Saturday, January 14, 2012
Friday, January 13, 2012
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Kliph Nesteroff: We were talking about mimics earlier. You said that Will Jordan was your arch enemy...
Jack Carter: He made himself my arch enemy over the Sullivan thing. He hated anybody else who did Sullivan and he was bitter until the end. He hated everybody.
Kliph Nesteroff: I heard a rumor that in 1955 you and Will Jordan got into a fist fight.
Jack Carter: No, that never happened. Never happened - it should have happened.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Jack Carter: (laughs) No, it was just hatred from afar. I heard that he resented me and this and that.
Kliph Nesteroff: You also mentioned George DeWitt. He went on to do some minor television hosting - but what was his stand-up act like?
Jack Carter: Terrible. He was the worst. Good looking kid and he had a magnificent wig. He invented great rugs - just like a real buddy of mine at that time, Stan Fisher - the harmonica player. Stan Fisher was one of my closest friends when I got into the business.
Kliph Nesteroff: There was also Hal Fisher. Do you remember that name? Fisher and Marks.
Jack Carter: Yes, they were a team. Low-class. Nothings. Then there was Marks with somebody else and he used to book cruise ships.
Kliph Nesteroff: Lou Marks.
Jack Carter: Lou Marks, yeah. There was a Hal Fisher who was like an emcee with a cigar...
Kliph Nesteroff: Yes and a bowtie. That's the guy.
Jack Carter: Yeah, real scummy.
Kliph Nesteroff: We mentioned this, but never went into it. 1946 you were at the Rio Cabana in Chicago with Frances Faye, singer Bob Lee also a dance team called Copsy and Ayres.
Jack Carter: Copsy and Ayres, yes. You know, I worked a lot with Bob Fosse. It was Fosse and Niles. Marion Niles his wife, and Bob Fosse, long before he became a choreographer. He worked The Palmer House with me and a couple other places. I liked him. He was a nice kid. Copsy and Ayres, I think they did India themed stuff.
There was a lot this shit going on then (Jack clasps hands together in praying motion and waddles head). Lewis... what the hell was that girl singer's first name? Brenda? Gwendelyn? Monica? MONICA! Monica Lewis!
Kliph Nesteroff: Sure, sure.
Jack Carter: Yes, Monica Lewis. She was a cute little blonde. She was the shtup of the world. Everybody had her. Gloria deHaven was a favorite of mine too. She did a lot of shows with me. I was on that Roy Radin tour with her for a while and George Jessel. Radin was the guy that got murdered. And rightfully so. He should have been killed long before that (laughs).
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Jack Carter: Jessel was so bright. I remember one trip, Donald O'Connor was on the show, Gloria DeHaven and a couple of acts. He had about twenty acts. Danny and the Juniors. Anyway, I was with Jessel and I had just read the John Lahr book about Bert Lahr's life and it mentioned a lot of parties in New York. Jessel had been at all of them and every name I threw at him he knew and he penciled it in for me. He was brilliant and bright, but everyone kind of wrote him off as a shallow man. Berle would say to me, "Do Jessel introducing John Wayne!" (In Jessel voice), "In the world of historic giants came a man out of the West who walked through tumbleweed! He came into the town of Picos and he braved and jumped..."
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Jack Carter: (laughs) Whoever Berle named, I'd do Jessel delivering the eulogy or doing an introduction.
Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember when you first met Milton Berle?
Jack Carter: No, I don't. I remember seeing him as a kid. My sisters would take me to the Paramount and I'd see him onstage and I'd say, "Jesus. That's amazing." I'd try to memorize every joke. I had no idea that he was doing the same jokes every night, all rehearsed. A couple of nights I saw him at Loew's State where Jessel walked in on him. And Berle would always walk into Jessel's act, with his coat still on, and interrupt him and louse up his act!
Of course, they both went after the same women all of the time. It was mostly Joyce who was Milton's wife. Jessel adored her and Milton loved her until the day he died. I don't know when I first met him, but he became such a big booster of mine. He would come to every opening and be right at my ringside. Once at La Martinique in New York I forgot the lyrics to my song. I went, "Oh shit!" And Berle jumped up and he took over. He finished the song and he saved the day for me. He covered up my, "Oh shit" by doing a bunch of shtick. He loved to jump up and take over like Jolson would do. I don't remember exactly when, but he became a big fan of mine and I became a fan of his. Then he'd come to Lindy's at the big center table and I joined his table right away.
That was a big honor. He was there and held court every night. I remember the night - that photo I showed you with Red Skelton and all of them? That was the night Berle took a tray and smashed it over some guy's head. This guy was annoying Red Skelton. He was coming over and insulting him and Milton picked up a tray from one of the waiters and smashed the guy right in the head. It crushed onto his head like in a cartoon - how it takes on the shape of his head (laughs). A joke I always do, "Milton Berle adored me. I'll never forget the first time I met him. I walked into Lindy's and Milton ran up to me, he took me aside... and he left me there."
Kliph Nesteroff: Milton Berle loved to grab people and kiss them hard and slap them around.
Jack Carter: Yes. He was very physical and he liked to grab your crotch too. He had a fixation with that. He often didn't know what do when he ran up so he'd hug you or kiss you or smack you around or jostle you. I'd do the Berle shows and I'd imitate him. He liked having me replace him. I'd walk out with his walk and I'd mug like him.
Kliph Nesteroff: La Martinique. You played it March 1948. That's where Danny Thomas kind of became a name.
Jack Carter: Yeah, when Danny got hot and first came to New York the first place he worked was La Martinique. That was a little more chic than The Copa then. The Copa had not really yet exploded and La Martinique and The Latin Quarter and the Rio Bamba... then you had the clubs downtown where the little acts played like the Bon Soir and the Village Vanguard.
Kliph Nesteroff: The Blue Angel.
Jack Carter: Yeah and those places went on to have Woody Allen and Barbara Streisand and the little people (laughs). The beginners.
Kliph Nesteroff: What was La Martinique like to play?
Jack Carter: It was on the corner of 57th and 6th Avenue. You'd go downstairs. It was a gated downstairs. There was a bar outside of it and there was just a room with a band and a small dancefloor and an audience. It was a tough room.
Kliph Nesteroff: Was it like The Copa in the sense that... there was no real stage... you were on the same level as the audience...
Jack Carter: Yeah, which was always deadly. An act should always be above the audience. Even if it's just a little stage. Being slightly above gives you a little more command. Being on the same level was deadly, just deadly. I could never convince people of that, but finally some clubs would bring a box out.
Kliph Nesteroff: It just seems strange that a big time club like La Martinique or The Copa would have no stage.
Jack Carter: Yeah, The Copa... you'd come out onstage and suddenly tables would be brought out. What had been the ringside... suddenly... the tables would be right in front of you. As another big name came in - boom - another three tables and another three tables. That reminds me of the Sammy Davis story of how he couldn't get a table to see Sinatra at the Copa. Frank wouldn't help him. They put him way off in what they called Siberia. Way off to the right and Sammy was so hurt because he had his whole family with him to see Frank, whom he adored and thought would do anything for him. Frank wouldn't help him at all.
Kliph Nesteroff: Who ran La Martinique?
Jack Carter: Dario. Dario and Jimmy Vernon. Jimmy Vernon was a great big tall Irish drunk. Dario had an accent "like dis." I guess he was Hungarian or something - and very tough. Very tough, very tenacious and he knew what he wanted. They played a lot of arty acts. I worked it once with Miguelito Valdes and Menasha Skulnik, one of the big stars of Yiddish theater. He used to wear a little hat and do a bit (In Yiddish accent), "I don't want from da bottom! Not from da top! Gimmee from da middle!"
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Jack Carter: "I like in da middle." You know? Cut the bread. "Yeah, gimmee from the middle. I don't want from the top or from the bottom, gimmee from the middle." And Miguelito Valdez was big then for Babalu. He was real Spanish and they had a song, "Weeee threeeeee! We're not a crowd! We're not even comp-a-neeee! Miguelito! Menasha! And Meeeeeee!" They had this whole opening song. That was the opening night when I forgot my lyrics - said "Oh, shit" and Milton Berle ran up and saved the day. But that was the weirdest booking.
I worked it with some other people too. Maybe Frances Faye. I always worked with her. What the hell was the hotel in Boston? Ralph Schneider and the... Bradford Roof! The Bradford [thumps table] Roof [thumps table]! The Bradford Roof was the big room. I worked there with her there and in Chicago. Later on I did my show from Chicago. I left Chicago a big hit. I left Chicago with a massive 40.2 share.
Kliph Nesteroff: What was the studio like where you did your TV show?
Jack Carter: I did it from the Studebaker Theater. It was a legit house on Woodward and I had the whole theater to myself. A beautiful theater. I had Smith and Dale with me - the great vaudeville team - and one of the last times they did anything. His shoes were stolen during the show. Charlie or Joe? The one who said, "For pity's sake!" Did you ever hear about their act? "(singing) Take off the coat, my boy, take off the coat!" That was the big running gag. "Should I take off my coat?" "Take off your coat." "Take off the coat?" "(singing) Take off the coat! Take offfffff the coat!"
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Jack Carter: The other guy would say, "(singing) The coat is awwwww-ffffff!"
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) You said one of them had their shoes stolen during your show?
Jack Carter: Yeah. We were rehearsing and Charlie came in and said, "Jack, somebody stole my shoes!" These were shoes he had worn for forty years! His favorite shoes. Somebody stole them. I'll never forget watching a sketch and telling Joe, the one with the moustache, I wanted them to cut three minutes out of their sketch.
He said, "We can't cut. We've been doing this sketch for forty years! It's all worked out exact. We can't cut!" He was watching me rehearse my sketch onstage and he said, "Why don't you fasten that one up a little?" Fasten that one up? I'd never heard that expression (laughs). Fasten it up. I was so thrilled to have them on. I left Chicago a big hit, came to New York and they killed me dead.
Kliph Nesteroff: Were they doing any other shows out of Chicago?
Jack Carter: No. Nothing. All they had was the [Dave] Garroway show and it was all camera tricks. When I first started I got Garroway's cameraman and they wanted to dolly in. I said, "No, no, no. We're doing a show here. It opens up - showtime! You can't dolly in. We're doing a full promenade show with a curtain opening." They wanted to do things behind the scenes and trick shots just like Garroway did. We also had Garroway's conductor and that was the guy we had to get rid of because he didn't know an act from a hole in the ground.
Kliph Nesteroff: Dave Garroway was an interesting guy.
Jack Carter: Garroway, yeah. It was "precious" comedy, y'know.
Kliph Nesteroff: He spoke with such a slow, mellow...
Jack Carter: Yes, it was the Chicago style.
Kliph Nesteroff: He was big in the fifties, but then his career evaporated. He committed suicide in the early eighties.
Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember Allen Dumont - and his brother Bruce Dumont?
Jack Carter: You mean of the Dumont network? Yes, they came to see me and convince me to stay with the network. They didn't want me to leave [for NBC]. Also, the head of the William Morris office was there. I should have stayed because I went to NBC for nothing. I had a lackey from the William Morris office named Sol Leon who was in Chicago with me. He'd fly in and we'd fly back and forth. He was a real lightweight with the Morris office. He was the last one to die recently, Sol Leon. Lived in my building in New York. He was a sweet man, but totally ineffective. Jesus, I can't believe I didn't get ten grand.
Kliph Nesteroff: Talking about agents. Read this in a newspaper. April 1950 - Jack Carter sued by a man named Nick Agnetta - he claimed violation of contract - asking for back commission of $1500.
Jack Carter: (laughs) He was my very first agent. Nice little Italian man. I don't remember that. Maybe it happened. Yeah, Nick Agnetta - his name was a play on the word "Agent."
Kliph Nesteroff: Ah, I see.
Jack Carter: He was a cute little guy. I got him through David... the guy who ran WNEW - the music show. His sister was with me, Rosalind, on Long Island, when I was in the Christopher Morley stock company. Morely, the great writer. We did The Trojan Horse and he got an Oscar for Kitty Foyle with Ginger Rogers.
He was a lovely man. The great Christopher Morley. Out there is where I met Gordon and Sheila MacRae. They lived nearby in Great Neck. They were in that stock company with me and then Gordon got lucky and started singing with Horace Heidt and became a big star. He was a giant.
Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned a Chicago Copa. Were all the Copas connected? Of course there was the famous Manhattan club, but there were places like the Copa City in Miami and...
Jack Carter: Yeah, no. Copa City was Murray Weinger. One of the best nightclub bosses I ever had. He gave me a gold... he was a sweet man. He had a mother that was funny and a brother that was funny. Murray Weinger ran Copa City in Florida on the thruway to go to Miami. Next to it was The Beachcomber. That was a big club too.
The Beachcomber played big names. I played Copa City on the bill with Sophie Tucker, Tony Bennett and The Dunhills dance team - all on one bill. A big line of girls. Don Arden Dancers. Huge bill. That's where Sophie was in the wings, harassing, screaming.
Kliph Nesteroff: Joe E. Lewis played The Copa City a lot.
Jack Carter: Joe E. Lewis played The Copa and he was the head act at the Copa New York. It was a yearly ritual when Joe E. played it. All the mobsters came out. Most of the fun went on up in the lounge afterwords. That's where the hoods had all the booths and Danny from the restaurant Danny's Hideaway. Danny Stradella. A sweet little man. He would spend a fortune. He'd bring in about fifty people on opening night [at The Copa]. He kept more actors alive that were starving... guys that couldn't get work like Frank Lovejoy and Dana Andrews.
Kliph Nesteroff: Two people that became alcoholics...
Jack Carter: Yes or faded. They'd come to New York and he'd feed them, he'd give them money and he was a sweet little man.
Kliph Nesteroff: Dana Andrews and Frank Lovejoy always remind me of each other.
Jack Carter: I can't think of... maybe not Dana Andrews, but Frank Lovejoy for sure and a couple of others. Ralph Blane and some other actors were always living off of Danny. They'd come in and eat for free. He was great. If you went to Danny's Hideaway [as a celebrity] there was something called the kiss of death. The kiss of death was when you were sent wine. That meant you were going to have to pick up your cheque.
Kliph Nesteroff: Obviously all those supperclubs back in the day were controlled by the Mob. However, Leon and Eddie's in New York, for some reason was not. Did you ever hear about that?
Jack Carter: They were... maybe they were. That was a great place. Every Sunday night was Celebrity Night. I got up one night and did my impression of Maxie Rosenbloom - and Maxie was on the show that night. I was a big riot. I was in high school then. I stood in the back and watched the shows, but I loved the business already. I told you I went to a club in Brooklyn and gave BS Pully a joke that he ended up using for his entire career? "I unscrewed my navel and my ass fell off."
I went to Leon and Eddie's and Eddie used to emcee it. Leon was a quiet, little Jewish man and Eddie was a tall show business type. Real tall and a real showbiz emcee type. He introduced me and I got up and I did Maxie Rosenbloom and I did Jolson and I killed 'em. I went and stood in the back of the club after and I never forgot it. They had no Mob thing, that was just a real public, family club.
Kliph Nesteroff: Which seems so strange. That whole street, jazz street, was controlled by the Mob.
Jack Carter: On 52nd Street?
Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah.
Jack Carter: Yes, you had Basin Street, you had the 214... that was a big Mob club. The 214 or the 240... they were all Mob owned and Mob hangouts. Toots Shor's, Basin Street... man, there were about twenty clubs on that one block. 52nd Street.
Kliph Nesteroff: There was a place called The Onyx Club.
Jack Carter: Yes.
Kliph Nesteroff: I read that at one point...
Jack Carter: Didn't the Onyx play black acts and music?
Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, it was a jazz joint.
Jack Carter: Yes.
Kliph Nesteroff: Gene Baylos was at one point going to have his own room at the Onyx - he was going to be house emcee and they were going to name it the Gene Baylos Room.
Jack Carter: I don't know anything about that.
Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom and here in Los Angeles...
Jack Carter: Yeah, they had a club here - Slapsie Maxie's.
Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, on Wilshire. What was it like?
Jack Carter: It was a big club. I think I was there once. There was Billy Gray's Band Box on Fairfax.
Kliph Nesteroff: Fairfax and Beverly.
Jack Carter: That was a fun room because Billy Gray was clever and they did take-offs on shows. They did My Fairfax Lady...
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Jack Carter: They did these and all the stars would come to see this; Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis... and then you had The Slate Brothers on La Cienega where they invented Don Rickles. But Billy Gray did great satires. He was a funny little man. Also, Joel Grey's father worked those clubs. I forget his name now. Katz.
Kliph Nesteroff: Mickey Katz.
Jack Carter: Mickey Katz, yeah. Joel Grey's father. Billy Gray's Band Box. There was also a Billy Berg - a jazz room on Fairfax.
Kliph Nesteroff: What corner was Billy Gray's Band Box on? I biked past an old boarded up theater on my way over today - right on the corner of Fairfax and Beverly...
Jack Carter: No, the Band Box was across and up the street a bit and then over the way was Canter's and an area that was very Yiddish. That theater you went past was just for movies. And they were playing movies there up til just a few months ago. I drove by it the other day and saw that the marquee was empty. They used to play three movies for a buck or something.
Kliph Nesteroff: The building that was Slapsie Maxie's is still there. It's a Home Depot.
Jack Carter: Yeah, I don't remember it at all. There was also Perino's, a big restaurant in that area. I think I went to Slapsie Maxie's once. That was Danny Dare and Slapsie Maxie and there was another partner. I forget the other partner. I think Max Baer was a partner. Max Baer Jr was quite a character.
Kliph Nesteroff: You were on a television show in 1949 - I think Clifton Fadiman hosted it. This is Broadway. You were on there with somebody named Marilyn Cantor.
Jack Carter: Marilyn Cantor? That was Eddie Cantor's daughter. She was a little dykie. She used to go with Ralph's daughter... uh... yeah there were a lot of shows like that then. The Dororthy Kilgallen one and about five of these shows that I was on... Bennett Cerf.
Kliph Nesteroff: What's My Line.
Jack Carter: And Arlene Francis. She was such a fan of mine. What a victim she was! I'd open my mouth and she'd fall on the floor and pee her pants. "Stop! Oh, I can't take it!" She was a great lady. She was married to that actor... the little shit...
Kliph Nesteroff: Martin...
Jack Carter: Martin...
Kliph Nesteroff: Martin Gabel.
Jack Carter: Yeah, a little short homely guy. I never got that.
Kliph Nesteroff: Arlene Francis I always found so...
Jack Carter: You wanna eat now? You better. You should have something to eat before we continue.
[interview picks up hours later - mid-conversation]
Jack Carter: Yeah, he's the other showbiz rabbi. He's more elegant. He gets a richer crowd.
Kliph Nesteroff: The guy you introduced me to at lunch?
Jack Carter: Yeah, David Baron. That's right. He never sent me my tickets. They were in will call.
Kliph Nesteroff: He sure does seem like the showbiz rabbi.
Jack Carter: Well, the other showbiz rabbi is a comic and a writer - would have been a comic. He runs a sloppy service. He had a terrible girl rabbi and it's in a high school - at Beverly High - in their sloppy auditorium, which is run down. So I thought I would try the new one. It's expensive. His is very Orthodox. He had the white robe, you know. The reason I went was that the Cantor from the other place moved over to the new one. The Cantor is Jordan Bennett. He was on Broadway in Les Miserables. He sang Bring Em Home. I love his voice and his Hebrew canting is beautiful. But he was awful. He turned old, he got white, and he's got a girl Rabbi with him that screeches. She just screeches. While he was chanting, a buddy of mine I know said, "What's wrong? Constipated?" It was just, "Wheeeeeeeeeeeyennnnnhhhhhh...."
Instead of being sweet and mellow. It was disappointing. Then the Rabbi proceeded to bring his showbiz people on. First he had Theodore Bikel who came out and prayed and did a Hebrew thing for about ten minutes. Then he had Leonard Maltin, the critic, read something. Then he had this little cockamamie comic - an Isaraeli who is doing Jolson here now; Michael Bernstein, a real nothing.
Then all of a sudden he had a little old man come on who did jokes - and he proceeds to do one of my biggest stories and screwed it up completely! Then the next night he did another one and screwed up another one too! Just some unknown little guy - like a local buddy of the Rabbi. He did a joke about the husband going out. The wife says, "Bring me back a banana split with ice cream. Write it down so you don't forget. Write it down. I want raspberries and I want nuts. Write it down or you'll forget." "I don't have to write it down!" The joke - the way I do it - the guy comes back an hour later with a bag of bagels. She says, "Ah, you bastard, you forgot!" "Forgot what?" "The creamcheese!"
Kliph Nesteroff: Uh huh.
Jack Carter: But the way he did it - he comes back two hours later with lox and creamcheese on a bagel. And she says, "What is that? Where's the pickel?"
Kliph Nesteroff: Nothing worse than someone butchering a joke.
Jack Carter: Last night he did the other one. A guy is robbing a house and he hears a voice. "Jesus will get you." You know the joke? "Jesus will get you." He flashes his flashlight around. He's taking a TV set. He sees a parrot. It's the one going, "Jesus will get you." He says to the parrot, "Ah, you're crazy." The parrot turns to a rottweiler and says, "Get him, Jesus." The way this old man did it - he says, "If you're a parrot, what's your name?" "Moses." "Moses? That's a strange name for a parrot." "You oughta hear the name of the rottweiler - it's Jesus."
Kliph Nesteroff: Terrible.
Jack Carter: Yeah. I'm dying to call the rabbi and tell him he can stick his comics up his ass. My seats were awful. Way in the back and I was behind a pole, thirty rows back. The orchestra was nice. The choir was good, but I was so surprised by this Cantor I liked who had had the great voice - suddenly he became old.
Kliph Nesteroff: Bob Hope's wife just passed on.
Jack Carter: Yeah, Dolores took a cab. That stupid daughter, that jerk-off daughter, wouldn't let me speak at the funeral. She picked Norm Crosby. I don't know why. Everyone picks Norm Crosby. I knew Hope. I toured with him. I went with him on several occasions. There was a party at his house and there were ten presidents there. I went up and I bombed. I couldn't get rolling. Nobody did. Only Joey Bishop got laughs. I did some joke about Reagan and I went right into the toilet with it. It was a line I usually did about Nancy: "She looks so life like." I had one about how I ran into Bush. I said, "Pardon me" and he did. Reagan was there that night and I got up and that was the end of it - I could have just left the house right then.
Kliph Nesteroff: There's something about the dynamic of the audience that changes when there's a president in the room...
Jack Carter: Yes, well this was a big party in a big tent and a lot of guys got up, but very few scored. Yeah, there was Ford, Reagan, Carter... all at Bob's house.
Kliph Nesteroff: Well, aren't people afraid to laugh when the president...
Jack Carter: Yes. Yes, somehow Joey Bishop got on a good roll because his vitriol worked that night. But Hackett tried, Sid Caesar and I couldn't do anything... I was desperate. Normally I'm a big hit with Hope's crowd... except for that stupid broad daughter of his, adopted asshole daughter. When he died all I did was join in... we were all given the lyrics to the song Thanks for the Memories and we all sang it. Mort Lachman got up and Norm Crosby who didn't even know him got up and had nothing to say.
Kliph Nesteroff: How did you get on The Fred Allen Show? We talked about it a bit - but how did you actually score the gig? You did impressions on his show around 1948.
Jack Carter: Yeah. There was a man who handled Rudy Vallee and he sent me up to entertain - I had just started as a mimic - doing impressions on Major Bowes - they saw me do those. That's what I was selling then. This guy, I can't remember his name, he liked me and he sent me to Rudy Vallee's place up in Poland Spring, Maine.
Real cold place, gentile, it wasn't the Catskills at all. Poland Spring, Maine. I entertained up there. Who knows what I did. My few impressions. Somehow I think he was friendly with Fred Allen and they needed a mimic. It got to me, I think. Then later of course I became very friendly with Fred. Every day he'd wait for me and I'd meet up with him and we'd just walk through Manhattan. Walk and talk. He loved to walk and talk. His wife's sister was married to Artie Hershkowitz. His wife was named Portland and her sister's name was Lastone. Lastone, because she was "the last one" born in the family. They named her Lastone! That was her name. Lastone Hershkowitz.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Jack Carter: Those were great times.
Kliph Nesteroff: What do you remember specifically about going on The Fred Allen Show? Were you a nervous wreck? You were just a kid.
Jack Carter: I was a kid. It didn't effect me because I was so excited to go on and do those voices. Working from the script. Radio was nice because you had the pages and the mic and it was so easy. I loved doing radio. In the dramatic school that I went to we had radio coaches. Charlie Stark, who was a great announcer then, he was one of our teachers.
Many actors who were very big taught at this dramatic school that I went to in 30 Rockefeller Plaza. It was called The Lucy Fagan School. Lucy was a little old southern woman that ran a dramatic school - very prestigious. There was a very gay man, one of the teachers there, named John Cathay. The minute you'd go in the bathroom he'd follow you right in. "Oh, hello!"
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Jack Carter: Later it became the American Acadamy. Lucy was a southerner that talked ree-yall suh-thuhn. Southern white woman with the heaviest southern accent. That was a good time and that's where I met everybody that became a part of my life. John Lund, Angela Landsbury, Gordon MacRae and Sheila and Ira Grossel. Ira and I were both on scholarships. I got it by auditioning with Cyrano, which I had done in high school. I always remembered the Cyrano speech in the dueling scene.
I later did it on Broadway with Sammy Davis in Mr. Wonderful. Sammy and I would adlib and Sammy knew Cyrano too. He knew everything. He was brilliant. The minute a new show would come out he would learn all the songs, record them or sing them and put them in his act. He and I would go out and either do Amos n' Andy or whatever and just adlib. It started as a little shtick where I was going to teach him show business. "I'll teach you everything kid!" I was his Mr. Wonderful and he played Charlie Welch - which was a great opening number. "Charlie Welch! That's who I'm introducing - Charlie Welch!" "Is that Charlie Belch?" "No, sir!" "Squelch?" I met a guy at a party who knew the whole song. A real fan. That was the opening song in Mr Wonderful. The other one was, "Sixteen seventeen Broad-way... that's where I hang my hat!" With people crossing back and forth, street crossing scene, with bums, pickpockets, old ladies, you know.
Kliph Nesteroff: How long did it run?
Jack Carter: Well, I stayed a year and it ran another year after that. It could have run forever. We had nine bad reviews because we opened after My Fair Lady (laughs). The next day. Imagine opening the next day after the greatest hit in the history of show business! My Fair Lady with that cast - and the next day we open with a black man holding a microphone. Imagine what they did to him. "This terrible little runt has the nerve to do a nightclub act on a Broadway stage." They killed us. But we sold out on word of mouth and did $78,000 a week and I think My Fair Lady did something like $63,000!
Kliph Nesteroff: Wow.
Jack Carter: We opened out of town with it in Philadelphia. That's when I had Pat Marshall playing my wife. She was Larry Gelbart's wife. They were looking to get rid of her. Nobody liked her in the part because she wasn't effective in the show. She had a beautiful singing voice and she was very pretty, but the chemistry didn't work with us in our husband and wife fighting scene. So we got Kay Medford. She was a great comedy actress... and tough. Real tough. She was the first person that I ever heard use the phrase "piece of shit." That's what she called me. Right on stage.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Jack Carter: "You piece of shit!" Under her breath, you know. She didn't like anything I did, but she was funny. She took the same lines and walked down to the footlights, "I could push him off a roof!" And they screamed. When Pat said it, "I could push him off a roof!" - it got nothing. But Sammy and I would adlib that spot where I was going to teach him about showbiz. "I'll teach you how to dance." Then I would do my few little dance steps - and then I'd stop - he'd look at me - and then he'd go wild. Bada-boom-boom-bang-bang! "Is that okay?" "Uh, yeah. Clean it up, it'll be fine." Then we went into whatever we felt like.
Whatever we may have kidded around with during the day or when we were out the night before we'd use. I had to take him out everywhere and front for him because [of racist club policies]. I had to beard for him at 21 and at The Stork Club. Nobody wanted... they were real anti-Black then. Sammy was dying to go out and be with [showfolk]. And if not then he'd run parties every night out of his suite at the Gorham Hotel and he'd have everybody there.
Kliph Nesteroff: Why did you leave the production?
Jack Carter: I wasn't getting much money. I started at $600 and they raised it to $1400. I'd had it. I wasn't going anywhere. I should have stayed another year. I got talked out of it by an agent who said he was gonna do this, gonna do that. I got out and I did nothing. I didn't work for a year (laughs). I literally didn't work for a year because I had been off the club run. I hadn't been doing any clubs while I was on Broadway.
Kliph Nesteroff: Was there a cast recording - an album of the show that you were on?
Jack Carter: Yes, there was a wonderful album. We made that, but we made it the next morning and we were exhausted. Everybody's voice was gone. I have the album somewhere and the cover was done by Milton Greene, the great photographer. Oh, no, no. That was my album Broadway Ala Jack Carter. But yes, there was also the Mr. Wonderful album. Chita Rivera was in the chorus. She had one big song, but Will Mastin took it out because it took away from Sammy.
She did Too Close For Comfort and he took her off the number. That number was added by George Wyce. Joe Stein took credit for the book and he never wrote nothing. I invented the line, "I'm not a has-been! I'm a never-was!" He claims he wrote it. I wrote it - I made it up.
Kliph Nesteroff: Joe Stein had written for Your Show of Shows, right?
Jack Carter: I don't think so... He and Glickman wrote some Broadway shows. I don't think they did television.
Kliph Nesteroff: Who wrote Fiddler on the Roof?
Jack Carter: They did that, yes. And they hated Zero Mostel! Hated him! Hated him! Thought he was terrible. Joe Stein was a real putz and a real stickler. He thought what Zero did to the character was terrible (laughs). If not for Zero that show closes! I mean, he gave it a certain nuance and fun. Tevya was really kind of a fool. A nice man, but a little dipsy and Zero gave it the right touch of humor and nobody has ever done it that good. I was thinking about that the other day when Theodore Bikel got up. He was the world's worst Tevya. He did it heavy handed. All of them came in heavy. They never had that fun that Zero had. That's one role I never did that I would have loved to have done. Tevya. I did everything else.
Kliph Nesteroff: Did you do anything on Broadway before Mr. Wonderful?
Jack Carter: Yes, I did Top Banana.
Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, of course. Right.
Jack Carter: Yeah, I replaced Phil Silvers. Worked with all of his people. In four days I got up and replaced Phil - did it with Audrey Meadows and she was wonderful. And Rose Marie, I think.
Kliph Nesteroff: Was Phil leaving the show because he wanted to take a break? Did he quit?
Jack Carter: I think so, yes. He was handled by Freddie Fields and so was I. I learned the whole thing. Learned every song and every scene and worked with Walter DeWall. They did a sketch. They were a two-man act and worked them into the plot where they were helping a girl escape down a ladder and their whole act was with a ladder. One guy is reaching back and he thinks his ass is hanging out, but it's the other guy's head. It was a funny scene and they did the interlocking hand bit. I learned it and it was tough to learn. Plus the songs - the score was by Johnny Mercer.
Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, a great, neglected score.
Jack Carter: A buddy of mine got the rights to all the Mercer songs and we did a version of Top Banana on HBO, but it wasn't very good. I had Edie Adams and she was terrible in sketches. We had to eliminate the sketches. The name of that Nat Hiken sketch we spoke of before was Jealousy. The husband comes home and thinks this filthy, dirty wife is cheating on him.
With Nancy Walker or Carol Burnett it was funny. They could play it. But Edie Adams was not a comedienne, although her claim to fame was Ernie Kovacs - but she wasn't funny. She couldn't be down home funny. Then I did a judge sketch that didn't work either. I hired Guy Marks. He does that great Humphrey Bogart talking to the Indians and I wanted to record that for posterity. I have a copy of it somewhere.
Kliph Nesteroff: Some people say that Guy Marks' impressions were among the best of all time.
Jack Carter: He was incredible. Of course he was in outer space. He was on a hit show and then he ran away into the desert and disappeared. He was playing an Indian on some hit series and then he disappeared, but he did impressions like a horse's brain - and a fly on a table - or a horse giving birth - and Bogart.
Kliph Nesteroff: And a flamingo.
Jack Carter: Yes, he did animals walking. A flamingo, yeah. Oh my God, he was brilliant. I loved this man. What a comedian and what a cook he was. He loved to cook. A great character. He did John Wayne like nobody else.
Kliph Nesteroff: He was on a lot of failed sitcoms. He was always playing a neighbor next door...
Jack Carter: Yeah.
Kliph Nesteroff: He was on The Joey Bishop Show.
Jack Carter: Yes, he did that, but he was on one series where he was very big and then he just disappeared one week and they found him way out in the desert somewhere camping.
Kliph Nesteroff: Well, I heard he was on drugs.
Jack Carter: Yes. Yes, he was a drug addict. That too.
Kliph Nesteroff: The singer Micki Marlo told me he wanted her to take pills with him.
Jack Carter: Yes, he had everything. He was... he used to go Mateo's Restaurant. He'd be there doing characters and he was marvelous. There was nobody like him. He was a genius. Pure genius. The voices he did and the take-off (laughs). A foal giving birth. A fly on a table. Yes, he did the walking flamingo and a deer.
Kliph Nesteroff: I've seen that. Who were some of the other people you were working with in Top Banana? Herbie Faye?
Jack Carter: Yes, I had Herbie Faye. Benny Chasen. Milton Frome.
Kliph Nesteroff: Was Milton Frome Jewish?
Jack Carter: Yes, I think so. Big tall guy.
Kliph Nesteroff: Bald.
Jack Carter: No, not bald.
Kliph Nesteroff: Not bald? Certainly later on he was bald.
Jack Carter: Oh, well, maybe later on. He was a sweet man and Herbie Faye was like a father to me. I played golf with Herbie and I knew his whole family. There was a brother in Chicago who was a popular disc jockey. No relation to Frances Faye. I used Herbie on my television show in all my sketches. I had a little cattery of guys that did my shows.
Kliph Nesteroff: He was hysterical.
Jack Carter: Real burlesque.
Kliph Nesteroff: He was on every TV show. He worked all the time.
Jack Carter: Yes, I used him and everybody used him. He did the Berle show. Sid Stone did the Berle show mostly; he played the barker. "I tell you what I'm gonna do! I got here some nuts on the inside of this here candy bar! Hold it up to the light and you'll see a naked rabbi! I'm sure if you buy this... with each and every one of my bon-bons..."
Kliph Nesteroff: Did Sid Stone do nightclubs?
Jack Carter: He tried to - with that act, but you couldn't go very far with that. That was it. That was his whole bit. I think he did it at the Latin Quarter once. They sent him out into the audience. There was a guy named Frank Libuse, the abusive waiter. He used to go out as a waiter and he'd create mayhem at all the tables, but people wouldn't know that he was an act and they'd get mad! He'd turn over drinks and stuff. Frank Libuse, the mad waiter.
Kliph Nesteroff: For a period that was a small genre; the funny waiter.
Jack Carter: No, the only one that I knew of was him. And then there was a funny guy that ate everything. He ate cigarettes, swallowed matches, plants... I forget his name now. Jerry something.
Kliph Nesteroff: June 1949 - you played Bill Miller's Riviera with Marge and Gower Champion.
Jack Carter: Yes. His cane brushed her eye and it popped a vein and her eye blew up like an egg. He hit something while they were dancing and they had to stop the show and she had to go off. The audience screamed because it looked so awful and they had to stop the show. Somebody else was on that bill. Somebody big like Tony Martin or something.
It was Gower and Champion and a big singer. It may have been Eddie Fisher. With Tony Martin I was with the dancers Tony and Sally DeMarco. They were the best dance team that ever lived. The most elegant.
Kliph Nesteroff: No relation to the DeMarco Sisters...
Jack Carter: No. Tony and Sally. There were also The DeMarco Sisters, the three girls that would never get off.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) Bill Miller was known to be in the pocket of Vito Genovese.
Jack Carter: I have no idea. He was around though. But he was a good guy. I knew him before I met him at the club. I told you he was the guy who got me to mix with people and mingle, go to tables. "Come on, you can't sit back here! You've got to mix with the people. It's part of your job." I thought just being a hit was enough. I was scared to death of people. Shy. Always shy. Shy with showgirls and with people. Later on I found out (laughs) everybody wanted me. So, he was a good boss. Then he moved to Vegas. He took over the Flamingo. I worked for him there. Then he moved out to Palm Springs and I used to talk to him. I think he lived to the age of one hundred.
Kliph Nesteroff: 1950 you played The Paramount with Ray Anthony's Orchestra.
Jack Carter: Yes.
Kliph Nesteroff: What do you remember about that?
Jack Carter: Nothing. I did it with Dorsey too. There was a French girl on the bill. I was having a big affair with her. She was a French star. She couldn't do anything - she was terrible on stage. What was her name? A big French star. She was blonde and kind of played dumb characters. You would do eight shows at the Paramount. It was a killer. You'd start at ten in the morning for kids. Then at twelve, boy, by the time you hit the afternoon you were exhausted.
The stage was very high. It was a scary stage. You were right up on a precipice and the audience was way down below you. Then they raised it up more when the band came out and you were up even higher. But it was a good theater and at night there was nothing more exciting. That late show at The Paramount, the eight or ten or twelve o'clock show - you just killed them. Just demolished 'em. This band. All the musicians would hate you. They all felt like they should be there [in the spotlight]. They all thought they were funny. Especially the drummers. And usually they were! There were a lot of funny drummers.
Kliph Nesteroff: How much time would you do in a circumstance like that? Doing comedy at a movie palace?
Jack Carter: Twelve minutes. Twelve to fifteen. That's all. That's all I had at the time. I did impressions of movies. I did horror films. Boris Karloff. And finished with the Movietone Newsreel. "Bup, bup buh! Da-da-da-da." Show the rowing - which I stole from Bernie West and Mickey Ross. They were a two-man act that was with me and Major Bowes; one of the first two-man acts playing parts where people are pushing and shoving and they'd do crossovers. Catskills stuff, y'know.
They were a cute act and they closed with the Movietone News. I did the other one. I did the Paramount Newsreel. "Bup, bup, buh buh! Da-da-da-da." It was a good closer. You always had a newsreel after the movie in those theaters. Fox Movietone News or Paramount News. So, I pilfered that from them.
Kliph Nesteroff: There was only ever one comic on a show like that, right?
Jack Carter: On a band show? Yeah. You had a dance team, like Bob Fosse and Niles, Copsey and Ayres - one of those. Then you'd have a girl singer with the band and a comic. And the band would do big, big numbers.
Kliph Nesteroff: I find that fascinating - its a missing link of show business. Nobody talks about those shows before the movies in these show palaces.
Jack Carter: Yeah and if you were on with a big movies - you ran for six to eight weeks. When I was at the Capitol I got lucky. I was on with Stop the Music. That was the hottest thing on TV; a game show. They cut it off when they called it a lottery. But that was done from The Capitol, which was the other good theater. The Capitol was owned by the Loew's family and if you played Loew's State you played the Capitol. But I played Loew's State earlier - at a very early time. I also closed Loew's State.
Kliph Nesteroff: I know. We've gone over that before, but tell me about the earlier times. We haven't talked about that yet.
Jack Carter: My first time at Loew's State was with Ed Sullivan. Ed had his Sullivan All-Stars. And there was another columnist. Louis... Louis...
Kliph Nesteroff: Louis Sobel.
Jack Carter: Louis Sobel had a night where he emceed. He wanted to do that, but Sullivan was the big one - and my voice went. Morey Amsterdam, who I became friendly with when we traveled to Vancouver and all that, he got me a voice doctor. They gave me a miracle thing where my voice came right back. But I did impressions then, mostly. That was my first Broadway theater - The Loew's State with Ed Sullivan. Fresh out of the army. I got out of the army in 1945 or '46 and here I was in Loew's State in 1947. Sidney Piermont was the booker and he liked me and he booked me into the Capitol and that was much easier. Loew's State was kind of a bum theater.
Kliph Nesteroff: Really?
Jack Carter: A lot of bums would come in and hangout. It was more tawdry. The Capitol was glamorous like The Paramount. The Capitol, The Paramount and The Strand. Of course, The Roxy was already like Radio City. It was more classic with dance numbers, big things and lightweight acts like Al Bernie, Dean Murphy and the great mimics of those days.
Kliph Nesteroff: What did you do between shows? You were only on for twelve minutes, but you had to be there all day.
Jack Carter: You'd probably nap or hang around the dressing room or take a walk. Go out and eat something. I could never eat and work. Never. To this very day. I could never eat before a show. Only after. But the big fun of showbiz was going out to eat after. Heavy eating and heavy camaraderie. You'd look forward to it. It was a late night life.
Kliph Nesteroff: You would go to the Stage Delicatessen primarily or...
Jack Carter: I liked the Stage, yes. I was very friendly with the owner Max Asnas. Max Asnas said to me one day, "You know Jack, I get everybody here. Producers, actors, Broadway's top people! Politicians come here. You see the sign on the door that says push? Everybody pulls."
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Jack Carter: I'll never forget that. Everybody pulls. That was a great place. But mostly it was Lindy's. Lindy's with Milton Berle. Milton would adopt you right away as you were coming into the business. That way he'd never have any trouble with you. He was your mentor and he was good and he would show up every opening night right at ringside. He was good to play off of and use for gags and he'd laugh, pound the table, whatever.
That one time at La Martinique. That was a classy place. I told you about that. When I flubbed my lines and he jumped up and he continued the song and made shtick and I just stood off to the side and watched in amazement. He saved my night - or at least he made it interesting. He was a good guy. Really he was. He let me co-host Texaco at his height, you know, but he wouldn't go on vacation. He was in the wings, watching, screaming at the writers. "Why can't I do that kind of stuff?" "Because you won't learn it, you idiot."
Kliph Nesteroff: Were you influenced by Berle's act? I mean, you had a very similar style...
Jack Carter: Oh, sure, yes. I liked that machine gun style. I tried to drop it later on. In fact, I did when I started to do more character things and more material that was embellished around specific subject matter. Like take-offs on one specific Broadway show. I would do South Pacific and do the whole show. Twice I got stopped by the show for doing whole things...
Kliph Nesteroff: Really?
Jack Carter: Yeah and I did Fiddler on the Roof - I did every song. I did it to a fine point and I would do South Pacific - because I could do the voices. I could do Pinza. I did the Tevya songs. That was one of the big songs in my act, If I Were a Rich Man. Whatever shows were on Broadway I would adopt the shows, get the best songs out of it, and do take-offs. I'd do the characters. I did Pinza who couldn't speak English. Their alley was next to ours. When I was in Mr. Wonderful, South Pacific was right next door to us. I would meet him but he couldn't speak a word of English - he just sort of doubletalked.
I used to do a thing on him singing Some Enchanted Evening and not knowing what he was saying. He sang it phonetically. "Somona Enchanyayet Eveneng-eng-eng. When you meeheet a strangore... joo here to call you cross the room was crowded there! So climb on her fly! And make her maronie!" And then I did that did that cute French song. So I was different than just doing jokes.
Kliph Nesteroff: I want to jump way ahead here for a moment. I heard you were up for the Jack Klugman part in the Odd Couple TV Show.
Jack Carter: Yeah. Yeah, where did (laughs) where did you hear that?
Kliph Nesteroff: I don't know.
Jack Carter: Yeah, I had it. It was me and Tony Randall originally for the TV show. I went to lunch with Sol Leon, my agent, and he said, "I've got some bad news. You're out of the show." "Why?" "Somebody said they can't have two comics. They've got to have one who's a straight actor. It's going to Klugman." That was a shocker to me, yeah. He took me to 21 for lunch to give me this news. Then later on I did the show with them. I guested on it.
Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, I've seen that.
Jack Carter: Later on I did The Odd Couple with Dick Shawn and Klugman directed it. Terrible director. He's a one-dimensional actor. He's what we call "A shoulder actor." All he can do is this [hunches shoulders up and gestures with arms]. He was limited. Like Sam Levene. Sam would take over the whole show. My wife was in a show with him and he would give you instructions after the director already had. He'd come and direct you himself. "Don't do it that way. Do it this way. Listen to me. You gotta..." Finally, Santi Prego, who was the director, said to him, "Ladies and gentleman there can only be two directors in this show!" He let him have it. That's a famous line.
Kliph Nesteroff: Sam Levene I remember from The Killers.
Jack Carter: Terrible man! Oh! Nasty bastard. Everybody hated him. He was like Merman. A hated man. Merman was hated. Because of her meanness and nastiness to anybody else. She was alone on stage and wanted nobody in her way. Nobody to be better than her. And she fought for it.
Kliph Nesteroff: And someone that everybody hates is Jackie Mason.
Jack Carter: Yeah, well, he's such a scummy person himself.
Kliph Nesteroff: How so? Every comedian I talk to says, "Jackie Mason? Brilliant comic. I can't stand him." But they never seem to peg exactly why.
Jack Carter: He's cheap. He's schmucky. He hangs around. He's nasty with women. He's abusive. Roxanne, my wife, handled his publicity for a while. She got him cleared when he had that fight with Sullivan with the finger. She straightened that out. When he got shot in Vegas - he went out and shot the window out himself. Supposedly someone was shooting at him. He planted the whole thing. But he's just terrible! He's cheap! He's lascivious!
Kliph Nesteroff: Maybe it's the same story... but there was a photo of him in the mid to late sixties in Vegas with bandages over his face - he had been pulled out of a car and beaten up in a parking lot.
Jack Carter: Really? I never heard that. No kidding? I never heard that. Everybody wanted to hit him (laughs). You gotta stand in line to hate him. Not a very nice man. He was sordid. Scummy. Cheap.
Kliph Nesteroff: That's interesting about Roxanne being the one who helped clear his name. How did she go about smoothing that over?
Jack Carter: With tact. Talking to people et cetera.
Kliph Nesteroff: Jackie Mason always exaggerates the effect that had on his career. He always claims he was blacklisted for twenty years afterward, but if you look at his filmography, he continued to be prolific with countless appearances on The Dean Martin Show, The Hollywood Palace and other big programs while that was going on.
Jack Carter: Yeah. He worked places, yes. Yeah, not one of my favorite people. Nick Vanoff took him to Broadway and saved his whole career. He liked what he saw, took him to Broadway and he did that one-man-show.
Kliph Nesteroff: The World According to Me.
Jack Carter: Whatever. I was begged to do a one-man-show. I could have done a great one. I had the natural talent for it because I could sing, I could talk, I could act. I never did one. I was asked to do it way back when the only one doing a one man show was Victor Borge. I was still living in New York then. This writer buddy of mine said, "Jeez, I just wrote a one man show and you'd be a natural for it!" I was scared to death. I negated everything. I negated a whole life time. I said no to my life!
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Jack Carter: I did. I turned down things and gone against things and said it can't be done and I didn't do it! I wound up exactly where I belong: out!
Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, but you sure did a lot.
Jack Carter: Yes, much more than I get credit for.