Stay Tuned By Stan Cornyn: If You Act For Jack, Then You Sing For Jack

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013
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Tab Hunter
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Stay Tuned By Stan Cornyn: If You Act For Jack, Then You Sing For Jack

Every Tuesday and Thursday, former Warner Bros. Records executive and industry insider Stan Cornyn ruminates on the past, present, and future of the music business.

If You Act for Jack, Then You Sing for Jack

Owning a major, movie/TV-making studio in Burbank (just up and over the hill from that “Hollywood” sign), brother Jack Warner had studio actors under contract. Dozens of them. Contracts that, in effect, said “Jack’s the Boss here. He’s your Boss.”

Warner and his contracts controlled Warner stars’ careers, on TV, in movies, and (starting in 1958) making records. With newborn Warner Records scrounging for Vitaphonic hits, using the picture company’s stars-under-contract to make hit records, that made sense to Warner. He made that clear to WBR’s head, Jim Conkling. Very.

One of Jack Warner’s hottest contracts was with Tab Hunter, who’d been Jack Warner’s top-grossing star since 1955. Before, when Warner had no record company, the fine-without-a-shirt-on Tab had made records for Dot Records, a label owned by Paramount Studios over the hill.

At Dot, in 1957, Hunter had hits, including a #1 with “Young Love,” which was #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for six weeks. “On Dot?” fumed Warner. Getting his contract star back under the Warner umbrella had given Jack Warner one more reason to have his own record label.

So now, with Warner Bros. Records open, Jack stood firm. Tab was abruptly now recording for Jack’s Records. Dot was even banned from releasing a “next” album it had just recorded with Tab.

Hunter had no choice. “OK, Boss,” Tab agreed.

In WBR’s debut year, Tab Hunter’s new “Jealous Heart” was rushed to market. It was the label’s eighth released single (#5008).

“Jealous Heart” turned out to be WBR’s only hit single in 1958. Even at that, it reached only #62 tops on Billboard‘s singles chart. Also in a rush came Tab’s first Warner album (W1221), at first without “Jealous Heart” in it. The LP was simply called “Tab Hunter.”

Warner Records quickly focused its marketing might behind luring Tab addicts into record stores, there to sample the album, and to buy. Ads were placed to raise the crowd. Those who obeyed could get a “Foto Souvenir.”

Then, when “Jealous Heart” got radio play, WBR’s marketers again stepped up, quickly adding “Jealous Heart” into the album and onto its cover top.

Calling from his mighty-size office across Warner Blvd. to his record label head housed above a machine shop, Mr. Warner, who preferred being called “Chief,” did not fail to tell his new label head, Jim Conkling, “More, Jim. More.”

Jim Conkling, too, was under a Warner contract. “OK,” Jim agreed. He didn’t feel like adding the ”Chief” word.

• • • • •

Where Is Tab Hunter Now:

Over half-a-century later, Tab Hunter (born 1931) is retired, living in Montecito, California. He does as he pleases. Tab’s sidewalk star is at 6320 Hollywood Blvd. He no longer has to say “OK, Chief” to any boss. Hasn’t done that for half a century now.