Excerpt from And Party Every Day: The Inside Story of Casablanca Records:
There was something infectious about Donna’s airy, sexy cooing layered over Giorgio Moroder’s incessant, driving music. Neil could sense the impending breakout of “Love to Love You Baby” and pestered Giorgio to fly Donna from Munich, where she was living, to the US for some promotional appearances, which he felt would push the buzz to the critical level and we’d have a major hit on our hands. It took him the better part of a month to convince Giorgio, partly because Donna was recovering from a relatively severe heart infection, but in early November 1975, she traveled to New York to start a six-week promotional tour.
Neil would say to us, “It’s a four-color world out there, boys. Don’t live it in black and white.” That was definitely the edict when it came to Donna. It had to be red carpet treatment all the way—nothing should be considered too good for Donna. Susan Munao, our head of publicity, didn’t disappoint. She was there, with Joyce Biawitz, to meet Donna when she arrived at JFK. After making quick introductions, they escorted Donna to a waiting limousine. As they settled into the car, “Love to Love You Baby” began playing on the FM radio. Of course, it’s possible that this was simply a coincidence—after all, the song was getting some serious airplay at that point—but, given Susan’s drive for excellence, I think she got in touch with one of her legion of New York radio contacts, called in a favor, and arranged for the station to start playing the song on her cue. When Donna entered her room at the Park Lane Hotel, which overlooked Central Park, she found nearly two-dozen floral displays. Susan had laid on every bit of pampering she could muster. This was how impressions were made, and Susan knew it.
Buck Reingold, a Casablanca co-founder and Neil’s brother in-law, certainly knew it, too, and so he came up with this ridiculous, harebrained stunt. He had a cake made for Donna’s homecoming appearance in her native Boston. It wasn’t just a cake. It was a huge cake that had Donna’s likeness emblazoned on it with icing. Buck had ordered it from Hansen’s Bakery, because Hansen’s was the only bakery that would agree to decorate a cake with the image of a sexy reclining woman. But, oh, by the way, Hansen’s was in LA—three thousand miles from Boston. How do you get a four-foot-long cake from LA to Boston without destroying it? Buck arranged for an ambulance to pick the cake up at Hansen’s and chauffeur it to LAX; then he booked three first-class seats to Boston (two for the cake, one for him). Of course, there were photographers in place at both ends of the trip. Never let a good photo op go to waste.
Donna was floored. The poor woman hadn’t been to the US in nearly seven years, she had been bedridden for the better part of several months with myocarditis, and she was now on the receiving end of the full Neil Bogart superstar treatment. And the promo tour had barely begun. Her six-week excursion was launched in New York with a short performance and an extravagant after party at the Pachyderm Club. Her three-song set was plagued with production problems, mostly stemming from the fact that Donna could not hear herself sing. But the audience didn’t seem to mind, and the evening was a blowout success.
The tour that followed hit a host of cities across the country, where Donna performed minishows at small discotheques for the very people who were helping to lift her to superstar status. The promotional tour also included high-profile appearances on Soul Train and The Mike Douglas Show.
The first time I would meet Donna was several weeks later, when she came to our offices accompanied by her Casablanca retinue. At the time, this retinue consisted of Susan, Joyce Biawitz, and Cecil Holmes (another of the Casablanca co-founders), but then it grew rapidly and exponentially. Donna greeted us all warmly and she expressed her gratitude for all of our help with her career. The meeting was pleasant and very low pressure. One thing that struck us was that Donna did not look a lot like the woman in the picture Trudy Meisel had given us nearly a year earlier; but you could see a resemblance. She was very pretty, but she looked a bit heavier than she had in the picture, and her hair was not the flowing mane of her album covers and press photos. It was very, very short, and not at all in keeping with the diva status that she was pursuing. This is why Donna would always be photographed in a wig.