Wednesday, May 19, 2010
An Interview with Larry Storch (May 16, 2010)
Larry Storch: Car 54 Where Are You? I played a drunk in jail and I wasn't able to get a [larger part]. I talked myself into a real drunken state on Car 54. Some of my great friends were on there. Joe E. Ross ... appeared on that show. I worked with these guys in nightclubs all over the country. They were nightclub performers before they became... television performers. All of us [were].
Kliph Nesteroff: What was Nat Hiken like?
Larry Storch: Nat Hiken was one of the great writers of all time. I wish I had got to know him better. It was strictly a 'Hello, how are you?' sort of thing. I think he ranked with Fred Allen and Larry Gelbart. He was right up there with the best of them.
Kliph Nesteroff: You had a long relationship with Don Adams...
Larry Storch: We grew up together from the [age] of ten years old until World War Two. I appeared on his show Get Smart. My brother had teamed up with him right after World War Two in Florida for about six months. We were all great friends. Don Adams and I were both nominated for an Emmy award [the same year]. He won and I said, "Hey, as long as we kept it on the block." We kept it in our gang [and] that was all right with me.
Kliph Nesteroff: Your brother [Jay Lawrence] and Don Adams did an act together?
Larry Storch: That's right. A nightclub act. "Look who's coming now! Why it's Jimmy Cagney!" "You dirty rat! I'm gonna give it to you just like you gave it to my brother." "Now look who's coming! Why, it's Lionel Barrymore!" That's how their act was put together. That's the way they did it.
Kliph Nesteroff: I understand that nightclub performing for Don was very nerve wracking - that he didn't enjoy it much.
Larry Storch: I don't think he did, no. I don't know the inside story but he didn't play many of them. No, I don't think he enjoyed it, as you suggest. No, not at all.
Kliph Nesteroff: Did you ever hear the story about how Don Adams was the one who inspired Bob Newhart to start performing?
Larry Storch: No, I never did.
Kliph Nesteroff: Bob Newhart said that in the early sixties when Don Adams' nightclub act was going quite well, he approached Don at a show with some material that he wanted to sell to Don for his act. Don Adams looked over Newhart's material and said, "Sorry, kid. This stuff isn't funny. I can't use it." Three weeks later Bob Newhart was watching The Jack Paar Show and Don was a guest. He saw Don perform all the material that Bob had pitched to him.
Larry Storch: Oh, Jesus! Really?
Kliph Nesteroff: So, Bob saw that and decided, "If it's good enough for him to steal from me and perform on Jack Paar, I should probably be performing this stuff myself."
Larry Storch: Oh, Jesus, that's wonderful. Bob Newhart is one of my favorites. One of the cleverest guys in the business. His phone calls are classics. He's wonderful.
Kliph Nesteroff: You performed at a memorial for Lord Buckley around 1960-61.
Larry Storch: I knew him pretty well. Lord Buckley had what he called a kingdom. Lord Buckley himself thought he was Syndey Greenstreet or one of those great English actors. If he was angry with you he'd say, "Lord Storch! You're fucking out of the kingdom!" He had no compunctions about language at all. It was all a kingdom with him. He lived in a fantasy world. It was a funny thing - if he had a lot of money he didn't really know what to do with it, but if he was out of money - there was no one better than him at raising it. I was Lord Storch.
Kliph Nesteroff: In the late fifties, Mario Lanza was supposed to make a big Las Vegas debut at the New Frontier. Rather than show up he was [wasted] at a party at The Sands ... Apparently, you and Jimmy Durante had to fill in for him. Do you remember this?
Larry Storch: No, I don't. The first time I played Radio City Music Hall, The Mario Lanza Story was the movie that was appearing there and everyone said, "Mario Lanza? Who the hell is he?" Well, we broke all records. We stayed there eleven weeks. Packed houses. Look how things turned out.
Kliph Nesteroff: You were an extremely prolific nightclub performer. You were playing something like eight shows a day at places like Bill Miller's Riviera and The Paramount Theater.
Larry Storch: Yes. I don't know how I did it. Really, I don't. How I wasn't in some severe automobile accident, racing back and forth, between Bill Miller's Riviera in New Jersey and The Paramount Theater in downtown New York... I'm lucky I'm alive, really.
Kliph Nesteroff: And then you opened your own nightclub in the early sixties with your brother?
Larry Storch: Yes. The Crystal Room [for] about a year. The worst business to be in is to own a nightclub. I don't mind performing in them, but owning one is a nightmare. The cooks! The chefs! The food! The lights! And then go out and do a show? It wasn't my idea. It was my mother's idea and I agreed to work for her. That kept me pretty busy. It [became] my only job that year and [the acts we booked] were mostly musical acts. Comedians would have had a tough time there, so it was narrowed down to music, singers, trios, that kind of thing.
Kliph Nesteroff: What can you tell me about [legendary nightclub comedian] Gene Baylos?
Larry Storch: Gene Baylos. To me, he was one of the funniest guys you ever saw. He was always funniest when he was complaining on stage about how cheap [the club was]. He was always funny when he had the short end of the stick. He was very popular in Florida and in the Catskill Mountains.
Kliph Nesteroff: He seems to be one of those guys that every old time comedian talks about as being [one of] the funniest comedians that ever lived, yet he seems to have been one of those nightclub comics that never branched out beyond nightclubs.
Larry Storch: It's true, just the way you said it. He just didn't branch out to TV or movies or anything like that. Which was vital [for your career] in those days.
Kliph Nesteroff: Why do you think that was? Why didn't Baylos...
Larry Storch: It required an awful lot of study and he just wasn't geared for it. He didn't have that drive. I don't think he really cared that much about being a superstar.
Kliph Nesteroff: When you had The Larry Storch Show the head writer was Leo Solomon [Ed. note: Solomon would write for the sitcoms How to Marry a Millionaire and Car 54, Where Are You].
Larry Storch: Yes. It's so long ago - the name rings a bell. Leo Solomon. But I can't tell you anything about him.
Kliph Nesteroff: I was listening to your episode of Duffy's Tavern where you appeared as a guest star [impersonating] an assortment of celebrities. How did that come about? Did you know Ed Gardner?
Larry Storch: No, I never met him. I guess my agent got it for me. It's a very dull story. If there was anything to it I would have remembered. I can't even remember how I got it.
Kliph Nesteroff: Was anybody ever offended by an impersonation that you did of them?
Larry Storch: No, I was always very careful not to offend anybody: Black people, Asians etc. I remember I did a Chinese joke one time with a Chinese fan in the first row. He told me later he was very offended and he left. So that was the last time I did that. It was in Las Vegas.
Kliph Nesteroff: The Larry Storch Show was quite groundbreaking for the amount of Black guests you had on it [Ed. note this was 1953]. You had Cab Calloway...
Larry Storch: I was very happy to see them come on ... and Cab Calloway, my God! He was my idol! I was crazy about him when World War Two was on and then to finally be on a show with him was a dream come true.
Kliph Nesteroff: That was a summer replacement for The Jackie Gleason Show, right?
Larry Storch: That's right.
Kliph Nesteroff: One of your earliest gigs was performing for President Truman?
Larry Storch: Yes, right after World War Two. I was invited to the White House and I was on the show where we entertained President Truman. It just [blew me away]. One of the highlights of my life. I was about twenty-two or twenty-three.
Kliph Nesteroff: You also toured with The Benny Goodman Orchestra.
Larry Storch: Yes. My agent got me the job. In those days, while you did your act, Benny Goodman would stand at one end of the stage and he'd go over scales while you were doing your act! Quietly - but he was practicing the whole time you did your act. That was standard behavior. Funny enough, it didn't distract me.
Kliph Nesteroff: You did a comedy record album for Jubilee. Larry Storch Live at the Bon Soir.
Larry Storch: My agent got it for me. Someone said, "Somebody's going to be here to record you." It wasn't very dramatic.
Kliph Nesteroff: And the novelty singles that you did for Roulette Records? One was a spoof of I'm Walkin' that you did in your British character.
Larry Storch: Geez, y'know, I don't remember that at all. I barely remember I'm Walkin'. It can't be very interesting otherwise I would have remembered it.
Kliph Nesteroff: Lastly, is this true... this legend... between Forrest Tucker [of F-Troop] and Milton Berle? There was a rivalry about having the largest, uh, how do you say... you know the famous legend about Milton Berle having the largest...
Larry Storch: I was never allowed under the bed. I really couldn't tell ya (laughs).