Pierre Cossette was an avuncular old-school talent agent, manager, music mogul and Broadway producer often called the father of the Grammy Awards telecast. He persuaded nervous TV executives to put "longhairs with high heels and makeup" on a live national broadcast in 1971.
When Cossette approached officials at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1970 about making a live broadcast out of what until then had been a private ceremony mostly for record executives held in local hotel banquet rooms, they were skeptical.
Cossette figured he could do with music what the film and TV academies had done since the '50s with the Oscar and Emmy telecasts, and paid $150,000 for the right to broadcast the award ceremony. He used money he had received from selling his interest in Dunhill Records, the label that he and Lou Adler formed in the early '60s that signed the Mamas & the Papas, Barry McGuire, Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night.
"Rock 'n' roll was not really an acceptable format in the television business in those days," Cossette recalled in a 1985 interview. "The response was, 'We don't want those longhairs with their earrings and spike heels and makeup ... on our network.' "
It was also a challenge at first to lure a live audience. Cossette himself stood outside the Hollywood Palladium inviting passersby inside for that first show in 1971, where Simon & Garfunkel swept the top categories with their "Bridge Over Troubled Water" song and album.
Pierre, however, showed a knack for procuring talent and audiences from the time he was a teenager, securing comedian Red Skelton to perform at his high school. As a journalism major at USC, he continued booking entertainment for campus events. That led to MCA chief Lew Wasserman hiring him after Cossette graduated in 1949 to oversee the company's casino bookings. His experience placating casino bosses of the era, coupled with his Army duties during WWII, laid the foundation for the air of unflappability for which he was famous.