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The man who brought us Woodstock: Elliot Tiber

In making the big festival happen, Elliot Tiber of Fort Lauderdale also freed himself

video Video | Clip from Elliott Tiber’s 'Woodstock: Ticket to Freedom' documentary

Photo by Jared Lazarus/Miami Herald Staff / More photos

BY ELLEN KANNER, Ellen@ellen-ink.com

tiber Elliot Tiber's life before Woodstock was not exactly groovy. He'd given up his job as a Manhattan designer to move back home to Bethel, N.Y., and try to bail out his parents' money pit of a motel. He was closeted, nagged and guilted by his mother and reviled by the struggling community he was trying to help.

Woodstock wasn't shaping up to be groovy, either. What would be the 1969 three-day rock 'n' roll event of the century had momentum, money and music on deck. What it didn't have was a place to perform.

Enter Tiber, the 34 year-old president of Bethel's Chamber of Commerce. As he writes in his new memoir, Taking Woodstock (Square One Publishers, $24.95), ''I typed up a permit, giving myself legal permission to hold a rock concert.'' The rest, as they say, is history.

Tiber revisits that history not just in his book but in his docu-comedy Woodstock: Ticket to Freedom being screened at Fort Lauderdale's Cinema Paradiso April 1.

''Every day you meet people who say they're something. This guy's for real, down to earth, warm. He's a great asset to our community,'' says Hal Axler, executive director of the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival.

Tiber's story has been optioned by Focus Features to be made into a major motion picture, commemorating the 40th anniversary of Woodstock next year. Not bad for a nice Jewish gay boy.

YASGUR'S FARM

When Tiber heard Woodstock needed a venue, he offered Bethel, not because he loved Hendrix and the Who but because he hoped it would bring in tourists and their money. What he really hoped was that the concert would happen at his parents' hotel, the El Monaco. It was, he writes, ``New York's ugliest and most dysfunctional motel and resort . . . most of the doors didn't have doorknobs, and fewer still had keys.''

The Woodstock promoters, who'd already had the nearby town of Wallkill back out of hosting the concert, were desperate, but not that desperate. Then Tiber thought of his neighbor: ``He has a big farm. He's my milk and cheese man. His name is Max Yasgur.''

Tiber brokered the deal, worked tirelessly with the promoters, and that summer, while crew worked to set up logistics for the concert, he housed them all at the El Monaco, thus saving his parents from going broke and giving Woodstock a home.

''What impressed me most about Elliot was his enthusiasm, his desire to help and be involved,'' recalls Stan Goldstein, one of Woodstock's organizers. ``His enthusiasm was infectious.''

At 72, Tiber is still madly enthusiastic. His conversation jumps from Woodstock to studying art with Mark Rothko in the late 1950s to his long friendship with Yiddish theater star Molly Picon, for whom his beloved Yorkie is named. Working on the book and movie has brought his past alive, triggering memories he had forgotten about over the years. ''It's very strange,'' says Tiber, who moved from Manhattan to Fort Lauderdale in November. ``It's like I'm going through it, like it's happening now.''

Woodstock was a mecca for free spirits, but Tiber at the time wasn't one of them. ''I was closeted and frustrated and repressed and afraid to be myself,'' he admits. Much of that stemmed from his difficult relationship with his mother.

''It's not painful anymore,'' he says. ``It's just funny.''

Though Tiber's mother refused to accept her son's sexuality, Tiber is happily, openly out. He's being honored at a prescreening cocktail party sponsored by the Fort Lauderdale Gay and Lesbian Community Center. He's proud of who he is, a pride ignited by participating in the Stonewall riots but also, in no small part, by participating in Woodstock.

''Those six weeks? Wow. These people were so enriching to my life. They opened up whole new worlds to me,'' Tiber recalls. ``I didn't feel fat, I didn't feel ugly. It enabled me to meet all kinds of people, to enjoy myself. I got used to that.''

FINDING FOCUS

The enthusiasm that made Tiber a vital force in the creation of Woodstock actually got in the way of him writing about it. In original manuscript of Taking Woodstock, he included not just the concert but everything that's happened to him since -- his 1972 move to Belgium; his partner of many years, director Andre Ernotte, who died in 1999; his 1976 literary debut, Rue Haute, a European bestseller published here as High Street; working on the film version of Rue Haute, an Academy Award nominee for best foreign film.

The result was a sprawling 575-page manuscript Tiber tried for years to condense. ''I just couldn't do it,'' he says. So he worked with Tom Monte, an author best known for books on healing. In an odd way, it was a perfect pairing. Monte kept the focus on Woodstock and on Tiber. ''My work was about finding the heroic in Elliot and putting that on the page,'' Monte says.

It wasn't hard. The Tiber of Woodstock days ''had an amazing amount of energy. He worked so hard and he was an incredibly creative man doing everything he could think of to keep his parents out of the poorhouse and keep that hotel alive. He was also really smart,'' says Monte.

``Bethel was not the great metropolis -- it was pretty sleepy, pretty backward. It wasn't doing anything for itself. Elliot brought the great spaceship Woodstock to Bethel. If it were not for Elliot, it would not have happened.''

AFTER WOODSTOCK

After Woodstock, Tiber finally found a buyer for the El Monaco, but Woodstock pilgrims shouldn't go looking for it. ''The owner burned it down. There's no sign, no trace, nothing,'' says Tiber.

''Maybe bringing back the Woodstock nation would stir some people to think -- but that's a dream,'' he says. ''The world is all turned upside down. Unfortunately, the younger generation is on crack and busy partying.'' Um, weren't there a few drugs at Woodstock?

''I was the only one out of 1 million who didn't smoke a joint,'' he says. ''Well, maybe I did. Everybody was doing it.'' Even his straight-laced parents accidentally ate hash brownies. ''It was the only time I saw them laugh in my whole life,'' he says.

Tiber shakes his head. ''When I talk about Woodstock, or when I talk to my friends, it's like time hasn't passed,'' he says. 'Then yesterday I got out of the shower and thought `my God, I look like my mother.' ''

Looks aside, ''the Elliot of today is a much more realized human being, more comfortable in his own skin,'' says Goldstein. ``Elliot acknowledges his homosexuality. In the early times of our knowing each other, that was not openly acknowledged. Anyone who has to keep something so central to their life so hidden, so secret is contending with terrible forces. Revealing his sexuality has freed Elliot up.''

Tiber agrees. His favorite part of his film is where he talks with Richie Havens, Woodstock's opening act.

''You know his song, Freedom? Richie Havens improvised that song,'' says Tiber. ``Freedom for me was what Woodstock was all about.''

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Tiber has a Yorkie named Molly Picon? Or is it just Molly?

My Name is Bella, really Isabella. But shoot Does Elliot Tiber still have the dog?

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/feat/archives/2008/10/11/2003425568

how the book became an Ang Lee movie? read above here. scoop!

How the book became a Hollywood movie to be directed by an Academy
Award winner is also a story that Shur tells with relish.

"It will sound like a Hollywood myth, but it really happened this
way," he said. "Tiber was scheduled to appear on a West Coast
television show to promote the book, and while he was waiting in the
green room to go on the show, who should sit down next to him, by pure
chance, but Ang Lee."

It turns out that Lee was also scheduled to appear on that same
interview show to promote his latest film, Lust, Caution (色,戒).

"Elliot," continues Shur, "introduced himself and spent the next hour
chatting with him about his book."

"Well, when Lee went on the show, the host finished the interview by
asking Lee where he usually got his ideas from for his movies, and Lee
said that he really doesn't go looking for stories, that they seem to
come to him. And with that he turned to Elliot, who was sitting across
from him, and gave him a sly wink."

"Nothing really happened until about five months later, when Lee had
finally read the book," Shur said. "Lee and Schamus felt there was a
movie here, and together they went to upstate New York to visit the
Yasgur's Farm site where the Woodstock festival took place. Elliot
joined them there at the site, and the project was in the can. The
agents finalized the deal, everything was signed, and here we are. It
looks like Lee was right: in this case, the next movie project really
did just seem to come to him."

Ang Lee’s current project has a backstory of pure serendipity

A chance encounter between the Oscar-winning director and Elliot Tiber resulted in ‘Taking Woodstock,’ which takes stock of the life of a closeted gay man

By Dan Bloom

Oct 11, 2008


Taiwan-born Hollywood director Ang Lee (李安), 53, is tackling a new movie project, a comedy this time, about America’s famous Woodstock hippie music festival in 1969. Titled Taking Woodstock, the film’s screenplay was written by longtime Lee collaborator James Schamus, 49, from a book by Elliot Tiber with the same title.

Tiber’s memoir was quietly published with little fanfare in 2007 by a small publisher in New York, but now the book, subtitled A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life, has become Lee’s entree into the world of film comedy. It’s tentatively set for a premiere in New York on June 26, 2009 — according to several movie Web sites — near the 40th anniversary of the 1969 Woodstock festival. The three-day concert took place in the middle of August of that year.

Rudy Shur is the president of Square One Publishers, a book company in New York, which bought the book and released it in 2007 without really knowing if there was a Hollywood movie in it. But 10 months after publication, a movie deal was signed with Focus Features in New York. Focus Features is owned by NBC Universal, with James Schamus serving as the independent studio’s CEO. Tongues are already wagging on blogs and Web sites about what Lee’s take on the Woodstock era will be like. The principal location shooting in upstate New York is set to be completed by the end of this month, according to Variety magazine, a film industry publication.

In am e-mail interview about how the book and movie sale came about, publisher Shur, 62, explained the book’s curious backstory.

“Two friends of mine told me about a man they knew who had a very interesting and unique ‘story’ to tell, and they asked me to call him and see for myself if the memoir project — still unwritten — would make a good book. After talking to Elliot Tiber, now 72, and listening to his story about Woodstock in the ’60s, I told him that it would make a terrific book, but that our book company usually didn’t publish those types of memoirs and that he would be better off with a larger publishing house that had more experience and marketing clout.”

Despite Shur’s advice to take his book project to a bigger publishing company, Tiber kept coming back to him and Shur finally said that he would take on the book, but with the same earlier reservations he had expressed before.

“I decided that maybe it was time to take a chance with this kind of book, and since it was my company, well, I would do as good a job as I could,” Shur added. “So I called Elliot up and said ‘Lets go for it.’”

The book’s genesis was complicated. “The story he wanted to tell was basically all Elliot, but to tell it in a manner that presented a balanced story in the way that I was looking for meant calling in a co-writer, Tom Monte,” Shur said.

“Elliot’s normal writing style was very creative and stream-of-consciousness, but I wanted more of a traditional story narrative. I had worked with Monte before, so I signed him to put Elliot’s material into the style I was looking for.

“Joanne Abrams, my senior editor, worked with Elliot to get his memoir into a more finalized form, and Monte did his magic with the book, too. When it was done, Elliot approved, and we had our book.”

The title of the book, and the movie, also has an interesting backstory. Shur said the title was the brainchild of Square One’s marketing director, Anthony Pomes.

“We had lots of titles in mind, but Taking Woodstock seemed to fit best based on the story,” Shur noted. “We felt the title meant two things: Taking stock of your life and, in a sense, control of your destiny — and also taking the experience of Woodstock, and what that cultural event meant, with you for the rest of your life.”

“Woodstock was a moment of freedom as well as a coming of age for a new generation in America,” Shur added.

“So we used that title for the book, and Lee and Schamus are using it for the movie as well. We are delighted.”

The book’s narrative reflects a young Elliot Tiber in his 20s who was on the brink of financial ruin at the time but who was also in a position to help pull off one of our generation’s greatest rock concerts,” Shur said. “I wanted to include some of the most important, yet overlooked, facts of the coming together of the concert, and Monte [Eliot’s co-writer], having also lived through the period, was able to do just that.”

The story follows Tiber, who is gay but hid his sexual orientation from his family, and includes his participation in the Stonewall riot in New York, which helped fuel the gay-rights movement.

When the book was first released, there were only a few reviews since Square One was not a large publisher and did not have the same kind of marketing clout as the larger book companies in New York. But the reviews were nevertheless positive, and slowly, word of mouth began to spread at book Web sites and blogs.

“We could see a real ‘grass-roots’ interest starting to build around the book,” Pomes, the marketing director said.

“The audience was growing week by week, and we felt we held a sleeper title that had what it took to turn into a winner.”

How the book became a Hollywood movie to be directed by an Academy Award winner is also a story that Shur tells with relish.

“It will sound like a Hollywood myth, but it really happened this way,” he said. “Tiber was scheduled to appear on a West Coast television show to promote the book, and while he was waiting in the green room to go on the show, who should sit down next to him, by pure chance, but Ang Lee.”

It turns out that Lee was also scheduled to appear on that same interview show to promote his latest film, Lust, Caution (色,戒).

“Elliot,” continues Shur, “introduced himself and spent the next hour chatting with him about his book.”

“Well, when Lee went on the show, the host finished the interview by asking Lee where he usually got his ideas from for his movies, and Lee said that he really doesn’t go looking for stories, that they seem to come to him. And with that he turned to Elliot, who was sitting across from him, and gave him a sly wink.”

“Nothing really happened until about five months later, when Lee had finally read the book,” Shur said. “Lee and Schamus felt there was a movie here, and together they went to upstate New York to visit the Yasgur’s Farm site where the Woodstock festival took place. Elliot joined them there at the site, and the project was in the can. The agents finalized the deal, everything was signed, and here we are. It looks like Lee was right: in this case, the next movie project really did just seem to come to him.”

When asked if he knew there was a movie in the book from the very beginning, Shur said: “I’ll be honest with you. As we worked on the book, I knew that Elliot’s story had the potential to make a great independent movie. It was like no other Woodstock story ever published. I believed that we could find a small independent producer who could turn the book into a film. However, in my wildest dreams I would have never thought it to be the likes of Ang Lee and James Schamus, two Academy Award winners who would take on the project. So far, it’s been an amazing ride.”


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