Friday, October 17, 2014

An Interview with Frankie Ray - Part Two

Frankie Ray: I was probably the best friend Lenny Bruce had. I see these shows and they interview these guys, "Well, when I was with Lenny Bruce..." Half of them didn't even know him! Lenny was doing a nightclub by the airport with a couple strippers. I went out there and it made me realize how much balls he had. He was working with this girl. She danced on a rug and then gets off the stage. Lenny comes out and says, "Dig this. See that rug? It's down there because the dancer asked the bartender to lay it down for her. This broad wanted me to do it. I'm a bigger star than she is and she wants me to be a stagehand."

He did a whole routine about this. "She asked me if I would at least have the courtesy to take the rug off the stage when she's through. Yeah, I got that courtesy." He picked it up, rolled it, and sent it sailing across the room. It knocked a guy's toupee off. He said, "I'm not gonna pick up her fucking rug!" These are the kinds of things he did. Then he'd take off on the bosses. "These two guys, man. There's a girl singer on the show and the one boss is in love with her. Dig? She can't get a job and this asshole bought her a nightclub so he could get laid." We'd hang out and he'd hold court at Canter's.

Kliph Nesteroff: I heard that you guys were together the night Lenny was attacked by some racist...

Frankie Ray: Okay. We decided one night not to go to Canter's because there were too many people around. Whenever Lenny came in - that booth would just be packed. People came in just to listen to him. He was that kind of a performer. So I said, "Well, where do you want to go?" He said, "Well, let's go to that other place - Googie's." We went there and we're waiting for a table. We were sitting by the window on a little seat or something and this guy comes in. He yells at the top of his lungs, "I wanna kill me a Jew tonight!" And Lenny... can't mind his own business. He stands up and sings, "Let my people goooooo!" 

My boss who ran a nightclub for Mickey Cohen was also there and he comes over. My boss said to the guy, "Look, schmuck, get out of here." "What you call me?" And the guy punches my boss. Flattened him with one punch. Lenny says, "Oh, you wanna fight, hey?" And Lenny couldn't fight. Lenny punches the guy in the chest and his fist bounces off of the chest. He picks up Lenny and he throws him through a big plate glass window! I thought that was the end of Lenny. The boss says to me, "Come on, Frank, we got to get out of here! I know a way." Because we couldn't get out the front.

He took me to the room where the waitresses dress.  I said, "Hey, I can't leave Lenny! What the fuck is the matter with you?" He says, "Frank, I can't take a chance. I only got one suit and I have an appointment at Paramount tomorrow." The fuckin' people you meet! Anyway, I go back and Lenny is gone. They used to have these little clinics on the street like Santa Monica Boulevard. I go there and he was okay. Lenny whispered to me, "Frank. I called the press. They're going to be here and take pictures. Now whatever you do - make sure they don't take my Semitic side." "What!" And then the guy who hit him came into the hospital. He said, "I want to apologize." Nope. Lenny started the fight with him again (laughs). Ah, shit. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Were you there the famous night he played Slate Brothers? The booking was a big deal - the crowd was full of celebrities - and they cut the microphone and fired him right then and there...

Frankie Ray: Oh, God, yes, I was there. A lot of people don't know that the Slate Brothers wanted him back. They were going to forgive him and everything. He said, "No, it's not for me." I remember this because we lived together. Opening night there was the Ritz Brothers, the Marx Brothers, all the brothers at the Slate Brothers! 

And all these hookers with George Raft. Buddy Hackett gave him the joke. He said, "Hey Lenny, I got a good joke for you since you're working dirty. 'The kid says to the father. 'Daddy, what's a blowjob?' The father says, 'Shut up and keep sucking.' Lenny went onstage angry because the audience wouldn't be quiet. He told the joke. And he said, "Hey, if you guys are interested in these girls - they are all in George Raft's little black book over there."

Then we ran because they said the Slate Brothers wanted to beat the shit out of him. He had insulted everybody and swore and everything else. We ran to Canter's. The Mad Russian - the guy from The Eddie Cantor Show - came in. He said, "Lennnn-eeee Broooss! What did you doooo?"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Frankie Ray: Everybody was wondering what the hell was going to happen. But because of it - if he had not done that - there would be no Don Rickles. The publicity guy from the Slate Brothers said, "We can't find anybody [to replace him]. Tell Lenny if he behaves, he can come back." He didn't want to go back. Then this other guy said, "There's this kid working in Hollywood named Don Rickles. Tomorrow he leaves for Florida." So they grabbed him. He was doing pretty good in a small way, but once the movie stars came in to see him at the Slate Brothers, you couldn't get a seat in the joint. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Did Lenny do an entire show that evening at Slate Brothers? The story I heard was that he did the shut up and keep sucking...

Frankie Ray: Yeah, that's what everyone was screaming about...

Kliph Nesteroff: He did that at the start of the show - and it ended the show at the same time?

Frankie Ray: Well, it was too noisy. That's why. They wouldn't stop talking. Lenny could adjust to anything as far as rooms. Sometimes he'd get a job way out in Riverside for a corn blow audience. He would do his old act, the one he did on Arthur Godfrey with the impressions. Then finally he got lucky and he was really making a lot of money. I tried to get him on Ed Sullivan. Sullivan said, "How do I know he won't do something speck-tack-yoo-lurrrr to interrupt my show?" I couldn't get him on because Ed was already mad at me because I got him Shecky Greene - and Shecky screwed up. 

Sally Marr told me not to travel with Lenny. She said, "Don't go with him. You don't know junkies. They change their mind real fast." But I got on a plane with him and we went to St. Louis. He was with me nine weeks and never got loaded. He said, "When I'm with you I don't think about it." It's association. When the people you're with get loaded, that's why you get loaded. Finally we went to Chicago and some asshole gave him a pill. Lenny comes into the hotel and he sees me. He says, "Frank! What are you doing in Chicago?" I said, "I'm packin' my bags to back to Los Angeles!"

Kliph Nesteroff: Just to clarify the details of that notorious Slate Brothers engagement... It's kind of legendary...

Franke Ray: Right.

Kliph Nesteroff: There seem to be a lot of muddled details about what happened. Someone told me that it all happened the same night... Lenny Bruce did the father - son joke, the Slate Brothers fired him during the first of two shows... they went and grabbed Rickles from Zardi's at Hollywood and Vine and Rickles came in and performed that same night...

Frankie Ray: No, Rickles came in the next night because Rickles was already working that night. Somebody might have told you that's the way it was, but it wasn't.

Kliph Nesteroff: This person told me that the reason Rickles became such a sensation was because he had this ready-made audience of celebrities to make fun of... they were all there because they wanted to see Lenny bruce.

Frankie Ray: No, Rickles would have bombed too because you couldn't get anyone's attention that night. When Lenny came back to town he was getting a little screwy. He would say to me, "Go down to the Crescendo and tell the owners we don't want anyone over 45 sitting ringside. And I want my money up here now." He lived on top of the hill. He lived like Dracula with big iron gates and shit. There are other things and most are in that book Albert Goldman wrote. Goldman, they found out, was very jealous of Lenny. He was going to do Lenny Bruce's life story so they threw a party and Lenny was invited, but nobody talked to Goldman. They all talked to Lenny and wouldn't go near Goldman.

Kliph Nesteroff: Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce by Albert Goldman.

Frankie Ray: I never read it all the way through. He did say... he said some things about me and about Sue Horowitz... that she was the greatest cocksucker in Hollywood... I said to her, "Both of us should sue. He can't say that. You'll get twenty-five and I get twenty-five. He can't say that !" But it didn't happen.

Kliph Nesteroff: There is another story about the first time Lenny Bruce was busted. It apparently happened after he had offended a prominent guest at a private party in Philadelphia...

Frankie Ray: Ah, well, Philadelphia was always a religion thing. Maybe it was a priest or something. And the other guy that got arrested with him in Chicago... he was his biggest fan. He loved him. I can't think of his name... he died a couple years ago...

Kliph Nesteroff: George Carlin.

Frankie Ray: Yeah, George Carlin. You know, Carlin got thrown in the patrol wagon with Lenny. Lenny said, "What did you do?" He said, "I was sticking up for you!" Lenny said, "You schmuck." We all went to San Francisco, me and Shecky and everybody, to see Lenny do a concert date. He had just gotten off some charge in San Francisco and the judge said, "You better never let me hear you say anything bad." So, Lenny said to the audience, "If you want your money back you can have it back. Cause tonight I'm not gonna work like Lenny Bruce." But they stayed. We're sitting there and then all of sudden he goes, "Ah, fuck it. Fuck that judge!"

There's another guy you should talk to...  ah, no... nevermind... he's dead. You see, certain people are funny whether they're on stage or not. Jackie Gayle was one of them. He was with us. Lenny always needed money and he'd trick Jackie. He'd say, "What do you pay at the hotel, Jackie? Tell you what I'm gonna do. I have a spare bedroom. Just give me $700 and you'll never have to pay me any rent again." Well, it was a room with a big hot water heater in it and he had to sleep standing up it was so small.  Jackie said, "That motherfucking Lenny, I'll kill him!"

Kliph Nesteroff: Did Jackie Gayle have a relationship with Lenny's mother at some point?

Frankie Ray: No, they did an act together.

Kliph Nesteroff: Sally Marr and Her Escorts?

Frankie Ray: Yeah, and she was very good to him. She married wrong. She married the guy they think really killed Lenny. He didn't tell Lenny that whatever it was - wasn't cut. They blame him. That guy was always high too. A couple writers came to me once, they wanted to do a whole thing about Lenny Bruce's "murder." I said, "Ah, get the fuck outta here."

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Jack Roy, who eventually became Rodney Dangerfield. Did you know him back then?

Frankie Ray: Yeah. A lot of those guys were afraid of Lenny. I liked Rodney. He was good to everybody but...  Pat Morita was a guy who sort of denied Lenny when he was getting arrested for dope and everything. They started to shy away from him. The only person Lenny Bruce didn't like too much was Lenny Gaines. Everybody liked him, but in order to get a laugh a lot of times Lenny Gaines would do shtick that Lenny Bruce did. Will Jordan has the most reason to be mad at Lenny Bruce because he took Will's bit with Hitler painting the walls and MCA signing him and all of that. That is true. But he never cared about that. And I never cared about that. It was like Buddy and Jerry Lester. Jerry Lester was hilarious, but when Buddy did Jerry's material he was better!

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Buddy Hackett? He and Lenny Bruce had been pot smoking buddies way back...

Frankie Ray: They got un-friendly. When I was collecting money to bury Lenny I thought that Buddy would give us a lot. He didn't even answer the telegram. The people that Lenny used to make fun of like Milton Berle, Jack Benny, George Burns - they are the ones that gave money for the funeral. They all sent money. Buddy, I don't know, I never did find out... I think maybe when Lenny was loaded Buddy couldn't get him on the phone and maybe he took it more personally or something. I don't know.

The worst prick of them all was the producer who made the picture Lenny. What the fuck's his name? Marvin? Real stingy guy. He was part of a team that wrote for the late night shows and Buddy was friendly with this guy too. He swindled me out of some money. I didn't want trouble so I just let it slide. Because the guys I would have put on him... guys from Chicago... they don't settle for a punch in the gut, they'd throw him in the river. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

An Interview with John Barbour - Part Three

Kliph Nesteroff: March 1966 - Art Linkletter introduced you on the Talent Scouts show.

John Barbour: The producer was a guy named Perry Cross. He booked me because he heard my It's Tough to Be White [comedy] album and he loved it. He called me into his office, "How'd you like to do Talent Scouts?" I said, "Really? Do this material on the air?" He said, "No, no, no. You have to write something else, but I'd love you to be on the show. Maybe in some way it will help your album." I wrote some material and the guy who introduced me was a wonderful comedian named George Gobel. Gobel was an alcoholic, but had one of the great, early comedy shows written by a friend of mine - Hal Kanter.

He was the best one-line joke writer in America and he wrote for the Academy Awards for twenty years. Anyway, George Gobel comes into the dressing room with a bottle of booze and two glasses. "Would you like to share one with me before you go out?" I said, "Mr. Gobel, I don't drink." He said, "Not at all!? Jesus! How can you go up there all alone?" I was one of two people invited to do a second shot on Art Linkletter's Talent Scouts. In one corner seat was Art Linkletter's wife. In the other corner was his girlfriend. That's all I remember!

Kliph Nesteroff: March 1966 your were on The Louis Lomax Show.

John Barbour: Ohhh... yes. Louis Lomax was a Black newsman who had a show in Los Angeles. He had me on to talk about the It's Tough to Be White album and my experience performing at the California Club in Watts. 

Kliph Nesteroff: And then you wrote a few sitcom scripts with a guy named Whitey Mitchell. The Tammy Grimes Show and...

John Barbour: Whitey Mitchell was the brother of Red Mitchell. They were both bass players. He was introduced to me by my downstairs neighbor Mort Lachman. Mort Lachman became the headwriter of The Bob Hope Show. He called me one day, "This kid Whitey Mitchell is tired of being a musician. He wants to be a writer. Can I send him up to talk to you?" I was a struggling stand-up comedian barely making a living. Whitey came up and told me he wanted to be a writer. His real name was Gordon. I said, "Gordon, I don't want to write sitcoms or any of that stuff."

He said, "Yeah, but you're not even working half the time! Do it for me, will ya?" So the first thing we did was a Get Smart script. We wrote a script about counterfeiting S&H green stamps. The producer loved it, but for some legal reason they couldn't do it so they asked us to write something else. So we did that, a Gomer Pyle and The Tammy Grimes Show. I got tired of it, but then we got a call. The Writers Guild used to have this terrific awards show. We were called to come work on it with Hal Kanter and a bunch of others. Hal Kanter had this opening for the Writers Guild show. Thanks for the Memories plays and the curtain opens and Groucho Marx comes out saying, "Ain't it great to hear that music and then not have that guy show up?"

It was a pleasant opening - and Groucho refused to do it. So Hal wrote a different line about Lew Wasserman. "I don't want to do any jokes about Lew Wasserman tonight because I hate to kick a dog when he's up." Another cute line! And he refused to do that. Hal Kanter said, "Groucho, you're a star for Chrissake. Why are refusing to do it?" He said, "Because I like Bob Hope and I don't want to offend Lew."

Neil Simon wrote a thing that night for Walter Matthau. Walter Matthau onstage was so funny and so charismatic. He didn't even need joke lines because his whole attitude was so wonderful. Anyway we did that show and afterword I said, "You know, Gordon, I can't do this anymore. Find another partner." He found a guy named Lloyd Turner, a one-armed writer, and they were eventually on staff at Mork and Mindy.

Kliph Nesteroff: May 1968 - you were scheduled to play the Copacabana, but I don't think it happened...

John Barbour: Oh my God, what a... Yes, absoloo... how did that get... where did you find that information? My God. Yeah, I had just worked at a place called Bimbo's in San Francisco, which was sort of a "hood-ish" club. I worked there with Dionne Warwick. There was some guy from the William Morris office who took umbrage at one of my jokes and talked Dionne Warwick into canceling me from the Copacabana. My agent was a guy at William Morris named Murray Schwartz. Murray was the only agent at William Morris who believed in Merv Griffin.

When Merv was dumped from NBC he ended up playing dinner theaters in the Midwest, but he would sell out. Murray Schwartz went to NBC and talked them into rethinking Merv. He hosted a game show and then ended up with Westinghouse. He became Merv's personal agent and ended up having to sue Merv years later when Merv sold his company to Coca-Cola. Anyway, at one of the agent offices, they had a direct line to a guy named Frank Costello.

He was one of the major mobsters in New York. The guy who ran the Copacabana was named Jules Podell and he talked like [gruff voice]. He really talked like that. Anyway, they booked a girl named Caterina Valente. She had this gorgeous high range voice, was extremely popular and Italian. She was rehearsing and at the end of her first song she puts her arms way up as she hits the high note - and what do you see? Hair under her arms. So Murray gets a call from an associate of Frank Costello's on the private line. "Call Jules Podell." Podell says, "You get somebody down here and tell that broad she has to shave!"

Murray's boss comes in and says, "Murray. You have to go to the Copa and tell Ms. Valente that she's in America now and she has to shave under her arms." Murray says, "I can't do that!" He says, "Murray, if you don't do it then you are no longer with William Morris!" So he goes down there and goes into the dressing room. She's fixing her make-up and you can see the hair under her arms. He goes to Jules Podell, "Please Mr. Podell. I can't tell her to shave. I just can't." "Kid, you do it or I'll see to it you're no longer with William Morris." He said, "Then I'm no longer with William Morris. I just can't do it." Podell says, "Screw you, you coward! I'll do it!" So Podell goes into the dressing room, "Ms. Valente!" "Yes, Mr. Podell?" "Tonight! You... you... you wear a sweater!"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

John Barbour: (laughs) Anyway, I had really been looking forward to working the Copacabana, but because of the Morris office taking offense at one of my jokes I never got to play it.

Kliph Nesteroff: You played Las Vegas - The Fremont, with John Gary.

John Barbour: Yes I was John Gary's opening act. In 1969 I was Bobby Darin's opening act at the Landmark. He was recovering from a long depression after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. That's when he wrote If I Were a Carpenter. He wanted to wear jeans onstage and the hoods resented that. They made him wear a tuxedo. Working Vegas in those days was an absolute joy.

Kliph Nesteroff: We talked about your minor feud with Johnny Carson. At one point when you had your own commentary show with Metromedia you were called out in the Los Angeles Free Press by the great writer Harlan Ellison. He was calling you "a poor man's Joe Pyne."

John Barbour: Oh God! Yeah! Harlan Ellison wrote a column called The Glass Teat. It was a very literate and well-written column. Well, the night I sat in for Merv Griffin I interviewed Jean Claude Killy, a famous skier. I did my monologue and all the rest. Anyway, Harlan writes this scathing review of me. He came close to calling me a fag... that's how offensive it was.

When I was doing my show for Metromedia, I wanted to be like Jack Paar. In other words, I wanted to find people who were bright and interesting and bring them on the show. I didn't care if they were known or unknown. It made no difference to me as long as they were interesting. I thought, "God, this guy Harlan Ellison can really write." I got the number of the Free Press and I called him. He answered the phone, "Ellison here!" I said, "John Barbour here." He said, "Holy shit!"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

John Barbour: I said, "How would you like to be on my Metromedia show?" He said, "You're shitting me. After what I wrote about you?" I said, "I think you're wrong, but if you can talk as well as you can write then you'd be interesting." I brought him on the show to talk about television and his article The Glass Teat. After the show he went to the Channel 11 program director and asked for my job (laughs). But Harlan and I became friends and I booked him for years. Every time I had a show I booked him.

Kliph Nesteroff: I want to ask you about a couple other Los Angeles based personalities, one of whom you already mentioned - Joe Pyne.

John Barbour: Joe had a radio show and he called a guy named Chuck Young who was manager of Channel 11. He screamed into the phone. "My name is Joe Pyne and I'm going to be on your station!" Well, Chuck was so taken with that - he put him on. He was the first Rush Limbaugh, the first Sean O'Hannity, the first Bill O'Reilly. He had one leg. When I did his show he sat at one end and I sat at the other end. When it was over he said to me, "John, I'm sorry, but I didn't want you to sit next to me because I like you." He always had to be sort of confrontational, but he was very nice to me. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I read that Bob Hope was instrumental in your getting a contract with NBC.

John Barbour: No, he had nothing to do with that. But the reason Bob Hope came on my show was because I saw a Bob Hope special and it was absolutely dreadful. I was on NBC and I said, "At sixty-five I have to retire because, like those who work in factories, it's compulsory. Well, they should have the same law for comedians - or ex-comedians - like Bob Hope." His show was awful and it looked like he was reading his jokes off of idiot cards. Well, people scattered at NBC! The phone started to ring.

His lawyer called, his agent called and then the general manager comes over to my little shell of an office. "John, you're going to have to talk to these people soon because I'm tired of defending you. I can't do it anymore." The phone rings and this voice says, "Hey, pal! What I ever do to you?" It was Bob Hope. I said, "You bored me, that's what." And I just talked about it. There was this long silence and I said, "Mr. Hope, you were one of my favorites when you were in radio and movies. I absolutely loved you! But you were just God awful on your special and shame on you for not being more professional."

So he said to me, "You know, NBC doesn't want me. You know how I got that hour? I went out and played golf with the head of Exxon Oil." He told me that he was too old for NBC's demographic, so the only way he could get the time slot was if the oil company bought the hour. I said, "My God, you're kidding?" He said, "Yes, that's how it works." So we ended up having this wonderful conversation and talked about his early days in vaudeville. He said, "I have some money, but I'm not as smart as people think. When I was in vaudeville, I thought it would last forever. And it didn't. When I was doing radio I thought it would last forever. And it didn't. But you know what lasts forever? The land they build the vaudeville stage on. The land they build the radio station on. Whenever I negotiated my contract with NBC, I didn't ask for more money. I made them buy land. That land you're sitting on is the land I made them buy."

I said, "Mr. Hope, you know how interesting this is? This is better than any of your jokes. Why don't you come do my show on KCOP? We do it live. Come down and talk about this stuff." He said, "Okay, pal. I'll see ya." When he came down he was with a make-up guy and he brought this case, put it down on the counter, and started to do his own make-up while the make-up guy watched. I said, "Mr. Hope? Why do you do that when this guy is here?"

He said, "John, I've been doing it for fifty years. I used to do five shows a day and not always at the same theater and I'd sometimes do this on the bus or the streetcar. I carried this around with me and it's my good luck. I do my own make-up." Bing Crosby called in. Bing Crosby could remember the first girl singer he had on his show, but Bob Hope could only remember his first sponsor