Friday, May 20, 2011

An Interview with Milton Delugg - Part One


Kliph Nesteroff: Your first real job in show business was at Paramount Studios in the house orchestra.

Milton Delugg: Yes. I was on staff. There was an opening and they decided they could use an accordion player. In the thirties all the studios had staff orchestras and they had, Kliph, staff song writers. At Paramount there was Frank Loesser, Hoagy Carmichael, Burton Lane, big time people. They would assign them pictures to write and you're scoring this picture. I became very friendly with Frank Loesser who was a dear man and one of the biggest talents that ever happened. He was a tremendous lyric writer and he was a little frustrated because he wanted to be words and music like Cole Porter. He needed, what you might call, a musical secretary. Because we were so friendly I turned out to be the guy. Incidentally, I wrote and played on King Records. Syd Nathan.


He wanted an accordion album and I had to write four instrumental songs. One was a polka and I called it Hoop Dee Doo. There was another Dizzy Fingers type of number called Rollercoaster and two more numbers I can't remember. I got lucky. I always said that luck beats the heck out of talent in our business. It really does, seven days a week, boy, if you're lucky. And I was lucky with those two songs. The polka I took to Frank Loesser and he liked it, so he did the lyrics. It was a number one song! All of a sudden I was a songwriter! I don't know if you know the song, Kliph...


Kliph Nesteroff: Hoop Dee Doo?

Milton Delugg: Yeah.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, I certainly do.

Milton Delugg: "Hoop Dee Doo! Hoop Dee Doo! I hear a polka and my troubles are through..." Now, about thirty bars later comes the end and Frank had a line, "Hand me down my soup and fish. I'm gonna get my wish! Hoop Dee Doin' it tonight." And I said, talking to the biggest lyricist in the country, "Frank, it's a pedestrian line." He said, "You got a better line than hand me down my soup and fish?" I thought I was very hip, so I had a line, "Check my hat and park my gum! California, here I come!" He very carefully and very slowly explained that I was a complete idiot.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)


Milton Delugg: All of a sudden you don't throw in a hip or funny line forty seconds after the song. If you haven't sold it by then, you weren't ever going to sell it. As much of a help as I was to him, he was a tremendous help to me. A number one song.

Kliph Nesteroff: You became friendly with Frank Loesser, but did you become friendly with Hoagy Carmichael as well?

Milton Delugg: Not as friendly as with Frank. Hoagy, you know, had a career and he was a singer. He had a couple of records that sold pretty well too.

Kliph Nesteroff: He was, perhaps, higher up the food chain than Frank and yourself at that point.

Milton Delugg: Exactly. Exactly, but Frank went on to write Guys n' Dolls and Where's Charley and How to Succeed. Luckily he took me with him all the time and, boy, what an education. It was wonderful for me.

Kliph Nesteroff: You had a long association with Frank Loesser and a long association with Abe Burrows and they were responsible, along with George S. Kaufman, for Guys n' Dolls. Did you have a part to play in the production of Guys n' Dolls yourself?


Milton Delugg: Sure! All the way through. The biggest reason I went to New York was Abe Burrows. I was doing a little radio show with him. At that time, 1949, the orchestras on The Fred Allen Show or The Jack Benny Show had maybe sixteen strings. They were twenty piece orchestras, twenty-four piece orchestras. I could do a show with ten or twelve men. That's all I had with Abe. Never did get around to the twenty-four men because of budget problems.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were fronting Matty Malneck's Orchestra, not just on radio, but in nightclubs as well. You backed up Joe E. Lewis when he was performing at Slapsy Maxie's on Wilshire Blvd back in 1947.

Milton Delugg: Sure! Matty had the band first at Slapsie Maxie's and I played the accordion with him. He wasn't too well a man and he turned over the baton to me.

Kliph Nesteroff: What do you remember about the venue Slapsie Maxie's?

Milton Delugg: Well, Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom and Ben Blue and Sammy Lewis owned it. Slapsie and Ben were very busy fellas entertaining the ladies and finally Sammy bought the club from them and they always worked there. But it was really Sammy's club and he never changed the name of it. They were terrific to work for. Slapsie was wonderful and Ben Blue was a very funny man and a helluva dancer. Yeah, terrific.


Kliph Nesteroff: I've talked to a lot of the old comics of that era and a lot of them say that Ben Blue was the funniest guy ever.

Milton Delugg: Oh! He was remarkable! And he had that great deadpan face. Just terrific.

Kliph Nesteroff: He was from Toronto.

Milton Delugg: Oh, that I didn't know.

Kliph Nesteroff: Another credit of yours - you worked on Spade Cooley's radio show.


Milton Delugg: Yup! Sure did. I don't know if he's still with us anymore... ah, I'm sure he's not.

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, didn't he go to jail?

Milton Delugg: Well, yeah... okay. He stomped his wife. He got mad and killed her. He went to jail, for sure. While I was with him I learned a great deal about country music and I became the country music director for RCA for a while. That was with Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers and a lot of big stuff that you would know. Big acts.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was Spade Cooley's temperament like? Knowing what happened with the murder of his wife - were there any signs inherent before that he was off-kilter?


Milton Delugg: He was a very nice guy! I was surprised. The other fellows in our little group seemed to know him a lot better than I did. I was such an outsider, though. I tell ya. I started playing the piano... all parents gave their kids piano lessons when they were six or seven years old. My father saw a sign in the window that said, "Buy an accordion, sixty-seven dollars, get seven free lessons." So he couldn't pass that up. He came home from work one day with an accordion and a teacher. It was a very fortunate thing for me. I was trying to play the accordion like Benny Goodman was playing the clarinet! There was some swing attached to it, you see? Up until then the only accordion music was the Light Cavalry Overture or Over the Waves and tangos.

Kliph Nesteroff: That comes through in your television work. Your music is super upbeat and jazzy unlike, say, an accordion player such as Lawrence Welk...


Milton Delugg: The accordion was pretty big in the South and a couple of places, but maybe it was the sound of the instrument. I don't know. If you're a violinist or a trumpet player, you're a musician. If you're an accordion player... you're an accordion player! You know? You just didn't fall into the category.

Kliph Nesteroff: An outsider.

Milton Delugg: Exactly.

Kliph Nesteroff: Before you appeared on the Abe Burrows radio program, you had already worked with him. You played piano on his 1947 Decca album that he put out...

Milton Delugg: Yeah... by golly!

Kliph Nesteroff: So clearly you had an association with him before that radio show.


Milton Delugg: Yes, for quite a while. Abe was probably the best comedy writer in the business. He was the head writer on Eddie Cantor and Duffy's Tavern and a million shows. He was just bright, wonderul and humorous.

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you think the reason that Breakfast with Burrows and The Abe Burrows Show failed was because Abe was almost too bright?

Milton Delugg: Yeah, they didn't last at all. It was a shame. I'm not sure what the reason was. But I got on that show because I could do it with less men. Beside being Abe's friend, now you get to the budget.

Kliph Nesteroff: Abe Burrows used to write gags for Henny Youngman.


Milton Delugg: Yup. He wrote one-liners and he was in the stock business and a runner and then he became a gagwriter and then the number one writer around town.

Kliph Nesteroff: The Abe Burrows Show had The Lynn Duddy Singers.

Milton Delugg: They were wonderful singers. I remember them very well.

Kliph Nesteroff: Whatever became of them?

Milton Delugg: Boy, I guess... time. I don't know if anybody is still alive. I'm not even sure of me!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) You played nightclub dates with Abe Burrows including somewhere called Le Directoire.

Milton Delugg: Yeah, it was a high-class, French... Abe was fairly successful [in nightclubs] but his humor was a little above nightclubs, you know? I worked with him many places. We played the Milwaukee Athletic Club!

Kliph Nesteroff: There is a forgotten 1949 ABC television show you worked on called A Couple of Joe's initially hosted by Big Joe Rosenfeld - who was replaced by Warren Hull. You were orchestra leader.

Milton Delugg: Yes, I had a lot of these five-a-week shows. Some with Jan Murray, some with Bill Cullen. All of those shows was part of luck. They wanted people that could lead an orchestra that wasn't twenty men.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were orchestra leader on The Herb Shriner Show - but also - one of the music directors was Raymond Scott.

Milton Delugg: Yes, that was before a show called Two For the Money and I was music director for Herb on that. Raymond Scott did Herb's radio show. He was a very talented man - both Raymond Scott and Herb Shriner.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you actually work with Raymond Scott?


Milton Delugg: I got to know him after a while. You know he wrote a lot of big instrumental hits... uhhhh...

Kliph Nesteroff: Powerhouse.

Milton Delugg: Powerhouse. Oh, yeah. The Toy Trumpet. A whole bunch of wonderful ones.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you become privy to his electronic experiments?

Milton Delugg: No, I didn't, but you know, at his house... I didn't work on any of that stuff, but he was very inventive. He was just wonderful with electronic sounds. He was married to a girl who sang on Your Hit Parade. Dorothy Collins. His brother was a fellow by the name of Mark Warnow who had the orchestra on Hit Parade. Mark Warnow was music director and Raymond's real name was Harry Warnow. I think so.


Kliph Nesteroff: We mentioned Herb Shriner. You had a lifelong association with comedy shows and comedians.

Milton Delugg: Yes and let me tell you, Pat Weaver was running NBC. When I went to New York with Abe Burrows and Frank Loesser, when it got to be ten or eleven o'clock at night - television just showed a test pattern. They'd play The Star Spangled Banner. I was always wishing I had written The Star Spangled Banner! It was on every night and that's how you went to sleep. Pat decided he wanted to put on entertainment late at night. Later that became The Tonight Show and he wanted to open the network [broadcast day] with The Today Show. I was around. We were friends. There was a comedian around named Jerry Lester and a very buxom lady named Dagmar. Oh boy, was she stacked! That's what the show was and there was no script. I brought Dagmar on and I said to Jerry, "Jerry, this is the new chick with the band. She's going to sing with us." He said, "How does she sound?" I said, "Who cares!" You blurt out things sometimes that are humorous. After that I was given lines and I became funny.




Kliph Nesteroff: The show we're talking about is Broadway Open House hosted by Jerry Lester. But before Lester was host it was supposed to be hosted by a character named Creesh...

Milton Delugg: It sure was and he became ill. We did a pilot and then he became ill and the poor guy died. Now the time was open because it was pre-sold. They had to get somebody to be the host and fortunately they picked Jerry Lester.

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember anything about Creesh? He was apparently a Texan piano player.

Milton Delugg: I don't remember a lot. Pat said, "I've got this fella and I want him to do it. You guys are going to be on every night." I said, "Glad to meet ya." You know, what are you going to say? We did the pilot and then the poor guy died and Pat was looking around for somebody.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have written down that three different people auditioned to replace Creesh including Jerry Lester. A gal named Jinx Falkenburg...

Milton Delugg: Yup!

Kliph Nesteroff: And Tex McCrary.

Milton Delugg: They both got daytime shows.

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, really?





Milton Delugg: Yup. They both were on five days a week. Pat put them both on television, he liked them. But he picked the right person for Broadway Open House. Then after the first year, Jerry and I and Pat had a meeting and he said, "I'd like to know that I can have you fellows signed up for something two, three, four times a week just so I know I've got you." Jerry said he'd like to be on like Jack Benny and be on just once a month. Pat gave him a shot at that and he didn't make it with that. He was much better off with the five nights.

Kliph Nesteroff: Once a month appearing on Broadway Open House or once a month on something else altogether?

Milton Delugg: It was a separate show.

Kliph Nesteroff: It was called The Jerry Lester Show or something?

Milton Delugg: Exactly. Like Jack Benny. Like The Jimmy Durante Show - a lot of comics had a once a month show.


Kliph Nesteroff: One of the reasons Jerry Lester was perfect on Broadway Open House was that he was a very quick improviser. If something fell apart live - he always had a quick save.

Milton Delugg: Yes, he did. There was no writing at the start - there was no nothing. And we really thought we were so funny, honest to God, and we were such a hit. Nobody stopped to think that the real reason we were was that we were the only thing on! That was it! If you didn't watch us - the Star Spangled Banner was on every other channel. You could watch NBC and get an hour of entertainment.

Kliph Nesteroff: The theme song for Broadway Open House was called The Bean Bag Song.

Milton Delugg: Right.

Kliph Nesteroff: Why was it called that?


Milton Delugg: Well, Jerry kept saying that he was a beanbag. Anybody that was cool or hip became a beanbag. So for Coral Records... they came to us and said they wanted us to record, to write the beanbag song. At the risk of sounding like a real ass... this song... "I'm a beanbag! I'm a beanbag! A flippity floppity beanbag. Flip. Flop. A skip and a hop. Whenever I'm with you." Now, that's not much of a song. But that was the song!

Kliph Nesteroff: When Jerry Lester comes out at the start of the show a chorus would sing, "And Jerry Lester is his name..." and Jerry would shout something like "I don't mean beanbag!" "and Jerry Lester is his name!"

Milton Delugg: That's right!

Kliph Nesteroff: I always wondered what that meant.




Milton Delugg: Well, that's what it was. Exactly. We used to start the show with that. "Here is the fella who is the star of the show - and Jerry Lester is his name! Duh-dah-dah beanbag! And Jerry Lester is his name!" And Jerry would come out.

Kliph Nesteroff: Broadway Open House often had stand-up comedians on as guests. I don't know if you would remember this because he was a total unknown at the time. But one of the stand-up comics that made their television debut on Broadway Open House was a young impressionist named Lenny Bruce.

Milton Delugg: I do remember. My golly. It was so early... I think it was 1949. Somewhere in there. A clarinetist - Woody Herman... Woody Herman used to come on when he was in town... he found him. Those were wonderful days for me, Kliph. And they were lucky.




Kliph Nesteroff: That show is a lot of fun to watch because it seems so free wheeling. Seemed like you guys were having a lot of fun.

Milton Delugg: We did. We did all of this stuff and there was no one [on the air] opposite us.

Kliph Nesteroff: Somebody else you had a long association with - even before Broadway Open House - was Morey Amsterdam.

Milton Delugg: Morey was, I must say, a dear friend to me. Morey used to call me three or four times a day - he just wanted to make sure the phone was working (laughs). You know, he was such a nice man. Gosh. Everyday at nine o'clock in the morning we were on the air with Morey on NBC.





Kliph Nesteroff: The Morey Amsterdam Show.

Milton Delugg: Yeah.

Kliph Nesteroff: With Art Carney?

Milton Delugg: No, that was the night time show. That was on Dumont. This Morey Amsterdam Show was on NBC. He was always working.

Kliph Nesteroff: What did his morning show consist of?

Milton Delugg: Morey, a six man orchestra and a girl singer by the name of Francie Lane. That was it! Then whoever was around and wanted to be on - Morey stuck 'em on.

Kliph Nesteroff: And Francie Lane was on Broadway Open House as well, right?

Milton Delugg: Yes. For a while she was a red headed lady. Very classy and very cute and she was sometimes the test pattern. If you could get that red hair to show against the clothes then your cameras were right.

Kliph Nesteroff: Morey Amsterdam said that it was hard to get a studio audience for a show that was broadcasting late at night, so they used to recruit people from the Greyhound station.

Milton Delugg: Yes! That's true. And it was even tougher to get them at nine o'clock in the morning! We'd be rehearsing at seven o'clock in the morning. Whatever writing was, which was very, very little, Morey did. A big, big talent, Kliph. He was just wonderful. By golly.



Kliph Nesteroff: What was Studio 6B in Rockefeller Center, where Broadway Open House was filmed, like?

Milton Delugg: It was a legit studio and we would do The Tonight Show from there twenty years later. I did The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson from 6B. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I heard Dave Garroway hosted Broadway Open House briefly, just after Jerry Lester left and just before Garroway got The Today Show.

Milton Delugg: Yes. They tried a few people. They tried Buddy Hackett. They tried Dave Garroway. They tried Jan Murray. They tried a lot of people.

Kliph Nesteroff: One of your most famous compositions, Orange Colored Sky, debuted on Broadway Open House.

Milton Delugg: Yes, it did. I wrote it and then I took it to Frank Loesser and he actually wrote the last sixteen bars. "An orange colored, purple stripe! Pretty green polka dot sky! Flash! Bam! Alakazam! And goodbye!" That's the best ending you could ever ask for in a song. "And goodbye!" It was terrific. You know? How about that for luck?




Kliph Nesteroff: What went on between Jerry Lester and Dagmar? There was always talk about professional jealousy and that it lead to the demise of Broadway Open House and, really, the demise of Jerry Lester's career as a whole.

Milton Delugg: There was an occasional conflict. It was Jerry's show and sometimes Dagmar was a little bit too strong and too popular.

Kliph Nesteroff: I heard that the breaking point for Jerry Lester was when Dagmar appeared on the cover of Life Magazine.

Milton Delugg: Yeah. Also, Kliph, she got her own show.

Kliph Nesteroff: Which you were also on.

Milton Delugg: Sure.

Kliph Nesteroff: Dagmar's Canteen. That show didn't last that long either. I've watched a couple and it's pretty creaky stuff.




Milton Delugg: Yeah. Shabby show. They just didn't make it.

Kliph Nesteroff: Seems like it was rushed to cash in on her popularity.

Milton Delugg: Yes, I think so. Her name was big enough and Pat Weaver liked her, but I don't think enough time was taken.

Kliph Nesteroff: She had a hard-nosed manager named Danny Hollywood. Do you remember that?

Milton Delugg: Sure, I do! He actually appeared in a couple of shows.

Kliph Nesteroff: When things were most tense between Dagmar and Jerry Lester, I heard there was a big court battle over the rights to the name "Dagmar."

Milton Delugg: I really don't know. That I don't know. She really just came in, like I said,  I forget who the producer was. He said, "You introduce Dagmar. She's going to be the singer." And of course, she couldn't sing at all.