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Young America

 

14 Boeing747flightcrewWhen Brody chartered the jet to JFK, he had wanted a 747, but Pan Am had not yet put them into service. Pan Am spent nearly $700 million on its initial order of 33 Boeing 747s. By mid-January 1970, it had received five. From those, Pan Am had selected the plane for the inaugural flight across the Atlantic, and had Pat Nixon, the President’s wife, christen it the Clipper Young America in a ceremony on January 15 at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. The plane could hold 362 passengers, 58 in first class and 304 in economy class. The first commercial flight from JFK to Heathrow had been fully booked, and Pan Am arranged a bon voyage party at the JFK terminal for the passengers, Pan Am officials and the press. A small group of demonstrators appeared at the terminal to protest the 747’s environmental impact, including what they were calling noise pollution. Another faction, not convinced the jet would make it off the ground, chanted: “It will never fly.” The protestors did not deter the passengers, who were in a festive mood, sipping the champagne provided by Pan Am.

At the party, one of the passengers, a burly Texan, spied a young hippie couple. They were young and thin, with long hair. The young man wore a blue shirt with an open-neck. He had a slight beard, more a stubble. The woman’s hair was brown and long, parted in the middle like Peggy Lipton on The Mod Squad. The Texan walked over, put his arm around the young man. “I missed you on TV the other night,” he said, then spun around, young man in arm. “Look fellows,” the Texan said to a group of his business colleagues, “it’s my old friend Michael Brody.” He walked the young man over to the astonished group. The young woman followed. The group spent the better part of an hour talking with the couple, taking time to take an array of photographs with them. Nearly everyone in the group had cameras, and everyone wanted his photo taken with Brody. The businessmen handed out cards, and some of them asked for autographs. The young man obliged. The businessmen were carrying samples of their wares, and they readily gave them to the young couple. There were many questions asked about Brody’s plans. The Texan ordered shots from the bar. The group toasted the flight, world peace, love and Brody. They ordered more shots and continued the toasting.

The flight was originally scheduled to leave JFK at 7:00 p.m. on January 21 for a five-hour and 36 minute flight. The passengers were a little late boarding, and the crew then struggled with the door, which they could not close properly. An hour slipped by before the plane was ready to leave the gate. As it taxied to the runway, Robert M. Weeks, the pilot, noticed that one of the engines was not exhausting properly, causing it to overheat. Weeks returned the jet to the terminal at 8:30 p.m., where they were greeted by the protestors, who chanted, “We told you so, we told you so.”

The passengers returned to the bon voyage party and waited as Pan Am officials scurried about. More champagne was opened, and Pan Am ordered dinner for the passengers. Word of the millionaire gift giver’s presence slowly spread. Pan Am had another 747, the Clipper Victor, in reserve, but it needed servicing and fueling. Because of the advanced publicity given to the Clipper Young America, Pan Am re-christened the back up as the Clipper Young America. Pan Am officials debated whether to paint over the name on the fuselage but decided against it. Clipper Victor would remain on the plane but the plane would be called the Clipper Young America. Thirty of the original 362 passengers decided that they could not wait and were re-booked on other flights. The 747 finally took off, seven hours late, at 1:52 a.m. on January 22 with 332 passengers, including the young hippie couple and another couple, whom many passengers believed were Brody’s or Renée’s parents.

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By the time the 747 touched down at Heathrow in London about six and a half hours later, the press was waiting. Trans-Atlantic wires had alerted the members of the media, who were only too anxious to cover the trendier Brody story rather than the maiden voyage of the jumbo jet. As Captain Weeks approached Heathrow, he radioed the tower. He was bringing the jet in with a special guest on board--Brody! Reporters, photographers, baggage handlers, waiting passengers and others surrounded the young couple as they deplaned.

“I am here for a rest,” the young man told the press. “I am not going to give away any more money in Britain.” He continued. He was not planning to sing or give any concerts. He said the checks he wrote were good notwithstanding what the Scarsdale Bank and National Trust had said. The young man repeated that he was in London for a rest but added that “right now, it’s not working out that way.” He just wanted to rent a scooter and see London. He ended the interview and walked away. A crowd followed, and lingered when he stopped at a money exchange window. He exchanged $15 U.S. for English pounds, then exited without dispensing any money to his followers. Pan Am provided buses for the passengers, who were then taken to London proper. The young man and his girl, with the older couple, took a private car from the airport to the hotel. A reporter in a Bentley looking to meet Brody trailed the Americans, weaving in and out of traffic in order to keep up. Other reporters jumped in a cab and followed.

The persistent members of the press caught up with the couple at the London Hilton Hotel. The reporters wanted to know about Brody’s plans, his fortune, the assertions that his giveaway plan was drug induced or a publicity stunt. Was he in London to meet the Beatles? Would he work with Lennon to end the Vietnam War? The young man had a simple answer to all the questions. He was Stephen Kennedy, a 17-year-old high school senior from Bethesda, Maryland. He said he went along with the Texan’s misidentification because he thought it might be amusing. “I played along with it,” Kennedy smiled. He had been active in theater in high school and enjoyed the masquerade as Brody. He was in London with his girlfriend, Carin Irons, also a senior at Walt Whitman High School, and her parents for a holiday. Kennedy and Irons bore some resemblance to Brody and Renée. Carin’s father, a Washington, D.C., patent attorney had put up with Kennedy’s masquerade for a while. He was willing to dismiss it as a mild joke but on the ride from the airport to the hotel, with the Bentley in hot pursuit, he changed his mind. When they were confronted with the throng of reporters at the hotel, he told his daughter’s boyfriend, in a clear and unmistakable way, that the hoax had to end.

14 bethesdabrodyimposter1Kennedy and Irons fooled dozens of reporters, many of whom filed stories before the truth was revealed. An Associated Press wire story was sent out, extensively quoting Kennedy’s statements when everyone believed he was Brody. The wire story was picked up by many papers. When the hoax was revealed, papers on both sides of the Atlantic reported it but failed to see the irony and metaphor. The Clipper Victor, pretending to be the Clipper Young America, transported Kennedy, who was pretending to be Brody, who was pretending to be something he was not. CBS carried the story on the evening news.

“The giveaway antics of oleomargarine heir Michael James Brody have made him such an instant celebrity that he is already being impersonated,” Cronkite announced. “A passenger on the 747 was jokingly identified as Brody and led to a practical joke on reporters. The hoax began in New York and led to a madcap taxicab chase by reporters in London before 17-year-old Stephen Kennedy of Bethesda, Maryland, identified himself as Stephen Kennedy.” Kennedy’s mother would later tell American papers: “Kids will do that. If they can put something over on adults, they’ll do it.”

While Kennedy’s joke was playing out in London, Brody and Renée were half way around the globe opening for The Grateful Dead. Brody’s fame had brought him the gig. The Dead was playing a two-day concert at the Honolulu Civic Auditorium. The Sun and the Moon and the September Morn were booked as the opening acts. The shows were scheduled for January 23 and 24. Radio station KPOI in Honolulu was promoting the concerts, and its general manager, Tom Moffatt, had the idea of bringing Brody to the island as another opening act: an opener for the openers. Moffatt made a few calls to contacts in New York, and quickly got word back from RCA that Brody and Renée were on the way. They could be there for the Friday and Saturday shows. No contracts were signed, and no details hashed out. When Brody and Renée arrived on January 23, Moffatt still did not know what he would pay Brody.

14 GratefulDeadHawaii1Moffatt and Lennie Hart, manager of the Dead, met Brody and Renée at the airport. Naturally, Brody’s presence had already attracted a crowd of money seekers and reporters. Hart asked Brody what he planned to play. “I don’t know,” Brody said. “I haven’t written it yet.” The concert was six hours away.

“What did you do for the Ed Sullivan show?” Hart asked.

“You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” Brody replied. He explained that RCA was releasing the record that day. “It’s going to sell over 100 million copies in a month. It should be the biggest record RCA ever had.”

Hart laughed. “You’re talking about a lot of records.” He could barely control himself. Hart suggested that they head to the Civic Auditorium for rehearsal. Brody protested. While they spoke, money seekers made their pleas. A young man, perhaps 20, perhaps younger, asked for a hand out.

“It’s for my brother,” the stranger explained. “He’s in jail. He just got busted. You’re our only hope.”

“I’m really sorry,” Brody said. “I don’t have any now.” Brody turned to a reporter and said slowly and firmly, “The ones who need it most are going to get it. The ones who are starving and without shelter.” Brody started explaining about his musical background. He’d only been playing the guitar a couple of months but he learned fast. He could play anything, from classical to rock. But he didn’t really want to be a rock star anyhow. “I may become a movie star. I’ve been offered $1.5 million to sign with one company.”

“Which one?” a reporter asked sternly. It was obvious he, unlike other members of the media, was no longer willing to let Brody make wild claims without factual support.

“I don’t want to say right now.” Another money seeker came up to Brody and asked for a dollar. He was well dressed and did not appear to be in need. “If I’ve got any in my pockets,” Brody said. “I’ll give you whatever I have.” Brody turned his pockets inside out and produced a folded $10 bill. He gave it to the man. Brody turned to Renée. “Well, we got rid of our last $10.”

“How much have you given away?” a reporter asked.

“About 5 mil. It was mostly other people’s money that they gave to me to give away.” There was money flowing all the time. And many more requests for money. Over 60,000 telephone calls an hour. “We’ve got two-hundred million letters to answer.”

“Two-hundred million?”

“At least!,” Renée said.

Brody was asked again how much he had given away. “$500,000,” he answered. “$24,500,000 to go.”

The group passed a holding room full of United States soldiers, waiting to ship out to Vietnam. “The war’s over men,” Brody shouted. “We’ll bring you back soon.” The G.I.s cheered.

After rehearsal, it was decided that Brody would sing “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and one or two of his own compositions, assuming he finished them by the concert, which was about three hours away. Moffatt said he would pay Brody $300 to appear, and Brody accepted without haggling. He had only two conditions. He insisted that he be paid in single dollar bills on stage. And Renée had to be with him when he performed.

With about three hours to kill and a couple of songs to write, Brody did the next best thing. He got high. He smoked some pot with a couple of the roadies. Renée did not smoke but downed a few gin and tonics. One of the roadies slipped some acid into Brody’s bottle of Coke. By the time the show opened, Brody was having a bad trip. The Civic Auditorium was filled to capacity—about 3,000 Dead Heads. Brody walked onto the stage. He felt dizzy. He struggled to stay standing. Renée was close by, sitting off to the side.

“The war will be over on Wednesday,” he announced. He explained his peace plan. The bribery of the North Vietnamese with $10 or $20 billion. He was having trouble remembering his plan. The crowd was uneasy and somewhat hostile, but it was as high as Brody.

“If you think I’m a phony, then I’m a phony. You are all phonies. You should give your money to end the war and fight poverty instead of wasting it on this concert.” There are a smattering of boos and whistles in the audience. Others cheered.

“I know you don’t want to hear me. You want the Grateful Dead.” He strummed a chord on his guitar. He then sang “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.” He then sang anywhere from two to four other songs, all original compositions, all improvised. They lasted anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes. They made no sense, and no one noticed. It was a Dead concert, after all. After he finished, the audience applauded, politely. Brody told the audience that he was too stoned to continue. “I’d like to give you thousands of dollars,” he yelled, “but ending the war in Vietnam is more important than giving money to the people of the Fiji Islands.” He then called for his salary. A representative walked on stage and handed Brody 300 one-dollar bills. Brody took the stack and threw it to the audience. The bills separated and fluttered into the crowd. Brody swayed back and forth, then tried to walk off the stage. He staggered, and Renée had to help him. She supported his arm and guided him through the side curtain.

Backstage, Brody was disoriented but also agitated. “I’ve only been playing the guitar for five months. What do they expect? I couldn’t get into it,” he told a magazine reporter. “Somebody gave me acid. I’ve taken 300 trips. I don’t want it anymore but they keep shoving it down my throat.” As he spoke, his anger grew. “All you need is love.” He pointed to the audience “Those people don’t love. They don’t have any love. I want to give and all they want to do is take.”

Renée stroked his hair and held his hand. “They’ve just locked their love inside them,” she said.

“They’ve done everything but nail me to a cross. I’m not going to go on stage tomorrow night. Not for them,” Brody said. He complained about the music business, and RCA. “The record business is a downer. They put out my record and I don’t get a cent. I’m gonna buy RCA. I’ll rent Madison Square Garden and give my own concert. My music will cover everything.” Brody’s speech quickened. He was on a rant, and Renée could not stop him. “Those people back there,” he said referring again to the audience. “It wasn’t that they were stoned. There was no love in them. They don’t listen to my advice. They don’t respect me. Nixon doesn’t respect me.”