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Harold Bronson

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The Rhino Records Story Takes Shape Part 4: Andy Kaufman and the Birth of Rhino Home Video

Posted: 10/07/2013 8:20 pm

With his long blond hair, beard and pale skin, Martin Marguiles -- who went by the name Johnny Legend -- could pass for Yosemite Sam's svelte brother. In the early days of the Rhino Records label we issued a 12-inch EP, pressed on "Blood Red Vinyl" of notorious ex-professional wrestler Fred Blassie's "Pencil Neck Geek," which Martin had co-written and co-produced based around a catchphrase of Blassie's.

Martin and his wife, Linda Lautrec, co-wrote and co-directed an hour parody of the 1981 feature film My Dinner With Andre, shot on video at Sambo's Restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. Whereas Andre presented an intellectual conversation about the theatre and the philosophy of life, My Breakfast with Blassie depicted comedian Andy Kaufman and Freddie Blassie improvising a dialogue about mundane things, like discovering that they both were germ phobic to the extent that they carried Handi Wipes. The program had value, but Martin had difficulty in getting anybody to buy it. He suggested my partner Richard take it--for no advance--and use it to form Rhino Home Video.

I remember seeing Andy Kaufman when he'd breeze into the Rhino store and head straight for the bargain bins. I didn't find out until much later, but from the way he was dressed, he must have been on a break from his job as a dishwasher at the Nosh in Beverly Hills. Andy wasn't doing it for the money -- he was already an established comedian--but for the experience/research.

Some record companies had Christmas parties. Having survived four years as a label, we decided to celebrate by throwing a Hanukkah party, on Monday, December 14, 1981, at At My Place in Santa Monica. It was a good event. We had a couple of bands play, a mock rabbi/comedian who emceed, and we gave away promotional yarmulkes. We served potato latkes and egg cream sodas. Martin invited Andy, who showed up after it was over. We were cleaning up when he arrived, and he proceeded to wrestle a woman, which was one of his bits at the time. It was a hard-fought contest that Andy barely won.

With our release looming, Andy called me, pitching me ideas for albums. During our conversations, when I expressed a preference for the one of his taped phone conversations with his grandmother, he would try to convince me that an album of him performing songs on a cheesy organ was a better idea. He told me he was a fan of radio raconteur/author Jean Shepherd. Unlike Andy, I never heard Shepherd's New York radio show, but I enjoyed reading his book of stories, Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories: and Other Disasters. The 1983 movie A Christmas Story was based on his writing. I tracked down a copy of Shepherd's 1971 Mercury Records album, Declassified Jean Shepherd, to give to him, but I never had the opportunity.

To coincide with the release of our first video, we held a premier party at the Nuart Theater in West L.A on March 20, 1984. Kaufman attended, as well as Marilu Henner, also from Taxi. Richard borrowed eight toasters, and we served cheap waffles in the lobby in keeping with the breakfast motif. I was surprised at how ravenously they were consumed. The theater sold out. There wasn't even a seat for me. I had seen the movie, so I didn't mind.

Two months after our screening, Andy passed away from cancer. R.E.M. referred to the movie in their 1993 tribute song to Andy, "Man On the Moon." Richard liked the reaction we received from My Breakfast with Blassie, wanted to do more, and Rhino Home Video was born.

Harold Bronson's book THE RHINO RECORDS STORY will be published on October 22nd.

 
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