The group honored as the Advance Professionals wrote the book on Live Event Promotion. Since the early days of P.T. Barnum it has been the work of those who executed the tour planning, marketing, advertising , sponsorship and public relations that made the circus a financial success. The group consists of professionals directly employed by a Circus and, in some cases, prominent local advertising/PR agencies who represented the shows in local and regional markets.
The circus is equal parts art and commerce. Nothing happens unless a ticket is sold. In the world of show business, without business there is no show. This is the biography of promotion legend J. Lee Friedman, president of Ahnevant agency in Atlanta and a member of the Advance Professionals.
Mr. Friedman handled the local marketing for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey before and during the Feld acquisition. He also worked with other circus arts organization in the southern USA.
Mr. Friedman handled all local promotion at the Omni Arena in Atlanta by exclusive contract with the venue for decades. The Greatest Show On Earth was one such attraction playing the Omni that utilized the services of Mr. Friedman’s agency. During this time J. Lee became a mentor to many young advance professionals, holding court at 1850 Lennox Road, home of the Ahnevant Agency. Among the young Advance Professionals were David Rosenwasser, Ken Wachter, Michael Franks, Richard Adler, Brad Krassner, Bill Powell and many others.
Cedric Walker, a young advance professional, who later went on to create Universoul Circus, worked with Mr. Friedman presenting musical acts in Atlanta and other markets throughout the south. Mr. Friedman was Cedric’s mentor and an early investor in Universoul Circus. Mr. Walker credits Friedman for his mentorship in the early years of Universoul Circus.
Mr. Friedman is credited with the legendary quote: “There is no such thing as bad business..only bad deals!”
From the Atlanta Constitution Journal:
ATLANTA: J Lee Friedman, 92, colorful, mesmerizing show promoter
By HOLLY CRENSHAW
Show biz impresario J Lee Friedman crammed his life with circus clowns, prancing ponies, raucous roller derbies, difficult divas and assorted razzmatazz.
Yet every night when the lights went down and the curtain went up, Mr. Friedman hardly noticed what was happening on stage. He was too busy tallying tickets and checking the fine print on contracts.
“Most of the time, he never made it to the seats at one of his shows,” said his son Lynn Friedman of Atlanta. “He just loved the contracts. He loved counting the tickets. He loved the deal.”
Sure, Mr. Friedman loved it as well when a crowd was mesmerized by one of his shows. But his favorite saying? “There are no bad shows, only bad deals.”
For decades, Mr. Friedman — who was always called “J Lee” even though the J didn’t stand for anything — was one of Atlanta’s most colorful promoters. His legendary career, which included more than 6,000 events, earned him an induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1998.
“J Lee was larger than life and an entertainment icon who touched more lives than anyone I’ve ever known,” said Bob Williams of Atlanta, president of Philips Arena. “He mentored hundreds of young people and, luckily, I was one of them.”
Mr. Friedman got his first glimpse into the entertainment world when celebrities such as Al Jolson and Fanny Brice stayed at the Louisville, Ky., hotel run by his father.
After he earned a law degree from the University of Louisville, he moved to Atlanta in 1946. He promoted roller derby events, “Holiday on Ice” performances and circuses. He presented jazz festivals and family attractions such as “Sesame Street Live.” He brought Broadway shows to town with stars such as Pearl Bailey and Carol Channing. And he staged concerts by everyone from Maria Callas to Elvis Presley, from Liberace to Elton John.
Mr. Williams said the first time he spotted Mr. Friedman at the now-defunct Omni coliseum, “He frightened me. Here was this man with his unconventional dress and unconventional looks, with those big bushy eyebrows.”
“But early in my career, he gave me the wonderful opportunity to pick his brain and to learn more about concert and entertainment promotion than I could have ever learned elsewhere,” Mr. Williams said.
A lumbering bear of a man, Mr. Friedman wasn’t one to grab credit, even though he was hard to ignore in person. At the same time, he was never shy about spinning a show biz yarn of P.T. Barnum proportions.
“To promoters, stories are like Christmas trees,” said concert promoter Alex Cooley of Atlanta. “The more decoration you hang on them, the better they are. So with J Lee, the stories could change, depending on how expansive he was feeling that day.”
Yet when it came to business dealings, Mr. Friedman was “honest and forthright and forthcoming,” Mr. Cooley said.
Mr. Friedman pushed to integrate the former Atlanta Municipal Auditorium and other venues, and he was color-blind in his dealings with people, Mr. Cooley said.
“J Lee was full of life,” Mr. Cooley said. “I never saw him down. I never saw him in the dumps. He was onto his next project. He always had something cooking.”
© 2008 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Mr. Friedman’s archives are available at the Briscoe Center for American History/University of Texas at Austin: