Daily News 27.05.1972
NIGHT OWL reporter
Okay, so here's a trivia question to end all trivia questions. Who is the single most famous American performer in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic, more commonly known as Russia?
If you're answer was Dean Reed, you're absolutely correct. And you are probably also 1.) a Russian; 2.) a CIA agent; 3.) an FBI agent; 4.) a Secret Service man; 5.) a counterspy, or 6.) one of Reed's surprised relatives or friends. Nobody else could possibly know that much about him, because, for one thing, nobody much in this country knows him. He hasn't lived here since 1962.
He has been back for visits, however, to see his ex-wife and daughter, who live in California. And on his last visit, he stopped off in this city on route back to Rome, where he now lives, and where he stars in so-called "spaghetti Westerns" (he has made 11, only one of which was released in the states). In New York he figured he would see a few shows and do a little singing for the annual Boy Scout fund-raising luncheon, and how red, white and blue can you get?
Being red, white and blue is not something Dean Reed is often considered to be, however. The 33-year-old ex-dude ranch hand was already a committed pacifist when he left the states a decade ago and headed toward South America. Down there, for some unexplained reason, a record he had made called "Our Summer Romance" was raising temperatures and climbing charts like crazy.
So Reed took of for the Latin climes to cash in on his popularity and he settled in down there, refining his social conscience and increasing his audience, until 1965, when he went to Helsinki as the official Argentinian representative at an artist's conference.
It's sort of amuzing to think of the tall, sun-bleached California-surfer-looking Reed representing the decidedly Latin Argentinians, but he did. And when he performed at the conference, the Russian delegation invited him to perform in their country. He was an immediate hit, and was invites back for several other tours of that country. Each time, his reputation and his audiences grew, until on his last tour, tickets to his performances were being scalped for as much as 40 rubles ($ 48), and there were plenty of takers, even at that price.
So was makes him so famous among Russians? Who knows? Popularity is a hard thing to define, and even Reed seems a bit bemused by what happens when the Iron Curtain parts for him. It doesn't seem to have all that much to do whit his politics, though it would be naive to think he'd be invited there so often if the government didn't think he would be safe.
Yet, while his program of songs include several that are what we would term "protest" - those are not the most popular ones in his repertoire. "They like 'My Yiddisher Mama' about the best," Reed said, looking puzzled.
But he says that probably what attracts the Moscow audiences is his on-stage manner, and he's probably right. Russians are used to performers appearing in a straight, no-nonsense manner, and Reed is far more casual. He talks to his audience and makes little jokes, often jumping off stage to wander the aisles and speak in his pigeon-Russian to them and, obviously, they love it. Even Tom Jones tickets don't come in at $48.
Americans in Russia aren't always as happy about Reed as the Russians are, however. They sometimes resent the stands he takes on political matters, and they were enraged at his denunciation of the Nobel Prize-winning Alexander Solzhenitsyn and his uncritical approach to Russia. But, he says, he does nothing more or says nothing more than protesters and critics of American policy say here in this country, and he disclaims any political labeling of himself.
Whatever the truth might he, it is difficult to dislike him, and it's easy to see how the Russian women are captivated by his smile, his casual good looks and easy manner. The test will come when he faces an American audience.