Saturday, October 1, 2011

An Interview with Stan Irwin

Kliph Nesteroff: You come from a family of vaudevillians?

Stan Irwin: No, well, my uncle was. My uncle Paul Allen and his wife were one of the first husband - wife vaudeville teams. They were on radio - I forget the name of the program. Paul Allen was the vaudevillian. Edgar [Stan's father] was a major booking agent on Broadway. What was that main vaudeville theater that everyone wanted to play on Broadway?

Kliph Nesteroff: The Strand...

Stan Irwin: No...

Kliph Nesteroff: The Palace...

Stan Irwin: The Palace! He booked The Palace and then of course there was The Strand, The Capitol, Radio City and all of that. Edgar, he was on Broadway when he died and had a stroke on the street.

Kliph Nesteroff: I found a review of your stand-up act  from April 24, 1946. You were playing The Village Corners in New York City.

Stan Irwin: That's right.

Kliph Nesteroff: Here is the review:

Stan Irwin: Yes, that was the early time of my career. That opening and closing of my hand was, I'm sure, because of nerves. Now unfortunately all the accents [and dialects] and characters that I did, you can't do today. Not only that, but people have outgrown it. In other words, the Catskill Yiddish accent doesn't reach too many people today. It's not known. The new generations don't know of that accent.

Kliph Nesteroff: Were you hanging out at some of the known comedian hangout spots in Manhattan? Places like Hanson's Drugstore or...

Stan Irwin: Yes! That's the one. Hanson's was like a club (laughs). Mr. Hanson himself was generous. He quite often gave you food and carried a bill, which he never collected on. There were always three or four comics around the table swapping jokes or having fun. It was the middle class Friar's Club.

Kliph Nesteroff: And there was a mutual hangout next door called The B-G Coffee Shop.

Stan Irwin: Yup, I didn't hang out there much because I'm not a coffee drinker. Hanson's was the main hangout.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about some of your contemporaries that were known for hanging out on the same corner. Gene Baylos.

Stan Irwin: Yes, Gene Baylos lived in the same neighborhood that I lived in; Washington Heights. Gene was very heavy into his nineties when he passed away - he was almost a hundred. Gene Baylos would take anything that was not secured. Salt and pepper shakers... albums... when I was producing The Tonight Show [in New York] he would come in and ask for all the albums we weren't using and do some shtick. Gene was very funny. Gene was a heavy loser in Vegas. He once jumped on the table and yelled, "I bet my life on the heartache!"

Kliph Nesteroff: How about a notable creature of the Hanson's Drugstore set - Joe Ancis. Did you know Joe?

Stan Irwin: He was mainly a writer of gags who sold much material to the guys that hung out at Hanson's. He wasn't a major performer. He was mainly a gag writer.

Kliph Nesteroff: And Jack Roy.

Stan Irwin: Jack Roy became Rodney Dangerfield and in those days Jack was very close to Joe. Jack would have a file of jokes in the trunk of his car and he would sell them for five dollars a piece.

Kliph Nesteroff: I heard that he rented his act out to you one summer when you were doing the Catskills.

Stan Irwin: That is true. Jack got married and went into building siding and air conditioning and I said, "Your act fits mine. I'll rent it from you for X amount of dollars per week and put it with mine. After the summer, I won't use it anymore and you can have it back. But since you're not using it..." There were certain aspects of his performance that matched my type of delivery.

Kliph Nesteroff: Was the style of Jack Roy drastically different from the Rodney Dangerfield we all became familiar with?

Stan Irwin: Well, he would never call attention to his mannerisms, eyes or his tie. Many years later I was the producer for the Bossier Hotel in Bossier City, Louisiana. I brought in Rodney who [had reached his popularity], and he said to me, "I just can't believe that the college kids love me the way they do."

Kliph Nesteroff: March 1948, you were playing Billy Gray's Band Box. You were on the bill with Joe E. Ross.

Stan Irwin: Joe E. Ross, yeah. Joe E. Ross was a former burlesque comic. Joe E. Ross, if you put him in a brand new tuxedo, shirt, shoes, tie, haircut - would still look sloppy. Joe E. Ross had a wonderful sense of humor and a wonderful voice to match. The burlesque background, of course, gave him a certain timing that other comics didn't have.

Kliph Nesteroff: He was briefly in a comedy team with a guy named Dave Starr.

Stan Irwin: Yeah, I have no relationship with that as I only knew Joe E. as a single. Joe E. Ross was sitting at the bar at a place I was playing in Florida. He was talking to this girl. He said to me, "I gotta tell ya! She was strange! We went up to the room and suddenly she said, 'How old are you?' I said, 'I'm thirty-five!' Then her eyes became hot! And her hands became claws! And we made love! Ten minutes later she said, 'Are you okay?' I said, 'Yeah.' Then her eyes became hot! And her hands became claws! And we made love! Then ten minutes later! I said, 'Wait a minute! I'm not thirty-five! I'm thirty-eight!"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) What was Billy Gray's Band Box like as a venue?

Stan Irwin: Billy Gray's Band Box was like all of the comedy clubs of today put together. Billy Gray was always the star of his show. He would have two comics, a boy singer and a girl singer on the bill. When he was on vacation he would have three comics on his show. Sol Gold was his partner and was the administrative end of that relationship with Billy as the top comic. My best [and most famous] ad-lib was against Billy Gray. When I came in, Billy Gray was not emceeing the show. One night he used a falsetto voice with a Jewish accent. I hear this voice in the crowd saying, as I'm veering off script, "Verk! Verk for the people!" This was Billy Gray. 

I'd never seen him. This was my first time on the West Coast. I began ad-libbing within what was a standard routine [in which Billy Gray would play a man heckling the comic]. "Vere's dee lady's vroom?" "If you go to the back of the room you can't miss it!" "I don't vant to miss it, I vant to make it!" Well, that was a standard routine, which I didn't know. Billy, who was quite short, slightly bald, came up to the stage and the first thing he does is rub my nose. He looks at the audience, "It's a boyyyyyyyy...." So, I'm ad-libbing with him again [going back and forth]. Finally he says, "Don't you know it's very danger-vess to be funnier than the boss?" This is my best ad-lib. I said, "It might be dangerous, but it's not difficult."

Kliph Nesteroff: Right. That became a famous line used by others later on. You performed with a man that most know as a TV writer, but who started out as a comic - Bernie West.

Stan Irwin:  Bernie West was playing in New York at the Cafe Society when I was at the Village Vanguard and we got to know each other. He and Mickey Ross became the writing team of television. He passed away a couple years ago and unfortunately had Alzheimer's. Once he and Mickey got together and started to do TV they didn't do anymore live performance.

Kliph Nesteroff: You played Jackie Heller's Carousel a bunch of times, which was the big supperclub in Pittsburgh.

Stan Irwin: Jackie, yeah. That was an excellent room for young comedians to grow up in. Jackie himself was an excellent entertainer, mostly a vocalist. He helped the comics.

Kliph Nesteroff: I'm going to throw some names at you and maybe you can tell me a bit about each of these comedians - many who are forgotten today. Lenny Kent.

Stan Irwin: Lenny Kent was very New York. He and Jackie Miles were the big New York comedians. Lenny Kent never matched the success of Jackie Miles. Had he concentrated more on being Lenny Kent rather than worrying about Jackie Miles' success, he himself would have been much more successful. He ended up at Caesar's Palace as a social director.

Kliph Nesteroff: And the fame of Jackie Miles really tapered off in later years.

Stan Irwin: Jackie Miles was the epitome of a New York nightclub comedian, but he was a heavy drinker and he just passed away from that.

Kliph Nesteroff: He was a big drinking pal of Joe E. Lewis.

Stan Irwin: Yes, well, anybody that drank at that time was drinking buddies with him! They'd hang out at the place that Jackie Gleason hung out.

Kliph Nesteroff: Toots Shor's. How about BS Pully...

Stan Irwin: BS Pully had a little guy that he used as a foil named Gump. BS Pully was so far ahead that it's unusual he didn't spend more time in jail than in nightclubs. One very raucous thing he would do... he would come out with a cigar box at his crotch, approach a table, and in the box was his penis. He would open the box and say, "Hey lady, are you a smoker?"

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, God.

Stan Irwin: He was loved by Hollywood producers. They found him to be very humorous. Sort of a jester to their social community. After a while he didn't have to do too many stand-up gigs because they took care of him and then he just... disappeared.

Kliph Nesteroff: May 1948 and February 1949 you were playing The Silver Frolics in Chicago.

Stan Irwin: Yes! That again was a good middle class comedy club. Good audience, small, compact, comfortable room. Chicago was a main ground for comics and had a lot of hotel shows. It was second only to New York.

Kliph Nesteroff: How did you make your way to [the very early Las Vegas venue] Club Bingo and become the house comic there?

Stan Irwin: When I was playing at Billy Gray's Band Box, some vocal group got booked and said I should be playing the club in Las Vegas. I said, "Where is Las Vegas?" There is a Las Vegas, New Mexico and a Las Vegas, Nevada. At that time most mail that was addressed to Las Vegas ended up in New Mexico instead of Nevada! That's how [insignificant] Las Vegas, Nevada was. The vocal group brought in a guy named Herb MacDonald who caught my act and booked me into the Club Bingo. When I came into Club Bingo he left to join the El Rancho to be their entertainment director. I was booked at the Bingo for eleven days and I stayed eight months. I took over the room and became the entertainment director. In those days Las Vegas was mainly World War Two money people. They came and enjoyed themselves.

Kliph Nesteroff: Other than yourself and Joe E. Lewis - who would have been the mainstay comedians in Las Vegas during the late nineteen forties?

Stan Irwin: Danny Thomas. Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. One that people don't remember named Harvey Stone.

Kliph Nesteroff: The nose job.

Stan Irwin: Yup. Unfortunately. Harvey was one of the comics who came out of Chicago. At that time the thought of becoming a motion picture personality was big in the mind of those who had any kind of success in comedy. Unlike Danny Thomas he had his nose done and very bad. 

He had his nose job corrected and that made it even worse. It put him in a state of depression where he considered suicide and barely got work as a stand-up comedian. He was very famous for his army routine. He could have been at the level of a Danny Thomas had he not... ruined his face. 

Kliph Nesteroff: So then you went on to work for the Sahara Hotel...

Stan Irwin: Well, the Club Bingo became the Sahara. In those years, after the war, in order to get steel you could only do so if you were enlarging an already existing building. The Bingo was the existing building that was enlarged into the Sahara, which of course usurped the Bingo. The Sands was LaRue's Restaurant. They enlarged it into The Sands... and of course you couldn't find LaRue's Restaurant anymore. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I understand Wally Cox was the first big television star to be booked into Las Vegas in the early fifties - and it was a huge bomb.

Stan Irwin: Okay. Wally Cox was booked into The Dunes and he was very big on television. Instead of coming in as the television character he came in as Wally Cox and he didn't mean anything to the audience. He didn't want to leave the gig because he wanted the money. 

Jack Melvin, a publicist in Vegas, knew I used to be a stand-up comedian before I became the Sahara entertainment director. He suggested I fill in for a few days. The headline said, "Assemblyman," because I was an Assemblyman in Nevada, "Assemblyman Replaces Comedian." I worked three nights and then they brought Wally Cox back in and he ran out his contract. 

Kliph Nesteroff: The first and last time Wally Cox ever did Vegas.

Stan Irwin: Yup.

Kliph Nesteroff: You ended up being responsible for some of the biggest and most famous bookings in the history of Las Vegas. Marlene Dietrich was one.

Stan Irwin: In those days Jack Entratter was the head man of The Sands Hotel. Not only as president, but also as entertainment director. For me to compete with Jack was ludicrous. I was a comedian and he had been the main man at The Copa. So, I had to create new personalities. Recognizing the competition, I suggested to my boss Milton Prell that we go to Florida and talk to a man named Bill Miller. He had had The Riviera in New Jersey, so I felt we could use him to try and equal Jack Entratter's contacts and ability. He brought in Marlene Dietrich the first time with what was known as The Peek-A-Boo Dress. It was a dress with skin-colored lining with rhinestones around the neck, across the breasts and over the crotch so that it looked as if she was nude. 

I had become assistant to Bill as an entertainment director and then Bill left us and I became entertainment director. Marlene felt she belonged at The Sands with the [big time] people that played The Sands. Not the Rat Pack, as that didn't exist yet. She went to The Sands. I noticed in between shows she was in our Sahara Hotel coffee shop. She said, "They don't treat me over there the way you treated me." I brought her back to the Sahara. She had done some singing in the past, but she had not been a nightclub performer. Bill Miller contacted her the first time and surrounded her with the proper people - light man, costume designers, producers and came in with a big production show. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Around this time you and Larry Sloan put together a television show called Fabulous Las Vegas.

Stan Irwin: Yes. At that time The Riviera was closed and we used that as our studio. I bought the title from Jack Cortez's magazine for ten dollars. We put on two or three major shows with all the stars and did it from The Riviera. We used the pool as a backdrop. At that time you couldn't shoot indoors because a lot of people didn't want their faces to be seen because they were with the Mob or they weren't with their spouses... so you couldn't shoot indoors in a regular casino! It was microwaved at that time and I think our third show was blown off the air. It was on CBS. There was a storm and that ended that. CBS made us an offer to do the show [on a regular basis] and we asked for eighty-thousand a show. They said that was ridiculous and that was that.

Kliph Nesteroff: On the first episode you had Abbott and Costello as guests.

Stan Irwin: I brought them into The Sahara. And they were not friends. In the earlier days Costello was the drinker and the gambler. Later on Abbott became the drinker and the gambler and couldn't remember his lines. It was a conflict within their own performance and presentation. They didn't mix and mingle other than when they were together on stage and Abbott's timing was off

Kliph Nesteroff: It has been said that you were the first person to put Louis Prima and Keely Smith in the lounge.

Stan Irwin: Well... that was Bill Miller again. They were performing at the El Rancho and not doing well. So, Bill approached Beldon Katleman and offered to take over their contract and put them in the Casbar Lounge, which I named. We bought Louis a tuxedo for the first time. Their success was eminent. Don Rickles was mine. I saw him at Slate Brothers [in Los Angeles] two or three times and brought him into Vegas. At that time we had an El Dorado theme in the lounge and everybody that worked there dressed western and the men grew beards. So, Don came in at that particular moment and did his act, but El Dorado ended that week and everyone changed and shaved and he couldn't recognize who he spoke to. Don's success was predictable.

Kliph Nesteroff: On the same note - Jack E. Leonard...

Stan Irwin: Jack E. Leonard said that Don Rickles stole his act. Jack E. truly believed that. He had a high ego and that affected his career to the negative. He thought he deserved more than he received, but he didn't work on his act that much. There were many times on the Carson show that Johnny felt he came unprepared and Johnny later stopped us from booking Jack E.

Kliph Nesteroff: And Jack Carter?

Stan Irwin: Carter was more concerned about other people than his own great ability. He affected his career with conflicts with [club] owners. He didn't acquire as large of a following [as some of his contemporaries] and he was his own worst enemy.

Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned Bill Miller a couple of times. What was he like?

Stan Irwin: Bill was very much a show business guy. A former tap dancer, owned nightclubs, booked the biggest of people, bought the Riviera in New Jersey. Anybody from Sinatra on down performed for Bill Miller. He was affable, a wonderful greeter, a wonderful host and well-liked by all performers.

Kliph Nesteroff: Buddy Hackett was a Vegas mainstay and he played The Sahara with The Mills Brothers. What do you remember about Buddy?

Stan Irwin: My experiences with Buddy - we were both comics and knew each other from the mountains. Simplest contract I ever made was with Buddy Hackett. I said, "Buddy, I'd like to bring you into the Sahara." His agent was a Lincoln car dealer and I said, "Okay, I'll go talk to him." He said, "Nah, you can just talk to me."

Kliph Nesteroff: You brought Judy Garland to Las Vegas as well.

Stan Irwin: Judy Garland I brought in and I knew she wouldn't be able to do fifteen shows a week. So, during the cocktail hour - I booked her for two in the morning. One show. And you couldn't get in. Nothing else was going on at that time of night at that point. Only lounges. 

Kliph Nesteroff: That turned out to be was a revolutionary move.

Stan Irwin: Totally.

Kliph Nesteroff: Mae West played The Sahara several times during your reign.

Stan Irwin: Bill Miller booked her the first time and then I kept bringing her in after that. Mae West would take a limo from the high rise building to the stagedoor. I would invite artists to enjoy lounge shows like Shecky Greene or The Silver Slipper after their performance. I asked Mae if she would like to come with me after one of her shows, but she said, "If [the people of Vegas] wanna see Mae West - let 'em pay to get in."

Kliph Nesteroff: It was reported that Mary Kaye, Connie Francis, Teresa Brewer, Ann-Margaret and Judy Garland were all helped by you through hypnosis...

Stan Irwin: When I was at NYU I took a course in hypnosis and became a lay-hypnotist. In Vegas there was a thing we called Vegas Throat - the adverse combination of air conditioning and hot weather. I was able to take them all through hypnosis, "When you're on stage you'll perform as if nothing is bothering you..." et cetera. They went out and performed well. With Judy Garland she was booked in San Francisco at some theater in the round. I kept her on what we call post-hypnotic suggestion. She never failed to do a show as long as I was able to make contact with her. I never did it as a business and I never charged, but I helped people with pregnancies and teeth problems and anything that could service them. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You brought Vaughn Meader to Las Vegas.

Stan Irwin: Vaughn Meader I brought into The Sahara at the height of his album The First Family. Vaughn Meader always wanted to be a country singer and pianist. Unfortunately, after he did The First Family presentation, we had to roll out a piano and he would then sing and stuff like that, which took the whole evening down. Years later I tried to persuade him to come in and do anniversary shows of The First Family, which he didn't do. Vaughn was on drugs.

Kliph Nesteroff: You eventually became Pearl Bailey's manager and represented her for a couple of decades, right?

Stan Irwin: Yes, when I left the Sahara after Del Webb took over, Pearl was playing at The Flamingo. I went to see her and went backstage to congratulate her on her act... and left as her manager (laughs). Lena Horne and Pearl Bailey ended the segregation of Las Vegas. Lena at The Sands and Pearl at The Flamingo - and then it became general. "We won't perform unless this [racist structure is dismantled]."

Kliph Nesteroff: You eventually became producer of The Tonight Show.

Stan Irwin: I was in Los Angeles surveying the area for talent. The phone rang and it was Carson inviting me to produce The Tonight Show. I had been booking Carson in concerts. I came in and was producing and still booking his live appearances.  I made certain administrative changes. It was a short tenure as some said there was conflict between my being his concert manager and producer of the show.

Kliph Nesteroff: Lastly, you did the voice of Lou Costello in Hanna-Barbera's Abbott and Costello cartoon - and Bud Abbott did the voice of Bud Abbott. How did that come to be and what do you remember about that?

Stan Irwin: A friend of mine brought the idea up and he was going to produce it. He knew that I could do [the voice of] Costello and brought me along. I would fly in from Vegas, drive and pick up Bud Abbott, go to the recording studio, and drive him back to his house and fly back to Vegas. Bud lisped a lot. A lot. We had to do a lot of retakes. He lived in a house that was smaller than his former bar. He was on a downward slope and the end was near. He needed the cartoon gig and they tolerated him because it was him even though it was retake after retake after retake.

Friday, September 30, 2011

An Interview with Lou Alexander - Part One

Kliph Nesteroff: I was just looking at a club listing for JoJo Gostel.

Lou Alexander: Oh my God, that was my father. He was a burlesque comedian and he was a Catskill Mountain comedian. He used to put me in shows when I was ten or eleven years old and have me do sketches with him. That's interesting that you looked that up and found it!

Kliph Nesteroff: He was playing in Manhattan at a place called The Swing Club.

Lou Alexander: The Swing Club, yes. He did work that place. I remember as a kid hearing the name. I didn't know... my God, where did you find that? That's amazing.

Kliph Nesteroff: Billboard used to have vaudeville listings...

Lou Alexander: Is that right? Wow. Yeah, I remember he also worked a club for many, many years with Joey Bishop before Joey ever made it. They were working in Chicago. I think it was called The Nut Club. I remember when I did Joey's show, when I became older, and was friends with Joey. My father had passed away by that time. He told me when they were both struggling, they worked this place called The Nut Club. Of course Joey made it later on... but that is interesting that you found that.

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember anything about your father's act?

Lou Alexander: I was crazy about my father. He was great fun. I lost him at a young age. He died at fifty-eight. He actually died before I was doing the big stuff. I was working the Playboy clubs when he was alive, but I didn't really hit television or get into the Copa and all the big clubs until he was already passed away. He never really saw me [achieve that] and I always felt lousy that he wasn't able to share a little bit of that with me ... You're in Vancouver? They had a very popular club there - I think I worked it... was it called The Cave?

Kliph Nesteroff: That's right.

Lou Alexander: Yes, that was a very popular place. I think I worked it once, but I'm not one hundred percent sure about that one. I do remember working in Canada. I remember working in Montreal at the El Morocco. That was a very popular place. Canada was fun.

Kliph Nesteroff: It seems like everyone I have talked to played The Cave. If not The Cave then they usually played one of its competitors. Right by The Cave was a competing supperclub called Isy's, which was run by the guy who used to book the acts at The Cave.

Lou Alexander: Oh! Well, I think I know who that is. There was a guy that - I don't know if he did it from Canada or if he did it from here, but he used to send a lot of comedians there. Yesterday there was an article here about an old friend of mine - a guy named Jack Carter.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, in the LA Times. I read that.

Lou Alexander: That's right and he said that he worked The Cave and that he worked there very often. That's why The Cave came to mind today.

Kliph Nesteroff: He referred to himself in the article as The King of Vancouver.

Lou Alexander: Yeah, well he was a great comedian. A great comic.

Kliph Nesteroff: I talk to Jack all the time. I love his stories. Everybody tells me I have to take them with a grain of salt.

Lou Alexander: (laughs) Yes, I would think that's true, but he's got a helluva background.

Kliph Nesteroff: Anyway, getting to your career... you started out in the comedy world doing a double. You were in a comedy team with Howard Storm.

Lou Alexander: Yes, and he became a big director. He did all the shows. He became a very popular television director; Mork and Mindy, Laverne and Shirley, Taxi. Howard is still my best friend today. We met when we were fourteen years old. His father was a burlesque comedian and so was mine. My father got him some job in Florida in a real dump. Howard and I were living in a lousy area near where they were working. Howard, when we were fourteen, said to me, "Do you wanna do an act?" I said, "Don't you think we should get through high school first? What do you mean do an act? We're fourteen years old!" 

We ended up doing an act when we were eighteen. We were [billed as] Storm and Gale. We worked the strip joints around the country until I was drafted into the Marines. You don't hear that very often, but in the Korean War they were trying to get another hundred thousand men. Guys weren't joining that quickly and they drafted every fifth guy that was standing in line to go into the Army into the Marines. I was one of the fifth guys. I was drafted, I was sent to Paris Island and I was in the Marines. That is why Howard and I broke up. I remember they said, "We want to do a show. It's the first time. Since we're now drafting people, we're getting a lot of talent." The Marine Core had never had a big show like the Army, which had This is the Army. The Navy had big show called Tars and Spars, which Sid Caesar was in. Almost every branch of the service had a show that became very, very popular. They never had one in the Marines, so they had one when I went in and I was the lead in the show. It was called Saddle Up. They thought they were going to take this show to Broadway and they thought [Ed] Sullivan was going to put it on. They were going to bring it to New York and then they broke it up because the War got a little worse. They sent everybody to Korea and that was the end of it. I thought it was going to be a big break for me because I was the lead in the show. Saddle Up.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have an advertisement here from July, 1951 - The Paddock Club.

Lou Alexander: Yeah, that was a big club on Miami Beach.

Kliph Nesteroff: Storm and Gale. Miami's Answer to Martin and Lewis. With Lorna Rhodes, The Revealing Redhead. Dusty DeLure, The Body Beautiful...

Lou Alexander: (laughs)

Kliph Nesteroff: The Venus, Dance of the Veils. Six foot Four of Blonde Loveliness. Patsy Reid, Blonde, Exciting, Exotic...

Lou Alexander: (laughs) I remember them all, too!

Kliph Nesteroff: And Evelyn Anne, Dynamic Songstress. Shows at 11, 1:30 and 3:30 - dancing to Bob Morris' Orchestra.

Lou Alexander: Oh, that is interesting. That is interesting. Well, let me tell you. The Paddock Club was one of the better places that Howard and I worked. Remember we were only nineteen - twenty years old at the time. We were the youngest comedy team in show business. We didn't start at the top, of course. We only worked toilets. When we got to Miami Beach and went into The Paddock Club, we were a very big hit there. It was the number one strip club in Miami Beach and it was one of the classiest strip clubs in Miami Beach. 

Howard and I were doing all the burlesque scenes and no one could understand how these kids could know all the classic burlesque scenes that we would be doing. All the comedians used to come in and see us and this is when they were big. Red Buttons used to come and see us. Joey Bishop came to see us. There was a comic by the name of Jackie Miles who used to come and see us. There was a guy by the name of Lenny Kent who was pretty popular at that time. They all came in and said, "Where the hell did you kids learn this?" And they became fans of ours. They would all come in and say, "You kids are amazing!" This made us feel great because they were stars in our eyes. And they were stars at the time. The Paddock Club is one place I will never forget. In fact, I was going with a girl there. A gorgeous girl! Her name was Laura Darnay. I was nineteen and she was probably twenty-five at that point. It's funny. You're helping bring back memories to me that I haven't thought of in forty years (laughs)!

Kliph Nesteroff: I see Lenny Kent's name everywhere when looking at items from that era of Miami Beach. What was he like?

Lou Alexander: He was funny. First of all, he was a very hip comedian. Very hip and wild. Almost like a Lenny Bruce, but not quite. Nobody was quite like Lenny Bruce. I do remember walking down the street one day and Lenny Kent was an older guy by now and he had no career. He was walking down the street with a much older woman, about twenty years older. She doesn't look very good and Lenny was on the balls of his ass at the time. As I walked by I said, "Hello, Lenny! How are ya?" He said, "Hey, Lou! I gotta eat!" He was talking about the girl he was with (laughs)! He said this right in front of her! Well, I almost fell on the floor. There's another thing that he did... and I was there. He was a gambler. He lost all his money in gambling. He was playing craps in Vegas. He was doing half-way decent in his career at that point. Not that great, but okay - working Vegas. He was at the crap table and a little old lady... it always goes back to a little old lady with this guy!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: A little old lady is rolling the dice. She must have kept the dice for forty-five minutes, which we know is amazing. Okay? She is hitting number after number after number and he's betting on her. He keeps on betting on her. He's making tons of money! She's making all the passes! The fives! The nines! The fours! The tens! He must have chips in front of him that you can't believe. He says, "Oh, this girl is never gonna stop! She's unbelievable!" Meanwhile, while she's doing this he's talking to her like this, "Oh, honey, I love ya! You're the greatest! I'm gonna take you to dinner! I'm gonna buy you a house! Come on, hit another! Oh! You're so beautiful! You're unbelievable! I can't believe how sweet and gorgeous you are! I'm gonna take you out! I'm gonna buy you a boat!" Now he takes all of his money - all of it - and she hits a three. A two and a one. He lost all his money. The second that happened he yells, "AHHHH, YOU FUCKING CUNT!!!"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: (laughs) Well, I fell on the floor. What are you gonna do when you see things like this? This is like watching Candid Camera. Whenever you see something like this - a real thing - not planned... he yells, "You fucking cunt!" She must have been about eighty years old. I just fell on the ground! Lenny was a funny guy.

Kliph Nesteroff: I saw his act once...

Lou Alexander: You did see his act!? Really?

Kliph Nesteroff: Not live, but it was on a very, very early episode of Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town... it was from 1949... and Lenny Kent bombs. Big time.

Lou Alexander: That sounds right. I don't think he was for television. He was only for hip clubs. He was never right for television. It's interesting about television and comedians when you give it a thought. To me there was nobody funnier in a lounge or in Vegas than Shecky Greene. Nobody. There was never a comedian that could work off the top of his head like he did. He was an animal onstage. 

He was absolutely brilliant. I remember people like Bob Hope and George Burns would come in and say to him, "We could never do what you do. You're just brilliant." And he was! No doubt about it. And yet, when he went on television for all those years... it never really worked. He had to be a freeform comic. If he couldn't work freeform, it didn't work. On television they gave him seven minutes... and that wasn't his thing.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, I had heard a statement once, "The line on Shecky Greene was that he needs twenty minutes just to warm-up."

Lou Alexander: That's true. Yes, he was a guy that had to have the freeform and he would do an hour and a half or two hours in the lounge and there was never ever anybody better. He and Don Rickles are the two funniest human beings I have ever seen in a lounge. I used to go to the lounge every night because I was working Vegas, opening up for all the stars. I was their opening act. Late at night we'd always go see Shecky and Don - and you couldn't see [any act that was] better.

Kliph Nesteroff: I also find Shecky Greene hysterical, but currently he's mad at me.

Lou Alexander: Yes, well, Shecky can get mad at people very easily. It can happen.

Kliph Nesteroff: I wrote a big piece about Shecky Greene. I'm fairly certain it's the most elaborate thing ever written about Shecky Greene. It basically lays it out just as you're saying. That there was nobody better in a nightclub...

Lou Alexander: Nobody.

Kliph Nesteroff: And he never connected on TV...

Lou Alexander: That's true, that's true. You hit it right on the nose.

Kliph Nesteroff: I spoke with him on the phone a few times, just as you and I are talking today, and he gave me great stories and anecdotes and so on. Anyway, I crafted this article and then a few weeks later there was a message on my voicemail from him.

Lou Alexander: And he's upset.

Kliph Nesteroff: "(In Shecky voice) Mister Nesteroff? This is Shecky Greene. Someone sent me this article you wrote... I just couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it. Where the hell did you come up with this shit?"

Lou Alexander: (laughs)

Kliph Nesteroff: "Did I give you this shit? I don't think so. Where'd you get this story about Buddy Hackett?"

Lou Alexander: (laughs)

Kliph Nesteroff: "I mean, I just could not believe it. I am very upset. I am very upset. Can you call me? I could not possibly be more upset."

Lou Alexander: (laughs) Yeah, that sounds like Shecky! Oh, yeah (laughs). He's Jekyll and Hyde. That's true, that's true, but I love him. He's a great comedian and a nice guy. We had dinner together about four weeks ago. We always make each other laugh. My favorite Shecky Greene story is "Frank Sinatra saved my life once." You must know this story. He says, "Four hoods were beating me up. Frank said, 'That's enough, fellas."

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, a classic joke.

Lou Alexander: It is. It really is.

Kliph Nesteroff: Just wanted to go back to Lenny Kent for a moment.

Lou Alexander: Yes, sure.

Kliph Nesteorff: One place he was always performing was called The Blue Sails Room.

Lou Alexander: I do remember The Blue Sails... this is a little before my time, just a little before 1950, right? I just came on the scene around 1948-49. Those clubs were very popular in Florida at that time. I remember there was another... something Gale's club in Florida. Can't think of his name, he was very popular. A comedian.

Kliph Nesteroff: Alan Gale.

Lou Alexander: Alan Gale, right. That was a popular place. And way before my time there were popular [Miami] places like The Copa City.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Place Pigalle?

Lou Alexander: Place Pigalle I remember. I'll tell you who used to work there. One of the funniest guys in the world. BS Pully (laughs). You know who BS Pully is?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes.

Lou Alexander: They called him Bullshit Pully, of course. He used to work there and the kinds of things he would do were hysterical. There was nobody wilder than BS Pully. He was wilder than Lenny Bruce. He was dirtier, wilder and he would say anything onstage. As a joke he used to walk around with a cigar box down by his crotch. He'd have his dick in the cigar box. He'd say, "Would you like a cigar?" And his dick would be in there with a bunch of cigars!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) Wow.

Lou Alexander: (laughs) Oh, he was wild. He finally made it with Guys n' Dolls, but he was hysterical. When I was a kid, man, anything he did - I would fall on the floor.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was HS Gump like?

Lou Alexander: I didn't know him too much. Horseshit Gump. He was a short guy that played straight for him. Then they said, "We're going to get a third guy. MS Martin. Moreshit Martin." (laughs) I just remember this stuff from when I was a kid. Boy, you're bringing back memories.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about the Five O'Clock Club?

Lou Alexander: Oh, that was big. I used to go there all the time. That was a big deal to go to. Martha Raye's Five O'Clock Club. Something that happened to Howard and I when we were at The Paddock Club... We saw Red Buttons ... Red Buttons and I, in the last ten years of his life, became very, very close. I would take him everywhere because he could no longer drive. He became like my new father. But here is how we met. Howard and I were working The Paddock Club. Here we are, two kids making a little bit of a name for ourselves, working burlesque. We said, "Let's go and see Red Buttons." So we went to see Red Buttons and he doesn't know us. We didn't know that when you went to see a star like that perform that there was a cover and a minimum. 

We go there and before you know it we [get slapped with] a cover and a minimum. I looked at Howard and said, "We don't have the money! We don't have the money to pay this cheque! What the hell are we gonna do?" I thought, "Let's go backstage and see Mr. Buttons." Howard was scared to death. "What the hell are we gonna do? Tell him we're broke?" "We'll tell him we're working down the street, which we are. We're not lying to him. We'll say we'll come back in two days and pay the money if he can pay the bill." So we went to him, told him the story, he laughed and paid the bill. He said to somebody as we left, "I'll never see those two kids again." I came back two days later, paid him, and we were friends ever since that day. That's how we met. And we used to go see Gene Baylos over there all the time too. Remember Gene Baylos?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, what was Gene Baylos like?

Lou Alexander: He was hysterical. He was one of the funniest men, offstage, in the world. Everyone stole from Gene Baylos because he was so brilliant. He never really made it big, but offstage he used to do things... he did a hundred things - like this. He would come into the Stage Delicatessen. We all hung around the Stage, all the comedians, after our shows in the Catskill Mountains, and the Copa and The Latin Quarter, we'd all meet at the Stage Delicatessen in New York and sit at tables and tell stories. Comedians are not like singers. Comedians hung around. You know that. Singers don't spend five minutes with each other. Novelty acts probably don't either. Comedians - it was a little different. 

Comedians liked each other and hung out with each other. It doesn't mean we weren't jealous of each other, but we actually did like each other. So, we all hung around the Stage Delicatessen, have a great time, and do crazy things. I was like a hound looking for women those days. I was looking to get a date every hour of every day in those days. So if a good looking woman came into the Stage Delicatessen and I was sitting with the comedians I would say, "I've gotta find a way to get to that girl! She's sitting by herself. So, I called the waiter over one night. The guys were breaking up when I did this. I said to the waiter, "You see that girl sitting over there? I don't want you to send her a drink. I want you to send her a hot chicken soup, on me. Just send over a chicken soup." So the girl is sitting over there by herself, eating, and a hot chicken soup is put in front of her. She says, "I'm sorry, but I didn't order this. Where the hell did this come from?" "It's from the gentleman sitting over there." Well, half the girls got insulted and half thought it was the funniest thing in the world and they would come over and say hello to me (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: That was my introduction! Sending chicken soup to girls! Not a drink, but good Jewish chicken soup!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: (laughs) The guys would break up every time I did that. But I'll tell you what Gene Baylos did that broke us up. He's standing there one night at our table and there were probably about seven of us. I betcha it was probably Norm Crosby, Pat Cooper, myself, Corbett Monica, Pat Henry, you know all of us. We all started around the same time and Gene Baylos comes up to the table. He says, "Hey, things are sure going great for me. I just got myself a new seven-year movie deal and three years on a sitcom - play or pay - good money..." He names about fifty things that are great and as he's telling us that, he's taking the chicken off our table and he's putting it in his pockets! That's the kind of stuff he would do that had us fall on the floor. He'd take the sandwich and put it in his pocket. Grabs the salt shaker, puts it in his pocket. He says, "Things couldn't be better!" Anyway, I used to fall on the ground from Gene Baylos.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have heard he hated Jerry Lewis.

Lou Alexander: Yes, because Jerry stole a lot of his shtick. It's true. He did take a lot of stuff from him. I'm sure Jerry would even probably admit that. He took a lot of stuff. It doesn't mean that Jerry Lewis wasn't brilliant because he was brilliant. There's no doubt about it. When I was a kid my idol was Jerry Lewis. I was kind of a clown at that time. Always falling into walls, falling off the stage and doing a lot of physical comedy. To me he was the greatest. I never met Jerry Lewis and he was always my idol as a kid. When you're eighteen or nineteen years old and you saw Dean and Jerry - how could they not be the idols of any comedian in the world? They were brilliant! There was nobody like them! 

We used to see them at the Copa. I was in awe of them, but never met them. When I got popular and was working a lot of clubs in Los Angeles, there were popular clubs like The Crescendo, The Interlude, Slate Brothers, Coconut Grove, and I was working them all and making a bit of a name for myself. I was starting to do television. One day, some woman I knew that was writing a column out here took a liking to me. She said, "You know, one of my best friend's is Jerry Lewis' wife Patti. How would you like to go to dinner with me at his house?" Now, even though I was doing well and wasn't in awe of him like I was as a kid, I still loved Jerry Lewis. I went to his house and it was an interesting night. I was opening at The Copacabana two weeks later and I was with Tony Martin. I told him I was opening at The Copa. He said, "I'm going to show you some stuff from The Copa. Come with me." He took me to the other room. He had a bunch of scrapbooks and he showed me stuff of him and Dean working at The Copa in 46-47 or something like that. 

Their last show as a team was 1956. Their last job was at The Copa and he showed me these pictures of him crying in the dressing room and how he was feeling. He said to me, "You're bringing back a lot of memories with your talking about opening at The Copa. I wish you the best of luck." It was very nice and he was very, very sweet to me. He said, "It'll be a big break for you." He was showing how much he was hurt by the break up and how the last shows they ever did were at The Copacabana.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have footage of them performing for a full hour at The Copa in 1954.

Lou Alexander: Ah, that has to be a classic!

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, it's a fascinating document - to see what the craze was truly all about, rather than the facsimile they were reduced to in film and television.

Lou Alexander: That's something I would love to see!

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, I'll show it to you some time.

Lou Alexander: Oh, I would love to see it. To me that's a classic. There has never been a comedy team like them. There was electricity in the air - and you'll only ever see an act [that causes that] one or two times in your life. Maybe with Sinatra or Sammy Davis... but I had never seen it like when Dean and Jerry went up. You could feel the electricity going through the room. The excitement of the room. It was something I never forgot. The feeling in that room. To this day they are probably the most excitable act I ever saw in my life.

Kliph Nesteroff: I'm too young to have ever experienced them in the flesh, but to me, when you use the phrase "show business" - they are, to me, the epitome of the concept.

Lou Alexander: Oh! Boy, was it! That's what it was. I felt that way about two other acts and they weren't comedians. I felt that way about Anthony Newely. He knocked me out. He was such a great performer. And I felt that way about Sammy Davis. I once saw Sammy Davis do a show for two hours, just for people in show business, at two o'clock in the morning. It was only for show people. It was a show that you would never ever see again - nothing like it. He had only showbiz people there and he was just the most talented man I had ever seen in my life.

Kliph Nesteroff: Where was that show?

Lou Alexander: Ah, I'm not sure. There were certain places we used to go late at... it might have been at The Stardust. At two o'clock in the morning, everybody finished their shows and at that time in Vegas, everyone stayed up all night. There was no such thing as going to sleep. You gotta remember, when I was working Vegas - the Mob ran Vegas. Now it's corporate. Today it's corporate! Today it's like going to Disneyland. But in those days, all the people that ran Vegas loved show people. They actually were great to us and they would give us everything. Give us the shows, give us the rooms, give us the meals - whatever you want. 

They really knew how to treat performers. Then there'd be a show at two in the morning. Sammy worked from two o'clock until four o'clock and everybody in all of Las Vegas was there to see him. From the stars to the dancers and strippers to you name it. It was a show I will never forget. But Vegas was real fun in those days. I was working Vegas in the sixties and then you had maybe six hotels. You didn't have the Disneyland of what it is today. Everybody knew each other and we all hung out together. It was so much fun. Really, really fun.

Kliph Nesteroff: Now, going back to New York for a moment... you mentioned the Stage Delicatessen...

Lou Alexander: Oh, yes, that was a popular spot.

Kliph Nesteroff: I am intrigued by that era of showbiz hangouts. There was another place called Hanson's Drugstore...

Lou Alexander: I hung out there more than anywhere. Let me tell you about Hanson's.

Kliph Nesteroff: Please.

Lou Alexander: Hanson's Drugstore was right next to a theater. I think it was 7th and everyone hung around Hanson's Drugstore. A lot of us weren't working at the time, so we had nothing to do in the afternoon. We all hung out there in the afternoon and I remember when I was hanging out there with Don Rickles and Shecky would hang out there too. A lot of comedians like Dick Capri and Pat Cooper and Norm Crosby. We all hung out there. All of us. Everyone. Howard Storm. Jackie Mason. All of us hung out at Hanson's Drugstore. And there was another little place next door called B-G. B-G was like a little cafe.

Kliph Nesteroff: The B-G Coffee Shop, Home of the Bottomless Cup.

Lou Alexander: That's right. That's funny. I only lived about three blocks from there, so we all hung around there in the afternoon. All the girls used to walk by and we would flirt with them. It was just good times. We were all young kids, young guys. We were all looking to make a mark. We were working two days a week. If we got Friday and Saturday it was a big deal. Friday and Saturday, we'd get fifty dollars for the two days. From 1951-53, when we worked Friday and Saturday and got fifty dollars to work those weekend clubs, it was enough to pay our rent, enough to pay our phones, enough to pay to eat. Fifty dollars for a weekend - we lived on it. And it was enough to sit around at Hanson's with cup of coffee and sit around all day and tell stories to each other.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was the difference between a place like the Stage Deli and Hanson's? Was there a pecking order?

Lou Alexander: Well, I'll tell you the difference. Nobody hung around the Stage Delicatessen during the day. Hanson's was the daytime. It was always the day. I don't remember any of us ever going to Hanson's Drugstore at night. It was always the Stage Delicatessen. First of all, they had better food. They had the great greatest Jewish food in the world at the Stage and the Carnegie Delicatessen. But we all hung out at the Stage. All of us. After our jobs. We used to have one guy... there was one guy who used to come in. Jackie something. I can't remember his last name. Jackie Farrell? Something. He would come in and he would have make-up on and he would sit down with us. We'd say, "Where did you work tonight?" He'd say, "Oh, uh... Grossingers." I'd say, "That's funny. I worked Grossingers tonight." He would put on the make-up to look like he had a gig!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: (laughs) He didn't want to look like he was out of work!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: (laughs) We would roar! And every time he came in wearing a tuxedo we'd say, "I wonder where he didn't work tonight."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: That was, really, the most fun time of my life. There was no time more fun than The Stage Delicatessen and especially Hanson's Drugstore. It was like a club. A bunch of guys that had a little talent and we didn't know where we were gonna go... some of us did great... some of us didn't... but we all had... a hunger. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you encounter Jack Roy at that time?

Lou Alexander: Yes. Yes, oh, sure. Of course, he became Rodney Dangerfield, but I knew him as Jack Roy. I knew him when he was in Jersey and he had his business. He was putting up... whaddaya call it?

Kliph Nesteroff: Aluminum siding.

Lou Alexander: That's right, he was in the aluminum business. He quit the business because he couldn't do anything as Jack Roy. Then he started writing things for Jackie Mason. Jackie Mason said, "You write very funny stuff." So, that was it. He said, "Well, let me write this stuff for myself" and that's how it happened.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you see his act as Jack Roy?

Lou Alexander: Well, I saw him at the very beginning. He still did the one-liners and all the lines he did were classics. You could see that his style was nothing more than one or two lines. I remember somebody once asked Milton Berle, "Why does Henny Youngman only do one-liners?" Milton Berle said, "Because he can't remember two lines."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Lou Alexander: (laughs) That broke me up!

Kliph Nesteroff: Now how about Joe Ancis...

Lou Alexander: Yes. He was... there were always a certain amount of guys that were hysterical offstage. They were funny, could do everything, ad-lib... people would walk by and they'd have great lines. But they would never go onstage and be a professional. It's like the guys that put on the lampshade at a party. They could never go onstage. But there were two or three guys around then that were very funny and Joe Ancis was one of them. A lot of guys took a lot of lines from him. But he never became a professional. He never performed. I'm having fun! You're bringing back a big part of my life!

Kliph Nesteroff: How about a guy... I think he was more Miami than New York - Bert Stone.

Lou Alexander: Yes. He was a little bit older than us. I can't really say I knew Bert Stone. I'll tell you who else hung around there a lot were the Leslie Brothers. Do you have them down? Bob Leslie and Larry Leslie. They were popular. They were a comedy team. Then they broke up and Bob Leslie must have gained one-hundred and fifty pounds and Leslie was writing for me. When I just was starting to play big rooms I said, "Larry, I want to do a routine about contact lenses because I wear them." He worked with me on it and I paid for it and I did that bit on television. I always picked the subjects that I did [even if it was written by someone else]. It had to be interesting to me, otherwise I couldn't make it funny. People ask me where comedy comes from. I say, you take something truthful. Embellish it. Exaggerate it. And that's where the humor comes from.

Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned in passing Jackie Mason.

Lou Alexander: I'll tell you about Jackie Mason. Jackie Mason, to me, was brilliant. Not just good or great. Brilliant. And he still is, to me, today. He's a brilliant comedian. But do I like him personally? Not one bit! I never liked him for one minute! I don't like him and none of us really liked him. It's hard to like him as a person because he wasn't a nice guy. He just wasn't... I don't know how to put it. He just wasn't a hamisha guy. He wasn't a guy you liked. He was kind of a user. But on stage? Brilliant. A brilliant comedian. Absolutely brilliant.

Kliph Nesteroff: That's interesting that you say that. It's not so much an opinion as the consensus.

Lou Alexander: Really, is that true?

Kliph Nesteroff: Everyone qualifies it the same way too. "First of all, I want to say he's a brilliant comedian. Second, I can't stand him."

Lou Alexander: Well, there you go. I'm one of everybody!