Discover more from Frank Beacham's Journal
The first Farm Aid concert was held on this day in 1985 — 38 years ago
Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and friends at the first Farm Aid, 1985
The first Farm Aid concert was held on this day in 1985 — 38 years ago.
The concept for the annual series of concerts began with an offhand remark by Bob Dylan during his performance at Live Aid, the massive fundraising concert held at Wembley Stadium in London and JFK Stadium in Philadelphia in the early summer of 1985.
As television viewers around the world phoned in donations in support of African famine relief, Dylan said from the stage: "I hope that some of the money...maybe they can just take a little bit of it, maybe...one or two million, maybe...and use it, say, to pay the mortgages on some of the farms and, the farmers here, owe to the banks."
Dylan would come under harsh criticism from Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof for his remarks ("It was a crass, stupid and nationalistic thing to say," Geldof would later write), but he planted a seed with several fellow musicians who shared his concern over the state of the American family farm.
Less than one month later, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp announced plans for "Farm Aid," a benefit concert for America's farmers. The concert was held in Champaign, Illinois on Sept. 22, 1985.
As one might have expected of a concert staged to "raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on their land," Farm Aid featured a number of performers from the worlds of country, folk and rootsy rock music.
There were the three main organizers and the instigator, Bob Dylan. Also joining them were Hoyt Axton, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Joni Mitchell, Arlo Guthrie and Charley Pride.
But the first Farm Aid, more than any of the annual Farm Aid concerts since, was a bit of a stylistic free-for-all, featuring artists united only by their interest in supporting a good cause.
"As soon as I read in the paper that there was gonna be such a thing," Sammy Hagar told MTV's cameras on the day of the show, "I called my manager and said, 'I wanna do it.' And he said, 'It's all country.' I said, 'I don't care. It's America. I wanna do it.'
If there was anything more surprising than hearing Hagar perform his hard-rock anthem, "I Can't Drive 55," on the same stage that had earlier featured the quiet folk of Arlo Guthrie, it was hearing Lou Reed perform "Walk On The Wild Side" on a stage that had featured John Denver.
The star studded line-up also included: Alabama, Glen Campbell, Charlie Daniels Band, John Denver, John Fogerty, Vince Gill, George Jones, Roger Miller, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Bonnie Raitt and Kenny Rogers.
Over the years since its first charity concert on this day in 1985, the Farm Aid organization has raised more than $50 million to support small farmers, promote sustainable farming practices and encourage consumption of "good food from family farms."
This year, Farm Aid 2023 will take place Saturday, September 23, in Noblesville, Indiana.
How corporations are destroying family farms...
A video on the meaning of Farm Aid.
Orson Welles and John Houseman in the theatre during rehearsals of Horse Eats Hat in 1936
John Houseman, film producer and actor, was born 120 years ago today.
The Romanian-born British-American actor and film producer became known for his highly publicized collaboration with director, Orson Welles, from their days in the Federal Theatre Project through to the production of the classic film, Citizen Kane.
Houseman is perhaps best known for his role as Professor Charles Kingsfield in the 1973 film, The Paper Chase, for which he won a best supporting actor Oscar. He reprised his role as Kingsfield in the subsequent TV series adaptation of The Paper Chase.
Houseman produced numerous Broadway productions, including Heartbreak House, Three Sisters, The Beggar's Opera and several Shakespearean plays, including a famous "Blackshirt" Julius Caesar directed by Orson Welles in 1937.
In 1934, Houseman was looking to cast a play he was producing based on a drama by Archibald MacLeish concerning a Wall Street financier whose world crumbles about him when consumed by the crash of 1929.
Although the central figure is a man in his late fifties, Houseman became obsessed by the notion that a young man named Orson Welles he had seen in a Cornell Company production of Romeo and Juliet was the only person qualified to play the leading role.
In 1936, the Federal Theatre Project (part of Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration) put unemployed theatre performers and employees to work. Within a year of its formation, the project had more than fifteen thousand men and women on its payroll at an average wage of approximately twenty dollars a week.
Houseman and Welles ran a WPA unit in midtown Manhattan for classic productions called Project #891. The following year Project #891 would produce their most controversial work, The Cradle Will Rock.
Written by Marc Blitzstein, the musical was about Larry Foreman, a worker in Steeltown (played in the original production by Howard Da Silva), which is run by the boss, Mister Mister (played in the original production by Will Geer).
The show was thought to have had left-wing and unionist sympathies (Foreman ends the show with a song about "unions" taking over the town and the country), and became legendary as an example of a "censored" show.
Shortly before the show was to open, Federal Theatre officials in Washington announced that no productions would open until after July 1, 1937, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
All the performers had been enjoined not to perform on stage for the production when it opened on July 14, 1937. The cast and crew left their government-owned theatre and walked 20 blocks to another theatre, with the audience following.
No one knew what to expect. When they got there, Blitzstein himself was at the piano and started playing the introduction music. One of the non-professional performers, Olive Stanton, who played the part of Moll, the prostitute, stood up in the audience, and began singing her part.
All the other performers, in turn, spontaneously stood up in the audience to perform their parts. Thus the "oratorio" version of the show was born.
Apparently, Welles had designed some intricate scenery, which ended up never being used. The event was so successful that it was repeated several times on subsequent nights, with everyone trying to remember and reproduce what had happened spontaneously the first night.
The incident, however, led to Houseman being fired and Welles's resignation from Project #981.
That same year, 1937, after detaching themselves from the Federal Theatre Project, Houseman and Welles founded the acclaimed New York drama company, The Mercury Theatre.
Beginning in the summer of 1938, the Mercury Theatre was featured in a weekly dramatic radio program on the CBS network, initially promoted as First Person Singular before gaining the official title, The Mercury Theatre on the Air.
The show became famous for its notorious 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, which had put much of the country in a panic. By all accounts, Welles was shocked by the panic that ensued.
According to Houseman, "he hadn't the faintest idea what the effect would be.” CBS was inundated with calls. Newspaper switchboards were jammed. The Welles-Houseman collaboration continued in Hollywood.
In the spring of 1939, Welles began preliminary discussions with RKO's head of production, George Schaefer, with Welles and his Mercury players being given a two picture deal, in which Welles would produce, direct, perform and have full creative control of his projects. Welles decided to make “Citizen Kane.”
During a corporate dinner for the Mercury crew, Welles exploded, calling Houseman a "bloodsucker" and a "crook.” As Houseman attempted to leave Chasen’s Restaurant, Welles began hurling dish heaters at him, setting curtains on fire in the restaurant. The act effectively ending both their partnership and friendship.
Houseman would later, however, play a pivotal role in ushering Citizen Kane (1941), which starred Welles. Welles telephoned Houseman asking him to return to Hollywood to "babysit" screenwriter, Herman J. Mankiewicz, while he completed the script, and keep him away from alcohol.
Still drawn to Welles, as was virtually everyone in his sphere, Houseman agreed.
Although Welles took credit for the screenplay of Kane, Houseman stated that the credit belonged to Mankiewicz, an assertion that led to a final break with Welles. Houseman took some credit himself for the general shaping of the story line and for editing the script.
Among the many Houseman achievements, he was the founding director of the Drama Division at The Juilliard School where his first graduating class included Kevin Kline and Patti LuPone.
Unwilling to see his first class immediately disbanded by the commercial world of stage and screen, he formed them into a touring repertory company appropriately named the Group 1 Acting Company (later shortened to, The Acting Company).
John Houseman: A Personal Remembrance
In 1985, as a young producer working for Orson Welles, the great director regaled me with stories during a leisurely three-hour lunch on a Saturday afternoon at the Ma Maison Restaurant on Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles.
It was a rare day for Orson, who didn’t like to “walk down memory lane.” But on this day, Orson was in a lighter mood than usual and told me the incredible story of the staging of “The Cradle Will Rock” in 1937.
I was spellbound. Few people could tell a story like Orson Welles. It was about the only time in U.S. history the military had been sent out to shut down a Broadway play. Orson and his acting company defied the government and became famous for it. During Orson’s telling of this epic tale, I was on the edge of my seat, and hung on to his every word.
Orson told me he had wanted to produce and direct the story himself and had written a script about it. But the money had fallen apart just before production was to begin. “The story of my life,” he said, sadly. Then he suggested that I might want to produce it.
A short time later, Orson died and the project I was doing with him — Orson Welles Solo — went up in smoke. I was in shock and needed to do something...anything. I vividly remembered The Cradle Will Rock story and decided to tackle it. After a visit with Marc Blitzstein’s sister in Philadelphia, I obtained the film rights from his family.
John Houseman had written about The Cradle Will Rock in one volume of his autobiography, Run Through. I had long admired Houseman and had grown up watching “The Paper Chase” on television. I contacted Houseman, and inadvertently entered the long-running feud he had with Orson.
Unwittingly, I sent Houseman the Orson Welles’ script of The Cradle Will Rock. It irritated him immensely, projecting only Orson’s view of what had happened. “It must never be made,” Houseman told me in his most intimidating Professor Kingsfield voice. (I later discovered that Kingsfield arrogance was really Houseman. No acting involved!)
The anger and disdain Houseman had for Welles continued to burn bright long after Orson’s death. In fact, it didn’t subside until Houseman’s own death three years later in 1988 at age 86.
I wanted to option Houseman’s material on Cradle, assuring him I would not use the Welles script but would commission a totally new one. Houseman had cancer at this point and was near death.
From his death bed, he said to me, “Mr. Beacham, you shall pay me $5,000 now or you shall pay much more after I expire.”
To make a long story short, I told this story to a stranger in an LA bar later that night, having run out of options to raise additional money. He was so entranced by the story, he wrote me a check after we hammered out an agreement on the back of a bar napkin. Talk about luck!
The next day, after this stranger’s check cleared, I gave the money to Houseman, who scribbled his signature on the option agreement. I had all the needed rights to do a film.
I took the story to a young director and actor, Tim Robbins, sensing he would he would interested. He was, and we worked together over ten years to make a film. I was an executive producer of “Cradle Will Rock,” which was released by Disney’s Touchstone company in 1999. Tim wrote the script and directed the film. Cary Elwes played Houseman in the movie.
Whenever I want to be reminded of the real John Houseman, I watch a re-run of The Paper Chase. That was the man I knew and experienced. He may have won an Academy Award for playing a role, but he was just being himself. That I know.
Nick Cave is 66 years old today.
Cave is an Australian musician, songwriter, author, screenwriter, composer and occasional film actor. He is best known for his work as a frontman of the critically acclaimed rock band, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, established in 1983. The group is known for its eclectic influences and musical styles.
Before that, he had fronted the group, The Birthday Party, in the early 1980s, a band renowned for its highly gothic, challenging lyrics and violent sound influenced by free jazz, blues and post-punk.
In 2006, he formed the garage rock band, Grinderman, that released its debut the following year.
Cave's music is generally characterized by emotional intensity, a wide variety of influences, and lyrical obsessions with religion, death, love and violence.
Here, Cave performs Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.”
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
Joan Jett is 65 years old today.
A rock guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer and occasional actress, she is best known for her work with Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, including their hit cover, "I Love Rock 'n' Roll,” which was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 from March 20 to May 1, 1982.
Jett’s other popular recordings including "Crimson and Clover,” "I Hate Myself for Loving You,” "Do You Want to Touch Me,” "Light of Day,” "Love Is All Around" and "Bad Reputation.”
She has three albums that have been certified Platinum or Gold, and she has been referred to as the "Queen of Rock 'n' Roll" many times during her career.
Here, Jett and the Blackhawks perform “I Hate Myself for Loving You.”
In 1958 — 65 years ago today — after receiving special permission from the U.S. Army, Elvis Presley gave one last press conference at the Military Ocean Terminal in Brooklyn.
He then joined the rest of the Third Armored Division on the USS General George M. Randall for a voyage to Bremerhaven, Germany.
Kiss, Santa Monica, California, 1955
Photo by Elliott Erwitt