NEW YORK, Feb. 22, 2003
The Grammy Awards used to be a hotel ballroom event for a few hundred executives in the recording industry.
That all changed when Pierre Cossette first brought the awards to a national television audience in 1971.
Now, more than a billion people worldwide watch the Grammys.
Pierre Cossette visited The Saturday Early Show to discuss his autobiography, “Another Day in Showbiz: One Producer’s Journey,” which follows his beginnings in the music business to becoming the “Father of the Grammys.”
Cossette was born in Valleyfield, Quebec, Canada. When he was 5 years old, his family moved to Pasadena, California, where his father worked at a gas station.
As a student at the University of Southern California, he booked the era’s superstars – Jack Benny, Bing Crosby and George Burns – to perform at a college function. Talent agency MCA was impressed with Cossette and hired him as a booking agent.
Working with MCA gave Cossette the opportunity to work in Las Vegas. Cossette says he worked with some of the heavies of the music business, such as Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, and he credits himself as discovering the “lounge act.”
The 2003 Grammy Awards will be Cossette’s 33rd production of the program, but he says back in 1971, he had a hard time convincing the television networks to broadcast the show live.
Cossette says he went to the academy and got the rights to broadcast the Grammys, but he couldn’t sell it because no network wanted it.
Eventually, ABC decided to broadcast the event, but only if Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, or Andy Williams would agree to host it. Cossette says he convinced Andy Williams to take the job and the rest is history. But two years later, when ABC refused to broadcast the Grammys live from Nashville, CBS took over the show and has been broadcasting it ever since.
“The Father of the Grammys ” says he wants to make the award show an arena event. His dream, Cossette says, is to sell out the Grammys at the Rose Bowl.
Read an excerpt from
“Another Day in Showbiz: One Producer’s Journey”
Chapter 5: The Grammys
I love Diana Ross. Yet two of my biggest disappointments and embarrassments in show business had to do with that wonderful lady.
To begin with, in 1976, I was producing my sixth Grammy Awards telecast at the Hollywood Palladium. James Mahoney, one of Hollywood’s top publicists, came to me and said, “Pierre, you put the live Grammy Awards together, you put up your own money, and you produce the show year after year. But nobody knows it. The producer of the Oscars show is all over the press, and so is the producer of the Emmys, and they’re hired hands. You are the entrepreneur. You’re the one who guarantees the money to make the Grammys happen. You should be out there, and people should know about it.”
Mahoney handled all the big stars-Frank Sinatra, for one-so I listened carefully to what he had to say. Then I said, “Okay, maybe you’re right. What should I do?”
“Listen to me.”
“Okay,” I said. I hired him.
Then he sat down with me and laid out the plan: “The day before the Grammy Awards, every big recording star and all the presidents of the record companies are in town.”
“So?” I said.
“So you should put on a tremendous spread-champagne and caviar, great food. Get Chasen’s to cater and invite the bigwigs for lunch right there at the Palladium. Seat them in the lobby, where they can see the lights and the sets going up and get the feel of being behind the scenes. Most of all, let them know that this is Pierre Cossette’s show. We’ll display a big photograph of you and a sign that says, ‘Pierre Cossette Productions Welcomes You to the Sixth Annual Grammy Awards.’ We’ll put it up right in the middle of the buffet.”
“But the buffet will cost a fortune,” I insisted.
“So what?” answered Mahoney. “It will put you and your company on the map for all time. I’ll personally see to it that all the top press people are there.”
Well, the big day arrived. The Palladium lobby looked magnificent. Chasen’s had done a terrific job-Dom Perignon champagne, chilled lobster, crab, shrimp, and all the trimmings. At 12:30 p.m., I went to the parking lot entrance to wait for the limousines. I wanted to personally escort as many of my guests as I could into the luncheon. I was following Jim Mahoney’s orders to the letter.
The first to arrive was Diana Ross. I opened the limo door for her and proudly escorted her into the Palladium. It was quite a long walk, so we had a chance to chat. She said that she thought what I was doing was great for the recording industry. As we entered the lobby, I stopped dead in my tracks. I felt faint. I became catatonic. Here was the spectacle before me: a crew of 150 stagehands munching on caviar, hors d’oeuvres, and lobster and guzzling champagne. Hard-hats rushed over to me saying, “This is the greatest production company we’ve ever worked for,” and catered meals from other production companies “never come close to this.”
By the time all of my invited guests had arrived, all that remained of the fabulous buffet were empty serving dishes and hundreds of dirty napkins. To make things worse, Jim Mahoney showed up and blasted me for being stupid enough to allow something like that to happen. And it was my fault, in fact: I had neglected to announce to the crew that their lunch would not be catered that day.
The next night, just before airtime, Mahoney said to me, “Look, we’ve got to make up for that fiasco yesterday.”
“Well, you’ve got to go to the press tent at least once during the show. I’ll find you the best spot, where the press and television people will be sure to recognize you as the major domo.”
When the stars appearing in our show leave the stage, they report immediately to the press tent for still photographs; then the television crews shoot them; finally, they do interviews. Halfway through the show, Mahoney came into the booth and said, “Come with me.” Bette Midler and Cher had just taken their bows and were heading for the press tent. We headed over there too.
The second we arrived, Mahoney grabbed me and shoved me between Bette and Cher, but I knew both ladies rather well, so it didn’t bother me. Suddenly, an army of three hundred press photographers was snapping away, and I was momentarily blinded by the flashes. For a brief moment, I felt like a star myself.
But the illusion was quickly destroyed when someone shouted from the back of the room, “Who’s the fat guy in the middle?” I’ve produced the Grammys umpteen times since then, but I never again set foot in the press tent.
From Another Day in Showbiz: One Producer’s Journey. Copyright © 2003 by Pierre Cossette. All rights reserved. ECW Press Publishers. Used by permission.