SI Vault
Rex Lardner
October 02, 1961
That's Andy Frain's warning about gate-crashers to his polite, blue-coated ushers who seat—and soothe—50 million people a year at top sports events
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October 02, 1961

'the Crowd Is Your Enemy'

That's Andy Frain's warning about gate-crashers to his polite, blue-coated ushers who seat—and soothe—50 million people a year at top sports events

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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.

Six-foot-tall ushers

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.

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