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Robert Colin Stigwood (16 April 1934 – 4 January 2016) was an Australian-born British-resident music entrepreneur, film producer and impresario, best known for managing Cream and the Bee Gees, theatrical productions like Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, and film productions including the extremely successful Grease and Saturday Night Fever.
Photo by Allan Warren in 1972
Robert Colin Stigwood
16 April 1934
|Died||4 January 2016 (aged 81)|
|Known for||Manager of:|
Stigwood was born in 1934 in Port Pirie, South Australia, the son of Gwendolyn (Burrows) and Gordon Stigwood, an electrical engineer. He was educated at Sacred Heart College in Adelaide. He began his working life as a copywriter for a local advertising agency, before emigrating to England in 1955. It proved an eventful trip: in one incident, recounted by Simon Napier-Bell, Stigwood bravely climbed fifty feet down a rope ladder into the hold of a tanker to administer morphine to a seaman who had fallen through a hatch. In Turkey he spent several months living with the family of a young friend in a hut in a small village and working with them in the field.
Joe Meek and John LeytonEdit
Stigwood found a job in an institution for "backward teenage boys" in East Anglia after his arrival in England. He worked primarily on nightshifts, overseeing the dormitories and "preventing any flow of traffic after lights out", but found it an "unsympathetic and frustrating job" and decided to leave. He worked briefly for Hector Ross at the New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth, Hampshire, before Ross left and the theatre closed. Around this time he met the young Paul Jones who would later front Manfred Mann.
He then met businessman Stephen Komlosy with whom he founded Robert Stigwood Associates Ltd, a small theatrical agency. Among its clients was actor and singer John Leyton, whose unexpected success as a recording artist made both Stigwood and his then associate Joe Meek into Britain's first independent record producers.
Before the advent of mavericks such as Stigwood, Komlosy and Meek, the British pop music industry was highly specialized. Managers managed artists' careers, agents only booked artists into venues, publishers only published music and sold songs to artists and recording companies, and recording companies recorded, manufactured, sold and promoted the products. It was rare for a manager also to be involved in publishing or agency work, and it was almost unheard of for managers, agents or publishers to be involved directly in record production, as all of these activities by managers constituted conflicts of interest and breaches of ethics.
This situation was typified in the late 1950s and early 1960s by the three dominant figures of British pop: publisher and manager Larry Parnes (one of the first people to combine publishing with artist management), composer Lionel Bart, and the Chairman of EMI, Sir Joseph Lockwood (1904–91). Typically, Parnes would discover new talent – as he did with Tommy Steele, Marty Wilde and Billy Fury – and then sign them to a management contract. Lionel Bart, under contract to Parnes' publishing company, would write or co-write songs to be recorded and then Parnes would 'sell' the artist to Lockwood and EMI who would sign them to a recording contract, and then record, press and market the records.
The brief partnership between Robert Stigwood Associates and Joe Meek is claimed to have changed the British recording industry to a great extent. Meek is credited as the first producer in the UK who had the knowledge to undertake every stage of the record production chain himself. He then usually offered a completed tape product to an established record company to manufacture and distribute. A poor business decision had meant that "Angela Jones" by Michael Cox, released on his own Triumph label, could not be manufactured in sufficient quantities to meet demand after Cox performed the song on a popular TV music show. While the record did make an appearance in the Top Ten, it proved that Meek needed the support of a major record company.
John Leyton was taken on by Robert Stigwood when he was building up his new theatrical agency. Leyton's first major booking was a role in the TV series Biggles, but better roles were difficult to find for him. Stigwood asked Leyton if he could also sing, leading to a series of auditions with various recording companies; he was turned down by all of their A&R representatives, but Joe Meek, unfazed by Leyton's initial lack of singing experience, was impressed by the young actor's good looks.
Simon Napier-Bell's account confirms that it was Meek who gave Stigwood the idea of making records independently, then getting the record company to distribute for them in return for a percentage of the selling price. It was, as Napier-Bell observes, "the music business equivalent of the independent film production that had changed the face of Hollywood". Excited by the idea, Stigwood gave Meek £100 to make Leyton's first record, but when it was completed Meek was reluctant to hawk the tape to the record companies himself, so Stigwood took on the task.
Meek's first single with John Leyton, a cover of Ray Peterson's U.S. hit "Tell Laura I Love Her", was recorded in late 1960. Originally intended for release on Meek's Triumph label, that label had by now folded and the recording was instead leased to the Top Rank label, owned by the Rank Organisation. Another British version by Ricky Valance though, was more successful. A follow-up single, "Girl On The Floor Above" (October 1960) was ignored.
Although Leyton rapidly improved as a singer, his chances of a pop career looked slim, but Stigwood's perseverance paid off in mid-1961 when Leyton was cast in the role of pop star Johnny St. Cyr ("sincere") in a new nationally broadcast TV series, Harpers West One. Crucially, Stigwood was able to arrange for Leyton's character to perform a song on the show.
Meek's associate, songwriter Geoff Goddard (whose only previous recorded composition was the Flee-Rekkers' "Lone Rider") was hurriedly drafted in to write a song for Leyton to perform on the programme. The hastily written result was the now-classic "Johnny Remember Me", an echo-drenched melodrama in the form of a lover's plea from beyond the grave. The song was featured three times during the course of Leyton's appearance in the series and record shops were soon deluged with orders.
Meek had leased the recording to the Top Rank label (now owned by EMI) and by the time of Leyton's final TV appearance the team had a big hit on their hands. The single went to #1 and remained at the top of the British charts for fifteen weeks, as well as charting in Europe. It was this success that led Stigwood into record production and management. He became Leyton's personal manager as well as his agent and then began looking around for other people to join his roster.
"Johnny Remember Me" was the first of a string of British hit recordings from the Meek/Stigwood/Leyton team, and their success set a new pattern for the industry: according to Simon Napier-Bell, within a couple of years, over half the hits in the UK were independent productions. Leyton's next single, "Wild Wind" (September 1961) went to #2, and he scored seven more Top 50 hits over the next two years. But his later chart placings were erratic: his third single, "Son, This Is She", only made #14; and his fourth, a cover of Goddard's "Lone Rider", barely scraped into the chart at #40.
Leyton's next two singles "Lonely City" (April 1962, #14) and "Down The River Nile" (July 1962, #42) were the last to have any significant input from Joe Meek. Stigwood was evidently becoming dissatisfied with Meek's eccentric recording style and insisted that "Lonely City" be recorded at a commercial studio. According to Tony Kent (Meek's personal assistant at the time), the session took place at London's IBC studios; largely at Meek's suggestion, and at which Meek was present but with Stigwood assuming the rôle of dominant co-producer. By the time Leyton's seventh single was released Meek was out of the picture entirely and all subsequent John Leyton recordings credit Stigwood as sole producer. From this point Stigwood recorded Leyton at EMI's Abbey Road Studios, but while the audio quality improved, the crucial ingredient — the excitement of the 'Joe Meek sound' – was lost. Leyton's pop career petered out in late 1964, but by then his movie career had taken off.
Business deal with EMIEdit
In late 1961 Stigwood had made a record production deal with Sir Joseph Lockwood, the Chairman of EMI, who proved to be the crucial link between the record company and the budding entrepreneur, just as Lockwood had been in the 1950s for Larry Parnes, and just as he would be a couple of years later for Brian Epstein and the Beatles. From that time on, all John Leyton's singles were released on the HMV label, distributed by EMI.
Other artists Stigwood signed to a management/recording deal included Mike Sarne, whose Komlosy-produced "Come Outside" charted Number One in 1962, and another Meek protégé, Mike Berry, who had scored a hit with the Geoff Goddard-penned "Tribute To Buddy Holly". Under Stigwood's guiding hand, Leyton, Sarne and Berry were still scoring hits but there was a major flaw in the EMI deal: the minuscule percentage that EMI was paying meant that Stigwood was barely able to make a profit from these recordings. Nevertheless, the system he pioneered changed the style and direction of the UK pop charts thenceforth and his success with Leyton was instrumental in expanding his business, becoming simultaneously agent, manager and producer, a role he evidently relished.
"He became fascinated by it. He loved its trickery and tease, and the apparent ease with which money could be made ... And what made Robert Stigwood different from his predecessors is that he expanded laterally. He didn't remain simply a manager or an agent. He moved into music publishing as well, and into pop concert promotion. But his real contribution to the British music scene was independent record production." "He and Komlosy were in every way the first British music business tycoons, involved in every aspect of the music scene, and setting a precedent that was to become the blueprint of success for all future pop entrepreneurs."
Stigwood's other big innovation was in the songs that he selected. British acts had conventionally covered US hits after they had become successful there, but Stigwood began making regular trips to America to find new releases he thought had potential, and then rushing out UK covers by his acts before the originals hit the American charts.
Stigwood became extremely successful because of his control over almost every facet of the business of his recording artists — agency, management, production, publishing and concert promotion. His business rapidly expanded and (according to Napier-Bell) Stigwood even bought one of the major music papers in a "fit of pique" when a Stigwood act failed to appear in their Top 30 chart.
He was understood to be gay. Despite the severe legal situation in Britain until the Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised homosexual acts in private, it would not have been a disadvantage for Stigwood's career, as other important figures in the music industry were also gay. Some Australian music writers have suggested that the main reason why so few Australian acts were able to break into the UK music scene in the 1960s was that they were locked out by the so-called "Pink Mafia" that supposedly dominated British show business.
Career setback, Don Arden incidentEdit
For a few years Stigwood was highly successful, but according to Napier-Bell, he lived extravagantly. The small percentages he received from EMI for his recordings meant that he was largely dependent on agency and management commissions to maintain his cash flow, and gradually his company funds dwindled. Stigwood also promoted pop concerts "as a quick way to make a buck" and balance the books during slow periods. He specialised in summer seaside promotions, which were sometimes highly profitable, but were also notoriously variable in their returns since they depended on the erratic English weather.
Stigwood received criticism within the industry when he over-hyped and mis-managed his latest new pop hopeful, an Anglo-Indian singer named Simon Scott. His heavy-handed promotion included sending out plaster busts of Simon Scott as a promotional gimmick. However, although Simon Scott finally scored a hit, the venture cost Stigwood a great deal of money which he could not afford to lose.
In January 1965 Stigwood Associates promoted a package tour headlined by rock-and-roll musician Chuck Berry (who famously always demanded payment in cash, up-front) supported by the Five Dimensions, Simon Scott, Winston G., the Graham Bond Organization (with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker), Long John Baldry, and the Moody Blues, with guitarist Mike Patto as compère. The tour was poorly attended and adding to his woes, support act the Moody Blues pulled out unexpectedly when the tour reached Manchester (their single "Go Now" had just gone to no. 1) and Stigwood had to negotiate with the band to get them back as part of the package.
Stigwood Associates finances ran out halfway through the Berry tour and he called in the receivers, owing £40,000 to his creditors. EMI offered to bail him out, but he refused because he was anxious to get out of the unfavourable deal he had with the company. His business partnership with Stephen Komlosy ended at that point. He fought valiantly to maintain the illusion that he had kept his personal wealth intact, although in reality he was flat broke. But, according to Simon Napier-Bell, Stigwood managed to fool enough people to keep his creditors at bay while he re-established himself. Within two years, the crisis was over.
Stigwood's aggressive style and his drive to expand his interests occasionally brought him into conflict with other entrepreneurs. Stigwood is the subject of one of the most famous stories in British showbiz, a fabled altercation between himself and Don Arden, another aggressive promoter who later ran into problems for his illegal business tactics. During 1966 one of Stigwood's staff made the mistake of discussing a possible change of management with one of Arden's top acts, the Small Faces. Not surprisingly, Arden took exception to this, and in spite of the fact that Stigwood had never met the group personally, Arden decided to pay him a visit with some of his minders, to teach him a lesson.
Don Arden: "I had to stop these overtures – and quickly. I contacted two well-muscled friends and hired two more equally huge toughs. And we went along to nail this impresario to his chair with fright. There was a large ornate ashtray on his desk. I picked it up and smashed it down with such force that the desk cracked – giving a good impression of a man wild with rage. My friends and I had carefully rehearsed our next move. I pretended to go berserk, lifted the impresario bodily from his chair, dragged him on to the balcony and held him so he was looking down to the pavement four floors below. I asked my friends if I should drop him or forgive him. In unison they shouted: 'Drop him'. He went rigid with shock and I thought he might have a heart attack. Immediately, I dragged him back into the room and warned him never to interfere with my groups again."
After the disaster of the Berry tour, Stigwood took on David Shaw, an ex-City banker, as his partner, giving him access to previously unavailable funds and expertise, and he gained some extra cashflow by subletting his offices to the Who's managers, Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert, although he reportedly became the butt of the pair's inveterate and often cruel practical jokes.
He kept his Robert Stigwood Agency intact and worked to rebuild his career as a manager and independent producer. One of the first acts he managed during this period was Junco Partners, a blues band which succeeded the Animals as the house band at Newcastle's Club A Go Go. The band recorded for Columbia (the EMI label) and the French Barclay Records, with one of its first releases being co-produced by Stigwood and Vicki Wickham. The band included Charlie Harcourt, later of Lindisfarne and Cat Mother and the All Night News Boys.
In 1966 Stigwood made an important deal when he paid £500 to Stamp and Lambert for the right to become the Who's booking agent. This soon enabled him to lure the band away from Brunswick Records and onto his own newly established Reaction label, for whom they recorded the famous single "Substitute".
The recording was completed secretly, and was explicitly intended by the group as a way of breaking their five-year contract with producer Shel Talmy, with whom they had fallen out (the single's original B-side, "Waltz For A Pig", was reputedly about Talmy). Also in 1966 Stigwood became the manager of a new band comprising three of the best musicians from two groups that he had under contract—guitarist Eric Clapton from John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker from the Graham Bond Organization.
His connection to the Who enabled him to get this new group, Cream, onto the bill for a 9-day booking at the RKO theater in New York in 1967. It was an important showcase for Cream and enabled Stigwood to introduce them to New York's music cognoscenti and helped break them in the USA. It was for this show that Stigwood commissioned the Dutch art collective called "The Fool" to paint the striking psychedelic designs on Eric Clapton's Gibson SG guitar, Jack Bruce's Fender VI bass and Ginger Baker's drum kit.
However, during this period Stigwood had another pop flop when he tried to promote a singer called 'Oscar'. Oscar's real name was Paul Beuselinck; his stage name was taken from his father, Oscar Beuselinck, a music business solicitor whose clients included the Who. Oscar had been the pianist in Screaming Lord Sutch's backing band, The Savages. Under the name 'Paul Dean' he released two singles in 1965–66. As 'Oscar' he cut four singles for Stigwood's Reaction label. The first, "Club of Lights" managed to scrape into the lower reaches of the Radio London Fab 40 chart. The second Oscar single was a version of a Pete Townshend song, "Join My Gang", which the Who never recorded. His third single, a novelty song called "Over the Wall We Go" (1967) was written and produced by a young David Bowie, and it gained a degree of notoriety because of Bowie's tongue-in-cheek lyrics concerning escaped prisoners and incompetent cops, which satirised a rash of highly publicised prison break-outs in the UK.
Once again, however, Stigwood over promoted Oscar, sending out a fake Academy-Awards-style statuette. 'Oscar' vanished from sight for some time, but Beuselinck re-emerged in the late 1960s under the name Paul Nicholas. He maintained a connection with Stigwood, performing in the London productions of Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar and Grease, and he played the sadistic Cousin Kevin in Stigwood's film version of the Who's Tommy.
Stigwood moved his recording activities to Polydor Records, where former EMI staffer Roland Rennie had recently been appointed as the new managing director. Stigwood had apparently been forewarned that Rennie was moving to Polydor, and this, according to Napier-Bell, was the major reason that Stigwood had been unwilling to accept EMI's rescue package.
Rennie had been a key figure in promoting the Beatles in America; he had been sent to New York by George Martin and all EMI product was channeled through him for distribution by EMI's American partners. It was Rennie who struck the deal to license the first three Beatles records to the Swan and VeeJay labels, rather than to Capitol, who at first had no interest in the group.
Stigwood signed a much more advantageous deal with Polydor, with high percentages and substantial funding for his recording costs. This gave him the luxury of being able to take Cream to New York, where they cut their records with Atlantic Records' house engineer Tom Dowd and producer Felix Pappalardi.
Merger with NEMSEdit
On 13 January 1967 Stigwood signed a deal with his friend and colleague Brian Epstein to merge their two companies. The Beatles were by now no longer touring, and Epstein was tiring of the demands of his ever-expanding business. He was keen to reduce his involvement in NEMS Enterprises, the company he had founded in 1963, so he decided to strike a deal with Stigwood.
Why Epstein decided to merge with Stigwood is uncertain. There had been numerous other offers made for NEMS over the previous couple of years and Epstein is reported to have turned down more than one multimillion-dollar offer from American interests, so it is unlikely that he chose to become a partner with Stigwood simply for financial reasons.
According to author George Gunby, Epstein told the Beatles' publicist Alistair Taylor that Stigwood had originally offered to buy NEMS, but the deal eventually became a merger, in which Stigwood would have to put all his company assets into NEMS; in return he would have received a reciprocal shareholding in NEMS, plus a salary, an executive position as co-managing director, and access to all of NEMS now-considerable financial and other resources.
It was a beneficial arrangement for Stigwood, and it effectively placed him at the pinnacle of the British pop industry in one step, but Epstein seems to have been about the only person in NEMS who was keen on the idea. Alastair Taylor is reported to have exclaimed "You must be joking!" when Epstein told him of the merger. Epstein was also considering handing over his role as manager of the Beatles, but when the Fab Four learned of this they were outraged. They evidently disliked Stigwood intensely. Interviewed in 2000 by Greil Marcus, Paul McCartney recalled the group's angry reaction:
"We said, 'In fact, if you do, if you somehow manage to pull this off, we can promise you one thing. We will record God Save the Queen for every single record we make from now on and we'll sing it out of tune. That's a promise. So if this guy buys us, that's what he's buying.'"
Consequently, Epstein stayed on as manager of the Beatles but he handed responsibility for most of his other acts to Stigwood.
The NEMS' staff were also reportedly unhappy about the deal. The company had expanded rapidly growing from fifteen staff in 1964 to eighty in 1966. Epstein had taken over the Vic Lewis agency in 1965 (bringing in Donovan, Petula Clark and Matt Monro) and Lewis became a NEMS director, but many staff members found Lewis' abrasive manner difficult to handle. According to Gunby: "...(they) could see the same problems arising, multiplied tenfold, when Stigwood moved in. His autocratic style would be a time bomb ticking beneath people who had stuck by Epstein through thick and thin."
Gunby says that Epstein told Derek Taylor that the merger with Stigwood would bring new talent into the fold and would strengthen the operation. Taylor remained unconvinced—Stigwood, he said, had "a ruthless reputation, a cavalier style that upset more people than it pleased." Epstein himself soon found himself at odds with his new partner—he was reportedly unhappy about Stigwood's spending, was upset by Stigwood renting a yacht for the Bee Gees, and was also angered by Stigwood's unilateral decision to send Alastair Taylor to America on a business trip, a plan Epstein overruled. It is claimed that Epstein subsequently decided that he didn't want Stigwood in the company.
The next development in Stigwood's career as a manager came several weeks after his connection with NEMS began. Teenage vocal group the Bee Gees had just returned to the UK, after many years in Australia, with hopes of a career in the UK. Unknown to them, Ronald Rennie had already heard their only Australian hit, "Spicks and Specks", thanks to the band's publisher, so Rennie had made arrangements with their Australian label, Festival, to release it in the UK.
When Barry Gibb appeared at Polydor's offices in London, Rennie immediately contacted Stigwood, whom he thought would be ideal to sign the group to Polydor and manage them. Stigwood had just begun his eleven-month period with NEMS, and the boys' father Hugh Gibb had already sent an LP and acetates of their demo recordings to Stigwood in an effort to sign the group to NEMS. Stigwood signed the Bee Gees to a five-year deal in February and took their contract with him when he separated from NEMS in December.
Polydor released "Spicks and Specks", which had already been a major hit in Australia, but in spite of Stigwood paying for four weeks' exposure on pirate station Radio Caroline, the single flopped. Stigwood was undeterred, and with NEMS's resources behind him, he embarked on a concerted campaign to break the Bee Gees in the UK, assiduously wining and dining TV producers and DJs; according to the MusicWeb Encyclopedia, he spent £50,000 promoting the group in 1967.
It paid off – within months their first international single, "New York Mining Disaster 1941", had become a major British and American hit reaching the top 20 in both markets, while "Massachusetts" reached number 1 in the UK and number 11 in the US, continuing a string of Bee Gees hits through the late 1960s.
Stigwood's future with NEMS may have been uncertain, but it was decided in dramatic fashion by Brian Epstein's untimely death in August 1967. Brian's brother Clive took over as Managing Director and Stigwood left NEMS to form his own company, The Robert Stigwood Organisation (RSO), in December.
Also during 1967, Stigwood purchased a controlling interest in Associated London Scripts, a writers' agency co-founded by Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes around 1954, in which many of Britain's best comedy and television scriptwriters had been involved. Beryl Vertue from ALS was appointed as deputy chairman; Vertue was responsible for selling the formats to American producers of the TV series All in the Family and Sanford and Son, which were adapted from the popular British TV shows Till Death Us Do Part and Steptoe and Son.
Robert Stigwood OrganisationEdit
Stigwood's companies expanded into almost every entertainment field. Over the years, in addition to those already mentioned, the Robert Stigwood Organisation (RSO) promoted artists such as Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, David Bowie and Rick Davis (a former member of the Bay City Rollers), and managed and developed the careers of acts including Blind Faith and Eric Clapton. On his RSO Records label Stigwood recorded artists including Clapton, Yvonne Elliman and Player, and soundtrack albums for the motion pictures The Empire Strikes Back and Fame (both 1980) in addition to the films produced by his company RSO Films.
Stigwood moved into theatre production in 1968, and chose his first projects very wisely. RSO's transition "from rock management concern to multimedia entertainment empire" began after Stigwood saw the Broadway production of the pioneering rock musical Hair. He decided to stage it in London, and it ran for more than five years in the West End. He followed this with many other highly successful productions: Oh! Calcutta!, The Dirtiest Show in Town, Pippin, Sweeney Todd, Sing a Rude Song, John, Paul, Ringo and Bert (Evening Standard Drama Award Best Musical for 1974) and the last of the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, Evita. Both Superstar and Evita were successfully reproduced on Broadway, the latter picking up the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1980.
Later Stigwood produced stage versions of his other successful film musicals, Saturday Night Fever and Grease; while Grease had existed as a musical before Stigwood's involvement in the film, Stigwood's adaptations added the musical numbers that were original to that film. Stage rights to those numbers are still available for licensing through the Stigwood estate.
Later successes and disappointmentsEdit
Stigwood moved into film and TV production in the early 1970s. By this time the fortunes of his pop production enterprises had declined greatly, and both his major acts struggled to regain their former glory. The Bee Gees broke up briefly in 1970, and after reuniting they floundered for several years, reaching a self-acknowledged "rock bottom" period in the early 1970s, by which time the former chart toppers had been reduced to playing the working men's club circuit in the north of England.
Cream had split up in late 1968, although lead guitarist Eric Clapton remained signed to RSO, but his next project, the highly touted supergroup Blind Faith, which united Clapton and Ginger Baker with Steve Winwood (ex Traffic) and Ric Grech (ex Family) fizzled out after just one LP. Clapton made a promising solo debut with his critically praised self-titled 1970 album, and followed this by forming a new band, Derek & the Dominos, with ex-members of Delaney and Bonnie's backing group. They recorded an ambitious double-album with considerable input from Duane Allman, whom Clapton met and befriended. Although Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs (1970) is now acknowledged as his masterpiece, the album's relatively poor critical and commercial reception was overshadowed by the tragic deaths of Eric Clapton's close friends Jimi Hendrix (who died while the sessions were underway) and the subsequent death of Allman himself in October 1971. These tragedies, combined with the angst of his unrequited love for Patti Boyd, sent Clapton into a downward spiral of depression and drug abuse. Derek & the Dominos broke up before a second album could be completed, Clapton withdrew from performing and he became addicted to heroin for several years. Fortunately, Clapton eventually kicked his habit, and Stigwood took him back to Miami, where he recorded his very successful comeback album 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974), which included his US #1 hit version of Bob Marley's "I Shot The Sheriff".
With his music ventures in the doldrums, Stigwood expanded into film production in the early 1970s with great success. His first feature was a hit screen adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), made in association with its director, Norman Jewison. He followed this with the film version of the Who's Tommy (1975), which became one of the most successful films at the box office in its year of release.
RSO Films' next production, Saturday Night Fever, became one of the biggest hits in the history of the business and dramatically catapulted the Bee Gees to superstardom, taking them back to the top of the charts in dramatic fashion, scoring them three consecutive No.1 hits. The film also launched TV actor John Travolta to international stardom. The 2-LP soundtrack album, written by and featuring the Bee Gees, became the biggest selling soundtrack album ever released. The group reportedly wrote the songs 'to order' without having seen the film, and according to Frank Rose's 1977 Rolling Stone article about the Bee Gees, at least four of the songs — including "Stayin' Alive" – were written in just one week. Stigwood followed this with another hugely successful film adaptation of one of his stage productions, the rock'n'roll musical Grease (1978), which co-starred Travolta and Australian singer Olivia Newton-John, which featured additional material by expatriate Australian songwriter-producer John Farrar.
Not all of Stigwood's films were popular. Moment by Moment (also 1978), which co-starred Travolta and Lily Tomlin was panned by critics, and is credited with turning Travolta into 'box office poison'. Five years later Travolta again displayed his now-legendary inability to pick roles when he agreed to appear in Stigwood's ill-advised sequel to Saturday Night Fever (1983), Staying Alive, directed by Sylvester Stallone. The movie was a moderate success but did nothing to restart Travolta's stalled career.
Soon after Grease, Stigwood made one of the biggest miscalculations of his career with the musical film extravaganza Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (also 1978). On paper, the all-star project – with an estimated budget of $18 million – looked like a surefire hit. A fantasy adventure showcasing the songs of the Beatles, it starred two of the hottest rock acts of the period, Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees, plus a long list of rock and film greats in cameos. Unfortunately, problems surfaced early in the schedule and grew steadily worse – Stigwood sacked original director Chris Bearde before shooting began and the Bee Gees were soon begging to be removed from the project, to no avail. Under new director Michael Schultz (Car Wash) the film turned out to be a disastrous flop.
Stigwood's also produced the cult rock-musical teen girl 'buddy' movie Times Square (1980) but his autocratic streak resurfaced during this production. Stigwood wanted to remove dialogue scenes to include more music, so that the soundtrack could be expanded to a double album, but director Allan Moyle refused to make the cuts, so Stigwood fired Moyle (who didn't make another film for ten years) and made the cuts himself. Star Robin Johnson later said of the result: "It was disappointing. It could've been so much more powerful. I'd love to see what Allan's cut would've been." Although not successful at the time, Times Square now has a strong following among gay women. The music soundtrack became a cult favourite due to the inclusion of many significant new wave acts – Patti Smith, the Pretenders, Talking Heads and Roxy Music – and it also became a collector's item for fans of English band XTC because their track "Take This Town", written especially for the film, was for many years only available on the soundtrack LP (until the release of Rag and Bone Buffet: Rare Cuts and Leftovers in 1990).
Other notable films produced by Stigwood include The Fan (1981), Grease 2, Peter Weir's well received Gallipoli (1981), produced under the R&R Films banner - the other “R” being another Australian known for his ruthlessness, Rupert Murdoch - and the 1997 Golden Globe Awards best film winner, Evita, starring Madonna. In 1975, RSO collaborated with Bob Banner Associates to produce a stunt game show, Almost Anything Goes. The program, which aired on the ABC network in the United States, featured three teams of players from small towns in a competition where the emphasis was on good will. The show lasted four seasons.
- Jesus Christ Superstar (as co-producer)
- Bugsy Malone (as executive producer)
- Saturday Night Fever
- Moment by Moment
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
- Times Square
- Fame (as soundtrack producer)
- The Empire Strikes Back (as soundtrack producer)
- The Fan
- Grease 2
- Staying Alive
- Music for UNICEF Concert (as organiser and executive producer)
- Tony Kent Holloway Road Hit Factory (Radio Interview, 2007)
- Simon Napier-Bell: You Don't Have To Say You Love Me (Ebury Press, 1998)
- Johnny Rogan: Starmakers & Svengalis: The History of British Pop Management (Macdonald Queen Anne Press, 1988, ISBN 0-356-15138-7)
- Frank Rose: "How Can You Mend A Broken Group? The Bee Gees Did It With Disco" Rolling Stone, 14 July 1977
- Ruhlmann, William. "Robert Stigwood > Biography". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 3 February 2010.
- Robert Stigwood, music mogul behind Bee Gees and Clapton, dies aged 81 ABC News, 5 January 2016. Accessed 6 January 2016.
- "Robert Stigwood Biography (1934-)". Filmreference.com. 16 April 1934. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
- Late Port Pirie-raised music mogul Robert Stigwood who changed the entertainment world The Advertiser, 5 January 2016. Accessed 6 January 2016.
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This article's use of external links may not follow Wikipedia's policies or guidelines. (January 2016) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
- Robert Stigwood on IMDb
- Joseph Brennan: Gibb Songs website
- The Knitting Circle: Popular Music
- Disraeli Gears Cream website
- Saturday Night Fever – The Musical website: Robert Stigwood biography
- Jenni Olson: "Times Square: Cult Classic Revival at Chicago Filmmakers" from OUTLINES (September 1995)
- Robert Stigwood at the Internet Broadway Database