Alan Livingston

Signed the Beatles, Relaunched Sinatra, Launched Bonanza, and Created Bozo the Clown

Alan Livingston was an important entertainment industry executive who made key decisions that influenced the music industry, children’s enterainment, and network television programming  As chairman of Capitol Records, he signed the Beatles in 1963, released their records in America, and brought them to the U.S. to perform.  During his term as VP of programming at NBC Television, he launched classic shows such as Bonanza.  As a writer producer for Capitol Records he created the character of Bozo the Clown for a series of albums and illustrated read-along  books.

Alan Wendell Livingston was born in McDonald, Pa in 1917 where his immigrant parents owned a shoe store. His father, Maurice, was from Russia, and his mother, Rose, was from Germany. The youngest of three children, his mother encouraged him to learn musical instruments and to read.  He studied violin, clarinet, and saxophone.  His older brother Jay studied piano with Fredric Archer, the founder of the Pittsburgh Symphony. Allan and Jay used to sit for hours watching movies and live shows at the Stanley Theater that were emceed by William Powell.  The brothers performed in bands around Pittsburgh while in high school.  Alan followed Jay to the University of Pennsylvania where he studied economics at the Wharton School until his graduation in 1940. While at Penn Al lead his own college orchestra that included his brother Jay.  During the summers Al and Jay got jobs playing on cruise ships that took them to 36 countries.  Jay went on to compose hundreds of songs including "Mona Lisa", “Que Sera, Sera”, and “Silver Bells”. Before enlisting in the Army, Alan worked in advertising for three years.  After World War II he hitched a ride on a military plane to LA.  Want to work in music hear badger executives at the 4 year old Capitol Records until they gave him a job as a writer/producer. 

Alan’s first job at Capitol Records was to launch a children’s record catalog.  He wrote and produced a series of read along records featuring the character he created "Bozo the Clown".  The first album "Bozo at the Circus" was released in 1946.  It was the first ever reader-record book and album set, that allowed to children to look at pictures in a book while following along with a story on an album.   Livingston hired Pinto Colvig who did many of the Disney Cartoon character voices, to play Bozo.  Pittsburgh arranger/song writer Billy May produced the music. The Bozo series sold over eight million records between the late 1940s and early 1950s.  The first Bozo television show as launched in 1949 in Los Angeles with Pinto Colvig playing Bozo.  Livingston wrote a produced my other children’s records with Disney and Warner Brothers cartoon characters.  He wrote a hit song hit "I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat" that was sung by Mel Blanc as Tweety Pie.  At one point 8 of the top ten children albums were written by Alan.

Livingston was promoted to Vice President of all creative operations of Capitol Records.  In the early 1950s Frank Sinatra’s once hot career was at rock bottom. Frank was broke and no-one would hire him.  Alan took a shot. He signed Frank Sinatra paring him with arranger Nelson Riddle.  The paring produced the classic "I've Got the World on a String" and the no. 2 hit "Young at Heart" that launched Sinatra’s singing comeback in 1954.  Under Livingston’s leadership Capitol Records sales grew from the $6 million to $100 million per year.  .Livingston is also credited for inspiring the design of the Capital Records Tower in LA.

Leaving Capitol Records Livingston became Vice President in charge of television programming for NBC.  He oversaw the shows of Milton Berle, Dean Martin, Dinah Shore, and Jimmy Durante.  Alan hired David Dortort to write a pilot about a father and his three sons living on the Ponderosa The show, titled “Bonanza,” ran for 430 episodes, from 1959 to 1973. His brother Jay wrote the theme song.

After five years Livingston returned to Capitol Records to become President and later Chairman of the Board of both Capitol and EMI.   Livingston turned Capitol into a rock oriented label signing the Beach Boys, Steve Miller, the Band, and others.  In 1963 he received a call from Brian Epstine asking why Capitol would not release the music of the Beatles.  Through its EMI ownership Capitol had the right of first refusal on the Beatles in America. Another Capitol executive had turned down the Beatles four times, saying that English bands don’t sell in America.  Espstein said to Livingston , ‘I am the personal manager of the Beatles and I don’t understand why you won’t release them.’  Alan replied “Well, frankly, Mr. Epstein, I haven’t heard them”.  Epstein asked Alan to please listen to the Beatles and call him back.  Alan listened.  He signed the Beatles to Capitol, released “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, and launched a $40,000 promotional campaign.  He brought the Beatles to America the following year. 

Later in his career at his own company Mediarts he produced movies and records.  He signed Don McLean and released the no 1 smash “American Pie”.   After selling his company to United Artists, Livingston joined Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation as Senior Vice President and President, Entertainment Group.  He wrote the novel titled "Ronnie Finkelhof, Superstar" about a Harvard pre-law student who becomes an overnight rock super star that was publish in 1988.  Livingston was married to actresses Betty Hutton and Nancy Olson. He died in 2009 at age 91.

Alan Livingston with the Beatles
Alan Livingston Talking about the Band

Alan Livingston with the Beach Boys

Alan Livingston with Bozo