LOS ANGELES (CelebrityAccess) Dick Alen, former chief of Willam Morris’ personal appearance department and longtime agent for Aretha Franklin and Chuck Berry, among others, recently communicated with CelebrityAccess to share some of his memories of the Queen of Soul.
“I spent 40 years with her. She was an icon,” Alen told CelebrityAccess. “It was always an interesting trip but that’s the story of show business and big stars.”
Alen, who retired about a decade ago, has booked some of the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll and R&B from Wilson Picket and Sarah Vaughan to bringing Julio Iglesias to the the United States for the first time. He’s also credited with being a pioneer in getting artists on the burgeoning platform of television and even for writing the lyrics to Pigmeat Markham’s “Here Comes The Judge.”
Alen’s two biggest clients of his career are arguably Berry and Franklin, both of whom passed away this year (Keith Richards knows Alen by sight because of how many times Richards has seen the Berry documentary “Hail, Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll,” in which Alen has a short moment on screen).
Alen shared with us some of his memories with Franklin a few years ago, which is why he speaks of her below in the present tense:
Refresh us on the “VH1 Divas” show and air conditioning. (The very first “VH1 Divas” show at New York’s Beacon Theatre featured Celine Dion, Gloria Estefan, Aretha Franklin, Shania Twain and Mariah Carey.)
She will not allow air conditioning to be on while she’s singing. Now that wasn’t a case of the Diva special.
They did the show at the Beacon Theatre in New York. Aretha is due to come into rehearsal at 2 pm. Don’t forget she always travels with four in security and a hair dresser and maybe somebody else as a companion so, when she comes in, there are always six or seven people.
So she pulls up to the side door of the Beacon Theatre, and I’m sitting inside with the producer, and she walks into the theatre and it’s cold because the air conditioning’s been on. She walks in 10 or 12 feet, sees it’s cool, makes a U-turn, goes out the door, goes right back into the car.
So I go flying out to the car.
“You know I won’t have the air conditioning on,” she said. “I’ll come back in when it’s warmed up.”
So she sat in the car for an hour. It’s a thing she insists on. Lena Horne was that way. Pearl Bailey was that way. Until you’ve been into a Carnegie Hall in August with the air conditioning turned off for the whole day, you don’t know what hot is.
So we got stage heaters, the whole thing, so the temperature is comfortable for her.
(Jimmy Fallon recently told on air an almost identical story about Franklin’s visit to “The Tonight Show” set)
It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, though
Well it is only in the fact that because she came in the wrong door, they had tried to keep the stage warm and the audience cool. But she wouldn’t believe that if you came in the stage door that it would be warmer.
Meanwhile, you’re doing a television show and you’ve got all those lights on – it gets hot when you don’t cool it off and you’ve got to have the audience somewhat comfortable.
We’ve had cases where we had to get the hallways warmed from the dressing room to the stage.
She’s a tough cookie.
Very much so, but very quiet. No yelling or screaming. Just doesn’t do it and goes back in the car, or dressing room, and says when you work it out I’ll come out!
I had another one with the David Letterman. Now on this one .. this show is known for being the coldest place on earth. The cameramen are in there wearing gloves. That’s how cold it’s there and the whole world knows it.
Now she knows it’s going to be cold. So in the place where we had her dressing room, it was like a sauna, with heaters in there. It was the hottest thing I remember since I left Brazil in the middle of their summer.
And on this particular one, one of the things she had done – this was her new album for Arista – and Arista had paid a fortune for her to do promotion. So along with everything else, they augmented the Letterman orchestra with about 25 strings which of course Arista paid for.
Now, as you know, what they do on Letterman is he comes out does his monologue then she was to come out and do her song with these 25 strings and then sit on the couch and talk to him. This was all a very important thing that she sit and talk with him, telling about her record etc .. and then to come out and do a second song after she spoke with him and after the next guest was on.
Well, she gets to the theatre and in the first place she won’t even go to the dressing room and sits in the car out on 54th street and sends word that she’s going to come in and she did the show with a fur coat on but she’s not going to sit on the panel and not going to do the second song.
So she finally comes in just when the show is about to start and she goes up to her dressing room. Meanwhile I’m going back and forth between her dressing room and Letterman’s producer who is a very unreasonable person. Well she said this and Arista said that !! Well, that’s all fine except she ain’t doing it. She’s going to go on that stage and the heater’s on the stage, she’s going to sing the song and then she’s going to leave the building. She can’t take it here.
Well, they just about rearranged the show while it was going on which was something they were very unexcited about.
You know, no dramatics, no screaming, just did not do it.
Do you feel appreciated?
Agents are always a necessary evil.
An agent, especially one with a big company, has one of the worst jobs in show business for this reason: The artist feels you’ve undersold him. They know they’re worth twice as much money and twice as many tickets as you put them in. The person you sold them to knows you overcharged them and that you’re making them go to a building too big whereas she can easily sell out so he’s mad at you.
And the other agencies, when the act is hot, is trying to figure out how to get the act to come to their agency. And in your own company, an agent in the big company has two jobs: one, you’re responsible for a certain number of acts – usually ones you’ve brought into the company.
You also are a booking agent where you’re booking a territory so you’re booking a quarter or eighth of a country so as you bring more acts in especially the money you generate for your agency goes up, your salary goes up. Your coworkers are slightly jealous. You just signed these three hot acts and they’ve now raised their salary. I’ve got to get something so that now my salary gets raised.
And sometimes it’s competitive in the agency. I told you on the Bruce Springsteen thing – it was signed by one agent but another agent in the office got closer to Bruce and so he moved over to be the responsible agent.
But you have been to her big birthday parties or fetes
Yes I’ve been to a number of them. If I’m in the city where she is, I’ll certainly go. But she just had a birthday last week in New York and I’m in LA and who wants to fly 6000 miles to go to a party?