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Winnipeg’s Jerry Shore looks back on seven decades in show business - including a stint as Harry Belafonte's tour manager

Jerry Shore/Harry Belafonte

By MYRON LOVE
For my 21st birthday in 1970, a couple of friends treated me to a ticket to Winnipeg’s first ever major outdoor rock concert. One of the principal organizers of that concert, which was called the Man-Pop Festival, and which was held on Saturday, August 29, was Jerry Shore, who turns 90 on July 23.


The concert at the old Winnipeg Stadium featured headliners such as Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly, Chilliwack and The Youngbloods.
What I remember about it was that the day dawned bright and sunny. But, around noon, the clouds rolled in and it poured. After a delay of several hours, we were all moved into the old Winnipeg Arena, where the concert resumed and lasted until after 3:00 A.M.
Shore was working closely with the late Maitland Steinkopf in those years. He recalls that Steinkopf made arrangements to move the concert to the arena and borrow equipment on short notice from all over the city.
“It was an amazing concert,” he recalls.
Jerry Shore’s life story is one that most people in the world can only dream about. In a career in show business spanning nearly 70 years, the lifelong Winnipegger has worked with some of the biggest names in music in all of its various genres. He has albums full of signed photos by rock stars, opera greats, leading Country & Western singers, popular singers and prominent actors – as well as a politician or two.
The show business tour manager and talent booker’s clients have included: Harry Belafonte, Nana Mouskouri, the flamboyant pianist Liberace, Richard Tucker and many more. He was also by Steinkopf’s side when the Concert Hall was being built in the mid-1960s – and booked the first act. As well, Shore was in on the ground floor for the founding of Rainbow Stage.
As is the case with many successful people though, Jerry Shore just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Unusual for a Jewish kid in Winnipeg in the 1930s, Shore grew up in River Heights. His father, Sam, operated a candy factory – “Shore’s Candy Company”. The elder Shore retired in the late 1940s and passed away in 1950.
Jerry Shore’s first big break came about while he was at university. He became friendly with of his professors – one James Wilson, who had stood for office as a Liberal candidate.
“I was a young Liberal and worked on his campaign,” Shore says. “He was on the organizing committee that had been created to form Rainbow Stage. That was in the mid-1950s. I was a member of the Board and/or Director of Promotions off and on for 20 years.”
It was through Rainbow Stage that Shore became associated – in the mid-1960s - with Maitland Steinkopf. “Maitland Steinkopf was one of the most amazing people I have ever met,” Shore notes. “He almost single-handedly raised most of the money to build the Concert Hall.”
And it was Shore who arranged the new Concert Hall’s first concert – by Jewish opera star Richard Tucker. Tucker, Shore recalls, was very protective of his voice. The morning of the concert, the opera star called for Shore to pick him up in the early afternoon.
“Although it was a hot day in May, Tucker came out of the hotel wearing an overcoat, scarf and hat,” Shore recounted. “He wanted me to drop him off at a movie theatre where he spent the next three hours. He didn’t want to have to talk to anybody.”
Shore explains that he became involved in the world of opera after going to Minneapolis to attend a performance of the Metropolitan Opera on tour. “I met some of the people involved and we became friendly,” he recounts. “I arranged to hold auditions in Winnipeg for the Metropolitan Opera. I also arranged a Canadian tour.”
Other opera stars with whom he has worked have been Jan Peerce, Joan Sutherland, Robert Merrill and Pavarotti.
The second act that Shore booked at the Concert Hall was Harry Belafonte. “We became really good friends. He came back for a second show 18 months later. Harry was very meticulous. He had hired a new manager just before his second Winnipeg appearance. He moved on to Regina after the Winnipeg show. A couple of days later, I get a call from him. He had fired his new manager and wanted me to take over as his tour manager.”
Shore organized three tours for Belafonte (whom he recalls as quite shy, as well as outspoken on race relations). “I was in charge of booking fights and ground transportation, hotels, everything, even paying the staff.”
The highlight of his time with Belafonte was his tour of Cuba. “Harry was the first American artist to visit Castro’s Cuba,” Shore recalls. “CBC was doing a special on Harry Belafonte and his roots. There were 30 of us in the group. We get off the plane and there were men in uniform with sub-machine guns everywhere. It was a little scary.”
The Cubans, Shore remembers, treated Belafonte and family like royalty… the rest of the group not so much.
“The hotel we were staying at was the National – that had been built by (Jewish gangster) Meyer Lansky,” Shore reports.
The next morning, the group was informed that Fidel Castro himself was coming to visit. “Fidel pulled up outside the hotel with two armoured cars in front and in back. His English was very good and he was an imposing figure. He gave each one of us a bear hug.”
The three celebrities that he says most impressed him were Liberace, Sir Lawrence Olivier and Bill Clinton. He recalls an appearance by Bill Clinton in Winnipeg about 20 years ago.
“We had arranged a private function at Dubrovniks before he spoke,” Shore recounts. “The first thing Clinton did on entering Dubrovniks was to shake hands with all of the bartenders and serving staff. He did the same thing at the Concert Hall.
“He had an aura about him. He had the common touch.”
Surprisingly, so did the award-winning actor Olivier, says Shore. “Larry” was appearing at a news conference at the Fort Garry Hotel – a conference that Shore was chairing. Shore recalls that Olivier went up to each of the 30 journalists and introduced himself.
As for Liberace, Shore recalls an exchange he had with former Winnipeg radio talk show host Peter Warren. It was Liberace’s first visit to Winnipeg and Warren asked the last question at the press conference. The ever-skeptical Warren asked something along the lines of why anyone would be foolish enough to buy tickets to the pianist’s concerts. Liberace’s response was that anyone who wouldn’t want to buy a ticket to one of his concerts would be the fool.
Of Liberace, Shore recounts that the star used to carry around a Crown Royal bag with him wherever he went. “I never asked him what was in it,” Shore says. “But one time when I was with him, a clerk in a store asked what was in the bag. Liberace said that in the bag was his insurance policy. He opened it to show that it was filled with cut diamonds, rubies and emeralds.”
Remarkably, Shore has just been completely retired for the past three years.
Ironically, Shore observes, for all the traveling he has done throughout his career, he has actually seen very little of the world. “The routing was to get off the plane,” he says, “go to the hotel, spend four or five days preparing for the concert than boarding the plane again for the next city.”
These days, Jerry Shore spends his time reading (mystery novels and biographies), watching favourite TV shows, and enjoying his vast collection (over 800) of cookbooks. He keeps in touch with friends from show business who are still around. But, he says, he doesn’t miss being part of the scene.
“It’s not like it used to be,” he notes. “The personal touch is no more. All the little guys like myself have retired or been pushed out by corporate operators.