Four For McGovern
Los Angeles Forum
3900 West Manchester Blvd.
April 15, 1972
“Four For McGovern” was a benefit concert for Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern. McGovern was running against Republican incumbent, President Richard Nixon. McGovern ran on a platform of withdrawal from Vietnam, reduction in defense spending, and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Celebrity ushers worked the concert. Warren Beatty, a passionate McGovern supporter, masterminded the entire concert and convinced Streisand to perform.
“Since the arts have the ability to raise funds and at times I can organize well, I did it,” Beatty told the press. “It's not like C. Arnholt Smith contributing money or Frank Sinatra going out and doing a bunch of concerts for Hubert Humphrey. It's a whole group of artists, independent and intelligent people, getting together on the same bill behind McGovern, the man with the immaculate slate. I'm not saying people like Carole King, Quincy Jones or Barbra Streisand couldn't sell out a concert like this on their own, but having them together is why we know we'll sell out.”
The Village Voice reported:
On stage, Barbra Streisand, James Taylor, Carole King, and Quincy Jones performed for hordes of nubile screamers, who paid up to $100 a ticket to hear their favorite artists and gawk at the ushers: Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Julie Christie, Gene Hackman, Burt Lancaster, Jon Voight, Sally Kellerman, Robert Vaughn, Mama Cass, John Philip Law, Peggy Lipton, Michelle Phillips, plus the celebrities in the audience, Gregory Peck, Britt Eklund, Carly Simon, and Joni Mitchell.
Streisand told Barbara Walters in 1976, “I was so frightened. I carried all my lyrics in my hand—15 songs. And I was so shocked the audience didn't walk out after Carole King and James Taylor. My voice went up an octave. I sang like a bird, ya know, really high, because I was so nervous.”
By Peter Greenberg
Detroit Free Press, April 23, 1972
Warren Beatty was sitting in his apartment at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles three weeks ago when the idea hit him. He picked up the phone and called Barbra Streisand. She agreed to it immediately. Then he called Carole King. Carole King called James Taylor. When the phone calls were over, what was billed as The Concert of the Year was born: Carole King, James Taylor and Barbra Streisand . . . together in one evening, and all performing for George McGovern.
But that was just the beginning. Warren called a few of his friends. People like Gene Hackman, Jack Nicholson, and Julie Christie, who in turn called a few of theirs. By week's end, more than 30 “celebrities” had agreed to act as ushers for the performance.
When the concert was announced, tickets (including 2,000 at $100 a throw) went in 18 hours. Eight days later, before a standing room only crowd at the Forum in Inglewood, California, George McGovern’s campaign for the presidency became at least $300,000 richer.
Beatty called it the "new politics." Sponsor Lou Adler called it the "new music.” And some of the "ushers" even called it the “new Hollywood." But when it was all over, McGovern planned at least four more such concerts around the country.
IN RECENT months many record companies and some rock groups have been gearing for a big drive to register young voters. But the McGovern concert marked the first time big-name rock musicians have solidified behind a specific candidate.
All that remained, then, was to find a concert hall, and to produce the mammoth concert. Beatty, who had been speaking for McGovern in Wisconsin, flew back to Los Angeles and secured the 16,000 seat Forum, and the concert was officially announced.
“l'm not what you would call an expert at concerts,” Beatty admitted, “And it's very hard to get people together all at one place and time. But,” he added, “if the film and music businesses unite behind McGovern, it wields a good amount of clout. And it's the type of clout of a business controlled by artists rather than people dependent upon the oil depletion allowance.”
Yet the biggest problem about producing the concert was specifically in who would actually control it. The McGovern staffers were thinking in terms of a benefit rally with speeches, some celebrities were thinking in terms of the academy awards, and the performers were thinking solely in terms of performing.
In the end, the performers won out. “Part of the deal with Warren,” said producer Adler, who himself purchased $8,400 worth of tickets, “was that once we're inside the arena we do music. We don't want to make a circus of the concert.” Some of the guidelines that Adler demanded included no political speeches, no passing the hat, and no leaﬂets. But a last-minute compromise was reached that allowed the regular toga-clad Forum ushers to hand out McGovern contribution envelopes as they seated the concert-goers.
FOUR PORTABLE, lavish, motorized dressing rooms rented from 20th Century Fox were backed in under the tunnel at the Forum. In addition to Taylor, King and Streisand, composer Quincy Jones had been added in the bill. Soon after, 24 neatly-dressed UCLA football players, who had been hired as security for the concert along with some private Wells Fargo guards, arrived for their assignments.
Taylor arrived for his sound check around 11 a.m. and began going through his set, with the name and order of each song taped to the side of his guitar. Forty minutes later, Carole King, still recovering from the effects of a strep throat, walked on the just-painted stage to rehearse. Two hundred feet away, Quincy Jones’ group of 35 musicians wailed away in an upstairs snack bar area to the theme song from “Ironside.”
While rehearsal continued, a quick huddle was forming just below center stage as Beatty, Adler, Asher and concert producer Jim Rissmiller tried to decide when McGovern should appear on stage. Finally Adler and Beatty approached King and Taylor, and asked if they would have any objections to coming out with McGovern, Streisand and Jones at the end of the show just to thank everyone. Taylor smiled and said, “it's O.K. with me if McGovern shows.”
Soon, however, Taylor began to discuss McGovern seriously. “He’s just the most straightforward of them all,” he said as he adjusted one of his guitar strings. “I don't think he can beat Nixon, but who knows? Maybe some more dirty laundry will come out.”
Taylor turned and walked over to the piano to confer with King. But he had one final quip. “I like McGovern's record,” Taylor said soberly, pausing. “But I especially like his album.” More Laughter.
Shortly before two p.m. Streisand’s orchestra, made up mostly of Jones’ group with a few extras, took to her Plexiglas stage, trucked in from Las Vegas, for her run- through. At three, Barbra walked into the Forum wearing a brand new green Army uniform. Outside, a $400,000 mobile recording truck was positioned to tape Streisand’s segment for a possible live album. She worked the band hard, and at 6 p.m. she was still out there when the first celebrity ushers made their entrance.
Rob Reiner, of CBS’ “All in the Family,” was one of the first to arrive. “McGovern's not the perfect candidate,” said Reiner, “But he's the closest.”
Most of the food in the buffet room went untouched, as dozens of movieland photographers crowded the stars in for group shots of them trying to eat. Meanwhile, in a basement corner, near an underground entrance, 15 Secret Service agents received copies of the basic seating plan. Equipped with special walkie-talkies, they were dispatched around the Forum's main floor.
BEATTY, WEARING a faded denim jacket with a large McGovern button pinned to the collar, was out in the audience signing autographs and giving interviews as the doors opened. As the people entered, the celebrity "ushers" tried to usher. Burt Lancaster smilingly succeeded in steering four separate blushing couples to four separate, but wrong locations. Mama Cass Elliot was seen scurrying almost frantically as she ushered, handing each patron a McGovern envelope saying “Give us some money and we'll give you a country.” Rob Reiner just kept meeting old friends.
In fact, there was such a reunion taking place in the $100 section that the concert was delayed by at least 30 minutes. Finally, at 9:20 p.m. the audience got what it came for. James Taylor walked on stage and started his set. Carole soon followed, and together they closed out the first half, nicely harmonizing on each other’s songs.
During intermission, Matt Goldbach, McGovern's state press secretary, wandered around in front of the stage surveying the audience. A young McGovern staffer ran up quickly to tell him the senator was on his way. “l wonder where all the political groupies are tonight,” Goldbach asked, laughing. It was becoming obvious to him — it was going to be a concert after all. “Found any McGovern people?” a reporter asked Lou Adler. “I've just found a lot of Carole King supporters,” Adler replied, smiling.
As the second half began, reporters began to cluster backstage for McGovern's arrival in the press room. Streisand’s voice was piped in via mobile speakers. Soon, word was relayed that McGovern was on his way, and everyone ran to a hastily opened reception room for him in a hockey team locker room. McGovern walked in slowly with Beatty at his side, and immediately approached King. “Carole, I'm one of your ardent fans, and you're really great to do this.” King just blushed and said, shrugging. “It's okay.” Behind McGovern on one wall, was a hockey diagram. Above it, in largo block letters was a sign that read: “Winning Isn't Important . . . It's Everything."
Taylor then approached McGovern as Streisand was singing her last number on stage, shook his hand, and said in a quiet voice, “I sure hope this isn't hurting you more than helping you.” McGovern just smiled and said, “Believe me ... it's not.”
Steve Schapiro, who photographed Barbra that evening, recalled that “at the first rehearsal, she had not sung for six weeks and the voice that came out was magnificent. It's just an incredible talent she has, and she's mastered it and driven it on.”
Streisand appeared onstage around 11 pm, wearing a black satin pantsuit with a red tank-top underneath.
- Conductor: David Shire
- Vocal Director: Eddie Kendrix
- Engineer: Bill Schnee
- Background Singers: The Eddie Kendrix Singers [Venetta Fields, Marti McCall, Geraldine Jones, Clydie King]
- Joe Guercio: medley design of “Sweet Inspiration/Where You Lead” and “Sing/Make Your Own Kind Of Music.”
- Streisand's Set List:
- Sing / Make Your Own Kind Of Music
- Starting Here, Starting Now
- Don't Rain On My Parade
- Monologue (“Facing fears”)
- On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever)
- Sweet Inspiration / Where You Lead
- Didn't We
- My Man
- Stoney End
- Sing / Happy Days Are Here Again
- Harp: Stella Castellucci
- French Horn: Bill Henshaw
- Violins: Janice Gower, Henry Roth, Joe Stepansky, William Henderson, Bob Barene, Arnold Belnick, Blanche Belnick, Jack Schulman
- Violas: David Campbell, Rollice Dale
- Cello: Emmet Sargeant, Ann Goodman
- Drums: Tommy Check
- Bass: Ray Neopolitan
- Piano: Joe Sample
From the album liner notes by Mort Goode:
It was April 15th. Springtime, 1972. A presidential election year. 18,000 citizens had gathered at the Forum in Los Angeles to make a personal statement, to join in and contribute to the first of a special series of fundraisers for Senator George McGovern's campaign, to hear “the most glamorous pop concert in recent Hollywood history.”
[...] a slow, “Happy Days” styled “Sweet Inspiration” that crashed into Carole's [King] “Where You Lead,” a four-black back-up choir, all wearing McGovern buttons, joining in to weave back into a churning “Sweet Inspiration,” Barbra leading them in a camp-Motown hand-jive choreography. Tambourines, horns, fast-clapping—the rock crowd was happy.
The Village Voice described the end of the concert:
Barbra Streisand had been singing hard for almost an hour and the audience of 19,000 was on its feet screaming its approbation. When McGovern with the rest of his star-studded entourage joined her on stage, the roar was deafening, sweet music to a politician's ears, the energy of 19,000 people surging toward the stage -- a great moment in show biz!
Of the concert that night, George McGovern recalled, “It was perfect ... [Streisand] just took that place by storm.”
Richard Nixon won the 1972 presidential election with 60.7% of the popular vote. The Watergate scandal, in which the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. were broken into, arrived in 1973. The FBI found that funds from Nixon's reelection campaign were used to pay the Watergate burglars. Eventually Richard Nixon resigned his presidency on August 9, 1974.
Barbra talked about this concert in her 1995 speech at Harvard University. “I did a concert for George McGovern in 1972,” she said, “and I still think that he would have made a better President than Richard Nixon. I'm disappointed that I've read so little in defense of McGovern. Was McGovern countercultural? This son of a Republican Methodist minister has been married to the same woman for 51 years and flew 35 combat missions in World War II. Isn't it odd that his patriotism be disputed by a person who never served in the military and whose own family history can hardly be called exemplary.”
In 2008, at Warren Beatty's American Film Institute salute, Streisand recalled her work with him on the Forum concert:
“I did get to be in one Warren Beatty production: the concert for George McGovern in 1972. I wasn't doing live performances then, but Warren is very persuasive and impressive, as a matter of fact. He masterminded everything from the invitations to getting famous people to be ushers ... After all the insecurity and stage fright, I was really glad that Warren made me perform because it was for a man I truly admire.”
Below: A wide shot of the Forum stage. You can see Barbra's words written on the floor. She is also handling her marijuana prop cigarette.
Related Link: Live Concert at the Forum album
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