know every important person in news, television, politics, theater, music, fashion, Wall Street and Hollywood.  As his writer friend Tom Wolfe put it, "Clay Felker was the man who invented New York."

Throughout his career, Clay Felker was known as a 'trend-spotter'.  Felker's special genius was his ability to see what was breaking before anyone else.  Felker was quoted about his love for trend-spotting.  "Journalism is very often about the future.

This was a fitting observation from a man who practiced what he preached time and again.  Felker's passion was to stay ahead of the curve.  As a magazine editor, Felker understood the importance of reporting on interesting developments well in advance of his competitors.  Therefore he kept a keen eye out for stories that would capture the public's interest before they became obvious. 

 

Sometimes Felker went one step further.  He would see something that might be ready to happen, then authorize a story to cause it to actually happen.  Taking pride in spotting cultural trends before anyone else, Clay Felker reveled in providing the spark that lit the fire.

Intimately connected to the pulse of America, Clay Felker was one of the most influential journalists of his time.  Back in the Sixties and Seventies, Clay Felker was the legendary editor of New York magazine.  Felker not only helped found the The Village Voice, he also helped his friend Gloria Steinem start Ms magazine.  In 1977 Felker moved on to Esquire magazine. 

Subjects near and dear to Felker's heart were 'Status' and 'Subcultures'.  Or 'Haves and Have Nots' as he put it.  Status came first.  Felker was intensely curious about the rich.  Fascinated by ambition and social climbing, his preoccupation developed because Felker was a social climber himself.  He wanted to be just as famous as the people he associated with.  Felker believed he was defined by the company he kept.  Therefore he constantly surrounded himself with important celebrities.  In this way Felker expected to become a celebrity in his own right.

The method he used to make himself important was ingenious.  Fascinated by the nuances of power and status in the city, he found a unique way to obtain the inside information New York magazine was famous for.  Felker had a fabulous apartment at 322 East 57th where he threw the most lavish parties in New York City.  His parties were said to be the ideal place to rub shoulders with the rich, the elite and the talented.  Tom Wolfe joked that Felker's vast fireplace was such an inviting place to be noticed that 'fourteen status seekers would sit there all at the same time'.

 

Felker had paid his dues as he worked his way to the editor's position at New York.  In so doing, the magazine had become his baby.  Now that he was meeting the movers and shakers of New York City on a regular basis, he realized how obsessed with Status they were.  Felker understood their motto was to see the best and to be seen by the best.  Why not be the guy who brings them together?  Using his unique position, Felker was able to grant attention to many of the world's celebrities, people who were dying to be noticed as often as possible.

Felker discovered if he put important people from different power corridors in contact with each other, they would begin to gossip and unleash a treasure trove of trade secrets.  With a martini in one hand and a beautiful woman in the other, Felker would listen in as they exchanged ideas.  Any time the stories became juicier, Felker would snap his fingers to ensure another martini would be produced on demand.  Felker smiled as people dropped one story after another into his lap.  Felker knew exactly what he was doing... and so did his guests.

Felker became the quintessential New York insider with his swashbuckling air of confidence and his custom-made clothes.  Using his stunning movie star wife Pamela Tiffin as arm decoration, Felker had no trouble holding his own with the Beautiful People.  Due to the publicity his magazine generated, Felker's triumph was being as important to them as they were to him.

By making his parties and his magazine inseparable, New York became the direct extension of those smart Upper East Side dinner parties.  Every celebrity knew they could promote their latest movie or book by attending.  Every politician could test run their latest policies.  Every cat and shrew could exact revenge by dropping dirty tidbits.  Having obtained the power to elevate or reduce Status, Felker was now the city's ultimate gossip columnist.  Engaging his guests in juicy talk on topics such as politics, real estate, business, and prominent people misbehaving, Felker used his dinner parties to keep a close finger on the pulse of the town. 

 

On Monday morning, Felker would weave all the name dropping and gossip tidbits into his next set of stories.  He would keep his sources anonymous of course, but a cursory scan of his most recent guest list would typically suggest the likely identity.

Felker made his magazine a must-read for the movers and shakers of America's premier city.  New York magazine became the style guide for every hip artist, wealthy socialite, ambitious politician and shrewd businessman looking for an angle.  Everyone knew that each issue would contain something sharp, well-informed, and 'trendy'.

Felker's parties at his tony East 57th Street apartment were a popular destination for glamorous people vying for a cover story.  Others came in hopes of hearing a lucky Wall Street tip.  Everyone knew a chance conversation with the right person could lead to a career break.  No one turned down a Felker party invitation. 

Felker was curious about finding hidden nuggets as well.  Felker understood the sub-cultures were not going to come to him, so he was on the lookout wherever he went.  Clay Felker had a stable of creative writers to choose from.  As the ultimate 'trend spotter', Felker made it his business to notice something interesting, then go find one of his gifted writers to poke his or her nose into it.

 

"New York was the magazine that helped create the notion of the writer as star," said Ken Auletta, one of Felker's writers, to the Washington Post in 1993.  "Felker made his writers famous." 

Tom Wolfe was Felker's first breakout star.  New York specialized in reporting the heady confusion of the difficult Seventies.  Felker took special delight in stories where the Ins and the Outs interfaced awkwardly.  One such story was Tom Wolfe's "Radical Chic" which described a strange fundraiser for the Black Panthers at the apartment of famous conductor Leonard Bernstein.  Wolfe's scathing story, which coined the term 'limousine liberals', became a classic example of the 'New Journalism'.  Six years later, Wolfe would sum up the entire era when he called it the 'Me Decade'.

Gail Sheehy was another writer Felker encouraged.  Sheehy was an early feminist.  She first came to fame by writing about how women negotiated a Man's World during the Sixties.  Like her counterpart Tom Wolfe, Sheehy had a gift for the clever phrase.  Here is a classic example Sheehy used to describe aggressive women in singles bars.

"Booted, pant-suited, birth-controlled and pleasure-goaled."

Gail Sheehy's vivid 1971 reporting on hookers in New York was the perfect example of Felker's trend-spotting and reliance on his writers to bring the story to press.  Felker suggested to Sheehy that she investigate prostitution from a very unusual angle.  Gail Sheehy took the hint.  Putting away her notepad, Sheehy took to the streets wearing hot pants, white vinyl boots and a revealing top. 

Behind puffed up hair and too much makeup, the disguise worked to perfection.  Showing considerable moxie, Sheehy mingled with the working girls to get some straight talk.  What Sheehy brought back to Felker was an astonishing eyewitness account of the sex trade.  Sheehy's articles caused a firestorm of controversy.  It seems many of the city's richest, most powerful families and corporations benefited directly and indirectly from the illegal sex business. 

Sheehy's story and others like it created sensation and controversy.  Be it Gail Sheehy or Tom Wolfe, stepping on people's toes was a Felker specialty.  Someone was always mad at Clay Felker for something one of his writers had written about them.  This was what Clay Felker lived for.  It did not take long until Felker's magazine was on the tip of everyone's tongue.  Who would be 'Felkerized' next?

Tom Wolfe said that Clay Felker helped New York discover its own identity.  Felker also changed the face of magazines.  Be it drugs, counterculture, feminism, obsession with status, Clay Felker encouraged citizens to take a close look at themselves.  By noticing what was interesting about everyday places and people, Clay Felker became the inspiration for adding the Lifestyle section to the American newspaper, a feature we now take for granted.  

Gail Sheehy married Felker in 1984.  After his passing in 2008, she said her husband was an inspiration to many writers.  Sheehy pointed out that Felker presided as editing God to an explosion of creative nonfiction back in the Sixties... Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Jimmy Breslin, Norman Mailer, Hunter Thompson, Nora Ephron, Gloria Steinem, and Aaron Latham. And let's not overlook Gail Sheehy.  Her 1976 book Passages was named by the Library of Congress one of the ten most influential books of our times. 

Tom Wolfe, Felker's first superstar, turned a Felker suggestion into The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a fascinating book on the counter-culture.  Nor did he stop there.  Tom Wolfe went on to become a best-selling author with books like Bonfire of the Vanities and The Right Stuff.  Wolfe was eternally grateful to the man who gave him his start.  He never forgot who his mentor was.  In a 1993 interview with the Washington Post, Tom Wolfe called Clay Felker "the greatest idea man that ever existed.

 


SUBCHAPTER 369 - NIK THE SLIK

 

Nik Cohn was the next piece of the Saturday Night Fever 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. 

In a manner similar to Clay Felker, Nik Cohn parlayed his insider connections at these parties into a job.  With an ear for gossip, Cohn figured out a way to make money off the fame of his companions.  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 during the Sixties.   

Nik Cohn had an odd claim to fame.  Cohn was a close friend of Peter 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 social climber.  As journalist and media critic, he cultivated a circle of important contacts within the British music business.  After he became friends with Peter Townshend, it was inevitable that Cohn would rub elbows with Robert Stigwood, manager and booking agent of The Who.

The illustrious rock band became Nik Cohn's connection to Stigwood's business operations.  Cohn spent considerable 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).  As so the social climbing continued.

In 1975, Bill Oakes invited Cohn to come join him in New York.  After crossing the Atlantic, Cohn crashed on the couch in Oakes' apartment.  Oakes got Cohn an interview with New York magazine.  Cohn was hired 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 found it interesting that this new style of dancing had migrated to a working class neighborhood.

Cohn's visit to the Disco gave him an idea.  It seemed to him that Disco was spreading like a virus.  Cohn's 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 might be interested in his story as well.  As an afterthought, Cohn handed the story to his friend Bill Oakes and asked him to pass it along to Kevin McCormick, the man in charge of film development for Robert Stigwood.

Kevin McCormick knew who Nik Cohn was.  The two men had worked together on the Tommy 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.  Cohn's story might be the answer to this huge John Travolta gamble he had just taken.

 

 


SUBCHAPTER 370 -
SELLING THE STORY

 

After Nik Cohn finished his story, he went to work on getting it published by Clay Felker in New York magazine.  Cohn was an aggressive guy.  He could have waited to approach Felker at work the next day, but instead he actually went to the trouble of tracking the editor down while he and several friends ate dinner one night at a posh New York restaurant. 

Granted an audience, 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 it in.  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 rituals of young working-class Italian-Americans.

Understandably these important cognoscenti 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, The Twist, Motown and Elvis Presley.  Seeing the scorn on his friends' faces, Felker said forget it.  To him, Disco music was a fringe phenomenon exclusive to boring lower-class youth. 

Cohn was crushed, but he wasn't going to give up 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. 

 

When Robert Stigwood saw Cohn's 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 had already decided he could generate a script from Cohn's story, so he could not take a chance of letting the story get away.  Fearful the publicity generated by the story's appearance in Felker's magazine could start a bidding war, Stigwood wasted no time.  Stigwood told his lawyer friend Fred Gershon that this movie could be worth a hundred million dollars.  Gershon wasn't quite so confident, but negotiated rights to the story nonetheless.  To Gershon's surprise, Nik Cohn played hardball.  Cohn had the touch of a gambler in him.  Cohn had heard from his friend Bill Oakes how interested Stigwood was in this story as a script for a movie.  With his confidence bolstered by inside information, Nik the Slik raised the price.

Previously Nik Cohn had agreed to $10,000 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 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 every agent in town.  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 he wants."  Stigwood nailed the deal down by offering Cohn first shot at the screenplay for a guaranteed $150,000, as well as percentage points in the soundtrack album. 

Fred Gershon was aghast.  This deal was unprecedented.  He had never heard of music percentage points for a writer.  Stigwood said this detail was added at Nik Cohn's insistence.  Gershon could see that Cohn had been very shrewd.  Cohn had anticipated that the soundtrack would obviously be important to a dance movie.  Using his own instincts plus the inside knowledge his friend Bill Oakes unknowingly passed on, Cohn bet the farm on his Disco story.  Give the man some credit.  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 curious feature in a magazine.  

Given the interesting details, one might conclude Nik Cohn was a born hustler.  Now we know why Cohn pushed Clay Felker so hard... Cohn was in a hurry to run up the selling price of his story!  Cohn's greatest accomplishment was not the story itself, but in getting Felker to print his story against his judgment.  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.  Cohn had the credibility he needed to raise the asking price. 

Here is what is interesting.  Given Clay Felker's initial lack of enthusiasm, it is a small wonder the story ever got published in the first place.  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 movie 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.  Without any substance to base his story on, 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 had never once 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 just 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 in the doorway 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 Disco hero 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, the Easter Bunny and tooth fairy fibs.  Yes, indeed, Nik Cohn pulled off one of the great scams in literary history.  By lying through his teeth, Cohn parlayed a 15-page short story into a small fortune.  For the rest of his life, every time someone bought a Saturday Night Fever album, Cohn would hear the joyful ring of ka-ching, ka-ching.  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? 

 


SUBCHAPTER 371 -
the bee gees

 

Robert Stigwood had the magic touch.  He parlayed his early success in the music industry into ambitious 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 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a musical extravaganza.

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

The Bee Gees were an Australian rock group that consisted of three brothers, Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb.  The Bee Gees had gotten their start in the late Sixties.  With Robert Stigwood as their manager, the group quickly scored some initial hits such as 'To Love Somebody', 1967.

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.  By the time the mid-Seventies rolled around, the Bee Gees were toast.  As of 1974, the Bee Gees were being referred to in the past tense.  Rumor had it they were washed-up has-beens.

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 momentum, it is difficult to regain it.  On the other hand, one good hit is all it takes to get back on top.  Easier said than done.  The Bee Gees were terrific songwriters, but 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, but Stigwood stayed by their side.   Telling the three brothers he believed in them, Stigwood encouraged them to keep writing songs.  "You know what they say. The harder you work, the luckier you get.

After assuring his friends 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.  It quickly became their second dance track to hit #1.  The Bee Gees were back.

Robert Stigwood was pleased his suggestion had worked out so well.  At the same time, he was very 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.  It was 'Luck', a wonderful, serendipitous accident so to speak.  The moment he saw the word 'Disco', one can imagine Stigwood's fondness for the Bee Gees played a major role in his snap decision to pursue the SNF project. 

However, as we shall see, it turns out that Fate was about to throw a major curveball into Robert Stigwood's plans.  When it came time to create the movie soundtrack, the Bee Gees were unavailable.  Stigwood went absolutely apoplectic!


 


SUBCHAPTER 372 - JOHN TRAVOLTA

 

Robert Stigwood was kind of a lucky guy, but he also possessed considerable talent and instinct.  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 attempts to show them the light.

From the start, John Travolta was 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 was receiving more than 10,000 fan letters a week.

Stigwood had to have him!  Producer Stigwood was so convinced of Travolta's star potential that he had just placed a million dollar bet on this young TV heartthrob.  What was Robert Stigwood thinking?  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, no one had ever successfully made the transition from TV star to movie star.  Many had tried, no one had won.  Therefore the idea of paying a million bucks to an untested actor was quite a stretch, especially since many assumed that Travolta was no 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 17, much 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 on TV, he immediately visualized Travolta as a great fit for the movie version of Grease.  Now that Travolta had confirmed Stigwood's initial instincts with his Kotter breakout, Stigwood decided to lock the kid up to do Grease before his price tag climbed any higher.  Stigwood was convinced that Grease was the perfect vehicle for the cocky teen heartthrob. 

Then came the bad news.  Grease was off-limits!  Uh oh.  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 than the contract stipulated.  Wrong.  The producers refused to let Stigwood proceed early.  Stigwood was heartsick.  He had signed Travolta based on the gamble that Grease 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 Stigwood's ambitions were rescued when Nik Cohn's Disco story appeared on his desk 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.



 


SUBCHAPTER 373 - JOHN AVILDSEN AND NORMAN WEXLER

 

It was late in 1976.  Robert Stigwood was in a serious hurry to take advantage of the timely appearance of Cohn's story vis-à-vis Travolta's expensive new contract.  To Stigwood's surprise, the talented, but controversial John Avildsen was available.  Avildsen was best known for making the sleeper hit Joe.  Produced on a tight budget of only $100,000, Joe grossed over $20 million box office, making it the 13th highest-grossing film of 1970. 

Stigwood had wondered why a director of Avildsen's caliber and track record was available.  Was Stigwood missing something?  He checked around and discovered Avildsen had been fired as the director of Serpico, a movie with Al Pacino that was a surefire hit.  A keen observer of talent, Stigwood could see Avildsen was abundantly gifted.  However, Stigwood knew full well he was taking a risk with the temperamental director by considering him.  Stigwood decided to bring Avildsen in for an interview. 

Avildsen said if Stigwood had misgivings, why not take a look at Rocky, his most recent project.  At the time, Rocky was a couple month's away from being released in December.  After seeing a rough cut of Rocky, Stigwood was impressed.  Rocky was a movie about an underdog who succeeds against all odds.  Ditto the Travolta character.  In addition, Avildsen had a track record of turning sleeper movies into hits.  Ditto Saturday Night Fever.  Figuring Avildsen could do the same thing for the inexperienced Travolta that he did for Sylvester Stallone, Stigwood hired Avildsen on the spot. 

 

Big mistake.  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 said.  Nik Cohn was already working on the script.  Besides, if this Wexler guy was so good, then why was he available?  "Because Norman Wexler is a madman."

Stigwood raised an eyebrow.  "Why should I hire a madman?"

Avildsen replied, "Because he's a genius."

Avildsen explained that Norman Wexler's screenplay for Joe had received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.  Then he added that Wexler's screenplay for Serpico received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.  Did Stigwood want his movie to rest on the talents of an amateur with a 15 page magazine story or hire a proven talent?  Good point.  Stigwood said he would reconsider his decision.   

No one in the industry would touch Wexler, but Stigwood decided to roll the dice.  Wexler was not only a genius, he was desperate for work due to his bad reputation.  Stigwood had a hunch Wexler was likely to pour his soul into the project and he was right.  Wexler's script was so brilliant one can ask if his own pain gave him added insight.  Wexler captured the bleak lives of the oft-struggling Brooklyn street kids far too well. 

 

Avildsen was right about the genius part, but he was also right about the madman part.  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.  Wexler 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.  However, there was a silver lining.  No one gave Norman Wexler the slightest bit of trouble after that.  No one dared to disagree with Wexler on the slightest script issue.  With his script left untouched by lesser talents, Wexler's brilliant screenplay raised Nik Cohn's humble efforts to amazing new heights. 

Meanwhile, Robert Stigwood had growing doubts about his director.  Rocky had just been released and Avildsen was getting a ton of positive press.  Perhaps Avildsen's success with Rocky had gone to his head because he was getting John Travolta confused with Sylvester Stallone.  Taking a page out of West Side Story, Avildsen told Stigwood he wanted to use Travolta for a big fight scene inside the club.  Avildsen's vision was some sort of rumble straight out of West Side Story, the Disco version of Sharks versus Jets.  Stigwood's assistant Kevin McCormick tried to explain this was a different kind of movie, but Avildsen was adamant.  Trying his best to be 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.  When Wexler said the fight was not consistent with Travolta's standoffish character, McCormick put his foot down and said no. 

Angry at Wexler for not backing him, Avildsen pointed out that Wexler was insane.  What did Wexler know?  To Avildsen, Wexler's disloyalty justified bringing in a third writer.  McCormick said no to that too, giving Avildsen the 'too many cooks' cliché.  However McCormick's logic went right over the prima donna director's head.  Avildsen put his foot down and implored Stigwood to back him up.  Now Saturday Night Fever had three writers.  

Avildsen's next move was to irritate John Travolta.  He decided Travolta was a rotten dancer, physically soft and way too fat.  He told Travolta to lose 20 pounds and find some muscles.  If you're going to act like a stud, try looking like one.  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?  Where were the Bee Gees like Stigwood had insisted?  Indeed, John Avildsen had been told to line up the Bee Gees, but had ignored the suggestion so far.  Why was this?  Because Avildsen could not stand the Bee Gees!  To begin with, Avildsen considered the Bee Gees to be washed up has-beens.  Furthermore he couldn't stand grown men singing in falsetto.  So far, Avildsen had chosen to disobey what was more or less a direct order to hire the Bee Gees.  Not only that, he hadn't told anyone of his decision.

So here they were, ready to begin filming, and there was absolutely no soundtrack and no Bee Gees.  The timing of this crisis could not have been worse.  Stigwood was nowhere to be seen.  During the pre-filming stage, he was preoccupied trying to sign the Rolling Stones to his record label. 

 

Somebody on the Rolling Stones side of the negotiations was getting very greedy.  Stiggy was sick of dealing with Piggy, so he walked away from the deal.  On the return flight to New York, Stigwood was still really irritated over the blown deal.  So was Stigwood in a good mood upon his return?   Uh, probably not.  Now his mood was about to get worse.  Much worse.

As we recall, Stigwood had two reasons to pay extra for the rights to Nik Cohn's story.  First, he had John Travolta on board and needed a vehicle immediately.  Second, the Bee Gees were Stigwood's pet project.   Indeed, Stigwood had embarked on the SNF project specifically to help assist the Bee Gees with their new Disco music career

For more than ten years Stigwood had directed their management, their record label, and their music publishing rights.  Furthermore, Stigwood had personally overseen the Bee Gees' comeback by recommending they concentrate on Disco dance tunes.  Stigwood was so close to these three young men he felt like they were his own kids.

 

Therefore getting his protégés on board for the movie was a foregone conclusion.  Too bad no one bothered to tell the Bee Gees.  When Stigwood learned that Avildsen had refused to contact the Bee Gees, he blew his top.  Screaming at the top of his lungs, Stigwood called Avildsen into his office for a meeting and demanded an explanation.

Avildsen did not back down.  First he told Stigwood he could not stand the Bee Gees.  Then he called the Bee Gees a bunch of washed-up white guys who sounded like teenage girls when they sang.  Stigwood nearly had a stroke. 

That is when something very strange happened.  Very strange indeed.  Just as the arguing reached a 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 374 - dumb luck

 

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

One day as 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 major panic attack.  Despite his direct orders, Stigwood was astonished to find the Bee Gees had still not been contacted! 

Imagine how Stigwood felt upon learning that the Bee Gees were completely in the dark regarding this project.  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

His heart racing, Stigwood immediately got on the phone.  He reached the Bee Gees who were occupying a chateau in northern France.  They were busy mixing a live album.  They had never even heard of Saturday Night Fever

"So, Stiggy, this is a big surprise.  Tell us about your movie." 

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 but aloof 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, but better later than never.  After all, this was Stiggy, their patron, their compadre.  So they  quickly signed on, right?  WRONG.  The Bee Gees looked at each other and nodded, 'No way, we're busy, 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're 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 at a complete loss.  What was he going to do without the Bee Gees?  Stigwood wasn't mad at the brothers, but it hurt to know he had taken on this project to help them only to see this invaluable opportunity go to waste. 

Meanwhile, the brothers kicked it around after the call.  Barry pointed out that Stigwood had been their friend through thick and thin.  When things were rough, Stigwood believed in them. 

They all 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 unexpected project.

The thing is, the Bee Gee's sudden change of heart wasn't ordinary luck, this was what one would call '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.  What happened next was insane.  Once they got started, their imaginations were on fire!!  The three brothers wrote five songs in one weekend, every one them destined to be future mega-hits.

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

In addition, the Bee Gees decided their two previous dance hits, Jive Talkin' and You Should Be Dancing, should be included.  One week after the phone call, Barry Gibb handed Stigwood seven dance tracks.  The Bee Gees were now the featured artists on the upcoming SNF music album. 

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 become the hottest group on the planet.  Ah, Fate and its twists and turns.

As we now know, the music from Saturday Night Fever became the best-selling soundtrack album of all time.  The Bee Gees were rewarded beyond their wildest dreams when their songs made music history.  Not bad for a last-minute weekend effort. 



 

 


SUBCHAPTER 375 - SUPERSTAR

 
 

Every once in a while a movie comes along that no one expects much from, but it becomes special anyway.  Most people point to Casablanca as the best example.  In a similar fashion, Saturday Night Fever became a classic as well.  Despite low expectations for Stigwood’s scrappy, low-budget Disco movie, this hard-hitting story of directionless youth with John Travolta as the Dancing James Dean packed quite a punch.

By now, it is clear that Robert Stigwood caught one lucky break after another with Saturday Night Fever.  The perfect timing of Nik Cohn's story, Norman Wexler's script, and the mystical ability of the Bee Gees to write five smash hits in one weekend all suggest there was a special light shining on this project. 

Some people say Stigwood's most incredible break of all had to be the inclusion of John Travolta.  Wrong.  This was not luck.    Give the man some credit.  Robert Stigwood was the guy everyone in the industry laughed at for handing 'Vinnie Barbarino' a million dollars.  Who's laughing now? 

Not only did Stigwood see Travolta's potential right from the start, he also saw the potential of Grease to be a mega-hit movie seven years in advance.  Convinced the pairing of Travolta and Grease would be box-office magic, history has shown Stigwood's instincts were right on the money.  To date, Grease has earned $400 million and still counting. 

However, we also know the major reason that Grease did so well was its ability to tap into the momentum created by John Travolta's sensational performance in Saturday Night Fever.  It was uncanny how Travolta was tailor-made for the role as the cocky, yet moody dance stud. 

Actress Dinah Manoff had this to say about her fellow actor.

"There was an energy surrounding John unlike anything I had ever experienced.  It wasn’t even lusting  on my part.  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.”
 

Saturday Night Fever changed John Travolta’s life.  Travolta was wonderful as the ambitious young man who yearned to make something of himself.  Thanks to his performance,  Saturday Night Fever struck a chord with audiences all over the world What Marlon Brando and James Dean were to the Fifties and Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison were to the Sixties, John Travolta achieved equal status in the Seventies. 

Saturday Night Fever gave the decade its cultural identity and John Travolta became a pop culture icon.  For this moment in time, John Travolta was the brightest star in the galaxy. 

 
 


SUBCHAPTER 376
-
OBSERVATION 49

 


Rick Archer's Footnote:

Like Magic, everything came together for Robert Stigwood.  A powerful story, a gifted actor, and the inspired 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 the old saying 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 a finger at Saturday Night Fever

 

Not much was expected from this movie.  Keep in mind this tale 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 ask if anyone knew in advance how special the movie was going to be.  Bill Oakes, right hand man to Robert Stigwood, said his boss was certain this was going to be a big hit, but he was the only one with that kind of confidence.  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 Saturday Night 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 Boy, how's your little disco movie doing?"  

 

Oakes claimed that Robert Stigwood was certain the movie was going to be a hit.  One might ask if Stigwood had a sixth sense about this project.  After all, the Nik Cohn story appeared out of thin air the same moment Stigwood got the bad news about Grease being unavailable.  Talk about a good omen.  I suppose if something is meant to be, you are bound to get some lucky breaks. 

Stigwood was so lucky that even his mistakes worked in his favor.  Say what you will about Director John Avildsen, the man Stigwood fired.  Avildsen was wrong about the Bee Gees, but he was right about a lot of other things.  For example, Avildsen told John Travolta that he was fat and couldn't dance a lick.  Deeply offended, Travolta worked his butt off to prove Avildsen wrong.  Without Avildsen's prodding, would Travolta have given as good a performance?

Avildsen's criticism of the movie script was crucial to the success of the movie.  Nik Cohn had written a fairy tale off the top of his head, then insisted he be allowed to write the movie script as part of his deal.  However, Cohn had no experience at writing a movie script.  Stigwood was fortunate that Avildsen recognized the limitations of Cohn's work.  Avildsen insisted on hiring Norman Wexler over Stigwood's strenuous objections.  What a lucky break!  Wacko Wexler took Cohn's fake 15-page magazine story and breathed life into it. 

Norman Wexler gave this low-budget movie a truly extraordinary script.  His work was so good that Wexler won the 1977 Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay.  Meanwhile the disgraced director John Avildsen was given absolutely no credit whatsoever.  This is very ironic because without Avildsen's competence, the movie might have flopped. 

 

In the years to follow, Saturday Night Fever was credited with kicking off the Disco Era, but the truth was more complicated than that.  Back in 1976, the 'Suits' thought the whole thing was rather silly because the timing was wrong.  They believed Disco had run its course. Actually, there was some credibility to that sentiment.

When Nik Cohn's article appeared in New York magazine, many in the music industry believed that Disco music with its repetitive electronic background and vapid lyrics was on the way out.  People in the know said Disco was trending down.  What the movie did was breathe new life into a dying genre.  Saturday Night Fever did not jump on a swelling bandwagon, but rather resuscitated something on its way out.  So in that sense, SNF really did create the Disco Era.  Or perhaps we should call it 'Act Two'.  Thanks to the movie and its soundtrack, Disco achieved more widespread, mainstream, middle-America success than it ever had before.

Although 'Luck' was a major factor, there was clearly a great amount of skill involved as well.  Another smart move Robert Stigwood made was to release the soundtrack before the film's debut.  This strategy was both innovative and brilliant.  No soundtrack had ever been released in advance before.  There is an anecdote that bears out the effectiveness of Stigwood's move.  Michael Eisner, head of production at Paramount, was skiing in Vail, Colorado, in December 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.  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, everywhere I go, I hear the music.  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."

 

 
 

They always say that when you're hot, you're hot.  Robert Stigwood clearly had the Midas Touch.  Everything he touched turned to gold.  The last-minute inclusion of the Bee Gee music was just one of many 'dumb lucky' breaks for Stigwood. 

"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 go ahead and wait till the movie is nearly done with the filming, then call the Bee Gees.  Thank goodness it all worked out.  Due to Stigwood's gut-feeling about his boys, Saturday Night 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.  Lost in all the hoopla was the original budget... $3.5 million. 

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 prerequisite to success.  However, often the difference between a successful person and an unknown is the courage one musters to take a calculated risk and bet on one's ideas. 

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 who were 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.  The way I see it, someone up there liked Robert Stigwood. 

To me, the funniest aspect 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 crazy hair styles. 

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 clearly Destined to play a major role in this unusual story. 

Nik Cohn definitely got lucky.  But you know what?  So did a lot of 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 much smarter and more creative than at any other time in their life.  5 hits songs in one weekend!  Best screenplay of his life!  'It was like being in the presence of something epic.  I had never been around a charisma that was at its peak that way.'

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 yet?

 


MAGIC CARPET RIDE, PART TWO

Chapter EIGHTY EIGHT:  CROSSROAD

 

 

 


Rick Archer's Note:

As we know, a year and a half after Saturday Night Fever, Travolta went on to film Grease.  This became a second mega-hit  collaboration between Robert Stigwood and John Travolta.  But what about the mysterious third movie that the original three-movie contract called for?  I knew you would be curious, so I grabbed a segment from Chapter 178 of Magic Carpet Ride to satisfy your curiosity.

I hope you enjoyed reading my story as much as I did researching it. 
 

 
 


SUBCHAPTER 781 - A QUIRK OF FATE

 

To make a long story short, John Travolta had to beg the Movie Moguls to let him be in Urban Cowboy.  That is hard to believe, but it is true.  It all went back to the contract Travolta had signed with Robert Stigwood.  The contract called for Travolta to do three movies. 

  1. Saturday Night Fever
  2. Grease
  3. And, uh, yeah, that third Stigwood blockbuster. 

Out of curiosity, can you name John Travolta's third Stigwood movie?   If you are stumped, don't feel bad.  I drew a compete blank and I bet you will too.  The odds of getting it right are slim and none.  But if you succeed, I definitely want you on my Movie Trivia team. 

One reason no one remembers Travolta's third Stigwood movie is because apparently no one ever saw it.  Well, maybe a few people saw it, but they won't admit it.  Okay, either you know the answer or you don't care or you've finished looking it up on Google. 

Either way, let's get to it. 

 
 
 

Moment by Moment (1978) with Lily Tomlin was Travolta's third Stigwood movie.  This movie was an unmitigated flop. 

'The only thing they have in common is each other.

What utter nonsense.  They had NOTHING IN COMMON.  Any two people off the street reading lines from the script would have been more effective.  Cast as a 'May-December' romance, Tomlin and Travolta were mismatched stars from the start.  They had the worst chemistry in cinematic history.  Tomlin did not click at all as Travolta's cougar girlfriend.  No sizzle, just fizzle.

However, the thing that catapulted this flick from mere flop to catastrophic failure was an unanticipated bad break.  Lily Tomlin bore an uncanny resemblance to Travolta in both facial structure and body type.  Making matters worse, their matching hair styles made the weird resemblance impossible to miss. 

On screen, Tomlin looked more like Travolta's mother than his girlfriend.  It did not help that Tomlin was 16 years older, thus making the mother-son connection a biological possibility. 

The moment their icky hot tub scene screamed 'Incest!', everyone in the theater got a bad case of the heebie-jeebies.  The movie was so creepy, droves of people got up and left.

 

 

Here is the problem.  The moment you look at the pictures and think 'Mother Son', it is virtually impossible to go back to seeing them as romantic partners.  That incest thing just keeps screaming at you.  The Travolta-Tomlin resemblance was so obvious, one would think the director or someone would have noticed during the filming.  More likely everyone had the sense to look the other way, sort of like the 'Emperor's New Clothes'.  For crying out loud, will someone please give Travolta a crew cut or stick a blonde wig on Tomlin?  Either Travolta was guilty of seducing his mother or he was having sex with his older sister.  The sex scenes were unbearable to watch. 

The bad news was that no one went to see this movie.  The good news was that no one went to see this movie.  The movie was pulled from theaters as fast as humanly possible, but the ensuing criticism drove Travolta to madness.  Although his star power survived due to the movie's anonymity, his ego was seriously damaged by the withering negativity.  Many years later, Travolta was asked to comment on the Moment by Moment fiasco. 

 

Interview Question: 

"John, Saturday Night Fever turned you into a cultural icon.  What was your reaction to the impact of Moment by Moment?”

Travolta:

"I think with Fever, people were evaluating my impact more than they were my acting.  As for Moment by Moment, my God, you would have thought I had committed murder or something!  It was serious trouble. 

And the weird thing was that everything in my life up to that point, well, I don’t know of a career that had gone more smoothly and successfully than mine.  Welcome Back Kotter, Carrie, Boy in the Plastic Bubble, Saturday Night Fever and Grease - they were five major strokes that were 100 percent all right. 

Unfortunately, at the very peak, when the lights were on full and everybody was watching and waiting, here comes Moment by Moment.  Boom.  Failure!  And not just ordinary failure, but gut-wrenching, horrible failure.  I cringe every time I think about it."

 


Rick Archer's Note: 

As it turned out, Travolta ditched his upcoming role in American Gigolo.  The part went to Richard Gere instead.  Travolta did this because he decided he needed a tough guy role to revitalize his soft, rather feminine screen image.  So Urban Cowboy became his next stop.  As it turned out, Travolta's presence during the filming here in Houston and Pasadena created the same impact for Country-Western dancing as Disco dancing.  Saturday Night Fever jump-started my dance career, but it was Urban Cowboy that sent my dance career soaring into the upper stratosphere.  I owe a huge debt of thanks to John Travolta. 
 

 
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