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Alan Livingston, at 91; helped to reshape American pop culture with Beatles, Bozo

Alan Livingston with Bozo the Clown, played by Joey D'Auria. Alan Livingston with Bozo the Clown, played by Joey D'Auria. (Ted S. Warren/associated press/file 2001)
By Bruce Weber
New York Times / March 22, 2009
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NEW YORK - Alan W. Livingston, an entertainment executive who had significant roles in bringing Bozo, the Beatles, and "Bonanza" to American audiences, died March 13 at home in Beverly Hills. He was 91 and had suffered a series of strokes, said his wife, Nancy Olson Livingston.

In 1963, Mr. Livingston was president of Capitol Records, which had declined three different times to release singles by a British band, then little known in the United States, called the Beatles. After another Capitol executive turned down a fourth opportunity, this one to release the song "I Want to Hold Your Hand," a telephone call probably changed rock 'n' roll history.

"I'm sitting in my office one day, and I got a call from London from a man named Brian Epstein, who I didn't know," Mr. Livingston recalled in Bruce Spizer's book "The Beatles' Story on Capitol Records, Part One." "And he said, 'I don't understand why you won't release them.' And I said, 'Well, frankly, Mr. Epstein, I haven't heard them.' And he said, 'Would you please listen and call me back?' "

Mr. Livingston did. Capitol released the single and the next year brought the Beatles to the United States, unleashing the tsunami of adoration that came to be known as Beatlemania.

But that was hardly the start of Mr. Livingston's prescience when it come to popular music. When he was first hired by Capitol in 1946, he immediately had the idea for a popular series of records for children, known as Record Readers, that came packaged with storybooks. One of them was "Bozo at the Circus"; written and produced by Mr. Livingston, it sold more than a million copies and was the origin of the long-lived TV character.

Mr. Livingston was a co-writer of the novelty song "I Taut I Taw a Puddy Tat," a musical dialogue between cartoon characters Tweety Bird and Sylvester the Cat, recorded by voice specialist Mel Blanc in 1951.

In 1953 Mr. Livingston signed Frank Sinatra, whose career had stalled, and paired him with the arranger Nelson Riddle.

Mr. Livingston left Capitol for five years, beginning in 1955, and went to work for NBC. There he hired David Dotort to write a pilot for a Western about a father and his three sons on a ranch, the Ponderosa, near Virginia City, Nev. The show, of course, was "Bonanza," which ran for 430 episodes, from 1959 to 1973.

Alan Wendell Livingston was born in McDonald, Pa., outside Pittsburgh.

Mr. Livingston's first two marriages (one to the actress Betty Hutton) ended in divorce. In 1962, he married Nancy Olson, an actress who played William Holden's true love interest in "Sunset Boulevard."

In an interview Monday, his wife said that her husband's best known accomplishment, signing the Beatles, might never have come to pass if he listened to her.

"He called me one day and said he wanted to come home for lunch, and he never came home for lunch, so I knew it was important," Mrs. Livingston said. "And he played to me this song, 'I Want to Hold your Hand,' a very nice title. But the way they sang! 'I wanna hold your ha-a-a-a-a-a-a-and!' I said, 'Alan, that's the worst thing I've ever heard.' "

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