There have only been a handful of managers in the entertainment industry whose names are almost as well known as those of the performers they represent. One was Colonel Tom Parker, the man who helped crown Elvis Presley the King of Rock 'n' Roll. Another was Brian Epstein, the genius who took four long-haired lads from Liverpool and turned them into the Beatles, the most famous group in music history.
Charles "Chip" Beckwith was a member of this small and elite group. Chip Beckwith discovered, molded and managed Black Velvet, the most successful female recording artist of her day. Black Velvet, who is often described by music critics as part Janis Joplin and part Billie Holliday, sings what she calls "rock 'n' roll with a rhythm and blues accent."
Black Velvet was born Nancy Marie Thomas in Puritan Falls, Massachusetts. An exceptional young woman, gifted with talent, beauty and brains, she could have been a success in any profession she chose. Yet despite her considerable scholastic achievements (she had graduated from MIT with honors), Nancy turned down lucrative offers from several major hi-tech corporations in order to pursue a singing career.
There was little doubt that Chip had created the Black Velvet persona or that he was a key element to Nancy's success. It had been his suggestion that Nancy adopt Black Velvet as her stage name. It had also been his advice that she always wear black--though not always velvet. The black hair, however, wasn't Chip's idea; Nancy had been born with it. But the hairstyle, like her makeup and wardrobe, was Chip's doing.
Nancy had to admit that her manager's taste was impeccable. Everything connected with Black Velvet's image suggested style and sophistication. Even her car--a black Lamborghini Diablo, which had been carefully chosen by Chip--fit her rock diva image.
Chip Beckwith had proved helpful in several other ways too. For instance, it was Chip's idea that Black Velvet start every concert performance with her own blues-and-rock rendition of the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" and end every performance with--quite naturally--Alannah Miles' "Black Velvet."
Chip had been indispensable in the early days when Nancy was playing small clubs and shabby bars along the eastern seaboard as he was able to successful negotiate top dollar engagements with the chauvinistic owners and booking agents who considered women second-class performers, not worth the salaries paid to men. Nancy had also depended upon Chip to protect her from the occasional drunks and amorous Romeos who tried to make passes at her.
Even at the pinnacle of her success, Nancy found that she still needed Chip. And since Black Velvet was his only client, the hardworking manager devoted one hundred percent of his time to her interests. He handled all her business matters as well as her personal finances. Nancy had long since realized that she would most likely always need Chip Beckwith.
* * *
Then one night, while appearing as a presenter at the American Music Awards, Nancy Thomas met Tim Reilly, a public relations executive for Gold Medallion Records. An easy-going, charismatic young man with intelligence, old-fashioned values and a great sense of humor, Tim was a drastic departure from the addicts, narcissists, psychos and downright criminals Nancy often met in her profession.
In a surprisingly short period of time, the superstar fell in love with the PR man. She adored everything about him, especially the fact that he loved her--Nancy Thomas--not the fabricated image known as Black Velvet.
There was only one impediment that prevented Nancy from being deliriously happy with her new-found romance: Tim and Chip had taken an instant dislike to each other, a dislike that seemed to only intensify with time. Tim, on his part, felt that Chip was too possessive of Nancy and that the manager tried to run her life, both professional and personal.
"Look, Nancy," Tim explained, "I know Chip has done a lot for your career, and I understand the gratitude you feel toward him, but the manager-star relationship is a lot like that of a parent and child. Sooner or later, you have to cut the apron strings or at least loosen them a little. Chip has done his job. You're a success. Now he's got to back off."
Chip, in turn, saw Tim as an opportunist. "Don't get taken in by his Irish charm, Nancy," Chip warned. "You're wealthy, beautiful and famous. Tim Reilly not only wants to get his hands on your money, but he also wants to bask in the limelight of your success."
Chip went so far as to hire private detectives to try to find some weakness in Tim's character or a skeleton in his closet that would turn Nancy against Tim and put an end to the budding romance, but his efforts proved fruitless.
Ironically, as Nancy's personal relationship with Tim blossomed, her business relationship with Chip deteriorated. Prior to meeting Tim, Nancy had agreed with all of her manager's decisions concerning her career. Afterward, she complained about the never-ending public appearances, concert bookings and recording schedules. Chip expected her to work at a feverish pace, and Nancy wanted more time to spend with Tim. This led to frequent arguments between the two, which usually ended with Chip screaming, "Just remember, Nancy: I was the one who made you! Where would you be today without me?"
These emotional outbursts disturbed Nancy. Chip had never been one to take credit for her successes in the past. His recent behavior was completely out of character
Tim didn't want to upset Nancy, so he deliberately avoided getting involved in the business disputes between her and Chip. That was until the day Chip made a guest appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
"I discovered Nancy Thomas in a small bar near Cambridge, Massachusetts," he told Oprah and her audience. "I knew the moment I first heard her sing that she had a great talent. But let's face it, Oprah, in all honesty, without the proper representation, Nancy's talent wouldn't have gotten her anywhere. So I stepped in. I took an unknown college kid, molded her, trained her and turned her into Black Velvet, an international superstar. Now that she's a pop superstar, however, she has turned her back on me. Talk about ingratitude! How quickly she forgot that I was the one who made her a success."
Tim was livid. "Why, that son of a bitch! I think it's about time I had a nice, long talk with your manager," he told Nancy.
"Please don't!" Nancy cried. "This isn't like Chip at all. I'm sure it's not his fault. Something must have gone wrong."
"You can say that again! That creep has got delusions of grandeur. Well, it's about time someone brought that self-appointed god back down to earth."
"Let me handle it, Tim. I know Chip Beckwith; I know what makes him tick. Only I can make things right."
But Chip had gone too far. He'd insulted Nancy on national television, and Tim was too much of a gentleman to let his lady's honor go unchallenged.
* * *
When Tim arrived at Chip Beckwith's house, the disgruntled manager was busy trying to install a new home entertainment system in his living room. He stood in the midst of audio and video components, tools, schematic drawings and a wide variety of screws, nuts and bolts. He was not happy to see Tim.
"What do you want?" Chip asked angrily.
"I think it's time you and I had a little talk."
"I've got nothing to say to you."
"But I've got a few things to say to you. Nancy and I watched you on Oprah the other day. I think you owe your client an apology after what you said during that interview."
"That's between Nancy and me; it has nothing to do with you."
"Nancy is my wife. That makes it my business."
"Your wife?" Chip repeated, horrified.
"That's right. We've been married for three months already. Nancy was waiting for the right time to make the announcement."
"She couldn't have married you. I told her to stay away from you."
"What right have you got to tell her what she can and can't do?"
"I have every right. I was the one who made her the success she is today! Do you hear me? I MADE HER. And I was supposed to protect her from men like you."
Chip, who had worked himself up into a bona fide tantrum, began kicking and throwing his stereo and video equipment around the room.
"You're nuts!" Tim declared, heading toward the door. "Do you know that? You need professional help. I'm going to see to it that you stay away from my wife from now on."
Chip grabbed Tim's arm and spun him around. "I made her. She'd be nothing without me--nothing!"
The two men started to fight. As the punches flew, Chip's T-shirt was torn open in the scuffle.
Tim stepped back and stared at his opponent's chest. "What the hell?"
Chip picked up a long-handled screwdriver and, with inhuman strength, drove it through Tim's eye and into his brain. The last thing Tim Reilly ever heard was Chip's triumphant cry, "I made her; you can't have her."
* * *
Black Velvet finished her recording session on schedule. Chip had never shown up, nor had he called the studio. Had something happened to him? Nancy felt her nerves tingle with apprehension. She had always felt responsible for Chip, and considering the bizarre behavior he'd recently exhibited, she had good reason to worry.
She tried phoning him several times, but he didn't answer. Where could he be? He had no friends and no interests other than managing Black Velvet's career.
When Nancy left the studio, she got into her Lamborghini Diablo and drove toward Chip's house. As she turned the corner of his block, fear struck her deep in the pit of her stomach. Tim's Porsche was parked in the driveway.
Nancy ran up the steps and through the open door. At first she didn't even notice Chip; all she could see was Tim.
"Oh no!" she screamed, as she ran to the man she loved and took his lifeless body in her arms. "Nooooooo!"
Nancy was devastated, and beneath her grief was the added pain of guilt. Tim had been her husband. He had loved her and trusted her. Why hadn't she told him the truth about her relationship with Chip? If she had, her husband would probably still be alive.
Chip, with the bloody screwdriver still in his hand, looked pitifully at his client. "I did it for you, Nancy. I was supposed to protect you, wasn't I?"
Nancy, her heart a leaden slab in her chest, walked slowly toward her manager.
"My every thought and action were for you."
She reached out and took the screwdriver away from him. He put up no resistance.
"I was the one who made you, and I never asked for anything in return."
Nancy didn't reply; she simply put the screwdriver into his chest.
Chip cried out, "I was the one who made you, Nancy. Why do you want to destroy me?"
"I'm sorry it has to be this way," she said, putting the screwdriver into his chest a second and then third time. Now she was crying, too--crying for Tim, for Chip and for herself.
"I was the one who made you," Chip moaned again and again as if chanting a mantra.
Then his eyes fluttered briefly as Nancy deftly worked the screwdriver and removed the fourth and final screw that held the access panel in Chip's chest in place.
"You're wrong," she said sadly, as she reached inside and pulled out her robot's central processing unit. "I was the one who made you."
No, Salem, I didn't know that Black Velvet was the name of a cat food when I wrote this story.