Dancing the Last Dance
In the post-Neil Bogart phase of Casablanca, many artists and executives fell out of favor with PolyGram and were dropped, fired, or neglected. However, a far more insidious and terminal development was underway, something that would extinguish the carefree spirit of the ‘70s and claim the lives of many who danced to the beat of Casablanca: AIDS. Two of the label’s most beloved figures, Marc Paul Simon (VP of Special Projects) and Paul Jabara, were among the casualties.
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Wheeler: Unfortunately it was just something that blind-sided all of humanity. It wasn’t a pretty time. The people that you should be talking to on this interview aren’t here to tell the story.
Tom Moulton: I think when you’re a teenager and you’re only in your early 20s, it’s amazing how you feel indestructible. When all these kids started dying, it really started bothering me and that’s why I even stopped going to the clubs. I said, “I can’t stand this anymore.”
Joe Klein(Freelance Producer, Radio and Television Commercials): I saw Marc Simon in West Hollywood at the Mayfair Market on Santa Monica Blvd. It must have been months before he passed away. He looked like a skeleton. It was so bizarre. This was back in the days where unless you were directly involved with the scene, the whole term “AIDS” was just barely getting out there. That was like a jolt. It was really disconcerting. This is a guy that would get up on his marble table and just start dancing.
Bobbi Cowan (Director of Publicity): It’s a shame Marc Simon isn’t around. Marc Paul Simon was awesome in those days. We stayed friends until he died. He even came to Maui to visit me. Just a lovely guy. He was one of the first to get sick because he was so out there, in the life.
Ruben Rodriguez(National Promotion and Marketing Director): Had Marc lived, God knows what he would have done. He was just amazing.
Esty: Paul Jabara? What he was, was a Lebanese-American who could sell anything and he did. He was very tenacious.
Randee Goldman (Executive Assistant): Paul would do anything to get into Neil’s office. He was the funniest guy in the world. I thought he was going to tap dance outside the office. He probably did tap dance outside the office. I was very saddened by his passing and went to his funeral. I loved Paul. He was amazing. He was so funny.
Nellie Prestwood (Publicity): Paul was incredible! Paul was a riot. He was just a sweet, loving, caring soul. He was like a gift because he wasn’t bitter. He was just so talented. Paul had so much talent that I just didn’t think he had enough outlets! He was kind, generous, giving, loving.
Chotin: Paul was the greatest, most fun guy. He and I went away one long weekend to this spa in Ojai and we roomed together. We were just like girlfriends. He was so talented. I don’t think there was a bad thought in his head. I remember one time having Donna and Paul and Brooklyn Dreams over at my house. We were all just singing and here’s all these great singers. We were taping it and there’s my reedy little voice! We were all drinking wine and having fun. Pauly was a delight.
Esty: We wrote a song called “Trapped in a Stairway”. Now, no one ever writes that song. It was all because Paul knew he was going to have a big number in Thank God It’s Friday while he was trapped in a stairway. The director said musical numbers in movies couldn’t last more than two minutes. As a result, he didn’t get a chance to do his number but it was played over the scene.
Hart-Winer: He just wanted to be Barbra Streisand. He just thought she was the best thing. He used to take her songs and go entertain for her people. He wanted to be a star. I think he was before his time, honestly. I think he could do it today. “One man ain’t enough.” God bless him.
Marc Nathan (National and Regional Promotion): We lost him far too early in the game. I thought Paul Jabara was a brilliant, brilliant talent. I got to tell ya, I danced to “Shut Out/Heaven Is a Disco” almost every night for about a year at the clubs here in LA. I have such great memories of that.
LaRue: He was very important with the label and everyone loved him. He was a very likable guy. Outrageous, likable, funny, and delightful to be with, a real party guy. When I arrived out there, he considered me a tad of a threat, even though I wasn’t. I remember we had dinner at Roy’s and he cornered me in the men’s room and said, “What are you doing here?” It was like, “You just came in from New York City and you’re going to take over the label?” Of course it was not anything like that. We were never really close but we got along. I think after awhile he realized that I was never a threat to him.
Arnie Smith (National Director of Disco Promotion): I loved him to death, God rest his soul. One of my jobs, per Marc Simon, was to control Paul because he was a neurotic artist. I could tell Paul, “Shut the fuck up, Paul”, when nobody else could do that to him. He was just a majorly talented person. His talent was spread out so he never got the notoriety. Paul was just so talented and so neurotic. Whenever I was with him, it was like being with a three-year old, trying to keep them in check and in control. If I could have put one of those baby harnesses on him, I would have. Paul and I went back further than anybody else but I just loved him.
Moulton: He kept saying, “I hope you’re not wondering about me”. I said, “What is there to wonder?” He was just so flamboyant and out there. It was unbelievable. When I first met him, he said, “People are always staring at my crotch”. I said, “Why? Your face looks decent”. He thought I was being smart. I just didn’t get it. Then of course he proceeded to tell me. I never met anybody like that in my life (laughs). He was a damn good songwriter. The people who really knew him, loved him. They really did. I never met anybody who was so flamboyant. I still think of him once in awhile. He was really a piece of work. The thing I realized afterwards, that I liked about him, he was what he was—“either you like me or you don’t but how you feel about me isn’t going to affect what I feel”. I think somebody like that gives a lot of people encouragement to push on, even though there are obstacles. Hey, push on anyway! I think a lot of people learned from him about that. I really believe that. He was just so outgoing. He would say anything any time. He was just an amazing character.
Brooks: He would do things that were so crazy I can’t even tell you. He was so obnoxious at times. We did American Bandstand and we did an old song called “Take Good Care of My Baby” and he did it disco. I did the duet with him. Paul was just as crazy as he could be! Sometimes when you get people who are just so full of creativity, they’re just out of their heads because they have so many things going on. They’re just zany. They get depressed. He was just all over the place but the energy was there and he could make you laugh. He was really talented.
Esty: Paul went to Puerto Rico and literally locked Donna in the bathroom and forced her to consider doing a demo for “Last Dance”. Of course he calls me and I go to his house and we work out the whole thing, top to bottom. I decided to do the ballad and then into the up-tempo and go back to the ballad. What we wanted to do in the song was have it played as the last song every night. We figured they’d like to announce last call during the ballad in the beginning and then they would say five minutes during the second ballad. We worked it all out. Neil Bogart thought it was a hit so he got me – this is before I signed with him – to do the whole thing on Paul Jabara’s recommendation. We went in first and did a piano-vocal demo with Donna where I played the whole thing top to bottom and she sang it top to bottom. Literally, the whole thing.
Summer: Paul was an absolute genius and a madman rolled into a very crazy body. He was a very funny human being with a hysterical sense of humor, a very complicated human being. He was like a big baby in a man’s body. He was probably older than me but I think he was always like my baby brother. He would call me at five in the morning and go, “Donn-yahhh”. Some lover had sparred him and he was ready to commit suicide. He was incredibly talented. I would say he poured a lot himself into me and into my life. He was in love with me as a performer and he wanted to write songs to fit me. He was very inspired. I would spend a lot of time with him and another friend of ours, Bruce Roberts, and we would hang out and play songs to each other and write. We had a breakfast club. Paul, Bruce, myself, and a couple of other friends of ours would meet for breakfast and we’d just shoot the breeze and then go off and write. We were very close. It was tough when he passed away. Paul was a dear friend and a brother and influenced – greatly—the outcome of my career.