(Nelson Riddle Appreciation Society “Nelson’s Notes” ARCHIVES, May 2009)
Posted: Fri., Mar. 13, 2009, 1:13pm PT
Capitol Records prez brought Beatles to U.S.
By PAT SAPERSTEIN
Alan Livingston, music exec who created Bozo the Clown and brought the Beatles to America as president of Capitol Records, died Friday in Los Angeles. He was 91.
Livingston created the Bozo character for a bestselling series of children’s story records for Capitol, later producing a TV show before selling rights to the late Larry Harmon. He left Capitol to become VP of network programming at NBC, where he brought “Bonanza” to the network, with a theme song by his songwriter brother, the late Jay Livingston.
After his return to Capitol, he bucked resistance in America to the Beatles’ sound and dedicated a marketing budget for Capitol to release “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Born in McDonald, Penn., Livingston started out in the advertising business and served in the Army during WWII. After his discharge, he moved to Hollywood where he began creating children’s records for Capitol Records. He hired circus clown Pinto Colvig to portray Bozo, leading to the TV series “Bozo’s Circus” starring Colvig.
Livingston worked on numerous other children’s recordings for Disney and Warner Bros., also writing the pop hit “I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat” for Tweety Pie.
Moving into adult music, he became Capitol’s VP of creative operations, where he put Frank Sinatra together with Nelson Riddle, leading to a resurgence of interest in Sinatra in 1952. He helped build Capitol into a recording giant and also had a hand in inspiring the iconic circular headquarters, constructed by Capitol’s owner EMI.
After his TV stint at NBC, he returned to Capitol Records, where he became president and eventually chairman. Although Capitol had right of first refusal, as a subsidiary of EMI, it was thought American audiences wouldn’t be receptive to the Beatles’ music until Livingston was persuaded by manager Brian Epstein to commit resources to releasing a single and bringing them to the U.S. for a concert tour. During this time Capitol added artists such as the Beach Boys, Steve Miller and the Band to its roster.
After selling his stock in Capitol, Livingston formed Mediarts to produce films and records. The company released Don McLean’s hit song “American Pie” and produced Robert Redford starrer “Downhill Racer,” before selling to United Artists.
From 1976-80, Livingston served as senior VP of 20th Century Fox, leaving to become president of Atlanta Investment Co.
He was married to actress Betty Hutton for five years in the 1950s. He is survived by his wife, actress Nancy Olson; a son; a daughter; two stepdaughters; three grandchildren; and three step-grandchildren.