Cashing In: Part Two
At San Quentin, filmed 24 February 1969, was even more successful than Folsom Prison. Cash's performance was among his best, and the highlight of the show was his debut of the song "A Boy Named Sue." The song was written by Shel Silverstein, perhaps best known as the author of the children's book The Giving Tree (1964), who had also penned an earlier song of Cash's, "25 Minutes to Go."
Holiff had two stories of how Silverstein gave the song to Cash. One version is that Silverstein simply gave the song to Dan Hancock, Cash's brother-in-law (married to his sister Reba). The other story that Holiff most liked to tell, however, was that he and Cash were in the Chicago O'Hare Airport when Silverstein "came ambling up" to them with a rumpled sheet of paper that he offered to Cash, who shoved it to the bottom of his bag and did not retrieve it until two days before the concert at San Quentin, where he played it for the first time. (Watch Holiff tell the story in the documentary Half a Mile a Day  in the clip on the right.) Either way, the live recording of the song was released as a single that, according to Holiff, dominated the charts and sold six million copies.
The same week in early June that At San Quentin was released, The Johnny Cash Show was launched on ABC. Holiff had secured a contract with the production company Screen Gems for The Johnny Cash Show, with Stan Jacobson as one of the show's producers, to fill in during the summer for the variety show The Hollywood Palace.
In late 1969, Cash went on tour and sold out all the major venues he played. After a successful concert at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Cash then played a show at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on November 10 that broke attendance records for the venue, which--as a concert that he produced, and in his native province, no less--was a particularly poignant achievement for Holiff. Then, in December, Cash played another sold-out show, this time at Madison Square Gardens, which grossed record-breaking profits and earned Cash significant critical acclaim. He even received a letter of praise from Robert Redford, who was in the audience: "I can't tell you what a pleasure it was to be able to see your show Friday night. I have long been a fan of yours, and had never had the opportunity to see you perform in person. I thought the hour was great, and the highlight, of course, was being able to say hello, and then the charge I got from the gesture you made in your reference to me personally in your show. I about fell off my chair."
Cash was at the peak of his career. Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, At San Quentin, and "A Boy Named Sue" were topping the charts, and the Vice President of Screen Gems sent a letter to Cash in March 1970 that ABC was renewing The Johnny Cash Show after its successful summer run. Cash also swept the Country Music Association Awards, winning best album, best single, best male vocalist, best vocal group (with June), and entertainer of the year. Holiff, at this point, could promote him with the tagline, "Nobody but NOBODY is more original than Johnny Cash." As Holiff's brother, Morris, wrote him on 26 June 1969, "All of a sudden, all I'm hearing is Johnny Cash! . . . It looks like everything you said about him is coming true."
(Watch Holiff discuss the success "A Boy Named Sue" in the documentary Half a Mile a Day  in the clip on the left.)
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