Behind the Scenes

Ex-cop Bernie Young runs the show as Rosie O'Donnell's right-hand man

the [police] academy in September of 1969. From day one, I wanted to be the best. My goal was to make captain in 15 years.

In 1977, Ben Vereen was fresh off of Roots, riding real high. We’d been friends since we were 12. He came to New York, and I went to see his show, and he offered me a job. I said, “Please! I’ve got a career. I’m happy.” A year later, he came back through and asked me again. I had been waiting on a promotion [to become a sergeant] for three years, but the city was financially strapped. Working and waiting is not a good feeling. I had given 100% to the city and I wasn’t getting 100% back. You never will if you’re working for somebody else. I flew down to Philly and saw what Ben’s world was all about and said, “OK. Let’s make a deal.” My wife, Carol, thought I was out of my mind, and the guys I worked with thought I was absolutely insane. Maybe it seemed sudden, but I’d been thinking for a long time about how I was going to be able to control my own life. This was the answer, and I didn’t second-guess it. I’m not someone who wrestles with decisions after the fact. I wrestle with them enough before.

[In April 1978] I started out as Ben’s road manager, handling everything from travel arrangements for the entire crew to Ben’s media interviews. I had been making around $60,000 with the police department; Ben was paying about $100,000, but there was no insurance, no pension, and no security! It was a huge risk, not only because of the money but because I knew nothing about show business or how tough it was going to be. I found out fast!

After six months, Ben fired his personal manager and asked me to step up. As road manager, I already dealt with a lot of his personal affairs so it was a natural progression. I knew that life wasn’t going to get easier, but I was going to make more money415% of whatever he made and I’d have a lot more responsibilities. As a manager, you don’t just service the contracts. You really have to understand what’s in them and how those deals are made. So I learned a lot more about how [that process was done]. That, quite frankly, was the easy part. The biggest part about being a manager is giving advice and direction. You have to keep that career moving forward. It’s all about looking at the big picture.

Ben was working himself to death, and he loved it because the more he was on the road, the more he could party. But, as his manager, I knew he needed to do other things, and kept telling him that. There’s a formula to making it. You get the right kind of publicity, you do the right kinds of projects, you keep yourself visible but not overexposed and you’ll get

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