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Altamont Movie On Its Way 'Before Christmas'

While the film may finally be getting closer to release, a number of lingering lawsuits are piling up

The Rolling Stones and Sam Cutler at Altamont Speedway in Livermore, California on December 6, 1969.
Robert Altman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
November 26, 1970

New York — Gimme Shelter, the Maysles Brothers' film of the Rolling Stones' 1969 American tour — including the infamous Altamont concert — now has a distributor who is shooting for a "before Christmas" release.

The film will be a Cinema V release. It's a 95-minute documentary produced by Maysles Film Thing and directed by David and Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin.

The Maysles and Stones had demanded that they retain at least some measure of control over advertising and ticket prices so that the film would be presented in good taste and so people wouldn't have to pay high prices to see it.

"Rugoff's got a good reputation that way," said David Maysles. "He's fought people who've tried to raise prices and exploit this kind of film."

David was referring to the feature-length Eldridge Cleaver documentary which Rugoff's Cinema V has been handling in New York for $1.50, a price agreeable to Eldridge and the Panthers. Cinema V also distributed the controversial Z.

Meanwhile, reverberations from that tour, especially Altamont, are still bouncing around, and came to light again recently when several travel bureaus and hotels filed suit against Stones representatives for unpaid bills that are now a year old.

Diners-Fugazy, a travel bureau headquartered in New York and California, has already obtained a judgment of some $24,000 for unpaid bills. The company had helped set up transportation and accommodations for part of the tour which began in Los Angeles, and was then left holding the bag. The New York law firm of Ellis and Ellis filed a claim and then won the judgment by default when nobody from Stones Promotion Ltd. contested it.

The reason nobody from that firm is contesting the claims is that co-founder Ron Schneider apparently flew the coop, leaving all the bills to John Jaymes, the Dodge man who hustled his way into the Stones tour and took over a lot of the travel logistics. He entered into a partnership with Schneider, and, although both Jaymes and Schneider denied it, they seemed to be attempting to wrestle control of the Stones away from Klein during the tour. In addition to his partnership with Schneider, Jaymes has his own company, Young American Enterprises, which manufactured teeny-bopper gimmicks like Laugh-In body-painting kits.

"Last I heard Ronnie's somewhere in beautiful downtown London," Jaymes said sarcastically. "I don't know why, when, where, or how, but he finally decided he didn't want anything to do with the whole mess. I guess he couldn't keep his promises, so he walked out on me."

Besides Diners-Fugazy, the Plaza Hotel in New York claims they're still owed $18,000 by the Stones. And in San Francisco, the Huntinton Hotel is still waiting for $1857.59. The Stones originally owed them $4218, but when they turned it over to lawyers a few months ago, they were able to get back more than $2300. Several other hotels around the country are filling similar claims.

Jaymes says that besides these bills, his fairweather friend Schneider has left behind another $150,000 in unpaid bills from Altamont for things like ambulance services. As for the unpaid travel and accommodations bills, Jaymes' claim that Schneider has complete responsibility is a bit odd in that while the tour was in progress, it was Jaymes who was making quite a point of the fact that he was "on top of all the Stones travel arrangements," and they "probably couldn't have gotten along" without him.

"The only reason all this is happening is because the Stones didn't know what was going on. Ronnie was the agent for the Stones," he now says.

Jaymes further says that "only my pride keeps me from filing bankruptcy" on Young Americans for his involvement with Schneider. Poetic justice. Jaymes adds that he's now going to sue Schneider for payment of all bills related to the Rolling Stones tour and Altamont.

And a hefty stack of bills that could turn out to be. For besides those already mentioned, there have now been three lawsuits filed as a direct result of the free concert at Altamont.

First, the family of Meredith Hunter, the young black man murdered at Altamont, has filed a $500,000 suit in San Francisco Superior Court against Jaymes and his company, as well as against the Rolling Stones and road manager Sam Cutler, Alan David Passaro (the Hell's Angel accused of the murder) and the Napa and San Francisco Hell's Angels, Altamont Raceway and manager Dick Carter, Filmways, and E. L. Nilsen and the California Northwest Capitol Company.

In addition, an Altamont rancher, named Jess Gilbert, is suing Jaymes for $1 million mental anguish and $35,000 property damage. Finally, a group of 14 local ranchers is claiming $90,000 in damages for, among other things, the fact that their cows and livestock were emotionally disturbed by the free concert.

"I hope that one gets to court," James said ruefully. "I really wanna find out what an emotionally disturbed cow is into."

This is a story from the November 26, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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