The best stories are always found behind the scenes and few things are what they appear on the surface. Rich Engler is a nationally recognized concert promoter from Pittsburgh who experienced celebrity reality first hand. He partnered with Pat DiCesare in 1973 to create DiCesare-Engler Productions and they brought some of the best talent in the world to our area. Their name became synonymous with famous concerts and what went on backstage was a closely guarded secret until now. This is the tell all year when Johnny Carson’s attorney wrote a surprising book about the real Johnny and Rich Engler decided to share his shocking exploits with his new book Behind The Stage Door that is hot off the press. He doesn’t hold back with up close and personal encounters with Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Starship, Kansas and KISS to name a few.
In 1977 DiCesare-Engler Productions purchased an aging movie house called the Stanley Theater (3500 seats) and quickly transformed it into one of the nation’s top concert halls. It is now known as the Benedum Center. In 1978, Billboard magazine named the Stanley the No. 1 mid-sized concert auditorium in the United States. DiCesare-Engler Productions was ranked as the No. 2 production team for the same year. Bill Graham Presents was No. 1. Engler witnessed the transformation of the concert venue into a multi-billion dollar industry. He was there when the business of rock ‘n’ roll began to overshadow the music and saw many changes throughout his career. Pop stars were notoriously vain and unpredictable creatures. He recalls Carly Simons freaking out backstage at the Stanley and canceling due to stage fright with 3,500 people waiting outside. Madonna insisted that nobody working at the Arena look at her and Van Halen insisted on no brown M&M’s. His career certainly appears to have been one wild ride and now you can come along for the view. The book contains a lot of Pittsburgh nostalgia and tons of great pictures. It will be a walk down memory lane for those who grew up here and wistful imagery for those who wish they did.
I loved watching Saturday Night Live growing up and actually remember the original cast. John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Steve Martin will always hold a special place in my heart. Gilda Radner married my favorite genius comedian Gene Wilder and later made a huge mark on Pittsburgh when Gilda’s Club opened in 1999. Gilda’s Club is a warm and welcoming place where anyone diagnosed with cancer can go for social, emotional and informational support. Membership is totally free.
But the biggest link Pittsburgh has to Saturday Night Live is Don Roy King. He attended Monroeville Junior High to become the four-time Emmy Award winning director of Saturday Night Live. He owes his auspicious start to his eighth grade teacher Anne Boden who took him and his classmates to Broadway where he met legendary Mary Martin starring in Sound of Music. It turns out she went to Monroeville Junior High too. If you have talented kids you may want to point them in that direction.
Kings credits Pittsburgh for influencing him in many ways growing up. He describes our city as a good, strong, hardworking blue collar town where ambition and dreams aren’t squelched. He showed initiative when the director unexpectedly quit at the PBS station he had just started working at in an entry level position. Don’t you love his confidence! He learned everything he could 30 seconds before the broadcast and managed to pull it off. He was a director two weeks into his career. I can see why he is so successful directing a live show where anything can happen and there are no second takes.
Don found himself back Pittsburgh a few years later for a dream job producing Pirates baseball. Soon after he was offered a chance to direct the pioneering Mike Douglas talk show. This gave him the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in show biz including fellow Pittsburgher Gene Kelly, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Lewis and Fred Astaire.
It has been almost a decade since Don was recommended for an open slot of director at Saturday Night Live and immediately impressed creator Lorne Michaels. Don has never forgotten his roots and will be returning to Pittsburgh for a LIVE performance on February 5th at The Frick Fine Arts Building. You can reserve your seat through Steeltown Entertainment and tickets are only $15.00. This famous citizen makes us hometown proud and is one speaker you don’t want to miss.