Berle Adams


Berle Adams

Berle Adams (birth name: Beryl Adasky) was a music industry executive, best known as second in command at MCA.

He was born to Russian immigrant parents on the West Side of Chicago, Illinois, on June 11, 1917.

As a teenager at Chicago's Crane Technical High School, Adams became attracted to late night remote radio broadcasts of America's swing bands, including those of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet, Bob Crosby, Glenn Miller, and Benny Goodman.

While still at Crane, Adams began renting speaker systems and booking bands for his and other schools' proms and for neighborhood weddings, men's and women's benevolent organizations, fire department and chamber of commerce socials. (Musicians in those days earned $4 per sideman and $6 for the leader. Adams' fee was $6.50 a job.)

With a boost from young bandleader Al Trace, whose later recording of "Mairzy Doats" became No. 1 on the Hit Parade in 1944, Adams' fledgling career as a band booker flourished until the trade unions discovered his non-union free-wheeling and threatened to shut off his power in more ways than one.{cite}

Adams left the music business temporarily, married his neighborhood sweetheart Lucy Leven, and began selling life insurance door-to-door. (To get the job he had to be 21 so he convinced his school principal to write a letter verifying his birthdate as six months earlier than the actual date.) Insurance sales during the Depression proved less than satisfying. Adams talked his way into a job for tiny Varsity Records, attempting to gain space on the city's jukeboxes for the company's little-known artists in competition with stars who were recording for industry giants like RCA Victor and Decca.

A meeting with Art Weems, brother of bandleader Ted Weems and an agent for General Artists Corporation (GAC) resulted in Adams being hired by GAC as office boy at $20 a week.

At GAC, Adams busied himself studying the one-night band booking practices of GAC's Joe Shribman and determined to become an agent. In one of his earliest efforts he managed to introduce bandleader Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five to Chicago café lounges in May 1941, and his career as agent was underway. He was 24 years old.

The Jordan association lasted nine years and solidly established the careers of both men.

Over the next few years Adams represented clarinetist Jimmy Noone, saxophonists Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, boogie woogie stylists Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, Fats Waller, Art Tatum, and young saxophonist Illinois Jacquet.

Adams booked road dates for Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, Charlie Spivak, Claude Thornhill, Nat King Cole, the Andrews Sisters, Joe Venuti, and Jimmy Dorsey until 1943, when he left GAC to become Jordan's personal manager and established the Berle Adams Agency.

Adams built Jordan's career, moving from club dates in Kansas City and Chicago's Savoy Ballroom to municipal auditoriums, ballrooms, warehouses in the South, black theaters such as Chicago's Regal, and eventually—in a breakthrough—major integrated urban theaters such as the giant State Theater in Hartford, Connecticut, the Paramount in New York City, the Oriental Theater in downtown Chicago, and the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco. Everywhere the band sold out the house. Their recordings with Decca Records produced a stream of hits, including the first recording of "Caldonia," "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens," "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby," and "Let the Good Times Roll,"

The Jordan band was at various times enhanced by the talents of Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Ruth Brown, Paula Watson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and other gifted singers, all signed by Adams.

In 1943 the Jordan band made a series of "soundies", three-minute black-and-white films each featuring one tune and followed with four feature films aimed at America's black audiences.

In 1944 Adams established the Champagne Music and Preview Music publishing companies and the next year he formed the Mercury Radio and Television Company, which became Mercury Records, with partners Irving Green, Ray Greenberg, and marketing-advertising whiz Art Talmadge of the Music Corporation of America (MCA).

Mercury soon began recording Erroll Garner, Dinah Washington, Frances Langford, Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, Tony Martin, and employing Mitch Miller and Norman Granz as producers. Miller persuaded actor John Garfield to narrate for the Mercury label Malcolm Child's children's tale of racial intolerance, "Herman Ermine in Rabbit Town," with music by Alec Wilder. The rare album is today a collector's item.

In 1947Fact|date=July 2007 , Mercury recorded Frankie Laine's version of a 1931 tune, "That's My Desire," and it became the legendary singer's first hit, leading to another, "Lucky Old Sun," and making Laine a national star. Other successes followed at Mercury, including 20-year-old Vic Damone's "I Have But One Heart," which launched the singer's career.

In 1947, health problems induced Adams to leave Chicago's bitter winters and move to Los Angeles. He resigned from Mercury Records and headed west with wife Lucy and young children Helen and Richard.

In his new setting, Adams soon became the booking agent for singer Kay Starr.

In 1950, Adams' career took a giant leap when Lew Wasserman, president of MCA, hired him to join the entertainment giant founded in the mid-1920s by Dr. Jules Stein.

Adams was to remain at MCA for 20 years. He began, simply enough, by booking for television and appearances in Las Vegas such stars as Jane Russell, Dinah Shore, Phil Harris, Jack Carson, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

Booking talent for local TV in Los Angeles led to assignments in network TV. Adams worked closely with Ralph Edwards ("The Ralph Edwards Show") in developing a creative packaging arrangement with NBC whereby the host talent—Edwards—formed a corporation and licensed a particular show with the network for a predetermined figure and paid the producer, director, and star guests, as well as all of the "below-the-line" or backstage personnel himself. The virtue of packaging lay in the creative control retained by the host and in tax advantages afforded corporations.

With Adams leading the way, Edwards moved on to "This Is Your Life,' which became a wildly successful show from 1952-61 and again a decade later, and to "Place the Face" and "It Could Be You."

"Queen for a Day," with Jack Bailey as host, became Adams' next hit, running both as a daytime show and prime time entertainment from 1956-64 and enjoying a brief revival in 1969.

Adams signed Tennessee Ernie Ford to an MCA contract and the deep-voiced singer's Tennessee Ernie Ford show played weekly on NBC from 1956-61, when the folksy star decided to retire while still at the top of his game.

Adams' chief responsibility for MCA became the packaging of new programs and negotiation of their contracts. In 1957 he went to Europe for the first time to create MCA's international TV division but still managed to keep his eye out for fresh talent that could be packaged for television. He signed stand-up comic Bob Newhart, booked him into clubs, and soon sold "The Bob Newhart Show" to NBC. The show ran for only one year but won a Peabody Award and an Emmy nomination.

The 1960s was the decade of greatest creative energy and achievement in Adams' career. He became the MCA agent for Jack Benny, Rosemary Clooney, Eddie Fisher, Dinah Shore, Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear, Andy Williams, Dorothy Dandridge, Canadian comedians Wayne and Schuster, Charles Laughton, and Alfred Hitchcock. He convinced Marlene Dietrich to star in a revue that would cross the country in 16 weeks. He negotiated MCA's contract to represent the new American Football League and in 1963 helped long-time MCA colleague David A. ("Sonny") Werblin acquire the New York Titans franchise of the AFL from former announcer Harry Wismer. Werblin changed the team name to the Jets, two years later drafted Joe Namath out of the University of Alabama, and the Jets were on their way to the Super Bowl.

A lifelong sports fan, Adams one day was attracted by the sight of a golfer on TV who seemed to be a natural showman. Working through pioneer sports agent and attorney Mark McCormack, Adams signed Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus for a weekly one-hour nationally broadcast " Challenge Golf" show.

In 1962, after MCA had bought Decca Records, which owned Universal Pictures, the entertainment giant left the talent agency business for film and television production and distribution. Wasserman asked Adams, now an MCA vice-president, to streamline the film studio's 30 distribution offices around the world in the interest of economy. Adams visited each of the domestic and foreign offices and successfully reduced the number of offices to eight.

Adams negotiated the purchase of Leeds Music, bringing MCA the copyrights to such pop classics as "I'll Remember April," "I'll Never Smile Again," "The Girl from Ipanema," "La Vie en Rose," and many other pop standards. He established a new MCA music company, UNI Records, and signed The Who, Neil Diamond, Elton John, and Olivia Newton-John to recording contracts. In England, under MCA's Decca label, Adams and MCA colleague Brian Brolly signed Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to a contract to record the score of their early hit, Jesus Christ Superstar.

Adams convinced Ethel Merman, Danny Kaye, Gene Kelly, and Fred Astaire each to appear in television specials. An Evening with Fred Astaire won nine Emmys.

The prospect of enhancing foreign sales of MCA's television productions took Adams, accompanied by his wife Lucy, to London, Paris, Rome, Lima, Mexico City, Toronto, Tokyo, and Sydney, where he opened offices for MCA and MCA 's one hour and 90 minute dramatic anthologies, action series, comedies, and musicals in those foreign markets. Everywhere he went he met with success, Lucy serving as charming and knowledgeable hostess in each foreign encounter.

In October 1969, Adams, now executive vice-president of MCA and second in company earnings only to Wasserman, found himself at the center of an internal power struggle within the company. Lew Wasserman urged "voluntary retirement," the magnate's euphemism for dismissal. Adams' 20-year career with MCA ended formally in early 1971.

He formed a corporation, BAC Inc., and for a couple of years following his termination, Adams served on the boards of KCET public television in Los Angeles and TelePrompTer. He was retained by ARA, Inc., as consultant and negotiated the sale of the Spectrum arena in Philadelphia.

In 1973 Adams joined the William Morris Agency and during a short interval there directed the marketing of events surrounding Henry Aaron's 715th home run, surpassing the career record of Babe Ruth.

In 1978 he was executive producer for "The Brass Target," a feature film starring Sophia Loren, John Cassavetes, George Kennedy, Robert Vaughan, and Max von Sydow.

In his later active years as head of BAC Inc., Adams distributed the TV specials of George Burns, Dolly Parton, Neil Diamond, Goldie Hawn, Cher, Dean Martin, Liberace, and Nat King Cole, among others.

For 24 years he was the sole distributor of TV's Emmy Awards show to more than 100 countries.

Lucy Adams died of cancer on April 1, 1990. Both she and her husband had, long before her illness, become interested in cancer research. Adams joined Cancer Research Associates, the support group of the University of Southern California's Norris Cancer Center and Hospital, and in 1985 he became the organization's president. The Adams family—Berle, his children Helen and Richard, and their families, have established the Berle and Lucy Adams Chair in Cancer Research at USC's Keck School of Medicine.

In 1995, Adams privately published his autobiography, Sucker for Talent.

Fully retired, Adams lives with his partner, Claire Pasarow, in Beverly Hills, California.


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