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Making It on Boylston Street

The Fantastic Success of 'BAD': A Tale That Makes HSA Shudder

By Carol R. Sternhell

'BAD' delivers free copies to 129 colleges. Only two have complained: The Dale Academy of Hair and Beauty Culture - and Harvard.

WHEN Boston After Dark's staff of five moved into their Boylston Street office last April they thought they had found a mansion--but now they're looking for more space. In April they were considering using half the rooms for a movie theatre, but by this Wednesday they were pushing aside cans full of garbage to make room for their eighteenth staff member. The cans of garbage are hidden away in the barest of the eleven makeshirt rooms--for BAD's office is colorful, alive; walls are covered with posters, clippings, day-glow pink and green buttons. While most people trudge along Boylston St. seeing only dirty show or an occasional shoe store, those in the know follow little green signs up the long flight of stairs leading to the world of BAD. This entertainment weekly's staff belongs in these rooms; young, flashy, overflowing with enthusiasm, they talk about integrity and dedication and really mean it. And last Friday Mayor Kevin White proclaimed March 4 "Boston After Dark Day."

BAD--celebrating its third birthday March 4 black tie -- now circulates among 129 Boston colleges (counting all the divisions of Harvard separately). The only school besides Harvard to protest its free distribution on campus has been the Dale Academy of Hair and Beauty Culture, whose dean worried that students would be "distracted from their textbooks." Dale and Harvard. Parke A. Sullivan, BAD's circulation manager, thinks about it and laughs, intimately. James T. Lewis, publisher, leans back in his chair. He has a beard. Graduated from Harvard Business School. Stephen Mindich, associate publisher, has dark, dark eyes which sparkle. He tells Sullivan how to pronounce Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern; he knows because he's Jewish.

Before the Boylston St. office there was an office in Somerville -- 200 square feet of space housing a staff that expanded from three to five members. And before that, during the school year of 1965-66, BAD was only a few pages in the Harvard Business School newspaper, HarBus. The Business School had a student calendar--similar to HSA's Something Happening, now challenging BAD's distribution at Harvard--but the calendar folded and HarBus -- business manager: Lewis--picked up the entertainment news. "An interesting side-light on all this," Lewis said, " is that HSA claimed then that it circulated at the Business School, when of course it didn't at all. They'll stoop to anything to make money."

THE REAL Boston After Dark-- the newspaper that makes Mindich glow -- first published on March 2, 1966, with a circulation of 25,000. 'Students wanted listings properly done," Lewis said. "And we felt we would sell ads to support ourselves." They have; advertising has tripled each year of BAD's existence. The regular column was continued in HarBus for the rest of that year, while BAD attracted its own circle of writers. "We offer great possibilities for bright young writers," Lewis said. "Our critics are more widely read than those of any other Boston paper." And "these young critics are often better than the established writers," Mindich added.

The next year (1966-67) there was not as extensive entertainment coverage at the B-School; the year after that "they resorted to plagiarizing our listing by the simple method of cutting them out, pasting them in their paper, and reproducing them by their process of photo offset," Lewis said. "We pointed it out to the Business School, but apparently they didn't give a damn." Lewis added that the Globe too has "been known to borrow our material." "And not give it back," Mindich muttered Problems with the Business School became more serious that simple plagiarism; however, the issue became similar, in fact, to the current hassle over BAD's authorization on the Harvard campus. At the B-School it was HarBus objecting--partly on the grounds that BAD was editorial competition, but also because they feared advertising competition. "Everyone picks up Boston After Dark and doesn't read out paper," a HarBus representative complained last fall.

IT TOOK a full year to gain acceptance on the B-School campus. In September '67 HarBus complained to the administration and to the Board of Publications, and meetings with Lewis were held all year long, with the B-School monotonously repeating that BAD was competitive. Lewis challenged HarBus to name specific advertisers that concerned them, and they cited two, both of whom then wrote letters that they would not withdraw their ad from HarBus it BAD were allowed on campus. The Business School administration lost the letters before reading them. "The Business School was financially irrelevant to us," Lewis said, "but this was so absurd that it got our goat." And this fall, when they attempted to deliver again, the complaint came with-in a week.

BAD's decision was "the hell with the Business School," Lewis said. But Tommy Ebright, who runs the Kresge Hall newsstands, a concession allowed him by the B-School because of financial need, volunteered to distribute copies. The school objected, and Ebright began selling the free copies of BAD, three weeks before the newspaper itself went "pay." At this point Lewis got a call from the student head of the Board of Publications--"I wouldn't come and talk, which served to perk up their interest--offering BAD permission to distribute free it they would pay a $200 franchise fee. Lewis laughed; two weeks later, on Nov. 1, the B-School gave in.

HARVARD and the Dale Academy of Hair. "The only other school that gave us any trouble," Lewis said, "was Dana Hall when we ran semi-nude pictures of Brandeis Interact and some minor official saw them. But two weeks later we got a letter from the president, missing his copy of Boston After Dark."

The first paid issue of BAD came out Oct. 16 of last year, a logical step in the face of advertisers' desires to reach as many college students as possible. Advertisers, eager to strengthen his market, had been paying BAD's press bill all along; now Lewis increased his college circulation 50 per cent by giving the entire press run to students and charging for copies in public places, with the additional income helping to finance the free distribution. Boston After Dark sells about 5000-6000 copies each week, Sullivan said, not counting 2500 subscriptions (perhaps half of which are complimentary, going to notables such Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Association of America and special "his and hers" subscriptions to Mayor and Mrs. White). Before the 15 cents price tag was added, bookstores would ask to carry BAD, Lewis said--"they found it a traffic-builder." Even now, the Harvard Square Paperback Book-smith sells over 600 each week.

Setting aside a "Boston After Dark Day" is not as frivolous as it may sound; Boston has opened up in the past few years--there are more small theatres, more special rates for students. "We've made the college student a first-class citizen in the market-place of Boston," Lewis said. And according to Kenneth S. Opin, BAD's newest staff member (pipe and three-piece suit), who up until this week had handled advertising for such entertainment businesses as the Charles Playhouse and Sack Theatres, the number of small residence theatres in Boston has more than tripled since BAD began publishing. And when the Craft Experimental Theatre was playing Transplant, given a negative review by BAD, Martin Kravitz, the theatre's owner, said that for the next four weeks attendance dropped off about 80 per cent.

SIMILARLY, when the Sack Theatres ran To Sir, With Love--"at the time, we had no idea what kind of movie it was," Opin said--BAD ran a special ad in one issue with a coupon offering a 50 cent discount on Mondays through Thursday. "The coupon kept coming in for 15 weeks, although the ad only appeared once," Opin said.

Part of BAD's campaign to get bet- ter deals for students is its priority ticket service, insuring that students get the best seats available at the price they pay. Generally this is pretty straightforward -- BAD buys up a block of seats and distributes them to students as the orders come in--but when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead came from New York to the Schubert, BAD, negotiated a special deal with David Merrick's office. Along with running sales through the priority ticket service, Merrick had agreed to a discount price for students--the first time any legitimate theatre had done so. Students were to be charged a flat $2.50 price for the best seats available at any given performance. The ad ran once and sold out completely within two weeks, selling nearly $5000 worth of $2.50 tickets. "Then we began getting flak from the box office of Shubert Theatre about the discounts," Mindich said, "and the offer was withdrawn."

Boston After Dark, of course, is out to help the theatres as much as the students. This past year they sold out a quarter of all subscriptions sold by the Theatre Company of Boston, and perhaps 12 per cent for the Charles Playhouse (most of the others being resubscribers). "This makes a tremendous difference to these theatres," Opin said. "Often the difference between a mediocre year and going under." And this year BAD finally convinced the Opera Company of Boston to institute a 10 per cent student discount. "They were absolutely opposed," Mindich said. "Now mabye next year we can try for a bigger discount."

"Many colleges have asked us to deliver," Lewis said. "They call us when there aren't enough copies." In the B.U. library, BAD's arrival was once announced over the public address system. At Harvard things have never been that easy. Dean Watson hadn't even heard of Boston After Dark until Stephen B. Kellogg '71, publisher of the Student Calendar, questioned its illegal distribution in the Houses. Actually, Lewis said, a month after BAD began publishing they requested perimssion to deliver at Harvard from Watson, "who said he'd have to ask about 40 people" and he'd have to ask about 40 people" and never came to any decision. BAD got clearance that summer ('66) from the Summer School dean. "Watson never gave us any clear-cut method of getting compliance," Lewis said. "Considering how much of the crap generated by Harvard students is distributed on other campuses, if Harvard's own rules were enforced against her by these schools about 80 per cent of projects put on by Harvard would go out of business."

NOT ONLY Harvard is difficult, however--BAD is also doing battle with the Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. The newspaper had asked the Chamber of Commerce to distribute free copies at its Information Bureau as a means of spreading information about the city. In order for this to be possible, they were told, BAD must first be a member of the Chamber of Commerce--for $100. "I told them we'd support them if they could show that what they were doing was not for self-interest and not opposed to the good of the city," Lewis said. "Meanwhile convention chairmen arrange for copies of BAD in advance to demonstrate how exciting Boston can be--precisely what the Chamber of Commerce should be doing in the first place. But the Chamber of Commerce, unlike Harvard, has never been accused of thinking big."

The eager people in the Boylston St. office are glad to tell these stories; when they talk about their paper pride spills all over. "We're untouchable," Lewis says. "We won't give advertisers irrelevant publicity simply because they're our advertisers, so we can't have trouble." Mindich interrupts. " Awareness of BAD has spread on its own--we've done virtually no self-promotion." But the real interest of these people is in their future, the future of Boston After Dark--and what lies beyond.

What started as a four-page paper now averages 28 pages each week. Circulation has grown from 40 schools to over 100. And the BAD people aren't planning to stop here.

"The horizons of what we can do are expanding," Lewis said. "Our feelings toward BAD have not changed, but they have refined--we better understand what we are doing. We want to expand the cultural horizons of the city; we want to print the finest reviews; we want whatever can be done with honesty and integrity."

"The problem in expansion," said Sullivan, "is to find the same kind of people. BAD is something you become part of." "Our people give all because they want to give all, because they're doing something worthwhile," Mindich added. "We don't paly them to work 12 to 12."

ALONG the new horizon is a national publication--Word--that will begin publishing in three or four weeks. Word will deal with books and records in the BAD style, and will be distributed to college students throughout the country, shipping out of the Boston office. The first issue, with a quarter million circulation, will be distributed free, Lewis said, but a paid circulation is planned for the future.

A second new venture is Cleveland After Dark, with its own office in Cleveland. Printing date is set for March 3. "And we have people contacted in a large number of other cities," Lewis said.

So Boston After Dark has become a rich newspaper. And the demand it created was so great that even Parke Sullivan couldn't get tickets to Rosencrantz. And they're moving the garbage to make room for Ken Opin. And Steve Mindich, who was one of five young critics in the nation chosen as a Eugene O' Neill Memorial Foundation Fellow, wears a pink and green and yellow tie patterned like a Mondrian painting. And there's birthday party for a newspaper on March 4. And a Business School graduate is interested in expanding Boston's cultural horizons. And we may not be able to get our free copies anymore, unlike Cardinal Cushing College or Katharine Gibbs. So what. Just listen to the nice people smile when they tell you about integrity, and believe them

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