In Frank Meyer’s own words

(The following is extracted from Peter Besas’ 2000 book “Inside Variety”. The interview with Meyer was done in Highland, NY in 1993)

Frank Meyer moved to New York after Abel Green died. He recalled: “That fall (1973) I was in New York and Syd asked me to have lunch with him. We went to La Strada, a few doors down on 46th Street, and during the course of our 14th drink – we had three before lunch, a bottle of wine with the meal, and then we were having a second after-dinner drink – and only then, after talking for almost two and a half hours, only then did Syd say to me, ‘Well, how would you like to come to New York again?’

“I said, ‘What am I going to do?’ He said, ‘I have a good thing in mind.’ So I came up the first week in January 1974. He said, ‘You’re going to be a floating reporter. You’re not going to work in any section. Only special articles.’ He had me write a story in the film section, one in the theatre section, one in Joe Cohen’s section, live entertainment. The problem was, all these people thought I was being brought in as their replacements so nobody wanted to cooperate. Herm Schoenfeld wouldn’t cooperate with me in music. Joe Cohen didn’t want to know about me; Hobe Morrison thought I was trying to become the legit editor.

“So Syd finally said, ‘I’ve got a real need for you in the music section.’ So he put me I the music section, and I was only there about three or four months and Herm Schoenfeld decided that he wanted to stop being music editor and just be a copy editor. So they made me music editor, sometime in early 1975.

“It was hard because nobody respected the Variety music section. Abel and Herm had killed it. Abel with his buddies at ASCAP and ignoring BMI and ignoring the record business in favor of sheet music – they were running sheet music charts, when the top sheet music piece sold 200 in the country! Herm was all over RCA. They would give him stories and he would ignore the other companies. He came up with what he thought was a trend in the music business one time, and I went over to do it. It was true, but RCA thought it was stupid, so he killed the story.

“The first week I was on the music section, Herm phoned me and said we’d divide the companies between Fred Kirby and me. He said, ‘I want you to cover CBS Records.’ I said fine. So I went over to see Bob Altschuler at CBS Records. And Bob said, ‘Well, look, you seem like a nice enough guy, but I gotta tell you something. Billboard, Record World and Cashbox all come out on Monday morning. Now you come out on Wednesday morning. If Walter Yetnikoff died on a Monday, I would hide it under my desk until your deadline was past. I can’t afford to give you a story. And he never did.”

In 1980, disillusioned with Variety’s music section, Meyer proposed that a new job for him be created editing special sections, since more and more of these were running and no particular person was assigned to them. When Syd gave Meyer a “no”, Meyer found a replacement for himself (Ken Terry) and made tracks, returning to Florida.

Two years later, in 1982, Syd contacted Meyer again. Meyer: “Are you still interested in doing some special section stuff?” I said, “Sure.” He said, “I’ve got three things open, and I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I got Japan, Scandinavia and New Jersey for special sections. So I said my preferences are Scandinavia, Japan and New Jersey. Well, he hired Frank Segers to go to Japan and sell ads, Larry Michie went to Scandinavia, and I went to New Jersey.”

After Meyer did the section on New Jersey, while passing through New York, he had lunch with Syd at Gallagher’s and was induced to return to the paper to run special sections. However, no special unit for this purpose was ever set up. As before, each individual section editor did his own editing for the sections.

Then, in September of 1983, after Robert Landry had retired earlier that year, and taking advantage of a luncheon with Syd and Mark Silverman, Meyer threw out, “Are you ever going to replace Landry as managing editor?”

“And he said, ‘Yes, I really ought to do something someday, but I haven’t really thought about it much.’ So the day I was leaving for Europe, in 1983, Syd called me over and said, ‘Can you leave on a later plane tonight? I want to talk to you.’

“He takes me downstairs to that little foyer and he’s going on about how he wants me to pull the editorial together, and this and that, and he’s going to give me a raise. And I said, ‘Syd, are you talking about doing this as managing editor?’ And he said, ‘Oh yeah, sure.’ ‘Okay.’ He never mentioned it! He said, ‘Well don’t mention anything to anybody before you leave.'”