Friday, May 28, 2010

An Interview with Woody Woodbury (June 10, 2004)

Kliph Nesteroff: Hi, Woody. It's Kliph Nesteroff.

Woody Woodbury: Heya! How you doing? Which of the albums do you have by the way?

Kliph Nesteroff: I have five. Looks at Life and Love, The Laughing Room, Concert in Comedy, Saloonatics and the Best of Woody Woodbury.

Woody Woodbury: Yeah, Saloonatics could have been a great album but there was an eternal problem with the recording company.

Kliph Nesteroff: Concert in Comedy is a very interesting record, certainly different than the others.

Woody Woodbury: No question about it.

Kliph Nesteroff: I guess all the other ones were recorded in Florida and Concert in Comedy was done in California?


Woody Woodbury: Los Angeles. Santa Monica. Recorded in the place where they used to have the Oscars for years and years.

Kliph Nesteroff: What records did you come out with after the Best of Woody Woodbury? That was your sixth.

Woody Woodbury: Number five was called The Spice is Right ... seven was ... I feel like a dummy, um .... Well, number eight was More of Woody. What in the world was seven? I've still got a warehouse full. A couple cases full of all these records.

Kliph Nesteroff: I was reading on your website - people can still order vinyl LPs from you!

Woody Woodbury: I have a buddy in that business and he is making a fortune. People in other parts of the world, not the United States, don't know what CDs are. They don't know what cassettes are. They order vinyl records by the millions.


Kliph Nesteroff: The [vinyl records] in your warehouse are still sealed?

Woody Woodbury: Oh, yes. I don't have very many left now. I had all kinds of them. All of a sudden there will be a spurt of orders, maybe two hundred orders within a week, and then it will just die down. Getting back to volume seven... it was called Through The Keyhole.


Kliph Nesteroff: Did it have a similar cover to your first album [Ed. note: Woody's first album depicts him looking through a keyhole and is called Looks at Love and Life]?

Woody Woodbury: Yes. Similar cover and Fletcher [Smith] did that because the first three albums sold so well, into the multi-thousands and eventually the millions, so he did a spin-off. He figured that if he tried to make this record look like the one that sold so well, that it might help sales. He was a marketer, no question about it.

Kliph Nesteroff: I wanted to ask you about [the producer of Woody's comedy albums] Fletcher Smith...


Woody Woodbury: This would take a long time to write, but I am finishing up a book where I write quite a but about him. He was a marvelous guy. He has long passed away. You've seen movies like Mutiny on the Bounty with Clark Gable and Charles Laughton? Captain Blood with Errol Flynn and all those old sea epics? All those sea epics, those great black and white pictures - the battle scenes were all done in miniature. And the guy who did those miniatures for all the studios was Fletcher Smith. He made a ton of money. He did all these battle scenes for the major studios. He had a studio in New York City, on the fourteenth floor, and he had this huge water tank with all the necessary equipment to make these battleships. He would have them built to exact replica, these sloops and frigates and whatever the hell they were. He had these explosive devices that would blow them up and he had little puffs of smoke coming out of cannons.

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, wow. Amazing.



Woody Woodbury: The guy was a genius. He had amazing technicians working for him. That was how all those battle scenes were shot. That was Fletcher Smith. he retired down to Fort Lauderdale and he came into the hotel one night where I was performing [stand-up comedy]. After the show he approached me and asked if I would like to record all these jokes. I've written so many jokes. I said, "You mean just record jokes? They've heard the jokes! They don't want to hear them again! That's ridiculous!" He said, "No, the way you work, I think we could have a real winner. If you just record the jokes, I'll pay for everything. I'll bring the technicians from New York, the sound equipment. I'll take care of all the distributing." In those days there were record shops as opposed to the big department stores or malls. That's the story of Fletcher Smith. He became one of my best friends. But I thought he was nuts. He waited until after the second show. We were doing two shows a night. He waited though two shows and then he told me he'd like to record it. He was quite a bit older than me and I was a know-it-all. I said, "People aren't gonna buy comedy records!" He said, "No, I think maybe they will."


Kliph Nesteroff: And that album was Woody Woodbury Looks at Love and Life. Why do you think Fletcher Smith was right? Why did it end up becoming so successful?

Woody Woodbury: It was the first comedy record. It was before Bob Newhart. It was before Bill Cosby. It was before George Carlin. It was before anybody. It wasn't my idea. It was Fletcher's. He was a visionary. Back during the war he made a lot of those film shorts having to do with patriotism.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was his main way of promoting you? These records are what made you famous.

Woody Woodbury: Sure. Number one, I had no idea that he was so powerful in the motion picture business because he was so unassuming. A normal guy. He didn't come out with a lot of show business talk. I came to find out he knew all the heads of the major studios. And what I think he did was he went to the heads of the studios. I know he went to Howard W. Koch [at Paramount]. I know he went to [David Picker] who had United Artists. Fletcher Smith laid the groundwork for that. He knew so many people in the PR business. He was five steps ahead of everyone in terms of marketing. He used all his connections.


Kliph Nesteroff: He certainly didn't slow down with your releases. They came out one after another after another after another.

Woody Woodbury: He had me crazy to the point where I was running out of [material]. Danny Shapiro was writing stuff for me. Some of it was rejected. A lot of the material I rejected I ended up doing years later and it turned out to be some of the best stuff ever. At the time I didn't think it was funny, but in volume nine I used it.

Kliph Nesteroff: I want to ask you about some of the other names that appear on your records. Frank Evans?

Woody Woodbury: Frank Evans was a disc jockey in Los Angeles ... He had a connection with Henry Mancini who had seen me some place doing a show, and he knew Fletcher. Fletcher was looking for someone to [introduce] me, to use as an MC. So Henry says, "My friend Frank would be great. He has a great sense of humor," which was true. So he paid him something and he used Frank Evans to introduce me on Concert in Comedy. That was my only connection with Frank Evans.


Kliph Nesteroff: At the time your records were considered 'Adults Only.'

Woody Woodbury: Oh, yes. Unbelievable.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did radio stations refuse to play them?

Woody Woodbury: I think they refused to play some of them in their entirety. What they did was take what they deemed were the purest stories, but you could play them in their entirety today during high mass. They were innuendo. They were called risque. But today? They're child's play. Ridiculous.

Kliph Nesteroff: Dick Hoekstra wrote liner notes on one of your records. Who was Dick Hoekstra?

Woody Woodbury: He was the entertainment editor of the Fort Lauderdale newspaper. Still alive. We became good friends and good drinking friends. He quit the newspaper business and moved back to New England. Today the paper is the Sun Sentinel. He has arthritis.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have some other records on [the same record label that released all the Woody Woodbury albums] StereOddities. Maybe you could tell me about some of these comedians. Bill Carty and his record Bill Carty Blasts Off.


Woody Woodbury: Bill was a very, very funny guy. Bill was a drinker. And I think, maybe, when he was at his peak at drinking he was his funniest. He was just as Irish as can be. I don't know why his record didn't take off more. Maybe because he was a visual comic, like a Jerry Lewis in his prime or Victor Borge. Very funny guy, but I think he got at loggerheads with Fletcher - because he only wanted to do that one record. He thought he could make enough money off that to retire for the rest of his life. I don't know. He worked at a place down here called The Space Satellite Motel. That was the room he worked. It was a large circular bar and he was propped up in the middle of it. It was little more than a half moon. He would work the room and there were tables beyond that. Thing about Fort Lauderdale, it had just the greatest designers. Las Vegas stole everything from [Miami Beach] and Fort Lauderdale when it came to building cocktail lounges.

Kliph Nesteroff: There seemed to be a huge entertainment scene in Florida at the time.

Woody Woodbury: There was. [It was] unbelievable.



Kliph Nesteroff: I have another StereOddities record by a comedian named Nino Nanni.

Woody Woodbury: Nino had a marvelous voice. New York should have grabbed him. He had the most marvelous voice of any male that was on God's earth. He has died, must have been fifteen years ago. But he had this Centurian voice that the women would just gurgle over. And he always wore a tuxedo and sat at a piano and played these little ditties. I don't know who wrote them. Maybe he wrote them himself. He played these parody-type songs about romance. He was a good looking guy. French-Italian and spoke perfect English. Incidentally, getting back to Bill Carty... and Nino... both good friends of mine... played golf with Nino a lot... I had a lot of those records because I was on the ground floor of StereOddities. But like a dummy, I would give these records away to people and now I don't have Nino Nanni. I don't have Bill Carty. So, if you have either one of them, if you could send me a tape, I'd appreciate it.


Kliph Nesteroff: Sure, I have them both. Were there any other comedians that made albums for StereOddities?

Woody Woodbury: No. There was a kid we wanted to sign named Bill Barner. He went with somebody else on a local thing... and went no place. But Bill Barner was a funny guy. Fletcher wanted to [sign] Rusty Warren but Rusty ended up doing okay. He had a girl that had a record and, excuse the expression because it didn't have the same connotation that it does today, but he put out a record called Get Gay with Gailie or something like that. It was a girl piano player. And then there was another... The Lusty Trusty Busty? Some darn thing. Some nice looking blonde girl. Lusty Trust Buster or something like that. I can't remember what it was. He recorded her and this girl Weeta Gailie or something like that [Ed. Note: Her name was Weela Gallez]. I don't think his heart was in those records. I was the first one; I guess he knew he had a winner and those were the ones he pushed. Although he did give the others a fair chance, they didn't catch on. I recall Bob Newhart's second album, they wanted to do a different [approach] with him. It didn't go in the test market and they pulled it back immediately. Then he re-did his second [album] which was really as good as his first or perhaps better.


Kliph Nesteroff: It seems that between the time your first records came out and then the new set of comedians, the Bob Newharts, there were a lot of comedians and record labels trying to ride on the coattails of your success.

Woody Woodbury: I've got so many of those records. Buddy Lester, who was a great vaudeville-type comedian - he made a record album. Gosh, let me see. I'm not far from the archive file here...

Kliph Nesteroff: A lot of these 'Adults Only' comedy records were pretty much the same and just recycled material.

Woody Woodbury: That's right. No question about it.


Kliph Nesteroff: I have a records by Dave Starr, Rusty Warren...

Woody Woodbury: Yeah, Hudson and Landry...

Kliph: Belle Barthe is another...

Woody Woodbury: That's right. Well, those records aren't [in my archive] anymore. I guess they moved them to a different part of the storage. They keep them as cold as they can so they don't warp or get out of shape.

Kliph Nesteroff: You have quite a few comedy records there?

Woody Woodbury: I have quite a few. Let's see Pat Harrington...

Kliph Nesteroff: Pat worked with Bill Dana quite a bit and did stuff on The Steve Allen Show back then.

Woody Woodbury: Pat and I were great friends. We still are. he was down here as my guest at my country club and he ran the golf cart into the canal. It cost me thirty-two hundred dollars. He's a great guy.


Kliph Nesteroff: A lot of the Woody Woodbury knock-offs [however] don't really capture the same kind of...

Woody Woodbury: Well, there was one guy named Harrison. I thought his stuff was funny, but what he did was he went to a studio. And the technician tried to... insert laughter.

Kliph Nesteroff: That never works.

Woody Woodbury: No. It never works because it's obvious [that it's canned laughter]. I don't even know how to say it. It just doesn't play. It's lunacy. Ridiculous.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have a Buddy Hackett record like that. You can actually hear the 'click' sound when the laugh track comes on and when it stops.

Woody Woodbury: I have a buddy [who] recently died. His name was Dave Barry and he was [opening] for Wayne Newton for years. And Dave Barry, not to confuse him with the columnist guy or whatever, this Dave Barry was a funny guy. He put out an album and sent me a copy. I thought it was terrific. He was in so many radio commercials. Worked with Mel Blanc. He did the lion on the cereal box. All that kind of stuff. Very funny guy. Had I known you'd ask me about these other... I don't know where those albums are...


Kliph Nesteroff: It's as much for my own curiosity as anything. I collect that kind of stuff. I have over a thousand comedy LPs here...

Woody Woodbury: Do you really? Wow!

Kliph Nesteroff: That's why it's a thrill to talk to you. I'm big into comedy records and I'm fascinated particularly by records put out by comedians that I am not familiar with in any other medium.

Woody Woodbury: There was a guy in St. Louis called Davey "Nose" Bold... you ever hear of him?

Kliph Nesteroff: Davey Bold! Yes! Of course! He passed away in the early eighties...

Woody Woodbury: Yeah, died long ago.

Kliph Nesteroff: Records like A Bold Knight and The Bold Humor of Davey Bold...

Woody Woodbury: Yeah. He made records there in St. Louis and he sold throughout the Midwest but he never could connect in New York or Los Angeles. Whereas I, and I revert back to Fletcher - it wasn't because of me, it was because of Fletcher. He laid the groundwork. That's how I met Ralph Edwards [and] Don Fedderson. That's how I wound up doing those shows and taking Johnny Carson's daytime show.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, I was going to ask you about the TV shows.

Woody Woodbury: Oh, ask me anything.

Kliph Nesteroff: This is not related to what we're talking about but ... Did you know the beatnik comic Lord Buckley?


Woody Woodbury: I met him. I didn't know him. There was a [group] here called The Vagabonds. Down here in Miami. The Vagabonds - Arthur Godfrey discovered them, so to speak, after they'd been around for twenty years. They killed the audience. They were really the first Rock n' Rollers. I don't care what anybody says about Bill Haley and all the rest. The Vagabonds, they had a rhythm, they were from San Francisco. Hilarious. They were visual comics as well as good singers. Two guitars, an upright bass and an accordion. And they were so funny, marvelous. These guys to me, they were the start of that kind of comedy. I learned so much from them. I worked with them at the Clover Club in Miami. I worked with people like Patti Page when she was just coming up and Rose Marie who went on to The Dick Van Dyke Show. People like that.


Kliph Nesteroff: So what year did you replace Johnny Carson? Who Do You Trust was the name of the show.

Woody Woodbury: That's right. Who Do You Trust? Grammatically incorrect but that was the name.

Kliph Nesteroff: Johnny Carson was leaving because he'd been awarded The Tonight Show...

Woody Woodbury: Yeah, we were all in the race for The Tonight Show and Johnny Carson got it and rightly so. He deserved it. He was very good and we were great friends. But I never did The Tonight Show from the minute Carson had it. Bill Nimmo was my announcer on the game show. He used to be the announcer on Friday Night Fights - back when Friday Night Fights was the biggest thing going in the days of the DuMont television network. We used to shill for Johnny Carson. Jack Paar left the show and New Yorkers, believe me, they resented Carson. They didn't even know him. That's why they resented him. After a year they got to love him, but for a year we used to go shill the audience. You know what a shill is? We would go in there and try to warm up the audience, put them in a good mood for Johnny Carson. He had a tough time there for a while with The Tonight Show. It's the truth of the matter.


Kliph Nesteroff: Had you done The Tonight Show prior to Johnny Carson [taking over]?

Woody Woodbury: Yes. I had done it with Jack Paar and when Jerry Lewis guest hosted. Jerry and I had become good friends. I did it with him a few times.

Kliph Nesteroff: Were you ever on The Tonight Show when Steve Allen was host?

Woody Woodbury: I used to sub for Steve Allen. I would take over the show, but at that time Steve was doing the show from Los Angeles. Joe Wolson was my agent. He was with the William Morris office and he'd call in a panic. He'd say, "Jesus, you got to get out to L.A!" I was in Fort Lauderdale because by this time I was part owner of the hotel [that I performed at]. He says, "You gotta come out 'cause we have a problem with Steve Allen!" I never did find out what the problems were. I never did inquire, but I'd race out there. They'd have all kinds of people. I had everyone I knew in show business on there. Like Joe E. Lewis who was a great nightclub comedian and no one would give him a job because they thought he was too blue. So I had him on one night and it was live and phones rang off the hook. He was so funny. So we had him on again the next night, successive. And people just couldn't get over that. You'd never do that. You'd have somebody on and then not again for a month or two. But he was that good. I had so many actors and actresses on there. Raymond Burr. Andy... the guy with the squeaky voice in the cowboy movies...

Kliph Nesteroff: Andy Devine.


Woody Woodbury: Andy Devine and all those guys. I had the head of Paramount on, Howard W. Koch and the heads of United Artists, Eugene and David Pickers. Ah, God, it was a great time. I'd host the whole show because Steve would be in Hawaii or some darn place.

Kliph Nesteroff: Are there any contemporary comedians you enjoy?

Woody Woodbury: Oh yes. There are very few I don't like. I love Chris Rock. I don't think he needs the four letter words. I don't think [George] Carlin needs the four letter words. I like all comics. Of course I had my favorites from my era. Buddy Hackett, Shecky Greene, Lonnie Shore. Just so funny. Alan King. Everyone worked clean, but they were borderline. Mort Sahl. Gee whiz, I loved all those guys. Buddy Hackett, lemmee tell ya... back in my era, Buddy Hackett was the comic. [Don] Rickles and all those guys would be on their knees to Buddy Hackett, just hoping they could get something from him in the way of comedy because he was so creative. Just a brilliant guy. In response to your question, the young ones, I love most of 'em. A few I could do without. So many great comics. The Slate Brothers. Redd Foxx. Redd got so dirty. So blue. He went the dirty route. Redd died of a broke heart.


Kliph Nesteroff: Does broken heart mean cocaine?

Woody Woodbury: A lot of guys [got into drugs]. Kelsey Grammar did.

Kliph Nesteroff: I wanted to ask you about some other nightclub comedians. Don Adams.

Woody Woodbury: He's great. I play golf with Don Adams. Adams and me belong to a [golf] club with Clint Eastwood called The Hollywood Hackers in Palm Springs.

Kliph Nesteroff: Marty Allen and Steve Rossi.

Woody Woodbury: Marty is a great guy. I think he's still alive. He did [The Woody Woodbury Show]. He and Steve broke up for a time, then they got together again, then they broke up again. I think Steve is still singing in Vegas. I forget the name of the club. Marty was married to the little Jewish comic girl. She died. She got cancer and died. Very well known. Whatever her name was... was really coming up the ladder. Then she got sick.


Kliph Nesteroff: Who was Harvey Stone?

Woody Woodbury: Oh, yes! Harvey Stone was a World War Two veteran. Oh, God, he was so funny! I worked with him in Miami. Harvey Stone had a nose job and it turned out bad. Before he had the nose job, he was hilarious. After he had the nose job... he tried to use that in his act but... his career went... Don Rickles and Shecky Greene could tell you more about Harvey than I can. There was another comedian who came down the pike at the same time named Jackie Whalen. Irish kid. He was funnier than hell and he and Harvey Stone teamed up for a while. They didn't last together very long. I saw them once or twice, but yeah, he was a helluva guy. Harvey Stone.

Kliph Nesteroff: Now that you mention the nose job... looking at the cover [of his comedy LP] it's obvious this picture is from after the nose job.

Woody Woodbury: He had a real canoe.

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you know who a fellow named Ray Bourbon is?

Woody Woodbury: Yes! Bourbon was a gay comic. He worked down here in Fort Lauderdale. I only saw him once or twice. There was also a place he worked in Miami called The Jewel Box. That was, of course, what they called in those days a queer nightclub. Nobody thought anything about it and very few [straight] people went to it. I guess because it was a stigma on you if you were seen going to it. But we showbiz people, we'd go... we used to go watch him. Ray Bourbon. I haven't heard that name in a long time - a homosexual comedian [in the fifties]. He had a routine where he did some cross dressing comedy and was very much a visual act. Didn't go on to much else to my knowledge. I have no idea.


Kliph Nesteroff: Al Fisher and Lou Marks.

Woody Woodbury: Yeah, Fisher and Marks. They worked down in Miami years ago. They were good. Oh boy, I haven't heard that name in a long time. Wow. Holy cats. They were good for that era.

Kliph Nesteroff: The comedy record I have by them is a Beatles spoof called It's a Coo-Coo Beatle World.

Woody Woodbury: Isn't that amazing? It's flooding back to me. They were a laugh a minute at one time.


Kliph Nesteroff: The lost comedians.

Woody Woodbury: Yeah, that's what you've got there! You've got the lost comedians.

Kliph Nesteroff: Who was Alan Gale?

Woody Woodbury: Oh, yes! Gosh. Alan just died less than a year ago. Yeah. He was something. One of his best friends is a friend of mine and we have lunch every Wednesday. Vic Arnell and all the Jewish comics. One of them is John Regis. He and Alan were close friends. Last time Alan had lunch with us was just about a year ago this time. He died right after that. He worked with a lot of great names too; Pat Henry and Frank Sinatra.

Kliph Nesteroff: Alan Gale seems like a guy who had been at it forever.

Woody Woodbury: Yes, he was. He was two years older than grass. He was still funny. He had a way of saying offbeat things, take the audience a second to catch it and then have 'em.


Kliph Nesteroff: Did you ever encounter Vaughn Meader?

Woody Woodbury: Sure. He did that amazing Jack Kennedy. I was working Mister Kelly's in Chicago when [The First Family] comedy record took off. It made him a huge star. For about twenty minutes. Unfortunately for him [JFK was assassinated]. We all felt bad for Vaughn. He did that and that was it. He had parts in pictures but he never regained the popularity.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Jackie Miles?

Woody Woodbury: Oh, Jesus! He was one of the top borscht belt comics. Have you got a record by him!?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes.


Woody Woodbury: Tape it for me! Would you? I didn't even know he made an album. I loaned Jackie five thousand dollars one time. Never saw it or Jackie again. I loved him. He was so great. In fact, I'm stunned you would even mention his name. I thought of his name when you mentioned Harvey Stone. Jackie was so funny. He was a [horse] track addict. He was a horse better. Like Joe E. Lewis... loved the horses. He worked the best places in New York. The Copacabana... I mean the top places. Slight guy in build, five foot seven, couldn't have weighed more than a hundred pounds. He was so funny. And he loved to be heckled. He was the greatest put-down comic I ever saw. If a guy got out of line, Jackie had a way of just milking this guy along and then he would just drop the boom on him. He was really funny. Great. You gotta send me that tape! They don't make many comedy records these days do they?


Kliph Nesteroff: Chris Rock put out three or four. He won the Grammy. It's not as common as it used to be. They don't sell like they used to.

Woody Woodbury: Television is the monster. It's taken away everything. It's the nature of the animal.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Jackie Vernon?

Woody Woodbury: Oh, yes. Jackie was great. I worked with him two or three times. He was very dour. We all belonged to The Friar's Club in New York. Jackie was a member there and we roasted Don Rickles one time ... Jackie Vernon gets up and he looks at Rickles and he says in this dour voice, "I never dreamed... The Friar's... would stoop... to honoring... a lounge act."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Woody Woodbury: Which was the worst thing you could say! Rickles was working Vegas and television. A big name doing [CPO] Sharky and a killer performer.

Kliph Nesteroff: That must have been a great night because Rickles was the roast king.


Woody Woodbury: I went to all those roasts. Quite a few.

Kliph Nesteroff: They released the Dean Martin ones on video.

Woody Woodbury: Yeah, but those aren't the Friar's Club ones, those are something else. [The Friar's Roasts had] no censor. You can't believe what they would say. They roasted Lucille Ball. Johnny Carson hosted that one. He opened up by saying, "This is the first time a woman has ever been roasted in the history of the Friar's. And it's a great honor. It's a great honor for me to be the roast master as tonight we pay tribute to Lucille Testicle." It was downhill from there.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have a CD of Friar's Roast outtakes. [It features] Dean Martin, Ken Barry, Jack E. Leonard, Jackie Gayle, Flip Wilson, Johnny Carson, Pat Paulsen, William B. Williams...


Woody Woodbury: Oh, William B. Williams. He was the hottest radio announcer in New York City. He used to announce Glenn Miller from the Long Island Dance Pavillion. Great voice.

Kliph Nesteroff: Norm Crosby, Don Rickles, George Jessel, Red Buttons, Phil Silvers, Jan Murray, George Burns, Phyllis Diller, Pat Cooper, Jack Carter...

Woody Woodbury: God, I knew every one of them. Jack Carter is still alive. I imagine you're too young for... It was a great golden era of comedy as far as I am concerned. It's a great thing you've got there. I envy you. I wish to hell I had copies of all that stuff you got. How old are you? About thirty-five? Forty something?

Kliph Nesteroff: I'm twenty-four.

Woody Woodbury: Oh, Jesus Christ.

Kliph Nesteroff: I want to jump to 1964 and your film career. You appeared in a drive-in beach party type movie called For Those Who Think Young. I haven't seen it but I'd really like to. It's never been released on video or DVD.


Woody Woodbury: It belongs to the Sinatra family. It was Nancy's first movie. She didn't have that big of a part, but that was due to her dad. At that point, Nancy was going with a singer named Tommy Sands. Frank Sinatra did not care for Tommy Sands. It was a convoluted series of events that happened at that time. Sinatra was partners with Howard Koch who was president of Paramount. Koch was a close friend of mine and he and Sinatra teamed up to form Essex Productions. That's where the money came from for the movie... and Pepsi-Cola.

Kliph Nesteroff: Everything I have read about the film refers to it as [a 90 minute] advertisement for Pepsi - disguised as a movie.


Woody Woodbury: Well, yeah, but you see very little of anything Pepsi [related] in the movie. Rosalind Russell was married to one of the head guys at Pepsi-Cola. She was in on the deal. They were in on this deal, but that was the hierarchy. I was out of that. They had hired me because I had a pretty good track record, what with replacing Carson and ... with my high-selling phonograph albums.

Kliph Nesteroff: You appear in the film doing your act. Not just acting but doing your stand-up act.


Woody Woodbury: Yes, I was doing the act seated at a piano. Paul Lynde, who went on to be the center square on Hollwyood Squares, is in it and he was a great friend of mine. I happened to be straight and Paul happened to not be straight. My wife and Paul got along tremendously. He was just a great actor. The mugger personified. He was my partner in this motion picture. I'll tell you what. I do have a copy of this film on VHS...


Kliph Nesteroff: I would love to see it. The cast is amazing.


Woody Woodbury: The cameos... Roger Smith and George Raft... I just got to know all those people...

Kliph Nesteroff: Ellen Burstyn before her name was Ellen Burstyn...


Woody Woodbury: That's right, Ellen McRae.

Kliph Nesteroff: James Darren.


Woody Woodbury: Great buddy of mine.

Kliph Nesteroff: Dean Martin's daughter, Claudia. Tina Louise who was on Gilligan's Island and also Gilligan himself, Bob Denver. And he was playing a beatnik character in this?


Woody Woodbury: Yes. These guys were all [bit players] in other movies and decided to put this together. There was a guy named George O'Hanlon who acted in film shorts. Comedies. He and his brother wrote the screenplay for For Those Who Think Young. It was the first of the beach pictures. I made the first of the comedy records and made the first of the beach party movies and then I came along with one of the first fun entertainment talk shows.

Kliph Nesteroff: One other group that was in For Those Who Think Young was an instrumental surf group called The Challengers.

Woody Woodbury: Yes. I never knew what happened to them. I don't have an idea. I wanted to use a group called The Strawberry Alarm Clock. They were pretty good, but for some reason they couldn't make an agreement. It was made in Laguna Beach near Malibu on the Paramount [lot], stage five or stage nine.


Kliph Nesteroff: The Strawberry Alarm Clock did end up performing in a couple of movies. A Russ Meyer film called Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) and they're also featured in Psych-Out (1968) with Jack Nicholson.

Woody Woodbury: Valley of the Dolls. Tell me, that was about the girl who was a hooker?

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, there are two different films. Valley of the Dolls was based on the Jacqueline Susann novel and then there was a film called Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which wasn't actually a sequel, they just used the name.

Woody Woodbury: Well, Valley of the Dolls was a story about a prostitute!

Kliph Nesteroff: It's about actresses who come to Hollywood trying to make it and get addicted to pills and try to sleep their way to the top.


Woody Woodbury: Hasn't changed.

Kliph Nesteroff: You mention The Strawberry Alarm Clock and I want to ask you about The Woody Woodbury Show. The musical acts that you had on your talk show were very eclectic. Was this based on your musical tastes or was somebody else booking the bands? You had bands like The Standells, a northwest garage band...

Woody Woodbury: That's right.

Kliph Nesteroff: Psychedelic bands like The Electric Prunes...

Woody Woodbury: That's right. Well, I just thought they were so different and novel and I liked Rock n' Roll. I'll be frank with you, I don't care for rap at all. I just can't get with it, but I even like disco. I didn't have very much to do with some of the initial bookings, but when the audience took to them the way they did, well... I really fell in love with them. Like the Strawberry Alarm Clock. Then there was... who did the 57th Street Bridge Song?

Kliph Nesteroff: Simon and Garfunkel? Or Harper's Bizarre?


Woody Woodbury: Yes. Some of those bands, I thought were so cool.

Kliph Nesteroff: The Happenings, THEM...


Woody Woodbury: We had a lot of solo vocalists too. We had a lot of great performers. Everyone from Jonathan Winters to Stan Kenton. Joe Pass was in my band. In my band! Joe Pass!

Kliph Nesteroff: And your band leader was Mike Melvoin who played piano on Pet Sounds, was Lalo Schifrin's go-to pianist on Mission:Impossible. Melvoin pressed an early moog record called The Plastic Cow Goes Moooog....


Woody Woodbury: Yes, Mike was there for quite a while and then he had a falling out with Ralph Edwards. There were eternal problems going on. There were some bad incidents backstage or off camera.

Kliph Nesteroff: I just have a list of some of the people who appeared. I've never seen The Woody Woodbury Show.



Woody Woodbury: There isn't anyway to see it.

Kliph Nesteroff: You mean, there isn't any existing record of the show?

Woody Woodbury: Nuh uh. It's tragic ... If I would ever fault Ralph for anything, it would be [that]. He used the same tape over and over. He never saved an episode. He just taped over last night's show with this night's show and on and on. Not one episode was preserved. Erased instantly. They've never been able to uncover any if they still exist. I can remember him saying, "These are fun shows but there's no point in saving them." People call me all the time [for footage]. Howard Keel was a great friend of mine. He just died and his wife Judy begged me to find any part of the episode he appeared on. He did my show twice ... but there are none. I had to tell her, "Judy, there are no existing episodes." I wrote Ralph Edwards but ... he [had] Alzheimer's and I don't even know if he's still alive.


Kliph Nesteroff: Was Ralph Edwards the producer?

Woody Woodbury: It was a Ralph Edwards Production. He took a chance with me and we would have done all right, but distribution was the downfall of the show. He wanted so much, but he wasn't willing to give anything to get it. Our show was fun. It was entertainment. No message. Just entertainment. It became The Merv Griffin Show.

Kliph Nesteroff: How did that happen? You left the show because of internal things and...

Woody Woodbury: Yes. I left the show because I had a falling out with Ralph Edwards. He wanted to start inserting controversy. I didn't want that. I was in the joke business. I noticed that Jack Benny and Bob Hope, my idols, had never got into [controversial subjects]. They were entertainers. Ralph Edwards wanted erotica. He got into that kind of thing. I had a falling out with him and, of course, anybody with Ralph Edwards Productions denied that vehemently, but I knew what was going on. That's why I walked. I was never fired from the show; I left.

Kliph Nesteroff: And then they quickly replaced you with Merv Griffin?


Woody Woodbury: No. The first person they replaced me with was a great friend of mine, [Password host] Allen Ludden. Betty White's husband. He lasted about two weeks. Then, of all people, Ralph Edwards brings in Donald O'Connor. He's a great guy, a great actor, a great dancer and a good person, but he didn't know how to talk to people. He wasn't trained in that. He was wooden. Like a statue. He didn't last very long at all. Merv Griffin was on CBS trying to compete against Johnny Carson and he just got murdered. Destroyed. So his management talked to Ralph Edwards. Merv Griffin then took the show that we had built up an audience for. We used to beat The Dean Martin Show! We were really doing well with it. I thought Merv was terrific, though.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did any comedian have his television debut on your show?

Woody Woodbury: Oh, yes. We had a guy from Holland named Jack Benny. No relation to our Jack Benny. He was a Dutchman with a moustache. He looked like William Conrad from Cannon, the detective series. His name was Jack Benny and he was funnier than hell. He went back to Holland and he did pretty well there. I haven't heard from him in years, but he was pretty old even then. Dean Martin had an uncle [Leonard Barr] who was an old boscht circuit comedian, we had him on. As the years pass, you lose touch with these people. I stayed pretty close with the Sinatra family and ... Perry Como. I was golfing with him [and] doing shows with him for twenty-six years. I imagine you're too young for Como ... I'm surprised that you even like the Rock n' Roll from that era.


Kliph Nesteroff: How old are you?

Woody Woodbury: I'm eighty-one.

Kliph Nesteroff: And still performing.


Woody Woodbury: Oh, yes. I think the reason I work so much is because I'm not a dirty comic.

Kliph Nesteroff: You travel all over?


Woody Woodbury. Yes. It keeps me going. I know as soon as I quit I am just going to roll over and die. I'm lucky enough to have two agents. I feel good. I don't have any aches or pains. Sometimes a little arthitis if I get with a girl too young, but I have a good time.

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you write new material still?


Woody Woodbury: Yes, I write a lot of stuff. Yes and I've written for other people. I've written for Bob Hope. God, I wrote for Fred Allen, Phyllis Diller.


Kliph Nesteroff: At the height of your fame, did you have people writing for you?

Woody Woodbury: Yes. I think the greatest joke writer in the world was Danny Shapiro. I was real lucky. Jack Benny was my idol and Tom Sheales was my manager. He had been Glenn Miller's road manager. His office was right across the hall from where [they wrote] all of the Jack Benny shows. The radio show and his early television episodes. His writers were Milt Josefsberg and San Perrin and they took a liking to me. [They] let me sit in while they were writing this stuff. A lot of it started off dirty, but they'd mold it like a sculpture and they could make stuff so funny. Danny Shapiro worked with them some of the time. You can have a very funny thought, but if you can't translate it properly into concise words so it comes out funny in the end... you have to deliver it so it has the most impact.

Kliph Nesteroff: What did Danny Shapiro go on to?


Woody Woodbury: Danny Shapiro was my writer until he died. He lived in North Hollywood. He wrote for Joe E. Lewis and Alan King [and] worked with Eli Basse. All the great comics. The Ritz Brothers. Nightclub comics, not television comics ... A lot of them didn't wander too far from their home base. Danny Thomas was huge in Chicago but when he first went to New York no one went to see him. They didn't know who the hell he was. I was just lucky. They used me to MC shows because I had the gift of gab. I would MC a lot of shows and that was how I got to know a lot of performers. I paid my dues. Nowadays I can hardly wait to get on stage. I have such a good time with an audience. I know I'm going to dominate the room. I know I'm going to destroy the audience... and I do. I know I'm going to because I've got sure-fire stuff that's not going to miss.

Kliph Nesteroff: You're still performing now, but after you left The Woody Woodbury Show in 1969, what happened next?


Woody Woodbury: I owned a hotel in Florida while I was doing the show in Los Angeles. If you ever get involved in a juncture with a lot of money, you better be there. I wasn't in Florida and money was disappearing from the hotel. Funds were stolen. I had a girl who had taken thousands and thousands of dollars from the chest. I had a lawyer who I gave power of attorney to and he screwed me out of an incredible amount of money. He'd disappear for weeks at a time ... found out he was a horse track addict. I came back to the hotel and stayed there for about five or six years and then sold it. That's when I got to know Perry Como real well - I went back on the road and he used me to warm up the crowd ... [I] was opening for The Lettermen. Actually, The Lettermen were living across from me in Los Angeles and ... who were the two girls? Thelma and Louise?

Kliph Nesteroff: (silence)


Woody Woodbury: Um...

Kliph Nesteroff: (silence)


Woody Woodbury: It was a comedy. Two girls. Big hit show.

Kliph Nesteroff: Laverne and Shirley?


Woody Woodbury: Yes, Laverne and Shirley. Thelma and Louise? What the hell am I...

Kliph Nesteroff: So, Penny Marshall...

Woody Woodbury: Yes, Penny Marshall. Her father, Gary Marshall had a ton of money and he bought my house. I had bought it from Julie Andrews.

Kliph Nesteroff: So you went back to Florida. Did you do much television during that time?

Woody Woodbury: I'd fly out and guest on Mickey Rooney's show and a few other shows. I loved television, but I had a great romance with boats and all this in Florida. Television, after you've done it, you start to fall out of love with it. If you don't do it for a while, they stop inviting you back. That never bothered me at all. Some people didn't know anything else. I didn't have to rely on that because I could always work nightclubs and hotels, which is what I do now. I don't do it because I need the money. I do it because I love to do it.

Kliph Nesteroff: In the latter part of the seventies you appeared in several movies and, if I am not mistaken, they were all filmed in Florida.


Woody Woodbury: Yes. I did that Bermuda Triangle film wtih [Fred MacMurray]. I did Odds and Evens with [Sergio Corbucci and Jerry Lester] ... They were good scripts but they were dubbed. I did a lot of this kind of stuff. I think they got a better tax break filming these Italian movies in Florida.

Kliph Nesteroff: You worked with your old friend Jerry Lewis in his movie Hardly Working (1981).

Woody Woodbury: I had a great part in that movie and most of it [ended up] on the cutting room floor. I'm not sure why. I'm still friends with Jerry. I played a cop and it was a recurring bit but [it got cut]. It was their picture. They do what they want.

Kliph Nesteroff: When does your autobiography come out?


Woody Woodbury: I don't know. It's so long. I have about seventy thousand pages.

Kliph Nesteroff: Wow. Well, you've had an amazing career.


Woody Woodbury: It hasn't been amazing, [I've been lucky]. There are some good stories in there. I was with Ted Williams the day he got shot down in Korea.

Kliph Nesteroff: Other than comedy records, what other Woody Woodbury merchandise was there? I know there was a "Booze Is the Only Answer" magazine...

Woody Woodbury: Yes. You see, at that time booze was a fun word. Nobody dreamed that these people were going to rise up against drinking and go on these politically correct campaigns ... This is all done by a bunch of untalented people who have nothing else to do in life. It's like politics today. It's so polluted. People who are unqualified have finagled their way in. These people who will do antyhing for a vote. It makes me sick when I see some of the stuff that's going on. Thank God I'm not going to be around much longer to watch any of it or hear any of it.


9 comments:

Booksteve said...

A really fun interview! Even as a kid I loved the Woody Woodbury Show. In fact I have long credited an appearance by Billy Mumy on there showing off his comic book collection for convincing my mom to stop throwing my own comics away! I've told that story to Bill couple of times.

Saw Woody in some of his Italian films recently (with Terrence Hill and Bud Spencer). Was good to see his familiar face for the first time in decades.

Thanks for this.

Steven said...

Excellent interview! Thank you for this.

Michael Powers said...

Woodbury had a kind of Andy Griffith-ish appeal that looked perfect for TV, once you got used to it, to judge from the clip. The business about taping over the shows was rampant at the time and the reason that, back in the 70s, Dick Cavett's show looked crisp and clear (ABC wisely didn't tape over his unparalleled show) while Johnny Carson's was physically muddy and blurry-looking, which might have been an advantage in retrospect given that Carson was so deadly repetitive. NBC used the same tape until it was literally falling apart. God, that singer in the Woodbury Show clip was astonishingly good and amazingly appealing, by the way. Kliph, this is another Nesteroffian tour-de-force.

The Mushroom said...

Would have been nice had you credited that very first photo of my record collection. I would have given permission.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/thedamnmushroom/510165255/

Thanks for the interview!

Christopher Bay said...

Woody Woodbury is alive and well and living in Ft. Lauderdale, still busy as ever entertaining folks!

Below is a link to a new Woody Woodbury Facebook fan page:

Booze is the only answer! Join us as we celebrate the life and career of Ft. Liquordale's favorite son - comedian/actor/TV personality Woody Woodbury! We've got excerpts from Woody's classic comedy albums, rare photos, video clips and more! Feel free to post photos, videos, and comments! Bottoms up!

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=131323790223379&ref=mf

Michael Powers said...

"I was with Ted Williams the day he got shot down in Korea." Jesus god, Kliph, even if that wasn't precisely show business related, I've seldom heard a remark that screamed so loudly for a follow-up question. It's a superb interview, however, and Woodbury's a wonderful raconteur.

Michael Powers said...

No mystery why Carson never had Woodbury on the Tonight Show after taking it over. Carson, like Letterman after him, was more than mindful of potential competition. He also never had Jackie Gleason or Jack Paar (his two greatest fears) on until near the very end of all three lives. Despite Carson doing sporadic Gleason imitations continuously, all night every night, the last thing he wanted was Gleason coming on, being reminded of how much he enjoyed hosting interview shows (Gleason had done a brief prime time one after his game show legendarily flopped to fill out his contract), then mounting a show on CBS and demolishing Carson, which was obviously precisely what would've happened had Gleason done the Tonight Show with Carson a decade or two earlier than he did.

Unknown said...

Man, I've enjoyed Woody Woodbury albums for decades and never knew much about him. This interview was fantastic. Thanks!

schmitty999 said...

Back in the late 1960's I believe it was my Father Bryan Smith was invited on to the woody Woodbury show to demonstrate cake Decorating, he was an incredible Decorator and won many 1rst place trophies at competitions, he was working at Jurgensens Bakery in Pasadena,I used to go with him to work when I was about 13 and he would pay me a little money to help him , I think he was actually hopimg I might take up decorating as he had, I met Jack and I beleive it was John Jurgensen while I was there. any way somebody from the show found out about my fathers talent, probably by ordering a cake, and he was invited on to the show, My Father passed away september22 of 2012 and I was reflecting back to when he would bring up that appearance and how he would like to find out if there might be any chance that a copy of that show might be saved as far as I know he never did get around to obtaining one ! if anyone knows of such a thing I would be interested in purchasing it my e- mail is(schmitty999@aol.com) thanks
(Michael Smith)