I drove out to Century City with Bill Hertz the next morning. The main drag is famed for its high–rise buildings, high–income tenants, and sky–high rents. The price for services rendered from the inhabitants made sure their silver–lined clouds were filled with gold. I had scraped together $5,000 and hoped that would be enough to get things started if Martin Bernstein turned out to be all Bill promised. He was said to know his way around Federal Court; Bill had once run up against him in a civil matter and been soundly defeated.
We met Martin in his office and, after the necessary amenities, adjourned to a glitzy restaurant on nearby Pico Boulevard to discuss my case. The dining room was the entire top floor of an elegant building with an enviable view of downtown Los Angeles. Just another business lunch for Martin; I picked up the first of many tabs in the years to come. The striking feature about Martin Bernstein, aside from the fact that he looked remarkably like actor Keenan Wynn, was his nose. It was almost too big, but definitely bulbous. He would meet Paul soon; my partner noted that characteristic, and from that moment on we referred to Martin as, “The Bulb.”
Slick and smooth was how Martin wanted to come across; he probably succeeded with most. I thought “slimy” more appropriate. That wasn’t a bad thing; I preferred a shyster to someone steeped in ethics. A criminal lawyer is simply a criminal who happens to be a lawyer. I gave Martin an overview of what Paul and I had done the last three years, mentioning the “cease–and–desist” letter from RCA, and then ran through my notes from the FBI invasion two days prior; Bill and Martin paid close attention. When I finished, Martin launched into a bombastic oratory that was meant to impress; I was only interested in his capabilities. Relying on what Bill said, I decided to hire Martin; I hadn’t heard a number mentioned yet but I figured I had enough with me to get serious.
“They haven’t charged you with a thing; that is very important. They were hoping you would give them information. You gave them nothing and it will take them some time to work up a case, if they have one at all. I’ll make noise down at the Federal Prosecutor’s office; they won’t be happy to see that I represent you. If they do intend to charge you we will ask for a speedy trial; they can’t have much and we don’t want to give them time to get anything more. As soon as I have $10,000 I can start.”
Ten grand! Yikes, that was double my estimate. I handed over $6,500, the extra being what I needed to pay a pressing bill at Waddell’s, and promised that the rest would be forthcoming from Paul. We all stood, shook hands, and Martin left. Bill and I were left staring at the check. I promised Bill I would pay him back next week; I was tapped. We talked about things on the way back to Glendale; Bill assured me that Martin, although he came on strong, was a force to be reckoned with in Federal Court. I hoped Bill was right; I didn’t mind paying for anything as long as I got my money’s worth.
I called Paul when I got home, ran over all the details of the meeting, and he said he would get a check off to Martin the next day. Paul must have misunderstood me, for he sent a check for $5,000. Thus, Martin was overpaid $1,500. A week later, sitting in Martin’s office waiting to go to lunch, I mentioned this and asked him to reimburse the overpayment. He said he would do that as soon as Paul’s check cleared. We had another expensive lunch at a different but equally posh restaurant, no shortage of those in the Century City area, and talked about the case in general. “I confronted the Federal Prosecutor, told him we were ready, and to proceed or back off. He knows I don’t bluff, we should be hearing something soon.” Martin said he needed to meet with Paul; he was representing both of us. Paul couldn’t fly out to California, so I flew Martin back to Maryland. Total cost for his services: $1,500, in advance. With the airfare, hotel, and taxis, we were out another $2,000.
Paul wasn’t impressed by much more than the nose. He wound up getting his own lawyer. I met “The Bulb” a few more times in the months ahead. All that really happened was I had some tasty and expensive lunches. I asked for the refund repeatedly and the excuses ranged from, “I left my checkbook at home” to “I left my checkbook in the glove compartment and the car won’t be back from servicing until tomorrow. My wife is picking me up tonight.” There were others, more creative and less believable, but it was obvious Martin wasn’t letting go of the money. The thought of convincing him it was in his best interest to do so by showing him a couple tricks I’d learned during my Special Forces training crossed my mind. However, I needed this man right now. Best to wait.
The main development was that nothing developed. The “case” seemed to disappear. I would like to think that Martin’s bluster had something to do with it, probably not. Paul and I were in Limbo; all we could do for the time being was keep on with efforts to reduce our inventory. That we did, with more mailings and a couple special offers. We remastered the Dorsey LP and offered it for $3, postage included, to those who had previously purchased it. The upgrade was worth the charge, and it was obvious we weren’t out to make money. A few boxes of the new Dorsey album emptied, along with a bunch of the “Got a Lot O’ Livin’ To Do!” that were sold for $5 apiece, all proceeds to the American Cancer Society. That was done for two reasons: it made us feel good and it also made us look good. Looking good to someone other than Elvis fans could be important in the days to come.
One other change had to be made; there was no sense in my playing sitting duck. The FBI, like any government agency, has unlimited resources, all the time they need, and an unlimited budget——your tax dollars at work. Whether we thought it was a bunch of pettifoggery or not, they were serious. Government hacks, plying a hackneyed trade, but a mighty, mighty bunch of mice. With that in mind, coupled with the fact that a month had passed since my All–American–Boy had dropped in to not have lunch and Paul still had not heard from them, we decided to let Paul take care of the shipping. All our LPs were in three garages, plus the shipping room we rented from Mr. Paperback on Brand Boulevard in Glendale. Paul had said, repeatedly, that he would be glad to take on more work. Logistically, it made no sense to send him product to mail. I had experienced help and, except for the huge influx of orders after Elvis’ death, was able to get all orders sent within a couple days of receipt. Times had changed; Paul would be shipping the records for the foreseeable future. I sent him 90,000 LPs via Yellow Freight; the cost was just six cents per records. Three double–LPs and the four–LP box set accounted for 56,000 of those discs, and the number of each title varied according to sales strength. I processed orders daily and sent Paul the address labels with abbreviations denoting what the contents would be. The time from receipt of an order to shipment was extended from one or two days to five or six. Our high standards were maintained; our customers would still enjoy the fastest turnaround in the mail–order business.
We had two albums ready that we could release at any time; this just wasn’t the time. “The ’68 Comeback Vol. 2” and “Aloha Rehearsal Show” would wait until we were sure we wouldn’t stir up a hornet’s nest. For all we knew our activities were being closely monitored. If charges were brought we could put those albums out immediately and have one last fling. By the end of September we were beginning to think that all might be well. We needed to make a decision: do we slink away or come out swinging?
That was answered by how we had spent the extra time available during the summer. Without running around and taking care of all the details necessary to bring an album together, from initial tape to finished LP, there was time to search for what had eluded us thus far. When I first began to look for the three Dorsey shows that Paul needed, I thought of film labs. Perhaps the kinescopes might be collecting dust on some Hollywood shelves. I went from one lab to the next, all over Hollywood and The Valley, to no avail. That was the search that led me to Eddie DeRoo; his lab later processed all the films we offered. Eddie had a list of what we were still looking for: the Frank Sinatra “Welcome Home Elvis” TV special, the medley from the third Sullivan show, and Elvis’ first Milton Berle appearance. I saw Eddie every week when I stopped by to pick up film orders. He was now out in the valley in a modern facility and had changed the business name from Hollywood Cine Labs to Hollywood Video Labs. Videotape was all the rage in L.A. and New York, and it would soon sweep the country. Carl did our videos for much less than Eddie charged; but the demand for film was still strong and Eddie and I did steady business. On one of these trips Eddie told me of a customer who mentioned Elvis tapes and wondered if Eddie knew anyone who might be interested.
It turned out to be nothing, the material was just tapes taken from some old bootlegs and the quality was atrocious. Tracking down every lead was important, however, and this one led me to a trip to Venice Beach some months later where I would meet Phil Ochs’ brother. For now, I concentrated on tracking down other engineers who worked at Radio Recorders when the now infamous “move” took place. Sometimes it takes a while for the light bulb to go on. One usually wonders, ”How could I have been so dumb?” I had an address for two former employees and drove out there to find the place vacant. None of the neighbors knew where they went. That was four months ago; it took that long for it to dawn on me that I could go to their local post office and pay $1 to see if a forwarding address was on file. For someone with a mail order business that depended on accurate and up–to–date addresses this should have been obvious. “I was busy.” is the lame excuse I made to myself.
I had a new address to check and it proved to be a winner. Two of the engineers shared an apartment in Van Nuys; both had some tapes. There were ten more in all, and they contained material from two movies we already had outtakes from, “Blue Hawaii” and “Paradise, Hawaiian Style,” plus two that were new to us, “Kid Galahad” and “Flaming Star.” Word travels fast, and I still wonder why these people had never contacted me. They knew I had purchased tapes from the engineer on Melrose Avenue for $500 each; that was the price they wanted. I know I left information about where to get in touch with me; they claimed they didn’t know how and hoped I would eventually find them. I did, and the timing was better than it would have been if we had all these tapes when we put together “Behind Closed Doors.”
My dad really liked that box set. The folks came out to visit us in the summer of 1979. It was just three weeks after “All–American Boy” stopped by; I didn’t mention it to them. They wanted to see our new house and play with their grandchildren. Vicki wasn’t exactly thrilled; she and my mother never did get along that well. My mother couldn’t quite get over the fact that Vicki was pregnant when we got married; Vicki didn’t like being told how to do things in her own house. That was my mother, product of a different generation; she didn’t understand that not everything was her business. As far as she was concerned, her way, the right way, was the only way. She had a good heart; she had to in order to put up with me through the years. Just don’t ever tell he she was wrong; that she couldn’t fathom.
We did Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Universal Studios, standard stuff when company called. The kids loved it; they would have gone to Disneyland and Knott’s twice a week. What kid wouldn’t? Hanging around the house was the tough part; feathers started to get ruffled. Time for the old standby; time to go to Vegas. The Desert Inn was my favorite; my depression–era parents had never stayed in a hotel like the ones found on “The Strip.” We saw Liberace, a treat for my dad who was a child prodigy violinist and loved the classical tunes that Mr. Showman featured. Dad was a big Elvis fan now; the man who constantly told me, “Turn that junk down.” during high school commented, “He sure has a beautiful voice; especially when he sings spirituals.”
John Davidson, Johnny Carson’s frequent guest host (I swear he was there more than Johnny), was an unexpected delight. The highlight of the show was when he roamed the audience, stopping to ask women of all ages, “Hi! And what year did you graduate high school?” Be it 1915 or 1955 he would then say, “And the number one song in the country that June was…” Everyone loved it, most of all, those being serenaded.
My parents had never been in a casino; all that money, even in the form of chips, astounded. I changed a hundred dollar bill into silver dollars, handed the plastic bucket to mom, and told her to go have fun at the slot machines. This extravagance bestowed on a woman who would drive across town and use ten cents worth of gas to save twelve cents on a head of lettuce. Many the months in high school I walked over to the bank with the mortgage payment, thereby saving a three–cent stamp.
It was difficult to picture my mother pouring money into a hole, mesmerizing as the slots can be. A half hour later she came up to me at the crap table, bucket empty, “Can I have some more?” I gave her a refill; she hurried back toward the flashing lights. Was it my imagination, or did one shoulder sag because her purse was much heavier?
The outtakes from the “new” films offered many possibilities for inclusion on an LP. One in particular, “A Dog’s Life,” demanded top billing. Glen, from Vancouver, found a great color photo of Elvis back in 1957 getting back at Nipper (the RCA mascot) by biting his ear. It was in an obscure songbook; we never saw it anywhere else. Paul had long wanted to use this shot on an album cover but it just never fit anything we released. This time it would, and we would title the album after the song. The “Kid Galahad” outtakes surrendered a blazing arrangement of “King of the Whole Wide World” done at a tempo much faster than the released version. These outtakes, combined with more outtakes from the two Hawaii movies, plus some we had left over from the box set, were pored over by Paul and I. We could make two, possibly three LPs. We had one for sure, that Nipper and Elvis shot was not just rare, it was meant to be an album cover. We wanted to lead off another album with something just as knock–‘em–dead as the “A Dog’s Life” outtake. That song, just a typically inane movie track in which Elvis breaks up at the senseless lyrics, is a rare glimpse into the shenanigans during a session when everyone lets their hair down. There are two complete takes with Elvis laughing his way through the song. He is convulsed by song’s end, but somehow manages to finish. We decided to release only one, the other would be set aside for the future.
Two more LPs loomed if we could only lead them off with something that was in keeping with the outtakes: best would be something rare and previously unheard. I took another trip to the beach; Paul went to New Jersey and made three new friends. Then Paul got a package in the mail from an old friend, D.L. This all happened in the space of a month; we were back in business. My trip produced the most interesting tape ever done at Radio Recorders and solved a mystery about the film “Loving You.” Paul’s trip yielded a song that was only rumored to have been recorded. Not a bad day’s work. Our faithful companions, Kismet and Karma, were still with us. “The Bulb” and the FBI were forgotten; it was time to go back to work.