Post-Kiss, the Village People and Donna Summer, Neil & Joyce Bogart Redo Their Own Lives
When Joyce managed Kiss and Donna Summer, it was the hardest,” recalls Neil Bogart. “At night I’d be lying next to her writing a note to myself, ‘Call Joyce tomorrow.’ I wouldn’t dare talk to her about business in bed.”
Nonetheless, Neil and Joyce Bogart have probably traded as much shop-talk as pillow talk since they were married in 1976. Neil, 37, was the hustling president of Casablanca Record & FilmWorks and Joyce, 33, was manager of its two most successful acts, Summer and Kiss. Together the couple became a multimillion-dollar showbiz conglomerate.
Lately, however, the Bogarts’ fun has faded. Last November a fire forced them and their four children out of their seven-bedroom Holmby Hills mansion. Two months later Summer, who had sold 20 million-plus albums with Casablanca, sued the Bogarts and the company, demanding up to $25 million and termination of her contract. Then in February Bogart pulled out of Casablanca. The transaction earned him a rumored $20 to $40 million, but the money was almost secondary. Suddenly the Bogarts were operators without an operation.
“What else can go wrong?” sighs Neil. The past six months were “very heavy,” echoes Joyce. Still, she notes with gratitude, the children escaped the fire unharmed (neighbor Eva Gabor took them in because Neil and Joyce were in Acapulco). So did the family collection of paintings and a Duane Hansen sculpture. The 15-room house in Beverly Hills they’re temporarily renting from Diana Ross, she adds, “is not slumming.” And as for business, Neil is already assembling the Boardwalk Entertainment Co., which, he says, will include record, TV, movie and publishing divisions.
Back when his name on the Brooklyn public school rosters was Neil Bogatz, son of a postal credit union worker, he dreamed of a career “in entertainment.” After a fling off-Broadway and a clothed walk-on part in the X-rated Sin in the Suburbs, billed as “Wayne Roberts,” he changed his name again (to Neil Scott). At 19 he cut a 1961 pop record titled Bobby that became a minor hit. Then Neil joined the Army.
He was back in six months at an employment agency as Neil Stewart. Then in 1964 he sent himself—this time as Neil Bogart—to a job interview at Cash Box magazine and was hired as an ad salesman. The following year he married Elizabeth Weiss, his high school sweetheart, with whom he had three children.
Negotiating through a string of record company posts, he took over Buddah Records in 1967 and a year later had earned the dubious title “Bubblegum King of America” for producing such mind-numbing groups as Ohio Express and the 1910 Fruit Gum Company. Reputation established, he gave up his $100,000 job with Buddah, moved West, and in 1974 founded Casablanca, which he named after the movie starring his namesake. He also got a divorce after nine years of marriage. “That’s longer than any of my jobs lasted,” Neil points out.
By the time he and Joyce met in a New York TV studio, she too had tried comparison job shopping. Born in Queens (her dad was a leather goods maker, her mom a saleswoman), she trained as a teacher at the University of Buffalo. She went to work as a hospital social worker in Brooklyn (“That sobered me”), then was an ad agency gofer who worked her way up to producing commercials for such clients as Buick and Magnavox. While still in her 20s, she became an associate producer of a short-lived TV rock show, Flipside, and with partner Bill Aucoin managed a quartet of weird New York City rockers. “We created the look, the logo, the props and even went to a magic shop to learn the gimmicks,” Joyce says. The group was Kiss.
Neil’s guest appearance on Flipside in 1973 led to his hiring Joyce’s company to produce Buddah commercials. They began living together in 1975 and married a year later. Romance fared better than his new company, however. He had to borrow $1.5 million to buy out Casablanca’s co-founder, Warner Bros. By 1974 he was in hock another million—”Everything I owned was rented except the clothes I was wearing,” he recalls, “and those I owed money on.” He had overhyped Casablanca’s first big record, Johnny Carson Tonight excerpts. It sold 500,000 copies but Bogart shipped a million.
Distraught, he set out with Joyce for Acapulco. “It was just one of those times when she was there,” he notes. “She listened to all the crap.” Neil considered suicide—one day he cut off his own air supply while scuba diving but quickly changed his mind. Instead, Bogart returned home, promoted his eight employees to boost morale and a few months later the group he had signed at Joyce’s urging released Kiss Alive. It sold 2.5 million LPs. Next Donna Summer, whom Bogart signed after hearing a demo tape, burned onto the charts with Love to Love You Baby.
While Joyce took over as Donna’s manager, Neil signed the Village People and Parliament and helped facelift tired acts like Cher, Mac Davis and the Captain and Tennille. Joyce’s role as the artists’ advocate was to say, “This is what I want for my ad campaign.” Neil’s was to yell, “It’s not in the budget!” Then, he says, “She’d tell me where to get off.”
With Casablanca Records on its way to selling 135 million albums, he merged with the film company of boyhood friend Peter Guber in 1976 and they produced The Deep, Thank God It’s Friday, Midnight Express and Foxes. In 1978 Casablanca’s films collected three Oscars (two for Midnight Express and one for TGIF’s song, Last Dance). By then Neil had sold half his interest in the business to PolyGram, a European conglomerate, for $15 million.
The decline of disco and Summer’s lawsuit were not the major factors in his selling the other half of the company this year, Bogart insists; it was differences with his new partners over corporate strategy. Summer, who alleges conflict of interest by manager Joyce because of her relationship with Neil, sued only four days after she gave Joyce a white motorcycle as a birthday gift (since returned). “Donna is an incredibly talented lady,” says Neil. “She was a concept. We promoted and marketed a concept.” Summer won’t comment on the Bogarts.
After selling Casablanca, the couple considered “alternate lifestyles, selling everything, disappearing to some small town,” says Neil. “But what am I going to do, run a general store?” The one small town the Bogarts get to frequently is Malibu, where they share a beach house with their son, Evan, 2, and Neil’s three children by his previous marriage. Jill, 13, appeared in Foxes, and Timothy, 10, and Bradley, 7, just finished work on Allan Carr’s Can’t Stop the Music.
The Bogarts work for the Betty Ford Cancer Center and he sits on the board of governors of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. At heart, though, “I am a born-again Music Man,” he insists. With Joyce contributing marketing ideas for Boardwalk, he will issue his first record this fall. “I’m in competition against myself, really,” he muses. “Am I going to be able to do it again, and better?” Joyce answers: “He’s a schemer and a dreamer. He can pull it off.”