NAME: Alan W. Livingston.
DESCRIPTION: Former CEO of Capitol Records.
LAST SEEN: Running an animation studio in China.
One might associate the 75-year-old Alan W. Livingston with the rags-to-riches lore of Horatio Alger, except his successes have had too much flair. This entertainment mogul, who boosted the careers of both Bozo the Clown and Frank Sinatra, founded Pacific Rim Entertainment in 1987, an animation studio based in Shenzhen, China, almost a decade after he left the entertainment business.
In college at U. Penn toward the end of the Depression, Livingston joined the Army at the start of World War II, and moved to New York after the war. “I read somewhere once that you could be whatever you wanted. As long as I could remember, I was determined to make my way in the big world. And that meant New York,” he recalls. But upon arrival in Gotham he read a cover story in Life Magazine about “people making $ 10,000 a year and having swimming pools in their back yards,” which brought him to Los Angeles.
A small company called Capitol Records hired him, and he later signed a down-on-his-luck Frank Sinatra. Livingston also wrote kiddie hit singles like “Bozo at the Circus” and “I Taut I Taw a Puddy Tat,” which made the reputations of Bozo the Clown and Tweety Pie.
NBC lured him away from Capitol 10 years later. As VP in charge of network production, he created the series “Bonanza.” He met the actress Nancy Olson (Academy Award nominee for “Sunset Boulevard”), and in 1962 he proposed to her in a Palm Springs swimming pool.
A waning Capitol Records brought Livingston back as president of the company in the early ’60s. He signed the Beach Boys and the Kingston Trio, but when he brought home a single by a new young British band and played it for his wife, she said dismissively, “C’mon honey –‘I wanna hold your hand’?” He signed the Beatles anyway.
After an executive stint at Fox, Livingston joined Atlanta Investment Co. as president in 1980. He left his post in 1987 and was restless within months. He had always dreamed of making an animated film from the hit children’s album he wrote in the ’50s, “Sparky’s Magic Piano,” and decided to do it in China — labor costs are less there and the country had a surprising number of animators. Though he encountered frustrations during the cumbersome process of working there, he liked the final product. After a year of negotiations, the Chinese government granted Livingston the right to full ownership of a studio in China, waiving a law requiring foreign investors to have Chinese partners.
After training the Chinese workers in Western-style animation,he offered animated services for other companies around the globe, including Disney, Dic, 20th Century Fox, Germany’s M.S. Films and France Animation.
Livingston works 10-hour days in Santa Monica with his staff of eight, but makes one-week trips to Shenzhen four times a year to check in on the studio, which has a work force ranging from 400 to 600 animators. “I had no plans to be this busy,” he says, “but it just happened. It comes naturally.”
Do he and his wife have time for each other? “She is very busy, too,” Livingston says. She’s on the boards of both the Center Theater Group and Cal Arts, but the two own an apartment in New York where they visit their 29 -year-old son Christopher and attend the theater. “I like to go back to the real world sometimes.”