Robert Stigwood is an Australian-born and British-based entertainment mogul who managed rock acts in Britain. The British entertainment establishment was shocked on January 13, 1967 when Brian Epstein merged his entertainment management company, NEMS Enterprises, with Robert Stigwood’s company. People are still uncertain as to why Epstein made this move. He obviously wanted to reduce his involvement in NEMS Enterprises, but this merger was considered a puzzling move.
Stigwood agreed to transfer all of his company’s assets into NEMS. As a result, he received major shareholding in NEMS, in addition to a handsome salary and many other perks as could only be expected.
The four Beatles were absolutely livid. They definitely had no fondness for Stigwood. In 2000, Paul told interviewer Greil Marcus:
“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 out of tune. That’s a promise. So if this guy buys us, that’s what he’s buying.”
Brian Epstein read the writing on the wall and stayed on solely as the manager of The Beatles and turned over all of his other acts to Stigwood. Obviously, after Epstein’s death later that year, The Beatles waved goodbye to Stigwood and NEMS, en route to forming their own company, Apple Corps. Though they were under a management contract to Stigwood after Epstein’s death, The Beatles could get out of it if they formed their own management company and managed themselves. Hence, some people credit Stigwood for in effect forming Apple Records.
Stigwood would go on to have absolutely phenomenal success in music, movies and television.
After seeing John Travolta in the 1976 movie Carrie and seeing that he could also sing because of his 1976 Top Ten hit “Let Her In”, Stigwood immediately signed the actor from the hit show “Welcome Back Kotter” to a three film deal. The first two films, Saturday Night Fever and Grease were both international smash successes produced by Stigwood that catapulted Travolta into superstardom. However, the third film, 1978’s Moment by Moment starred Travolta and Lily Tomlin; it was an absolute and laughable bomb and many feel that it did irreparable damage to Travolta’s career.
The biggest musical act that Stigwood managed was The Bee Gees; hence the Bee Gees dominated the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and Barry Gibb wrote the song “Grease” which was a number one smash hit for Frankie Valli in August 1978.
Stigwood decided to make Saturday Night Fever after reading an article in New York magazine by British rock journalist Nik Cohn entitled “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night.” Cohn had recently arrived in America and was fascinated by the new disco culture. He wrote a compelling article about an Italian-American kid who worked in a hardware store by day, but on the weekends had a whole new life as a star on the dance floor at discos. Cohn’s article touched upon how this person and his group of blue-collar friends from the same Brooklyn neighborhood were pioneers of disco, a new dance craze and subculture that would soon sweep the nation.
Robert Stigwood was enthralled by the article and paid Cohn the hefty sum of $90,000 for the film rights to the article. Stigwood hired veteran screenwriter Norman Wexler to write the screenplay. Cohn talked about this 1975 magazine article in 1997 for the making of the twentieth anniversary DVD of Saturday Night Fever. About a year later, Cohn went public and said that he totally fabricated everything in the article and that the likable Italian-American young adult disco star and his friends never even existed. Don’t you think Cohn was laughing all the way to the bank when he cashed that $90,000 check?