Published on November 24, 2016
1. Meeting The Bee Gees: A Leader, A Jokester & A Mensch Meeting your childhood heroes can be intimidating, nerve-wracking and occasionally disappointing. Sometimes it can be truly magical. During my seven years as PR/Marketing director for IGPC - the world’s largest international postal agency - I had the unique opportunity to work with dozens of my favorite entertainers from the world of film, TV, sports and music. I could write volumes on my interactions with all of them. But perhaps the most unforgettable of all my celebrity encounters was the afternoon that I spent in the company of the Bee Gees.
2. It was October 21, 1999. The day of the Broadway premiere ofSaturday Night Fever (the musical). Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb were in town to walk the red carpet and waive to the crowd ahead of the opening curtain. In the months prior to this occasion, I had been hard at work at organizing a postal tribute to the brother’s Gibb from their
3. birth nation, the Isle Of Man. For those unfamiliar, Isle Of Man is a small island nation, located in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. Their innovative postal administration had already issued stamps of a handful of pop-culture subjects to that point (including Thomas the Tank Engine and Lord of the Rings). The Bee Gees, however, were their most famous sons. A special event seemed in order, provided that the three brothers could coordinate their busy schedules to participate in a formal ceremony. By 1999, I had organized and hosted numerous, high-profile extravaganzas where living legends from Kirk Douglas to Jackie Chan had unveiled their own postage stamps in tribute to their life and careers. All of these events were public spectacles. They were staged in front of a large audience with a heavy media presence and flashbulbs popping. The Bee Gees were delighted by their hometown postal honor, but wanted none of the fanfare that our previous honorees received.
4. Careful negotiations resulted in a proposed 90 minute photo session behind closed doors. We were required to rent out a penthouse suite at the Rihga Royal Hotel on West 54th Street in Manhattan (where the three brothers and their families would be staying). The only individuals allowed to attend this private event were me, our photographer, her assistant and two women executives from the Isle of Man post office (who flew trans-Atlantic the night before to be present).
5. Our party of five arrived at the luxury hotel around noontime. We were escorted to the top-floor suite via a private elevator and led inside by a concierge. The room was spectacular. It featured a panoramic view of the city from the 54th floor. There was also a pair of outdoor balconies, three private bedrooms, a fireplace and a formal dining area. Sheer opulence. Our photographer, Harriet, and I immediately began scouting the ideal location to set up our easel and the giant poster-board featuring a reproduction of the Bee Gees stamps. We ultimately settled on the entrance-way -- a dramatic pair of mahogany double-doors. We covered the poster with an oversized Isle Of Man flag brought over by the Postmaster, Dot Tillbury. Just prior to the Bee Gees scheduled arrival, a young publicist popped into the suite. She sought me
6. out and began complaining about the climate. “It’s too damn hot in here. Barry’s hair is going to wilt! Until this room is down to 68 degrees the boys won’t be coming in.” Barry and Maurice Gibb review their stamps I recall having to phone the main desk to locate the thermostat (which was inside a coat closet). It took 20 minutes for the room temperature to drop. And soon thereafter, our guests-of-honor casually waltzed in. All three were dressed in black from head-to-toe. Barry Gibb wore a polo shirt, black slacks and a pair of dark shades. The twins, Maurice and Robin were identically dressed in black t-shirts, black jeans and black leather jackets. Maurice also
7. wore his trademark fedora hat which made him stand out from his brothers. What a thrill it was to suddenly be in the presence of these all-time prolific hit-makers. In my novel, Poet Of The Wrong Generation, my protagonist, Johnny Elias evolves from a young music fan to an overnight megastar. However, his meteoric rise to fame is only self-validated after meeting one of his musical heroes (Ray Manzarek of the Doors) and discovering how approachable he turns out to be. For me, the validation of months of detailed preparation for a celebrity tribute project was the reception I received from the honoree. Or in this case, getting to know these three iconic musicians on a personal level, if just for an afternoon. Barry Gibb was the big brother of the trio, and acted very much like the group-leader. He took charge upon entering the suite, re-positioning our easel, while offering genial instructions to our photographer about lighting.
8. Robin Gibb entered with a playful smirk on his face. After greeting the women from the IOM post office, he began cracking jokes about his birth-nation’s flag, which features three legs in the center. His blue framed circular glasses hid his mischievous eyes, though he periodically lowered them down the bridge of his nose to flash a glimpse of his playfulness. He began singing an improvised song which repeatedly featured the words “the three legs of man.”
9. Maurice Gibb was utterly delightful. The bearded keyboard player approached me straight away and began asking about other musicians who had previously appeared on stamps. I came equipped that day with the stamps of Barbra Streisand and Bob Dylan, which I shared with him in a folder. We chatted for a few minutes about our favorite music by these artists. He then quizzed me on which of the Bee Gees songs had been written by which of the three brothers. We could have conversed for hours had he not been summoned away by Barry to commence the photo shoot.
10. Unlike our formal public stamp unveilings, there was no script to this event. No introductions or speeches. Instead, the brothers stood huddled around the flag- covered poster, then slowly unveiled it and began posing with the stamp enlargement. At one point, Barry and Robin removed the poster from the easel and held it up from either side. Maurice slid behind the board, resting his chin at the top, then ducked down until only his hat was showing. The photos from that session wonderfully capture how much fun the Gibbs were having with this unique postal honor.
11. Soon after the first round of photos, Barry motioned for the women from Isle of Man Post to pose with him and his brothers. Next, they asked for me to join them for a few shots. I had come prepared with a specially framed collection of the stamps sheets, which I presented to them. This led to another series of smiles and poses. The brothers were even gracious enough to ask our photographer and her assistant to jump in to be photographed with the trio.
12. The shoot lasted about 20 minutes. The brothers then sat down on the sofas in the room and began signing autographs on the handful of stamp sheets that the postal reps had brought along. They also signed posters, Isle of Man tourist brochures, and whatever else the women could stuff into a pair of shopping bags. All throughout, the Bee Gees entertained us with stories of their childhood in their native country. Robin shared an insight of how a sound made by their father’s car driving over a particular bridge inspired the opening rhythm to their hit, Jive Talkin. Maurice sang us a few lines from Night Fever in an exaggerated German accent in response to a question about international premiers of Saturday Night Fever. And Barry spoke excitedly about an
13. upcoming New Year’s Eve millennium concert that they were going to play in Miami. The Bee Gees arrive on Broadway A delightful hour passed in an eye-blink. Then it was time to bid our farewell to our honorees. Robin snuck out quietly with his framed set of stamps. Barry shook my hand graciously, then hugged each of the women in our group before exiting. Maurice was the last to depart. But before leaving the suite, he walked around the room, handing each of us a small white envelope. Contained inside was a pair of tickets to that night’s Broadway premiere. “I hope to see you guys tonight at the theater,” he remarked. And later he made
14. good on this promise, visiting us in the balcony during intermission that evening. A true rock n roll mensch if ever I met one. A sad postscript to this memory is that Maurice Gibb died most unexpectedly just three years after our encounter. He was only 53 years old. And his twin, Robin left us far too young just nine years later. Maurice Gibb The premature loss of these supremely talented and likable musicians leaves me to appreciate all the more my incredibly good fortune to have spent a moment in time with all three of them together in the same room. Equally endearing as they were talented.
15. Poet Of The Wrong Generation by Lonnie Ostrow is now available on AMAZON in paperback and eBook format.