The slave market went out with the Thirteenth Amendment, but any insecure VIP seeking to test his or her latest market value need only enter the lecture-circuit lists. This year’s hot names, like Sylvia Porter ($3,000 per gig) or Ronald Reagan ($6,000) are already inked in all the way through March. But, though booking time is just about over for the season opening next week, there are still plenty of remaindered properties available such as South Vietnam’s ex-veep, Nguyen Cao Ky ($2,500, or at least that was his original asking price).
“You’re only as good as your last headline,” explains one ex-circuit-rider. “One year blacks were the rage. Then Watergate felons. Next year it’ll be political candidates—it doesn’t matter if you are a good speaker or not, just that you’re newsworthy.”
At the time when Spiro Agnew (no price now quoted) was cutting up the media, and then again during Watergate, journalists were the hot tickets, but now, reports Sander Vanocur, “Unless you’re someone like Woodward and Bernstein, people just aren’t interested.” Sandy himself, now off the networks and even PBS and into print on the Washington Post, is now down from $2,500 to $1,500.
But the big broadcasters are still heavies. Walter Cronkite and ABC radio right-winger Paul Harvey are up there in the Reagan bracket. That is one reason why there seem to be so many substitute anchormen in the spring—the big draws are hitting the campus and club rounds. Why then? Because they can collect a wad of cash to pay last year’s taxes and won’t have to report it till the following year. Currently, aside from Cronkite, the droll David Brinkley is most in demand ($3,000), Dan Schorr is trendy ($3,000), and NBC’s Cassie Mackin is regarded as the dishiest ($2,000). But don’t mention that to such other current stars as Female Eunuch author Germaine Greer ($3,000), Ti-Grace Atkinson ($1,500) or Gloria Steinem ($2,500, but temporarily off the circuit).
The biggest grossers, because they play so many dates, are both blacks—philosopher-comedian Dick Gregory and Georgia legislator Julian Bond. With a couple of hundred appearances a year, they earn in the $200,000 range. Gregory says he could command $5,000 per but asks only $1,000 to $1,500 (depending on travel expenses), “so I can hit all colleges large and small. Sometimes,” he says, “I will lecture three times per day and be in airports the rest of the time.”
Occasionally a national obsession—this season’s are ecology, the energy crisis, transcendental meditation and the Bermuda Triangle—will draw with a nobody. Some of the regulars and certainly their agents (who collect 30 percent) are onto this. Cleveland Amory advises aspiring speakers “always to give [local bookers] three choices. You can give the same lecture under three different titles.” On any of the three, his fee is $1,000.
But all of that is peanuts. The Golden Throat any of the agents would guarantee at least $1 million to put his show on the domestic road is Henry Kissinger.