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A MO-MENTOUS OCCASION

HITS’ just-published 31st Anniversary Issue contains something rare and precious: an in-depth conversation with legendary music mogul Mo Ostin that serves as a first-person oral history of Warner/Reprise. Here’s a tantalizing taste…

Man, the planets lined up for you in 1960, didn’t they?
It was an amazing series of events. I met with [attorney] Mickey Rudin and Hank Sanicola, who was Frank’s manager, and they agreed to hire me as the executive vice president—Frank was gonna be the president and chairman—to run the company at a salary of $500 a week. In 1960, that was a good salary, a big bump from what I was getting when I was at Verve. I was so excited about it that when I finally closed the deal, my wife and I ran out and bought a house in Encino.

Sanicola and Rudin agreed to hire me, but they had to get final approval from Frank. So Rudin took me to meet Frank, who was making a movie at Columbia Pictures, The Devil at Four O’Clock, with Spencer Tracy. And when we got on the set, we were faced with Sinatra in a scream fest with the director. He was angry, abusive, practically throwing a tantrum—he was so difficult. Scared the hell out of me. And Rudin said, “Mo, let’s leave here and go find his dressing room.” You can imagine how I felt. Here was a career-defining opportunity, and I had to get Frank’s approval in order to get the job. We waited about 30, 40 minutes, and when Frank came into the room, he did a complete 180. He could not have been more enthusiastic; he was so excited about starting a record company; he talked about who he could sign, who we should hire in A&R. We had what I would consider a wonderful meeting, and I was hired. So that was the way in which I went from Verve to Reprise. 

It’s great that you saw the two extremes of Sinatra right from the get-go.
I knew a little bit about his reputation, although I’d never met him before. This was the first time I’d ever met him, but being exposed to that, I saw the anger and I saw the charm, enthusiasm and excitement. It was great. So it was a good initiation into the Sinatra world...

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