Everybody thinks Andy Frain is a myth," declares Andrew T. Frain, sole owner and chief executive officer of Andy Frain, Crowd Engineers, with headquarters in Chicago and branches in 25 other American cities. Part tactician and part watchdog, Frain sometimes is called King of the Ushers or, even more whimsically, Head of the House of Usher. He is a benign-looking, 57-year-old, blue-eyed, ruddy-faced, pug-nosed man of average height and chunky build with a voice like a Percheron walking over gravel. He occasionally wears black-rimmed spectacles, always chain-smokes cigars and almost always sports a white four-in-hand with a tab collar. "I like to look sharp," he says. Like Zeus of Olympus, Frain has an overpowering urge to bring order out of chaos.
A crowd engineer—the term is Frain's—is a person who, among other things, supervises the control of crowds attending public events, keeps out crashers and mooches ("A mooch is like a moocher," he explains), soothes drunks, makes plans for such emergencies as fire and sudden rain, sees to it that fans get to their seats with a minimum of confusion and that, once there (in the vast majority of cases), they stay put. The same goes for standees. "Never let a standee sit down," warns Frain, a longtime student of human nature at perhaps its least glorious. "Once they sit down, you can't get 'em up."
Frain is the world's biggest and best crowd engineer. He is also the busiest. "You got more jobs than you can handle," he says. Frain often says "You" when he means "I." If pressed, he could muster, on 48 hours' notice, 20,000 ushers and outfit 15,000 of them in snazzy Andy Frain uniforms, which he designed. Frain and his army of ushers, gatemen, plainclothesmen and ticket checkers control the spectator behavior of about 50 million persons a year. His organization crowd-engineers events like ball games at Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park in Chicago and Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn., the Kentucky Derby, football games at Chicago's Soldier Field, trotting races, auto races, dog races, flat races and a good many prizefights, wrestling matches and hockey games. Apart from sports events, the firm also handles national political conventions, department store and hotel openings, factory tours, funerals, high-toned dinner parties, auctions, fashion shows, flower shows and fireworks displays. Nothing is too large, too small or too wild for Andy Frain, Crowd Engineers. The bigger the challenge—like the Derby—the better Frain likes it.
Frain somehow extracts the utmost zeal from his ushers. At parties some of them dress like the guests and keep an eye on the silver and other valuables. Others, dressed as Andy Frain ushers, park the guests' cars. "As a special service," says Frain, "if a guest gets stiff, the kid drives him home, locks the car in the garage and flops him into bed." His ushers also park cars at large fairs and store openings. Sometimes Frain handles as many as 150 events going on in a dozen cities in a single night. He personally supervises the most troublesome—like a heavyweight championship fight—and, after a keen study of the problems, delegates the running of the others to assistants or to three of his sons (he has five sons and one daughter), Andy Jr., Mike or Peter.
October 1, 1961
Frain, whose formal education stopped at the eighth grade mainly so he could earn money chasing pigs in a Chicago slaughterhouse, is understandably proud of the services he performs. "You got people in the state of Illinois thinkin' it adds class to their affair if they got Andy Frain ushers." he observes. "People think you don't go out in style unless you got Andy Frain pallbearers. The same with sports events. Promoters know sharp-lookin' Andy Frain ushers dress up a stadium, make the fan feel good the minute he gets there. Besides that, promoters know they get an honest count."
To be confronted by an Andy Frain usher at a sports event, indeed, is alone almost worth the price of admission. Most of them are high school, college or seminary students six feet tall or more. "There's nothing like a six-footer in uniform to control a panicky crowd," Frain says. "Besides that, a tough guy isn't so likely to give you an argument if you're lookin' down on him. That's psychology." Frain ushers all have good teeth, short haircuts under their Andy Frain hats and shiny shoes. The Andy Frain uniform is Notre Dame blue and gold—the blue coat having gold epaulets and buttons, the blue trousers gold stripes. The ushers' white shirts have tab collars. They wear white gloves and dark blue ties with "Andy Frain" written on the back. The uniforms are so picturesque, in fact, that on one occasion Frain and a busload of ushers on their way to handle the races at Agua Caliente in Mexico were arrested by Mexican police who thought they must be enemy generals trying to stir up a revolution. It was about three hours before Frain obtained his release and theirs from a gloomy jail.
Andy Frain ushers say "sir" and "ma'am," are insultproof and bribe-proof. They are not allowed to slouch, smoke, chew gum (even at Wrigley Field) or eat in front of spectators. They are told not to get tough with drunks. If a drunk becomes noisy, he is to be made a buddy of and urged to come down to Frain's stadium office to "have a drink on Andy." There it's hoped he'll conk out. Ushers scrutinize drunks who guzzle in their seats and courteously remove empty bottles before the drunks can hurl them at contestants. The usher always says, "May I get rid of this for you, sir?" as he grasps the bottle. They are instructed to approach a fan who looks perplexed and ask if they can help rather than wait to be asked. When accosted by belligerent drunks, ushers remain polite. At the third Patterson-Johansson fight last March (the only one of the three fights Frain handled), a Frain usher was asked, "What would you do if I punched you right in the nose?" "I'd be tempted to punch you right back, sir," murmured the usher pleasantly, and the matter was dropped. During the summer an Andy Frain usher can make between $600 and $800; in a year it is possible to make as much as $3,000. Because of his penchant for hiring young men attending school or between school sessions, Frain is said to be responsible for having helped educate more students than anyone in the country.
Having been in the ushering business for over 35 years and being of reflective bent, Frain has formed a great many conclusions about the behavior of crowds—most of them negative. "Don't forget," he tells his chiefs and assistant chiefs in pregame skull sessions, "a crowd is your enemy." Frain hates to see empty sections in stadiums, they're too much temptation for fans in lower-priced seats to improve their positions. "It's like a compulsion with them," he says. If Frain had his choice, he would fill empty sections with employees or lugs. Lugs, or deadwood, are successful mooches. Promoters seldom sanction this, however; they want to keep the seats available for possible late ticket-buyers. Except for Bill Veeck, Mike Jacobs, Colonel Matt Winn and a few others, Frain does not think too highly of promoters. "All they want to do is print tickets," he says with a scowl, "and collect money. The hell with the public."
Despite his disapproval of the shortsightedness of promoters—"They never listen to your idees"—Frain does what he can to save them trouble. One of his innovations has been squawk seats. Squawk seats are good seats left unoccupied for minor emergencies. At the Patterson-Johansson fight, Frain had 70 squawk seats available—for people who wanted to punch their neighbors and persons who objected to sitting next to a Negro fight fan. (Before accepting the prizefight job, Frain had insisted there be no segregation in the seating. "The only color I'm interested in is the color of the customer's ticket," he said.) About 60 fight fans asked to have their seats changed. All were obliged. No serious fights broke out. Just before the main event started, employees filled up the empty squawk seats.
Frain is thoroughly determined to keep out fans who have not bought tickets—perhaps the biggest headache of a crowd engineer. "Ninety percent of the public," he asserts, "wants somethin' for nothin'. When you run a big sports event, every one of those seats is there to be cracked. They throw every gimmick in the book at you." The gimmicks of crashers and mooches, as tried on Frain, are legion: some seek entry by claiming to be a relative of his, some by dropping influential names, some by carrying ladders or buckets of ice. "Press photographers" look aesthetic and brandish cameras. Lady mooches faint at the gate to be brought inside for first aid or assume a patrician air and claim they left their tickets home on the chaise lounge. Sly mooches produce tickets a year out of date. At a recent prizefight a man tried to get in carrying a clock; he claimed he was the timekeeper. At a baseball game a man said he was from the health department and had to check the hot dogs. At the Derby a few years ago a fan offered a Frain usher $100 for his uniform; he was turned down. Some men claim to have gone to college with Frain; they are informed they need tickets. The most ambitious mooches carry wire cutters to cut the chains barring locked doors and let their friends in. But Frain has a fireman and an usher at each chained door, a plainclothesman watching the pair of them and another man watching him.
The late James Leo (One Eye) Connelly, the most celebrated gate-crasher of all time, was frequently in Frain's hair. Once at the Derby, Frain, who detests being stared at by mooches outside the gates, offered One Eye $15 if he would go away. "Hell," said Connelly, "I can make more than that in an hour touting horses." He soon crashed through and began touting. On another occasion, at a political convention, Frain gave his ushers a special pep talk on keeping Connelly out. "But when I went into the hall," Frain recalls, "there he was, in the middle of the floor, selling ice water to delegates at 50¢ a glass. The man was a genius." Frain finally hired Connelly to watch a gate at Wrigley Field, then had the entrance padlocked because he was sure Connelly would let his friends in. Later, stationed at an open gate, Connelly showed his integrity. He refused to let Phil Wrigley, owner of the Cubs, enter without a ticket. Connelly shortly thereafter returned to his specialty.
Crashing a tradition
The least subtle of gate-crashers, according to Frain, are found at the Kentucky Derby and at important prizefights. It is almost a tradition at these fights for large numbers of people in concert to rush gates, climb fences and try to overpower the defending phalanxes. Until Frain's reputation for keeping out crashers was established, the same was true of the Derby. In 1933—the first year Frain handled the Derby—a group of about 40 toughs, few of them teetotalers, charged Frain's ushers at several gates but were held off till Frain and reinforcements arrived. Then Frain and his scrappy ushers pushed and slugged like Leonidas at Thermopylae, giving as good as they got. All of them had black eyes, and one had broken ribs and a fractured skull when the battle was over, but the gates were held. About 10 years ago Frain was introduced to Derby crashers of a trickier sort. These were what he describes as hillbillies whom he found seated in the upstairs clubhouse boxes without the proper tickets. They had their shoes off and were eating chicken and drinking hard liquor. Frain had some ushers escort them out despite their protests that they were kin to a sheriff from the hills. The next thing Frain knew he was in jail, along with several of his ushers. Through the efforts of a federal judge he and his ushers were let go after an hour. They raced back to the track and threw out more friends and relatives of the sheriff. More ushers were jailed. But as fast as they were locked up, Frain bailed them out and sped them back to reinforce their beleaguered comrades. The ushers kept crashing to a minimum, considering their difficulties, though Frain lost money on the deal. Since then, by setting up a system of staggered defenses, Frain, his ushers, troubleshooters and plainclothesmen have made crashing by force an increasingly discouraging practice.
Fight fans, perhaps having some sort of empathy with the contestants, are always ready to crack fights. In many cases—as at the Robinson-Turpin fight at the Polo Grounds in 1951 and the second Patterson-Johansson fight there last year—they are amazingly successful. "For every guy who had a ticket to the Patterson-Johansson fight in Miami Beach," says Frain, "25 were outside, tryin' to bust in." Before the main event got under way, swarms of frantic crashers tried to batter down one of the doors of Convention Hall. Frain ushers were urgently summoned from other posts by walkie-talkies (a Frain innovation) to hold the door. A gigantic pushing struggle ensued, with the door the loser. It came partly off its hinges, leaving a breach. But Frain's ushers, helped by Miami Beach police, firmly locked arms, barring the open space, and none of the crashers got past.
Frain regards football and boxing crowds as the most bloodthirsty, racing fans the most restive, hockey fans the hardest to control ("They're always throwing hot pennies, coat hangers and hairpins on the ice") and baseball fans the most mellow. However, he feels there was one recent occasion when baseball fans might have become dangerously hysterical. If Roger Maris had come to bat with 59 home runs at Comiskey Park a couple of weeks ago, Frain would have dispatched 125 experienced ushers and 25 chiefs to the edge of the playing field to discourage fans from leaping out of the stands—regardless of the inning or the score—to give Maris their personal congratulations and maybe tear him to pieces. "I figured on a riot," he says complacently. "The fans would feel they were a part of history."
It is not really surprising that Frain became King of the Ushers. Even as a child he was involved in trying to organize chaos. He was the 16th of 17 children and lived in the back of the yards section of Chicago's South Side. His father was a hod carrier who had been born in County Roscommon, migrating to America in the 1880s. Because the jam-packed five-room shack the family lived in was woefully short of beds, the children slept in shifts. Since there weren't enough clothes to go around, the first one to get up was the best dressed, while the last to get up had no clothes at all.
Besides working in a slaughterhouse to supplement the family income, young Andy collected pop bottles in ball parks and sold newspapers. In the classic tradition he had to fight for his corner. When he was in his late teens he got a job ushering at the Benny Leonard-Pinky Mitchell fight in the Dexter Park Pavilion. Ushers in those days were tough, mean and crooked. A customer starting an argument was apt to be hauled to the basement and given a thorough going-over. Of the crowd of 12,000 at the fight, about 3,000 had entered without tickets, it being the custom then for ushers to supplement their pay ($1) by taking bribes with both hands. Unlucky customers with tickets for $10 and $20 seats milled around outside, none too pleased that their seats were taken and that they could not get in. Finally they rioted, and the National Guard had to be called out to restore order. The incident inspired Frain, who had turned down several bribes that night, to assemble some friends and convince them they could make a living as honest ushers—if they could earn $5 a night instead of $1. It was a revolutionary concept, but they went along.
On the way up
They bought blue ties and shined their shoes, and Frain landed his group a few small jobs. Having learned some of the tricks of crashers and ways of keeping a crowd on the move, he then made his pitch—clean, courteous, conscientious ushers at a reasonable price—to Major Frederic McLaughlin, owner of the Chicago Black Hawks hockey team. Aware that his gate receipts hadn't been matching the number of seats filled, McLaughlin experimented with Frain. He was happy with the result, and since then Frain has handled every big-league hockey game in Chicago.
Frain got the job of handling crowds at Wrigley Field games in 1928 by offering to waive his pay if Wrigley Jr., then owner of the Cubs, wasn't satisfied with the job. To do the job properly, Frain had to fire most of Wrigley's ushers, inveterate bribetakers, many of whom felt it a point of honor to assault Frain after being fired. Frain accepted every challenge ("You can't walk away from a fight"), winning more often than he lost. Wrigley wound up pleased and even lent Frain $5,000 to buy uniforms. After persuading Charles Comiskey he could handle Comiskey Park, Frain wooed Colonel Matt Winn, the Derby impresario, in a dramatic way. To convince the colonel that gate-crashing was a cinch at the Derby, Frain climbed the fence, confronted a guard and demanded to be taken to Colonel Winn as a gate-crasher. At first stunned by Frain's audacity, Colonel Winn was soon impressed with the young zealot's knowledge of crowd flow and gate-crashing and hired him. His ambition unbounded, Frain thereupon landed the Republican and Democratic conventions of 1932, controlling crowds at both so well that he achieved a national reputation. Unfortunately, Frain's successes attracted the attention of hoodlums. On several occasions he flatly turned down their requests for a cut of his take. "No muscle is gonna clip me," Frain says indignantly. "I never had a nickel. Finally after a lot of hard work I made something of myself. They're gonna take that away from me?"
Attacks by hoodlums
As a result of his attitude, he was beaten up on several occasions in the '20s and '30s by hoodlums and once was shot at five times at close range while eating in the Chicago Stadium dining room. All five shots missed as Frain scurried along the floor toward an exit. "I think the hoods were just trying to frighten me," he says. "If they had been serious about knocking me off, I think they would've had a better average."
For ushering services Frain earns more than $35,000 a year, while his firm pays out salaries of $800,000. He has a $50000 white-brick Georgian home in Lincolnwood, a suburb of Chicago ("It's so ritzy there my neighbors go to bed with their tuxedoes on") with a swimming pool and a home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., also with a swimming pool. He drives around Chicago in an air-conditioned Cadillac. The house in Chicago has nine bathrooms and the one in Fort Lauderdale eight. Frain has never forgotten the desperately poor conditions of his childhood.
A crowd, for Andy Frain, is like a huge peach pie that must be sliced up and scientifically separated. Then the various parts must be installed precisely where they belong. "You cut 'em up outside the gates," Frain said a couple of weeks ago at Soldier Field. The Bears were about to meet the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he was on his way to his office at the stadium to supervise the manning of gates and stair wells. "Not inside, because there isn't room. You post directors outside to tell the crowd what gate to enter for what sections, or tell them the gate number is listed on the ticket. You don't want a cross flow caused by people with tickets for a north section goin' in a south gate. Keep 'em all movin' in the same direction. That's basic."
Frain, who sometimes walks 20 miles a day checking the interiors and exteriors of stadiums before events, marched briskly into his office. It was filled with ushers in various states of undress as they slipped into blue trousers and knotted blue ties. In one corner was a box of walkie-talkies, and next to it were several battery-operated megaphones for directors to address the incoming crowd. In one adjoining room ushers were trying on Andy Frain hats kept in three huge boxes. In another more ushers were dressing. Andy was handed the phone at his desk. A gray-haired man in a Frain uniform gave him a cigar. "What gates are the turnstiles on?" Frain said into the phone, lighting the cigar with an Andy Frain cigarette lighter. Andy Frain Jr., a serious-looking 26-year-old, was handing out slips of various colors to the ushers. "Spread out the blueprint," said Frain to Andy Jr. Andy Jr. spread a blueprint of Soldier Field on the desk. "How far north are you sellin'?" he said into the phone, staring at his cigar. "Gonna be a better house on account of the weather," he told Andy Jr., hanging up as more ushers filed in. One walked around blowing into a megaphone to test it. Andy told the gray-haired man to call up the head ticket taker, then bent over the map with Andy Jr. Like a general expecting an assault wave any minute, he pointed to various spots on the blueprint. "Go light here," he said. "Go heavy here." Mike Frain, five years younger than Andy Jr., was handing out instruction sheets to the ushers. "On gates 21, 22, 27 and 28," Frain said to Andy Jr., "I want four instead of three men." Andy Jr. nodded, and Frain took the phone. "How many police did they give us?" he said into it. "Are all the chiefs and assistant chiefs here?" he asked Mike. "Foof, foof," went the usher with the megaphone. Mike nodded. The room was filled with sharp-looking ushers. "The way the crowd is outside, I think we're gonna have to open," Frain said into the phone and hung up. "Make sure them kids don't roam all over," he told the ushers, poking his glasses higher on his nose with a forefinger. "Make sure the ropes are in place between"—he consulted the blueprint—"sections 1 to 11 and 2 to 20. Last year the kids cut the ropes with knives. Watch for that. Let the kids keep any footballs that go in the stands. The fans boo hell out of you if you take a football away from a kid." The phone rang. "I don't know anything about no tickets made out for Gate 42," said Frain, and hung up. "I'm going to take a look around outside," he told Andy Jr.
Frain marched out of the office, down a passageway and sidled carefully past a turnstile at Gate Zero. "This is gonna be a 15-minute crowd," Frain judged, with a look at the sky. "They all come at the last minute. People move a lot faster than they used to, and they read signs better." He walked a few feet past several groups of people headed for the gates and then stopped. "See those two guys in dark suits?" he asked. "They're mooches. I can tell by lookin' at 'em. They looked at me like they knew me, then they looked away and started talkin' to each other. They have that mooch look. Besides that, after a while you get to know the best mooches." He strolled past them and threw a glance at the gatemen on the next gate. "You can always tell when a guy's got his hand out," he said. "He'll be lookin' around to all sides—when there's no reason to look." The gatemen passed inspection, and Frain moved along. "Never trust a man with a mustache or a man who carries an umbrella," he advised good-naturedly. The fans paid heed to the instructions of the natty directors, found their proper gates, produced tickets, got ticked off by the turnstiles, received their stubs and disappeared into the stadium. Briskly continuing his tour, glancing right and left, Frain permitted himself a half smile. It was a well-engineered crowd.