Wednesday, July 21, 2010

An Interview with Rusty Warren (5/24/10)


Rusty Warren: Where are you today? New York?
 

Kliph Nesteroff: Not today. Today I am in Vancouver.
 

Rusty Warren: Vancouver? My favorite area! Oh, it is beautiful! Yes, yes, yes. Lovely, lovely memories. In the late sixties, you're too young to know, but Gypsy Rose Lee had a television program that came out of Vancouver. Once or twice a year I would come to a nightclub there, damned if I could remember what [it's called], but I played there and I was there when Gypsy had me on her program. Of course, I didn't do much television because of the Rusty Warren stuff [being considered too risque], but she knew me. She knew me from other things and wanted to have me on the program. I was on the program with Charlotte Rae and another gal. I remember Charlotte was in the theater doing some play at the time. I remember when we met in the make up room, Charlotte Rae said, "Oooh, Rust-ah Wah-rawn... Rust-ah Wah-rawn... Oh, yes. You're in the nightclub business."
 
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Rusty Warren: I said, "Oh, yeah, sort of." It was funny. [Her attitude] was if you're not in the thee-yah-tuh, you're not [anything]. I laughed at that because I had no qualms about this, that or the next thing. We had a nice chit-chat when it was over ... Vancouver is a very interesting, very lovely city.

Kliph Nesteroff: I think the nightclub you would have played would have either been The Penthouse or a place called The Cave.

Rusty Warren: I think it was The Cave. The Cave would bring in... I don't know who else played it... but I was "Rusty Warren" at the time (Ed. Note: Rusty was born Ilene Goldman). It wasn't something I did in my lounge days. This was a six or seven hundred seater and it was there for [a while]. I worked it every year. It must have been the late sixties.


Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, The Cave was the big nightclub. A friend of mine is the son of the man who was the bandleader there.


Rusty Warren: Oh, really?


Kliph Nesteroff: So, he has some memorabilia from that era of the Vancouver nightclubs...


Rusty Warren: I wonder if he would have any of mine because it was just me and my drummer and my piano so, I don't think I used any musicians [in Vancouver].
 
Kliph Nesteroff: Was your drummer Dick Odette?


Rusty Warren: Dick Odette! How did you... yes! Dick Odette!
I wonder if he would have any memorabilia from that. Dick has some pictures. He's still alive. He lives in Arizona. He has a couple pictures he sent me from the early years ... 

Kliph Nesteroff: What was Dick like?

 

Rusty Warren: He's a great guy. He's settled, but the women adored him. Absolutely adored him. We went on a tour in Northern Michigan ... great club ... and I said I wouldn't go there in July unless I could be on Lake Winnetaka ... so they got us a place. My driver and my make-up guy, my assistant, about four of us. I said, "I have to have a boat." They gave us a pontoon! And that damn thing [conked] out. Four in the afternoon, I was stuck in the lake. The boats out. All these [fisherman] came and had to lug "the show people" back to the house ... Dick's wife was pregnant at the time. So we got this pregnant woman [stranded] out on this pontoon. Oh, God. The fun we had. 


Kliph Nesteroff: How did you first obtain your band members? You toured with the same core...


Rusty Warren: My drummer stayed with me... Dick stayed for quite a while. Then
I had another man in between there. Poochie from Las Vegas ... Puccini, my Italian guy. He worked most of the Midwest with me. It was just a drummer with me and my piano. Then it got to be five pieces. I had an opening act who was also conductor. Bruce Robbins was my opening act. He was so much like Liberace's piano. He would have the audience the first fifteen minutes before I came out. He did a lot of work for me. He was a very wonderful man, just a straight piano player. He did all the rehearsals for me and he did shows on his own when he wasn't with me. He went to Vegas with me. My manager booked him also to do his own show. He was his own star.

Kliph Nesteroff: And was this manager Stan Zucker?

 


Rusty Warren: Yes, for many years.
 

Kliph Nesteroff: How did you connect with him?
 

Rusty Warren: Stan? I heard about him through someone and wrote him and Stan said he would come to see me ... I was working the Midwest circuit. I was in St. Louis. I remember it. I was scared the night he was going to come in. I made it a Saturday ... it was a bar ... I was on a big stage with a big piano ... I'd be shouting over that and I didn't have a drummer at that time ... the fifties ... I was just starting ... a little guy comes in. He was a little guy, very dapper. He sat [and watched it] and thought it was great. He said maybe he could do something for me the next time I came to the West Coast. Stop by his office. He had pictures made and I was with him until the day he died. I retired before he did and he was older than me. I'm eighty and he died in the early eighties ...



Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember who else he represented?

 

Rusty Warren: Well, he was a manager not an agent ... he was in charge of bills getting paid ... I earned a lot of money and he got me into [investing] in shopping centers and cows...
 


Kliph Nesteroff: I had read that.
 

Rusty Warren: I remember it was Barbara Streisand, Charlton Heston and myself ... we bought Black Angus down in God knows where. We had to have our initials on there. Mine were 'W' and Barbara's were 'B.S.' (laughs) Just hysterical. We had never met ... it was just the company that put us together. They did bull runs of semen, y'know, impregnating the herd. So much money was earned. It was the Nixon days, y'know, you had to do something with the damn money.
 


Kliph Nesteroff: And what about the shopping centers?
 

Rusty Warren: They were in Arizona, mostly. There was a big one. I had a tri-plex. A piece of industrial property, some plants in the Tempe area, vacant land and they finally got built on after twenty odd years. And when I [moved to Hawaii] I finally sold my last fifty acres to Ashton Hotels. I was part of their big complex near Pinnacle Peak in Arizona where they started to build massive homes. They were putting up a resort. They needed my corner ... 


Kliph Nesteroff:
I
heard that Jubilee Records, toward the end of their run, got involved in the medical supply business.

Rusty Warren: Did they? You know, the year that Jerry [Blaine, President of Jubilee Records] died, one of the sons took over. I don't think they cared for it. It didn't work out so [Stan Zucker] said, "We're going to have to do something." And before we ended up losing too much we grabbed our master [tapes] of Knockers Up and all that stuff ... there was a lot of money games going back and forth and I ended up with my masters. I shopped it around and Gene Norman was interested in pressing and manufacturing my records. I'm still with Gene Norman today. [GNP] Crescendo Records.


Kliph Nesteroff: He owned the [Crescendo] nightclub, right?


Rusty Warren: Yeah!
I worked his nightclub. I worked upstairs in the little one first and then I graduated [to] where Mort Sahl and Shelley Berman ... worked in the big room downstairs ... I worked there and finally got to the point where Rusty's career needed more people. That's the interesting sidebar to that. He said, "You're going to have to get up from behind that piano. The people by the doorway they can't see you sitting down." I was scared to death! Back then that was my crutch. Banging the piano, mentally, whatever it is, it goes through ya. What I did was I did a couple bits and then I stood up and i talked to the audience and I found comfort in it. I could do it. I took a lot of my bits and pieces and I worked on it ... all the routines that I had over the years ... I got away from [the piano] so that I ended up with a pianist behind me. I was doing three thousand seaters by that point but it all emerged slowly. 



Kliph Nesteroff: Had you recorded your nightclub act prior to Jubilee Records?

 

Rusty Warren: No.
 

Kliph Nesteroff: So, how did they find out about you?
 

Rusty Warren: (laughs) You want the story? I was in Phoenix, Arizona. The Pomp Room. Corner of 16th and Camelback. A little bar. A piano bar. In fact, the bar was a piano ... seats around it ... I think it seated seventy ... people would come in the door and I built an act around it. Songs For Sinners was the one we did at The Pomp Room. We went in the liquor room and plugged into the sound system with an AmPex tape machine. Remember that? Double wheels? I did the weekend shows. And each night I was up three times. I just kept doing stuff. We took those tapes, Stan looked at them, and he sent them to Jerry. I was just starting with Knockers Up... just talking about it, but I didn't have the song written yet. So it took about a year or so. We went somewhere else, on a Midwest tour and I came up with the [Knockers Up] March in Dayton, Ohio. I had a great Italian boss who loved to march, so I [played] a march and [encouraged] ... these woman to get up ... and get their boobies up and that was how it was born ... 

 
So [after the success of this routine] Jerry decided to name the second album Knockers Up. And they said, "You wouldn't dare! How are you going to sell it? Where you going to put it? No one is going to take it." Jerry says, "Watch me." It was hysterical. He did it and it blew me out of the world [into superstardom]. Knockers Up was on the charts for a full year in the top ten spot.

Kliph Nesteroff: It's still one of the highest selling comedy records of all time.


Rusty Warren: Yes, along with Vaughn Meader and Bill Dana...


Kliph Nesteroff: Vaughn Meader, Bob Newhart, Shelley Berman, Allan Sherman and yourself.
 


Rusty Warren: But I was on the fringe, don't forget.
 

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, you sold as high as them, and in many cases outsold them without any television exposure!
 

Rusty Warren: It ended up being a fringe job, a fringe entertainment [genre] with me and Belle Barthe and Pearl Williams and Moms Mabley and all the gals that didn't do a lot of television. Although, I did The Merv Griffin Show and The Mike Douglas Show, but that was in the Midwest. When I opened in a club out there I'd do these morning programs and talk ... three minutes ... promotion.
 


Kliph Nesteroff: What kind of a guy was [Jubilee Records President] Jerry Blaine?

Rusty Warren: Oh, he was a dream. Big guy, balding, big blue eyes and a New York salesman, honey. Tough as they come. He really was a dream. He came out of nowhere and [my manager] said, "You'll find him interesting." Interesting? Shit, I gotta watch myself with that guy. He was marvelous ... We were in New York and I won the Female Comedy Album of the Year, the same year that Vaughn Meader for [The First Family] album ... and we were in New York and I was about to fly off to Europe to treat myself because I had just won a big award ... We stayed over at Jerry's suite and he comes walking into the bedroom, God bless him. He says, "You mind if I flop down here?" "Yeah, whatever." It was a big massive suite so I didn't pay any attention to him. He just laid there and all of a sudden he says, "Why don't we... we're here aren't we?" Don't forget I made a lot of money that year. I mean, A lot of money. I turned over and looked at him and I said, "Do you really want to fuck up a million dollars for a lousy twenty minutes?" Well, he said, "Ah, I guess not." Yeah, I said, "Put it down," (laughs). 
 



Kliph Nesteroff: His name was in the news a lot, right after he signed you, having been implicated as part of the Alan Freed payola scandals. 

Rusty Warren: Did he get mixed up in that? I didn't know much about it.
 

Kliph Nesteroff: He's generally the one man that is talked about the most in terms of the payola scandal...  
 


Rusty Warren: Listen. Those were the times. They all did it. Anyone who had some viable thing that they wanted to push, that's what they had to do. You think they don't do it today in a different manner? Not maybe in records, but they do it. Today they probably give them coke or some fancy whatever. Back then they gave them money, I guess. I knew it happened. I didn't want to know ... he had the [Kermit Schaefer Pardon My Blooper] records out, he had all kinds of stuff that he pressed.  



Kliph Nesteroff: Some wonderful musicians were on Jubilee.

Rusty Warren: They were great. [Jerry Blaine] got Rusty in the door ... he was a great businessman. A sharp businessman ... everyone did it. I'm sure they [paid record dealers]. I had sales you wouldn't believe. Where did they find [risque records]? They went in the store and I was in the comedy section. It wasn't under the counter. 




Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember some of the other comedians on Jubilee like The Richie Brothers?
 


Rusty Warren: I don't ... later on he took over distribution of Ruth Wallis ... I'm trying to think of anyone else. Jerry thought he'd go into the movie business. Which was a fiasco. Some movie he was getting into was with Jayne whatsername with the big boobs...
 

Kliph Nesteroff: Jayne Mansfield.
 

Rusty Warren: It may not have been Mansfield, it may have been the other one.
 

Kliph Nesteroff: Mamie Van Doren?
 

Rusty Warren: Yeah, maybe her. He might have been enamored with her somewhat. He put a lot of money into it. He wanted to fly to Hollywood and be a big shot. He did that whole routine. I don't know though, I was busy working [at the time]. I didn't get into his personal life. 


Kliph Nesteroff:
I read that you did a show once in the Midwest and a club manager exposed himself to you?

Rusty Warren: Yes (laughs).
It was in Omaha. It was funny because I was in the back room and his wife was at the [cash] register. It was a family [operation]. It was probably back toward his office. For some reason I had to be in his office and without hello goodbye it was ZIP! I said, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" [As if] I am so stupid. I'm clever with the repartee on stage and I [am expected] to be idiot broad in the backroom with the guy exposing himself? I said, "What? Are you gonna do something with that? It's ridiculous looking." His whole thing went flat again. It was over. I said, "Christ, are you crazy? You Italians don't know what to do with it, you gotta put it everywhere." And I started being Rusty and tried to get him with the jokes. I said, "Am I going to get out of here or am I going to have to fight my way out?"' He said, "Ah, you're not worth it." I said, "Really, I'm not," (laughs). But those kind of people, I don't know. When you're young, you're silly. Maybe he wanted to prove something. Who knows?


Kliph Nesteroff: Did someone shoot a gun off at one of your shows?


Rusty Warren: Yes. That was in Detroit.
I did a routine. The Ford plant was on strike. A lot of guys were out of work for quite a bit of time. I was working somewhere in the west side area. Great people. Great show. I did a routine ... I was doing a bit about cars and all the new cars that had come out that year. All of a sudden this guy threw a drink and it just missed me. It hits Pucci. Well Pucci is a dago, he [just] wipes it off. Gets up, "Don't hurt him!" Obviously he was drunk. The two guys that owned the place got up and I apologized to the guy and said, "What did I do that made you angry?" Because it stops the show. Everyone's looking around, 'What's going to happen?' I didn't want to play the victim because I still have to be the star there. They're going to expect me to be strong. I can't go wobbling around like it's idiotsville. So, they handled it. 


He went out and the police... he said, "Oh, please forgive me." Then [they] told me, "He's been out of work with Ford for [several] weeks," and everyone in the audience knew too. So they forgave him too. You know what  mean? The gun - that was a theater in... might have been Anaheim. The Circle Star. I had no idea. Of course, they had a lot of security there. I was doing one of my routines about a wife... one of my routines about women and men that I did so much of. For some reason, this was a divorced man, and obviously the wife [had been] a bitch and had given him a hard time ... he came out of his seat and somebody noticed and yelled, "GUN!"  


I didn't hear what they were saying. I heard a minor commotion in the back. Before I knew it, some men who worked there had taken him out to some lobby and subdued him and later I found out he had had a gun. I would have shit my pants by that time. I didn't know til afterward that he had had a gun. I said "Why? Was it me? Something I said?" Someone mentioned to me afterward that my [routine about wives set him off]. I said, "Oh my, that was scary." I was never an object of people's anger no matter what I did on stage. I wasn't Don Rickles. I never did that kind of comedy. 


Mr. and Mrs. America was what I talked about. I was on the men's side, I was on the women's side, it was very androgynous as far as where I was coming from with the comedy. But he ... I never knew who he was, there were no apologies, I don't know if they took him away or if they just got rid of him. Called the police, I have no idea what happened. I asked if I could go out, like I usually did, into the lobby after the show was over and sign autographs for the fans and meet the people and take their names, put them on the mailing list and all that kind of stuff. And they said yes, he's off premises. It sort of shook Pooch up, because he carried a gun, only because he was on the road in his car and whatever. I don't ask. They carried a gun, my guys. The other one - he carried a knife because they stop at rest stops and they're a guy and they've got a big car full of women's clothes, for God's sake. So they did whatever they did, I didn't ask them and I knew they were capable of taking care of themselves. We never had an incident. 


Kliph Nesteroff: Did you ever run into church groups objecting to you coming to town?

 

Rusty Warren: I had a couple of those church [things] with [pictures] of Jesus saying, "Please come. We'll help you."
 

Kliph Nesteroff: Trying to save your soul...
 

Rusty Warren: Yeah, my little Jewish soul, but I understood that. At the beginning of my career [especially] not everyone is going to like what I do. Of course not. I'm not middle of the road. I'm talking about sex and laughter, men and women and how we should treat each other and what we should do. I would never get into what they get into today. Today, the four letter word is flying all over the place. I used to say 'hell' and 'damn.'


Kliph Nesteroff: You have an album titled Banned in Boston. Was that strictly a promotional gimmick?
 

Rusty Warren: Yeah, they just decided to name it that. You want to hear a story about Boston? I'm working Boston on the Revere Beach. Italians ran the place. You saw the picture on the cover [of the record]? That was the nightclub. I was on stage and all of a sudden I heard two shots. And someone had shot Poppa, the owner. Now they've got four of his sons working that place. Two are bartenders and two are don't ask. They carry guns, whatever that means. Honey, they were up there, they got the guy. They pummled the guy that shot Poppa. Momma comes out from the back, "They've shot Poppa!" She's at the cash register. She says, "I can't leave the box, tell Poppa I'll take care of him," because she's not going to leave that cash register because someone would rob her blind. So she said, "I'm taking care of the money! Tell Poppa he'll be all right." So they took Poppa to a hospital, I guess he was okay. That's one of the thing that happened to stop the show for a bit. But wow. Whatever it was I have no idea. I will never know. I don't ask. I worked for a lot of gentlemen of that persuasion over the years, in the early days. Upstate New York ... I learned a long time ago when I worked for Frank Costello in New York. I was nineteen or twenty. In the Summer I'd play piano up in Saratoga and all those Upstate New York little bars. I learned, 'Don't ask.'
 


Kliph Nesteroff: I imagine that came in handy when you started working in Vegas full time.
 

Rusty Warren: They ran the gambling, they didn't run the hotels. They did until they sold the hotels and they got out. They got out of the business. I worked for Bill Miller, wonderful man.


Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned you worked on Gypsy Rose Lee's television show and Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin when they were still doing regional shows. Did Dick Cavett also have you on his show?
 

Rusty Warren: He did! Yes, once and the other one... from England. Oh, dear, um... Dick... er...

Kliph Nesteroff: David Frost?


Rusty Warren: Yes! He was so nice.
I was in New York after I worked Joe Franklin. He said, "I'd like to have her on. She won't [do anything] bad will she?" They were all afraid I'm going to say something. And whoever he was talking to - the other talk show host or performer said, "No, no. She'll be great. She's quite the lady. You'll love her." That was nice.


Kliph Nesteroff: What was the Dick Cavett thing about?


Rusty Warren: Just conversation talking about nightclubs.
It was how do you get into this, how does this happen, nice girl like you. It gave him a nice... it made him look like a nice gentleman. Which he is! He is a delightful gentleman. 

Kliph Nesteroff:
I spoke to him on the phone last week. I had no idea you two even crossed paths.

Rusty Warren: He might not even remember. This was in the sixties. He's had a million people on, but
I found him very, very pleasant. Very much the gentlemen. [It was only] a few minutes. It wasn't a Barbra Walters [interview]. I was just another guest on the show. Like Joe Franklin used to do. I'd work New York and you'd go on there for a few minutes ... like that. I never did Carson.


Kliph Nesteroff: You have mentioned that Johnny Carson didn't like you.


Rusty Warren: No, he didn't.


Kliph Nesteroff: What was the story behind that or is there one?
 

Rusty Warren: He just didn't like me. He just didn't like me. I don't want to go any deeper into it than that. He used to come to Vegas a lot and Johnny Carson was Johnny Carson and you either play the game or you don't and I just don't play the game. 

Kliph Nesteroff: He was kind of known for not being friendly to female comedians...



Rusty Warren: Yeah, well, you've got some of the scuttlebutt. Friendly means yes and no. Depends which way you mean the word [friendly]. Which is silly. I don't think it involved any of the big stars. I can't see anyone of note doing that to get on his show. I don't mean physical. I mean BJs. I don't think [the big stars] were doing that but I'm sure some people did. I can't believe a few of the women I knew did that [but] he had gay women on. I'm sure they didn't do that to get on his show. He just liked their work. So it had nothing to do with anything on the sexual side if he liked you or not. He just didn't like what I did and I'd seen him in Vegas several times and he had seen me. And he had interviewed everyone I've ever known. My manager, Stan, tried a couple of times. Fred... whatever his name was... that was his booker... Johnny Carson's right hand guy...


Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, Fred de Cordova.



Rusty Warren: Fred de Cordova. [Stan] tried to get me a couple appointments but they didn't... maybe the material, the timing, too soon in my career, maybe I wasn't clever enough... whatever it was. Then Time magazine came out with that [article about me] The Barnyard Bellower review of mine. That [article indicated that my] fans ... were idiots, which was silly. That attitude of, 'Anyone who goes to see her must be...' You know, that New York atmosphere of "I'm a New Yorker.
I don't do this." (laughs)
 

Kliph Nesteroff: You encountered a lot of people during your Vegas years. 


Rusty Warren: Oh, yes. They were nice. I didn't find one star that wasn't kind to me. Don't forget, I was a lounge performer. I'm not big like they are. Yet [people like] Angela Lansbury. She came in and Liza [Minelli] and Phyllis [Diller] and Joan [Rivers] all came by, saw the show and said hi. We'd meet at a cocktail party when Tom Jones opened, they'd give him a big press party and the whole Strip [would be] invited. I would naturally see them here, they knew who I was, but there name was big on the Strip. I'm in the lounge. Pearl Bailey was headlining the room ... and I was in the lounge. She was delightful to me. She was the favorite star and a lovely woman.



Kliph Nesteroff: And very funny.
 

Rusty Warren: Oh! Are you kidding? These people had more talent in their little fingers... I had single dimensioned talent. I had done some theater but not particularly great. I'm just me. I'm not like Lily Tomlin, with those kinds of talents... to write stuff and create characters, just brilliant.
 


Kliph Nesteroff: You were good friends with Totie Fields...

Rusty Warren: Yeah, we were buddies in Vegas. Her and Eydie Gorme. Totie started out... she bumped into me at ... Mister Kelly's when I worked there. She was opening for Tony Bennett [but] she wasn't a big star then. She liked my material and she asked, "Can we get together for a drink sometime so I could pick your brain?" I think we did, I remember sitting and talking about how you break into this business and things. She was funny. I saw her show when she opened for Tony. I said, "You're hysterical. You're one of a kind. You're good looking. A little stalky and you make fun of it." She was just effervescent. What you see she became. She was an individual. She didn't copy anyone. She was her own woman. Which makes you a star. That's what that meant. I didn't give her any more information than Sophie Tucker gave me. "Be honest with your audience. Don't lie to them because they're sharper than you are. Stay with it. Be who you are. Don't let anyone tell you what not to do. You've got brains and you've got common sense. You know. Do it. You're in a new pathway." That's what I did and that's [what I said when] I was chatting with Totie. She had her basics. She was already going to New York to do some television shows and the next time I saw her she was in The Riviera in Las Vegas in the lounge. 




Kliph Nesteroff: And she became an Ed Sullivan favorite.
Rusty Warren: Oh, yes. I guess he adored her. What's not to... she was hysterical. I loved her and always did. So when we did Vegas, I would see her. Her daughter... I brought two of my horses to Vegas... they had an equestrian area where I could leave them. And after I finished my work at four in the morning, just before dawn, I'd go over to the barn and rig up and go riding because I was pumped up. And I'm not a big drinker per se. So I went riding and I'd go home and have breakfast and go to bed. I'd wake up late afternoon, have dinner - breakfast, and the show would start at ten at night. One of her daughters... I got her a very good riding guide. Helped her daughter get [horse riding] lessons and stuff ... it was that kind of thing. She'd call me once in a while and tell me a joke. But we weren't... first of all, I wasn't the kind of lady she was. Eydie Gorme and her used to go to Joe Magnum on the strip and they'd sit and laugh and people would come in for the show... Eydie is adorable ... I loved her Spanish stuff, her Spanish albums. Very funny lady, very nice. They'd sit there and in those days they gave you champagne - if you were looking at jewelery or to buy a coat back in those days. Especially them, they were treated like stars ... so it was happy time in the afternoon for those guys.
 


Kliph Nesteroff: Eydie Gorme still performs.
 

Rusty Warren: Yes, I guess so. What about Steve [Lawrence]?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, they still do an act together.


Rusty Warren: Do they? God bless 'em. God Bless them! They've got God given voices. They didn't work after the boy was killed but ... she was devastated. But I'm glad [they're still performing]. They still living out east or are they back in Beverly Hills?
 

Kliph Nesteroff: I think they're in Beverly Hills and they tour the casino circuit and theaters. 
 


Rusty Warren: Do they? Great.
 

Kliph Nesteroff: You broke attendance records when you played Las Vegas, didn't you?
 

Rusty Warren: I broke The Aladdin [Hotel] record, which is a story onto itself. When I first came there I worked The Dunes for Major Reynold. Belle Barth and Pearl Bailey and all the girls, ladies of my fringe, that were off the beaten path, plus a couple of the stars, came for my opening night. We had a great stay at The Dunes, and I had the privilege of meeting Line Renaud, the French chanteuse, a delightful singer and a gorgeous little girl. I got to know Line. She came back and said, "I need some American funny things." So I gave her one or two little jokes ... so we got to know each other a little bit and when I had parties they all came ... 


Kliph Nesteroff: Now, when you were playing the Aladdin in Las Vegas...
 

Rusty Warren: Well, The Dunes. After The Dunes I went on tour again. My next [Vegas stint] was the Aladdin. Jackie Mason had been breaking house records there and he worked seven nights a week at the Aladdin. This must have been his ... you worked four weeks at a time [then two weeks off] and then other stars worked there. I was asked to work The Aladdin. But I said, "I can't work seven nights a week for four weeks. I just can't do it." I was in my thirties but I had to have some time off. Stan arranged for a six night week with one night off. Honey, that, in the lounge, that was a miracle. Honey, Mason flipped his gourd. He was so pissed. I heard this later. I didn't know it at the time. He [was on his two weeks off] and I broke his house record. So, he was perturbed by not only that but by the fact I got a six day work week. And then it became the norm. You notice after a while? A couple places started to go dark once a week - usually a Tuesday or a Wednesday. 


When I worked The Aladdin, I think I worked... who was in there... maybe The Sahara. I worked the Sahara with that wonderful woman singer. She was a star. Black girl. She's still alive. Young woman. Younger than I. God, I see her face. She made some albums. She's very pretty and stalky, very round face. I'm sorry, maybe I'll remember. There were three of us in the big group and a country guy who did, "Sitting in the Top of the Dirt." Old song. I was 10-2. She was 9-11. They were 12-3. After hours group. That was what I did at the Sahara. But the Aladdin - I had a good time. My mother was there. Milton Prell was the owner of the Aladdin when I worked there and after breaking the house record Milton had presented me with the most gorgeous solid gold purse with my initials in emeralds and diamonds: RW. I carried that for many, many years when I was living the fur coat and the diamonds and the Rolls Royce and the chauffers and the limousine life ... 

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you still have a lot of memorabilia from that era?



Rusty Warren: I do. I'm having a problem ... the Rusty Warren memorabilia is now in storage in Arizona and I've been paying that monthly rent for forty years ... that means the charts, the music, the posters, five gowns... one Bob Mackie and a couple of Ray
Ions that you see on the covers of all my stuff. I brought the big jewelry here and sold it off, here in Hawaii. 

Kliph Nesteroff: When you working the Aladdin were you sharing the bill with Godfrey Cambridge?

Rusty Warren: No.

Kliph Nesteroff: No?

Rusty Warren: No,
I think Godfrey had his own time slot, didn't he?

Kliph Nesteroff: He would have been at The Aladdin around the same time you were...


 
Rusty Warren: Was it?
I don't remember that. I remember meeting him later, but was it there? He was working there?

Kliph Nesteroff:
I have an album by him that was recorded live at The Aladdin - The Baghdad Room.

Rusty Warren: But not at the same time [as me].
I was in the lounge. I worked it alone. And when he came in he was big. He was a star. He might've recorded it [in the lounge] because it was a good room to record in. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I'm curious about some of the other performers you would have encountered while you were in Las Vegas at that time...

Rusty Warren: Okay, throw 'em at me.

Kliph Nesteroff: Woody Allen was headlining Vegas at that point...

Rusty Warren: Never met him.

Kliph Nesteroff: He actually mentioned you in an essay he wrote for The New Yorker...

Rusty Warren: Really?

Kliph Nesteroff: Just briefly, he mentions hanging out in a record store, trying to look inconspicuous while flipping through the Rusty Warren albums.

Rusty Warren: Oh, it was a joke, eh? Yeah, never met him. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember Woody Woodbury?

Rusty Warren: Oh, yes. That was Fort Lauderdale.
I came down in 1959 - I was in Fort Lauderdale and I got to know the people that ran an after hours joint called The Five O'Clock Club ... I was entertaining in the lounge at a place called the beach something hotel ... right on the ocean ... next time I came back that's when I met Woody Woodbury. He was working the main drag. I went to see him many, many times. Very nice, got to like him. We were all bar people. The next time there I worked The Pump Room. No, the other one. The one where I made Knockers Up. Anyway, that was in Fort Lauderdale. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Woody Woodbury had sort of a similar career to yours.

Rusty Warren: He didn't do as much chatting with the audience [as me]. I don't know if he sang. I don't remember if he ever sang. He did ditties. We used to call them ditties. He was [doing that] long before I was. 

Kliph Nesteroff: He had a similar thing going as you. His comedy records were considered 'Adults Only' and he didn't have a lot of television exposure either. 

Rusty Warren: Yes. He was a nice man. He and Bill Carty. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Bill Carty, yes. There was also a man named Nino Nanni. They were all on the same record label.

Rusty Warren: I don't remember him. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Woody Woodbury is also still alive. He told me that before you signed on with Jubilee that Fletcher Smith, the man in charge of StereOddities, Woodbury's record label, wanted to sign you.

Rusty Warren: He might have. He would have dealt with Stan Zucker at that point rather than me, myself. But Stan knew Jerry [Blaine] from his music days. I don't know if Stan was involved with any of the other [comedy records on Jubilee]. He might have been involved with [Kermit Schaeffer's Pardon My Blooper] series which Jerry had. He became famous for that, the blooper albums before
I got on board. He just sent my tapes to Jerry and Jerry liked it ... I think Stan tried to get Warner Brothers or maybe Capitol Records at the time. Warner at the time was owned by Sinatra and his group and they didn't want it. They didn't want that kind of thing. So there were a lot of [rejections] from the bigger labels. There was one in New York that did Belle Barth. I can't remember the name of her label. Stan didn't want to do business with them because they were racketeers ... Roundtable was it? That was [the club] where I worked. (Ed. Note: Belle Barth's two LP's My Next Story is a Little Risque, In Person, and I Don't Mean to be Vulgar but it's Profitable were all recorded at The Roundtable nightclub and pressed by a label called After Hours Records). I can't remember, it was the name of some New York company that screwed Belle over terribly. I knew Belle very well in those days from nightclubs and from Vegas. I even flew back for her funeral in Florida.

Kliph Nesteroff: When did you meet Belle Barth?

Rusty Warren:
In my Miami and Vegas days. She worked The Tropicana. I probably was working The Dunes. She came to see me at The Dunes. I went to see her at the Trop. She worked at four o'clock [in the morning]. I think I worked from two to three [in the morning]. She did the late, late, late shift. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You two are often compared to each other.

Rusty Warren: Yeah, we are but she was twenty years my senior. She used to call me the Jewish kid that works for the gentiles. She introduced me to Martha Raye ...

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you encounter Don Rickles at all?

Rusty Warren: Yes.
I knew Don. Only as a performer and [he and I] did a couple of interview shows [together]. I didn't know him in a personal sense. I met him and his wife a couple of times, but he was "one of the guys." I wasn't one of the girls that was going to be hanging out with "one of the guys." Shirley MacLaine was. They loved her.
 
Kliph Nesteroff: Right. Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra...
 
Rusty Warren: Yeah, that whole group.

Kliph Nesteroff: What about Jackie Gayle?
 
Rusty Warren: Yes, I had seen Jackie work. We talked many times. We weren't buddies but we worked the same places many times. Especially in Vegas. He'd be closing at one place and
I'd be opening at it. Same place, almost like I was following him down the strip. Jack was a funny, funny guy. He had a couple drinking [issues] going on but he straightened that out. He was a nice man to me, very respectful. 

Kliph Nesteroff: And you knew Carol Channing?

Rusty Warren: Yes.
I just recently saw Carol here when she came to Hawaii. She is ninety whatever and still doing her concert show, A Night with Carol Channing. She was kind enough to give me a backstage pass so I could come and say hello. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You knew each other in Las Vegas?
 
Rusty Warren: Yes, we did. She came to my show with her husband in Vegas at The Sahara or The
International. She came in with a party of people. All us lounge performers would always say [at the end of the show] 'Don't forget to go see Tony. He's at the 'this one' and at the 'that place,' 'Don't forget to go see Tom Jones over at Caesar's. Make the rounds kids. Spread it around.' All of us lounge people used to say that just before our closing numbers. We'd say, 'It's great you're having fun and don't forget Don Rickles is [performing] over there, Sinatra and Dean and the gang are at The Sands,' we were all friendly. It was like a great big party. Today it's twelve miles of hotels and there's a whole new problem.

Kliph Nesteroff: There were a lot of Rusty Warren rip-off or knock-off acts...

Rusty Warren: Were there?

Kliph Nesteroff:
I was looking through newspaper clippings and there were a lot of people that were billing themselves in comparison to Rusty Warren. 'Alice Stevens, The Little Rusty Warren.'
 
Rusty Warren: (laughs) That's cute.
 
Kliph Nesteroff: There's another one. 'Scarlet O'Hara. The Male Rusty Warren.'
 
Rusty Warren: I had a lot of drag queens do [my songs]. There is a female stripper that just got a hold of me through my website and she wanted the notes and music to Bounce Your Boobies and Knockers Up. We have them in sheet form. They're now being put together for a bibliography that my guy is doing, a man named Alan Valatta out of Kentucky. A theatrical producer and writer and creator. He's putting together a new theatrical, Rusty Warren musical called The Life of the Party. 
We're excited. 


Most of the music is done and most of the acts are laid out and we're doing what is called the backstory - the dialogue. He loves it because there are four characters: myself (which will be played by someone else), my assistant who is a woman and two guys. My secretary was a six-foot-five black man and he was a queen. He thought he was Eartha Kitt or whatever. And the other fella was my chauffeur, and he did backstage and  gowns and g-strings and sewed and knit. He was a flamboyant gay guy. My other guy was not. He was tall and handsome and I put him in silk suits. So they've got these characters and the writers are going crazy, they're having so much fun. They were characters. 


[Back then] I didn't know a lot of [what they did] because they kept a lot of stuff from me. I didn't have to know the shenanigans. All I said was, 'If you take the [payroll] and I find out you're at a gay bar... someone's getting fired.' That was one basic rule. Don't use the roll. I don't care what they do. I used to go to gay bars. I used to watch them do drag shows of Rusty Warren. For years. I got a great story out of Chicago. Phyllis Diller is working The Drake. I'm working Mister Kelly's. At four in the morning [there's a show where] drag queens are doing both of us. 


It's the middle of winter and we're freezing as it is. She and her husband, whatever Fang's first name was, She and Fang, myself and my assistant, and both my guys Jonathan and Robin, we all piled into a big car and went to the gay bar ... The one who did Phyllis was like six-feet tall and black.
 
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
 
Rusty Warren: He did Phyllis with the wig and the gown and the screaming and the cigarette. The whole nine yards. You know what Phyllis did? She had this full length Chinchilla coat, the most gorgeous coat. She takes the coat, and you know Phyllis likes to nip a bit, she took the coat and she threw it on the stage. 


The guy died! He took that coat and whipped that thing around him. Phyllis was broad shouldered. This guy wasn't particularly feminine, he was big, he was tall. I wish digital cameras were around then so pictures could have been taken. My guy was a show guy with a lot of balloons for boobs and he did Bounce Your Boobies or one of those numbers. He loved it. All I could throw up was a white mink with a kelly cream lining that said 'Rusty Warren' on it. That was great fun.
 
 
Kliph Nesteroff: That's great.
 
Rusty Warren: They still do [Rusty Warren drag acts] but there isn't much. Now it's at small venues. There are lot of [old] drag guys that remember me that write me through my website and they still have pictures of what they did, and it's nice, they share [them with me].
 

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember a drag comedian named Rae Bourbon?
 
Rusty Warren: Oh, sure. Rae was even before my time. I was not old enough to have known Rae in his prime. After Rae, quite a few guys in New York... can't remember all the names. I went to [Provincetown] once and saw two of them, Charles Pierce, marvelous man, and he used to work Vegas too - he was an impressionist. 

Kliph Nesteroff: The album Rusty Warren Bounces Back has my favorite cover of all time. You're sprawled out on your back like a corpse.

Rusty Warren: And I'm laying on a piano in the white gown with the false tits? They had to be. I didn't have any to start with. I lay on my back they'd all disappear. What about it?
 
Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember who came up with that cover or the photo shoot at all?
 
Rusty Warren: [Does it say] on the back cover?
 
Kliph Nesteroff: Let me take a look.
 

Rusty Warren: Probably done in New York. I did a lot of traveling. I would just have time to come into to New York and do five days [where we would do costume and design. The costumes were done by Ed Yagan but there's no way he did that one, it was too early in my career to afford it.
 
Kliph Nesteroff: So, Stephen P. Haas Studios.
 
Rusty Warren: That's New York. He shot the Knockers Up cover. I wasn't there, I was in Europe when Jerry pressed it. Steve was probably from Jerry Blaine's group of people that he met.
 
 
Kliph Nesteroff: And Marquis Entertainment... that was your...
 
Rusty Warren: That was one of my... The enterprises that were involved... I had a company that put out bar towels and glasses 
and funny things that you would use in a bar.
 
Kliph Nesteroff: Geez, does any of that stuff still exist?
 

Rusty Warren: Everyone throws stuff out but I think you may find some still laying around the world. I have some in storage, a little bit left as samples. Well, 'm hoping I'll eventually find a college or a museum that would like to have my memorabilia. I don't know where. It's not my expertise. It's not my area. I wouldn't even know who to talk to.
 
Kliph Nesteroff: I could help you with that. I can try do some research on that.

Rusty Warren: Really?

Kliph Nesteroff: Absolutely. That's important stuff. 

Rusty Warren: Well, yes, it is to me, but other people don't understand.
If they're in that field, I'm remote from them. Unless you're Carol Burnett or big like that. I'm remote. They know who I am because I've done so many interviews. Two professors interviewed me from Texas A and M; one wrote a book on women's comedy of the sixties - mother of the sexual revolution blah blah blah, they gave me a chapter. So, I've been doing this for ten years now. People inviting me for interviews such as this ... it was exciting ... Stan Zucker is on Wall Street ... He just got a hold of me, he said he just thought he'd touch base and see how I was because he had heard that I had turned eighty. He e-mailed me and I mentioned this to him, that I have all this memorabilia that is in storage and I want to make sure that when I'm dead it goes somewhere, otherwise it gets put in black bags and stuffed in the trash. His wife was trying to research something. I was thinking of Vegas but I don't think... they're a quick fix town ... I don't know who would want to do it. They'd have to have permission to go in to Phoenix into the storage facility to open it up and spend a couple days looking through what is there. Their curator or whatever. I could probably give them some kind of a list. I think my daughter has some kind of a list.

Kliph Nesteroff: It's certainly a project worth sorting out. There are a lot of organizations in Los Angeles that specialize in show business history and have various collections.

Rusty Warren: Well, it should be in a place where ... I wish there was some kind of a [museum] for female comedians of the twentieth century. From Fanny Brice, Sophie [Tucker] and all the people that come up to [my point]. I don't think Carol and Phyllis and Joan want to belong to that, they might go elsewhere but ... Bill Dana has ... they just started two years ago I heard ... a huge work ... I don't know if Phyllis is involved with that or not. That would be a good place for Rusty but you gotta know people. I don't know people anymore. My name doesn't open doors anymore.

Kliph Nesteroff: I can help put the word out.


Rusty Warren: Let me send you the link for the Bill Dana history whatever thing it is. You can look to see what ... it's only two years old. This museum or research place, whatever it is ... that would probably be a good place for Rusty to be, but that would just be the paperwork. Because there is [also] gowns and there are posters and there are things that are like memorabilia that should be in museum areas. So, I don't know anything about it, I'm guessing. I don't know what's the right [way to do it] and what's wrong ... You'd be a good person to have on my side, that's for sure. To have that personal interest about research and background, which obviously you do.
 

Kliph Nesteroff: Rusty, this is a thrill for me to talk to you.
 
Rusty Warren: Is it? How old are you?
 
Kliph Nesteroff: I just turned thirty.

Rusty Warren: Oh, well, you are wonderful. You'll be around when I'm dead to carry on.

Kliph Nesteroff: Rusty Warren Bounces Back was the third record I ever bought.

Rusty Warren: (laughs) Well, thank you. Very cute. That's one of my favorites. I think Bounce Your Boobies is on that, isn't it?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, it is. 

Rusty Warren: And
I never sang it after that ... Randi Rhodes chose it for her show and did the political thing for her show and all of a sudden it was awoken. Meanwhile I dropped it. It was under Warren Publishing and Thelonious music picked it up so they now own the publishing rights. Doesn't matter, I don't care.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have almost all of your albums.
I don't have all the GNP Crescendo ones but I do have all of your Jubilee albums. Actually doubles and triples of most of them.

Rusty Warren: Crescendo still operates. You could call Neil Norman if you're doing something and they'll send you a box or whatever you need. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I have a thousand comedy records here, so some of the names I was throwing out at you are people I just have records of and am curious about. People like Rae Bourbon.

Rusty Warren: Yeah, you're talking even before my time. I got into it in the mid-fifties and I didn't even hit until nineteen sixty or sixty-one. I spent two years between Songs for Sinners and Knockers Up on the road. Took a few years between a beach club in Fort Lauderdale up to what I [became].

Kliph Nesteroff: There's nobody else who enjoyed the level of success that you had without television exposure

Rusty Warren: Oh, yes. I learned it from Sophie Tucker. She used to sell her jams and jellies. She used to say your fans are your best audience and your best customer. Get their names and addresses and let them know when you're coming back to town. And I did it. I put cards on the table, they signed them, my girls picked them up. in those days there were no computers, my God I wish. 



I had to go to a print company and a mail order company in Detroit, Michigan. He was a fan and he ran this print company. First I was on a roledex. Then it got so big he put it in some kind of file he could use and go by state. When I'd come to Dayton, fifty miles around where I was [appearing] got a card ten days ahead, "Get your reservation now." The card had my picture on it, "Hi there, hope to see you again. Blah, blah, blah, blah." He'd send that out to everyone before the boss of that club even knew who I was. His club would be filled for the week. They would call (gasp) 'She's coming to town!' Cause you don't come alone, you come with friends. You'd enjoy my album in the backyard with the barbecue. You wouldn't sit there with earphones. That's what I was selling. A sharing of laughter ... that's why they called me Mr. and Mrs. America. Some writer along the way dubbed me that and I said, 'That's cute.'

Kliph Nesteroff: That's a serious grassroots operation. 

Rusty Warren: That's what I did. I did it. When I came into indianapolis, Akron, Columbus, all of them. Northern Michigan, Grand Rapids, all of them. Anytime I was anywhere on tour. Stan would book me, we'd have a six week tour ... it was great. That's how we traveled. They drove the equipment in the van and I flew because I had to do advance radio [publicity] ... we'd get there first and settle in and the boys would later come in with the equipment and we were ready. We had it down pat, but I took those cards. Those cards were mailed in [to the print company] after every job. Mailed in to Detroit. He put them on the whatever. Can you imagine with the digital world today? (laughs) Oy vey. That was how hard it was and it was done. We got the bill and we paid it. 

Kliph Nesteroff: And it worked.

Rusty Warren: Every boss knew you were gonna pack [the nightclub if you booked] Rusty Warren. They couldn't wait to get the show in there.
I'd come back with a new show every year. I'd break it in the new stuff at The Playboy [Club] in Phoenix. Okay...
 
Kliph Nesteroff: Rusty, thank you so much.
 
Rusty Warren: I wanna tell you, you have done the world for me. From ten o'clock to eleven thirty... I am on my oxygen. I didn't cough too much did I?
 

Kliph Nesteroff: You sounded great. Thank you so much, this has been a pleasure.

Rusty Warren: Thank you, Kliph. Believe me. I appreciate it so much and you've really given me a little boost today. You've made me feel very good today. I'll try to get that information to you [about the warehouse of memorabilia]. You have access to computers. I don't have access to all of it. I'm not very good at that and I don't want to bother my website guy with trying to find me [a museum]. Stan's son is trying but he's more in the business world ... you gotta find someone like yourself that's into the business, truly looking for the right venue. Someone may want it but it's going to end up in their storage. They don't have to pay me for it, but it depends if I'm still alive, what kind of arrangement we can make. My papers, manuscripts, could go one place, and you can have the other stuff that could go to a museum place. See what you can do with it. I don't know how you can explain it, but you've got a big field out there. You'll get some feedback, right?  


Kliph Nesteroff: Absolutely, there is a large audience for this stuff. Probably bigger than you realize. A lot of people know the name Rusty Warren but probably don't even realize you're alive and living in Hawaii. 

Rusty Warren: Well, get them over to my website. You're a delightful gentleman. God Bless ya, sweetheart.

7 comments:

jb said...

Great job, Kliph, as always. Love this kind of stuff.

Fulcanelli said...

Great interview! Rusty has brought smiles and fun to so many people. I wish her well and hope her memorabilia is properly cared for to benefit future generations who will undoubtedly wish to learn all there is to know about her and her career.

Kate said...

It's too bad 60% of Americans are obese. I don't think many women could fit into those tiny womens clothes today!

Lisa said...

What a wonderful interview with a genuine original from classic showbiz! Delightful and so informative!

Great job!

Robert said...

Great interview! We love Rusty Warren.

Michael Powers said...

She was an absolute blast. The funny part is that she has this whole genre of woman comics who were obviously influenced by her, like Chelsea Handler, whom I mentioned before in the wake of your article about her. I've love to see her memorabilia. Maybe worst comes to worst somebody could photograph it and put it on her website.

Anonymous said...

Just came across this interview. I was Rusty's piano player in the late 60s; started out in 'Vegas and did a national tour. The trumpet player was Don Goldie. We worked Detroit (not sure if this was the gun shot tour or not), Florida, the Cave in Vancouver, BC, and Toledo where my parents came to see me. My mom didn't like the humor, but she was so proud of her son, it didn't matter. Reading the review brings back lots of happy thoughts. Hope all is well with Rusty...

Bo Ayars
baton999@comcast.net