It’s a remarkable story of personal and professional friendship, all the more so because it plays out within the notoriously volatile realm of show business.
Two young men skip university to become chartered accountants. They run a partnership for almost two decades, serving and representing many of the preeminent musical attractions of their time. After deciding to go separate ways, they remain the best of friends, and almost 60 years after they met are reunited as co-executive producers on “Judy,” an awards season front-runner.
And it all happened on the strength of a handshake.
“We never had a piece of paper,” claims Laurence Myers.
“We never signed a contract or anything,” Ellis M. Goodman confirms.
Myers left school early. “I wanted to be a Latin-American percussionist, but if I’d told my mother that at 16, I wouldn’t have made it to 17.” He and Goodman met in 1962 while studying for their accounting certification. The latter was drawn to Myers’ outgoing personality, while Myers recalls that “Ellis had dark suits, he looked like he’d been to a great school.”
Goodman also had briefly listed Petula Clark as a client, which appealed to the other’s entertainment bent. Goodman Myers and Co. was born.
“Neither of us were very good accountants,” the top-billed partner confesses, but they had a knack for management. And luck too, such as a chance encounter with a gent hoping to do business with influential record producer Mickie Most.
Would Goodman happen to know anything about that field?
“And I said, ‘Oh yes, Petula Clark, Petula Clark, Petula Clark,’ and he said, ‘Well, you’ve got to act for me because nobody knows much about this stuff.’ So we were in on the ground floor.”
A client who inherited a distillery soon got Goodman preoccupied with the liquor business, but Myers dove into attracting music clients. Big ones. Mick Jagger asked him to set up a pension, “because I’m not going to be singing rock ’n’ roll when
I’m 60.” (As he told the pair!) Legendary executive Allen Klein, who taught Myers to go toe-to-toe with record execs, brought him in to help structure the Beatles’ Apple Corp. The Animals, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, Donovan, David Bowie all came through the doors. A record label, Gem, evolved into GTO Records and was eventually sold to
CBS. Forays into film production (“The Greek Tycoon”) and distribution (“Picnic at Hanging Rock”) followed.
And each man shared 50% of his business — Goodman in spirits, Myers in showbiz — with the other.
Today, both enjoy reminiscing about the U.K. record explosion of the ’60s and ’70s. Myers calls it “the Wild West,” and Goodman says, “It was like tech is now. It was a moving target, because the pop music industry was booming.”
Legends and one-offs alike shared similar issues in a brand-new field, Goodman recalls. “How you treated their income. Whether they would spend all their money before they earned it. And then they had big tax problems. … Then after a few months, often they fell out with each other, and we were trying to be mentors and solve problems. You have to have — which Laurence did have — humor, knowledge, confidence and be able to deal with the different personalities. Because some became divas and some weren’t. And it’s the same today. Managing people is the biggest part of success.”
Myers greatly enjoyed helping creative artists, underpaid and underappreciated at that time, earn their due in money and consideration. Aside from the drinkers and druggies (“the biggest nightmare”), he recalls his clients with affection. “They’re creative and they’re nervous. They’re terrified, which is a human trait. And they have to be handled in the nicest way.” Bowie, he notes, “had two personalities. When he would be in my office and we’d just be talking, he was a nice boy from South London. The minute he would be exposed to the public in any shape or form, he became DAVID BOWIE, with an attitude and all the things that made him successful and, indeed, an icon.”
The team came to a crossroads as the ’80s were about to dawn and Goodman’s liquor interests were to go public. “I was going to Glasgow and he was going to Cannes. Laurence had the much better deal on the visits and the parties,” he chuckles.
Meanwhile, the punk revolution was exploding when Myers brought his wife to see a band he’d signed. “The fans had all the [Mohawks] and the chains and they were spitting over at the artists, which was how you showed your appreciation.
“The guy next to me was the archetypal punk, the whole thing, with Mrs. Punk next to him. He was drinking beer, and he started to vomit. The vomit sort of dripped down to his Doc Martins, bouncing onto my Gucci loafers, but he didn’t look up. He looked down to his feet and my feet, and he didn’t move. And I thought: ‘It’s time to quit.’”
The split was predictably amicable. Goodman explains, “We decided, OK, you take all the entertainment stuff, and I’ll take all the whisky, beer and wine and spirits stuff.” He and his wife settled in Chicago, where he has produced award-winning documentaries, written two novels and a history of Corona Beer, and supports the local theater scene, including the Writers Theater, whose “Trevor: The Musical” will open Off Broadway this spring.
Remaining in the U.K., Myers has found satisfaction producing successful West End musicals and tours. He took pride, even up to the premiere, in declining an offer to invest in a dicey-sounding Andrew Lloyd Webber show about felines. (As he writes in his candid, highly amusing memoir “Hunky Dory (Who Knew?),” “Those bloody cats’ eyes advertising the show follow me around at every airport.”)
A night at the theater in Australia in 2005 led to the most recent turn in the men’s careers. Myers was enthralled by Peter Quilter’s “End of the Rainbow,” dramatizing Judy Garland’s troubled final days in London mere months before her death. In co-producing the West End and Broadway productions, he retained the film rights because “it was Judy Garland, and it was a really good story. Obviously not for kids, but to a certain market, I thought it’d be of great interest.”
Much of the film “Judy” focuses on her troubled engagement at the Talk of the Town nitery. “I was old enough to go, but I had friends that went and they said, ‘Don’t spend the money. She’s awful. She came on, she was drunk’ — so I didn’t go. That resonated with me.”
Goodman, too, passed up the chance to catch Garland in that engagement. But he loved Quilter’s play in London. He readily accepted Myers’ invitation to come on board as a producer for Broadway and assemble an investor group. After several years of conversations, fundraising and talent wrangling, the movie was finally brought home (they applaud producer David Livingstone) with an acclaimed star performance from Renée Zellweger.
Let Goodman have the final word on a pair of young men from similar backgrounds, breaking new ground in an exciting era: “It’s a lesson in today’s world, which is so tied up with legal fights and litigation. You can have business relationships on the shake of a hand, if you have the right integrity and your word means something.”