Alan Livingston

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Alan Livingston served as president of Capitol Records during the label's commercial and creative heyday, signing a series of landmark acts including the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Band -- he also…
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Alan Livingston served as president of Capitol Records during the label's commercial and creative heyday, signing a series of landmark acts including the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Band -- he also resurrected the career of Frank Sinatra by pairing the crooner with arranger Nelson Riddle, a collaboration that yielded some of the most timeless music in the American pop canon. Born in McDonald, PA, on October 15, 1917, Livingston studied saxophone and clarinet as a child, but the real musical talent in the family was older brother Jay, who later pursued a career as a professional songwriter, teaming with longtime collaborator Ray Evans to pen a string of classics including "Mona Lisa," "Que Sera, Sera," and the holiday perennial "Silver Bells." The Livingston brothers both attended the University of Pennsylvania, co-founding a big-band orchestra that played fraternity dances and related campus events. Alan later earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Penn's Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, relocating to New York City to work in advertising. Livingston served as a second lieutenant with the U.S. Army infantry during World War II, and upon returning to civilian life he relocated to Los Angeles, landing at Capitol in early 1946. There he wrote and produced what he dubbed "record-readers" -- i.e., albums for children issued alongside illustrated read-along books.

In the fall of 1946, Livingston created a record-reader titled Bozo at the Circus, teaming with a staff illustrator to flesh out the look of the titular clown narrator -- he also hired actor Pinto Colvig to portray Bozo on record, and with producer Billy May supplying the background music, the resulting LP sold over eight million copies, spawning a series of sequels. In 1949, Capitol and Livingston inked a deal with Los Angeles television station KTTV to produce Bozo's Circus, a weekly series featuring Colvig in the clown's signature blue-and-red costume and whiteface makeup. Actor Larry Harmon, originally hired by Livingston and Capitol to portray Bozo at promotional appearances, later acquired the licensing rights to the character, forming his own animation studio to produce a series of Bozo cartoons -- in addition, Harmon introduced a franchise model enabling television stations across the globe to introduce their own live-action Bozo series, and in all, more than 200 different actors inhabited the role over the decades to follow. Livingston was also charged with developing record-readers for characters including the Walt Disney stable, Walter Lantz's Woody Woodpecker, and Western hero Hopalong Cassidy -- the 1950 release Hopalong Cassidy and the Singing Bandit made history as the first-ever children's album to crack the Billboard Top Ten. A year later, Livingston penned the pop smash "I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat," voiced by Mel Blanc and credited to Warner Bros.' popular character Tweety Pie.

The success of the record-reader franchise vaulted Livingston to the position of Capitol's vice president in charge of creative operations, and in early 1953 he signed Frank Sinatra, who was dropped by Columbia the previous year in the wake of declining record sales and waning appeal among the teen audience. Sinatra arrived at Capitol weeks after winning an Oscar for his supporting turn in the film From Here to Eternity -- when Livingston suggested he team with arranger Nelson Riddle, the singer balked, insisting on reuniting with arranger Axel Stordahl, who supervised the majority of his earlier hits. Capitol reluctantly relented, but when Livingston and producer Voyle Gilmore agreed that the first Sinatra/Stordahl session for Capitol failed to capture the results the label expected, Sinatra finally agreed to do it their way. With Riddle at the helm, the crooner returned to the studio on April 30, 1953, to record the classic "I've Got the World on a String," immediately followed by the blockbuster "Young at Heart." In tandem with Riddle and fellow staff arrangers Gordon Jenkins and Billy May, Sinatra reinvented himself at Capitol, recording a series of now-landmark albums -- including In the Wee Small Hours, Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely, and Where Are You? -- that introduced new levels of intensity and introspection to the popular music idiom. Sessions like Swing Easy!, Songs for Swingin' Lovers!, and Come Fly with Me also established the hip, devil-may-care public persona on which the Sinatra legend now rests.

Livingston left Capitol in 1957 to become vice president of NBC network television programming, a tenure that gave birth to the long-running Western series Bonanza -- he returned to Capitol in 1961, this time as president of the company. During Livingston's stint at the helm, Capitol grew from net sales of $6 million per year to annual revenues in excess of $100 million -- he also shepherded the label's transformation into a rock & roll-oriented imprint, signing the Beach Boys in 1962 and the following year agreeing to release the Beatles' U.K. chart smash "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in the U.S. Several New York City radio stations added the single to their rotations immediately upon its December 23, 1963, release, and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" sold more than a million copies in just ten days. Livingston also negotiated the Beatles' first journey to the U.S., and on February 9, 1964, the group played CBS' The Ed Sullivan Show to an estimated audience of 74 million viewers, officially setting Beatlemania in motion. Livingston again exited Capitol in 1968, founding his own production firm, Mediarts, which later produced the acclaimed Paul Newman feature Downhill Racer. In the summer of 1976, Livingston joined Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation as senior vice president and president of its entertainment group. Four years later, he took over Atalanta Investment Company, and in 1988 published a novel, Ronnie Finkelhof, Superstar. Livingston died March 13, 2009, at his Beverly Hills home -- he was 91.