Saturday, July 21, 2012
Friday, July 20, 2012
Famous series, but a rarely seen installment. This copy is even derived from an original Late Late Show print distributed by Screen Gems to local affiliates in the late fifties/early sixties.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Kliph Nesteroff: Let's talk comedians. What do you remember about working with Ernie Kovacs in Wake Me When It's Over?
Marvin Kaplan: Ernie was great. He couldn't take things too seriously. He was like Clark Gable. He was a very handsome man. Dashing. He could have played any of those heroes very well. He had to play a love scene in Wake Me When It's Over and he was "swishing" it (laughs). He was hilarious. He couldn't take himself seriously as a romantic actor.
Edie Adams was a lovely woman. Also in that cast was a man named Jack Warden. Jack was terrific and a great actor. Don Knotts and Bob Strauss were also in the cast. Strauss was notorious. If there was a picture on the wall of the set - most people would be afraid to touch it. But Strauss would just rip it off the wall and hit you on the head with it. He had no fear. He had the guts of a burglar. All my scenes were with Strauss. He made the mistake of going to Catalina on a boat with Mervyn LeRoy, who directed it. He beat LeRoy at gin or whatever the hell they were playing... and LeRoy cut out all of his scenes!
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) Wow!
Marvin Kaplan: And I was in all of those scenes - so out I went also.
Kliph Nesteroff: What do you recall about being on the set of The Nutty Professor?
Marvin Kaplan: Jerry Lewis... is not one of my favorite people. He was very sick at the time and I didn't realize it. He was hooked to percodan. I didn't realize it at the time. They hired me for this part. We worked through the rehearsal and we improvised everything. He said to me, "You know, I can't be mean to you," because the audience would hate him. He said it was like working with Shirley Booth. He compared me to Shirley Booth! He came in at eight thirty if the call was for nine and he shot off a gun. I was in the make-up chair and I fell out of the chair. I figured he had a live one. Then he tried to run me over with a kiddie car.
I went to him and said, "You know, Mr. Lewis. I don't know if I can work on this picture because I was 4-F." He left me alone for the rest of the picture. He had me do personal appearances. He gave me seventh billing and I had one or two lines. The way he shot it - I knew I was going to be cut out of the picture. I could tell. And that's exactly what he did. He cut me out of the picture and made me look like an extra. Meantime, I'm publicizing the movie, talking about what a great director he is (laughs) and how wonderful he is (laughs) and I'm out of the movie!
He never even bothered to tell me. He is not a great guy. Then I did a show of his in Vegas. I had to get special permission from the people at Warner Brothers and Alice. I was playing the character I played on Alice on his telethon. And then he never used me - except to answer the phones! Then there was a bomb scare - but he didn't tell the actors there was a bomb scare... which I thought was pretty shitty. We found our wardrobe that we brought all over the floor of the hotel. There was a bomb. It had been planted in his airplane. It was a scary situation. But Jerry needed a lot of people around him to say, "Yes, yes, yes." He wanted my phone number and I wouldn't give it to him. He used to call people up at two o'clock in the morning. I didn't need that. He's a lonely man. I'm sure he's a very lonely man.
Kliph Nesteroff: It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World is one of your most famous roles...
Marvin Kaplan: It was great. I replaced Jackie Mason. Jackie was supposed to do my part. He had a lot of nightclub engagements and he told Mr. Kramer about the nightclub engagements and Kramer thanked him very much and fired him. They needed a replacement. I was up for another part in the movie. I was up for the part that Doodles Weaver did in the picture as the assistant to Edward Everett Horton. Now there was a vacancy. My agent recommended me for the part. Anne Kramer did all the casting on that picture. Stanley Kramer's wife. She had pictures of everyone and she looked at who looked good with one another.
They had Arnold Stang and Jonathan Winters and I guess my picture looked good matched with theirs. My agent sent me the script and I called him back. I said, "You know, I almost got killed reading the script. It's very dangerous! I'm being thrown through a glass wall? I have to throw machinery at people?" He said, "Your deal for stunts is that you'll only do the same stunts that your partner will do in the picture." I said, "Who's my partner?" He said, "Arnold Stang." Well, I knew Arnold was the biggest coward in the American theater! So I said, "Whatever Arnold consents to do, I'll do." I knew he would do nothing.
Then we worked with a man named Jonathan Winters and he was an ex-marine. He felt all the actors should do their own stunts. Arnold and I are sitting on the sideline watching Johnny do a scene... hoping he'll get hurt! Not seriously hurt, just a little bit. Sure enough, he strains his back. Arnold and I looked at each other and we knew we wouldn't have to do our own stunts after that. And we didn't. My stunt guy was named Bill Maxwell. He was a very handsome kid - who was thin. They kept putting padding in him to make him look fat like me. I kept taking the padding out because I wanted to look thin.
Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)
Marvin Kaplan: Arnold's stuntman was a man named Janos Prohaska. He did all the chimps in movies. The problem was Arnold had no shoulders to speak of and this guy had tremendous shoulders. So they had to give Arnold shoulders so that he would look as good as his stuntman (laughs). But they did most of the work, thank God, because I would have got killed making that picture. The ones who did get hurt were Phil Silvers and Ethel Merman.
The scene where she hides the keys... she was running around these rocks and her ankle hit one of the rocks and started to swell. They had to pick her up by her feet. She really got hurt and was in pain. During the shoot [Merman's character] kept hitting Milton Berle with her pocketbook on the head. He kept complaining, "What have you got in the pocketbook!?" She said, "Nothing." They opened her pocketbook and it was full of all this heavy, iron jewelry! She kept hitting him in the head and in his stomach. Wherever she could! But it was great. Terry-Thomas was a delight.
He didn't understand Americans at all. He said, "By now we [in Britain] would have done ten films." The only make-up he got was on his knees because he wore shorts. He didn't get any make-up on his face, as I remember, only on his knee caps. He was hilarious. He and Ethel Merman had a contest. He did a lot of musicals in England. So he would sing something like Tip Toe through the Tulips and she would do something like I Got Rhythm (laughs). It was great company. Buddy Hackett. Mickey Rooney.
Kliph Nesteroff: Buddy Hackett was known for being difficult.
Marvin Kaplan: I didn't like Buddy. I didn't like him. I was standing up and leaning on a couch and he threw a knife at me. Threw a knife at me! There was a knife between my fingers. Yeah. I didn't like Buddy... but he was funny. Very funny. I loved Paul Ford, who I worked with later on. And Sterling Holloway, who I worked with later on. Carl Reiner. Eddie Ryder. Jesse White. They were all wonderful. Terrific. Merman was something else. Sid Caesar couldn't have been nicer. Ben Blue. Dorothy Provine. Gale Gordon. Great people.
Kliph Nesteroff: Last thing I wanted to ask you about, Marvin. Years later - after all these great sixties comedy parts and so on... you ended up working with filmmaker David Lynch.
Marvin Kaplan: I love David Lynch. I never worked with Orson Welles, but for me David Lynch is the Orson Welles of this era. He's a genius and a wonderful, sweet man. I did a movie with him called Wild at Heart. I did it with Laura Dern and I knew her mother Diane Ladd. We improvised our scene. Before a take David would tell you the kind of music he wanted, the lighting he wanted... he would give you forty-five different details before he said, "Roll 'em."
I have never worked with any other director who had that sort of complete knowledge of what he wanted and what he was doing. He always hired the same people. He hired the same composer all the time. We did a television show called On the Air together. The problem with David is he loses interest for a project, sometimes, in the middle of it - and he assigns it to other people that aren't as talented. So we rarely got the input from David that we needed on On the Air. ABC was angry with David about something. I don't know what. And they double crossed him. His show Twin Peaks was a big hit, but they gave us one of the worst time slots you can imagine. We went off the air after six episodes, but it was a good show.
Sunday, July 15, 2012
Kliph Nesteroff: Marvin, you're one of most recognizable character actors in the history of film and television. You were in The Fat Man, which had some fine character actors in the cast.
Marvin Kaplan: I loved it. I got along great with Bill Castle. He loved our stuff. We got along great and it was a very good experience. And Roy Fitzgerald, who was in it, later became Rock Hudson. He couldn't have been nicer. Wonderful boy.
Kliph Nesteroff: Mike Mazurki was in it.
Marvin Kaplan: I loved Mike. We also did Chicago Teddy Bears together. Mike was supposed to have been a violent human being. He was such a pushover. He was one of the gentlest people I ever met. That has been my experience. All these villains were marvelous, sweet, kind people. Mike was married to a woman named Sylvia Weintraub, who was a casting director at Universal. She later became his agent. Sylvia, Mike and I were very close. He was a wonderful actor and they fired Mike, unnecessarily, on Chicago Teddy Bears because they didn't know what the hell they were doing. He was a very sweet guy. I went to his funeral. It was a Greek Orthodox funeral. He belonged to the church.
Kliph Nesteroff: You were in the 1951 film Behave Yourself and it is just full of familiar character actors. Elisha Cook Jr, Sheldon Leonard...
Marvin Kaplan: Cookie. Yes, he was wonderful.
Kliph Nesteroff: Lon Chaney Jr, Allen Jenkins...
Marvin Kaplan: Allen and I did a series together called Top Cat. He was a very sweet man and he played Officer Dibble. Very bright man. He played mugs all of his life, but he was from Broadway. He did a lot of stuff on Broadway and he loved cats. That was unusual because most men didn't have cats for pets, they had dogs. But Jenkins loved cats.
Francis L. Sullivan [was also in Behave Yourself]. Remember him? He was a British actor who was in Great Expectations and weighed about four hundred pounds. And a guy named Glenn Anders. He was in Lady From Shanghai. He was the leading man for Lunt and Fontanne. They wanted him as a leading man and he did Strange Interlude. He created the lover in that and he was a good friend of Tallulah Bankhead. He filled me in about Tallulah. He was a very witty, funny man and a great actor. Glenn Anders. Very overlooked and under appreciated. Margalo Gilmore played the mother-in-law and she was a wonderful stage actress.
Kliph Nesteroff: So many of these films are lifted by the mere presence of these character actors.
Marvin Kaplan: Well, now we don't have character actors. There are no parts. They don't write them. How many characters over fifty do you see on the screen? In the old days each studio had a list of character people. Fox had Thomas Mitchell and Lee Cobb. Warner Brothers had Claude Rains and Henry Stephenson. My favorite whom I met, but never worked with was Mikhail Rasumny. Remember Mr. Rasumny?
Kliph Nesteroff: No.
Marvin Kaplan: You don't?
Kliph Nesteroff: A lot of these character actors I am sure I would recognize their face, but don't know them by name.
Marvin Kaplan: For Whom the Bell Tolls. He played the gypsy in that. He put his thumb in his teeth and licked them afterward. He was a great comedian and a great actor. He's in A Medal for Benny. It was an Academy Award performance. I saw everything Rasumny ever did. The other person I watched in everything was Michael Chekhov. I had joined the Arthur Kennedy Group. They had Akim Tamiroff, Arthur Kennedy, Millard Mitchell... Michael Chekhov gave lessons there.
Janice Rule. Tamara Shayne, who was married to Tamiroff. All these wonderful character people. Vladmir Sokoloff. Maria Ouspenskaya. A woman named Madame Leopoldine Konstantin, who was Claude Rains' mother in Notorious. I mean they had all these great, great actors and great parts for them. Sooner or later I got to work with most of them. A woman named Mabel Paige. Do you remember Mabel?
Kliph Nesteroff: No.
Marvin Kaplan: Mabel Paige played Alan Ladd's mother in many films. In the Dick Tracy thing she played Gravel Gertie. She had curly white hair and looked like a little bird.
Kliph Nesteroff: I've seen these films and I'm sure I've seen these people in several pictures...
Marvin Kaplan: Mabel Paige was a top character woman. She did all the Alan Ladd movies and she was marvelous and under contract to Paramount. Elizabeth Patterson... remember her? I worked with her and she was wonderful. I had memorized all the credit lists when I was a kid. I loved people like that. Agnes Moorehead, of course. I worked with Jeanette Nolan. Her husband, John McIntire, was a radio actor. And Jeff Chandler. And Gerald Mohr was a radio character. Hans was one of the best. Hans Conreid. Bill Conrad, who was on Gunsmoke and The Killers. And Fritz Feld. Remember Fritzie?
Kliph Nesteroff: (lying) Yes.
Marvin Kaplan: He was one of my good friends. He and his wife Virginia Christine. They were all fine actors. Radio had the best collection of people you could think of. You had to be very good because we had very little rehearsal. Virgina Gregg was another woman I got to meet and know. They were all top people. Irene Tedrow. Remember Irene?
Kliph Nesteroff: (silence) No.
Marvin Kaplan: Irene played the mother on Meet Corliss Archer. She was part of the Orson Welles Mercury Theater. Irene and I were in a group together where we did plays. I did a couple of scenes with Irene and she was a brilliant, brilliant actress. Ruth McDevitt. Remember Ruthie?
Kliph Nesteroff: (silence) No. You're stumping me.
Marvin Kaplan: Ruth McDevitt was a birdlike little lady. She was wonderful. She was the standby for Josephine Hull on Broadway, so she did Arsenic and Old Lace. A real sweet, old lady. We did Uncle Vanya together. Gale Sondergaard was in that cast. Pamela Tiffin, Lois Smith, Richard Basehart, Joseph Wiseman, Eduard Franz. Brilliant, brilliant actors. Every one.
Kliph Nesteroff: Other than Meet Millie - were you doing much radio at that time?
Marvin Kaplan: I did a radio thing for Elliot Lewis. I did a show called Suspense.
Kliph Nesteroff: Sure.
Marvin Kaplan: I played Broderick Crawford's bookkeeper in an episode called Dutch Schultz. Elliot directed it. He directed me in a couple other things I did for Sears Radio Theater. Jay Novello I worked with... and Vito Scotti.
Kliph Nesteroff: You were in the Fabulous Senorita with Vito Scotti.
Marvin Kaplan: That's right. Vito was wonderful. Nestor Paiva. Argentina Brunetti. Dee Carroll. Hope Emerson. Betty Garde. A lot of these people I saw through the [Actor's] Union.
Kliph Nesteroff: What do you remember about that episode of Suspense? I have heard Lewis liked to rehearse as little as possible.
Marvin Kaplan: That's true. I remember when I played the bookkeeper, they were all talking about "contracts." I didn't know what this was. They were speaking very casually like dinner conversation. They were all sitting around the table talking about "a contract on him." I asked Peter Leeds. I said, "What are they talking about?" He said, "A contract on him? That's when [the Mob] is going to bump off somebody." They were talking so casually about the killing of other people! I got so flustered I couldn't talk! I said to Elliot Lewis, "Mr. Lewis, I don't know if I can do this role. Everyone is making me so nervous." He said, "That's perfect. Use it for the part." And I did. I was scared! Herb Butterfield, Earl Ross, Jay Novello and Tony Barrett - all these great actors were in the cast. Radio was fun.
Kliph Nesteroff: How was it working with Broderick Crawford? He was notorious for his drinking.
Marvin Kaplan: I loved him. He did that show Highway Patrol. Well, he had a drinking problem. Highway Patrol - you had to shoot him before lunch. After lunch he was holding on to the car. In the show I did with him, when I played the bookkeeper, he was drunk as could be. I had to hold him up at the mic! The fumes were overwhelming (laughs). But I loved him. A very sweet man, a very tortured man, but kind and good. Another was Lon Chaney Jr. He was wonderful. A great actor. He was with me in Behave Yourself.
Kliph Nesteroff: You have some great scenes with Sheldon Leonard in Behave Yourself.
Marvin Kaplan: Sheldon taught me how to play pinochle. When things got rough on set... mainly because of Shelley Winters... Sheldon would say, "Pinochle time!" I loved Sheldon. Terrific guy. I was with him for one of his last acting roles. He said, "I want to be a writer or a producer, Marvin. They don't even consider me an actor." They would barely consider him for the second road company of Guys n' Dolls. He said, "They think of me as a thug, not an actor." Sheldon was a very good actor. He had to choke me in a scene. And he really choked me!
He had no control over the muscles in his hand. Actors get carried away sometimes and Sheldon had that kind of a problem. The other one who had a problem like that was Jack Palance. Shelley Winters was a very mixed bag. I liked her at times and sometimes I was ready to hit her. Farley Granger was a very nice boy. Wonderful kid. Cookie was a nice man. Elisha Cook. They had a great cast. If you look at that cast - it's an amazing list of characters.
Kliph Nesteroff: William Demarest as well.
Marvin Kaplan: The picture was directed by the man who wrote it - George Beck. It was photographed by James Wong Howe. He was magnificent. Great. Great. They tell a funny story about him. He had a restaurant. Chinese restaurant. Someone was photographing something by the restaurant. Howe came out and told them [the proper way] to use their camera. The guy said to Howe, "Listen, buddy, you stick to making your noodles." Very funny. Busby Berkeley was the second unit guy on Behave Yourself.
Kliph Nesteroff: Really? Wow. That's quite the step down for him.
Marvin Kaplan: He was very nice. I got along great with everybody. The only ones I would have had a problem with were people like Adolphe Menjou, Ward Bond and John Wayne.
Kliph Nesteroff: Because of their politics.
Marvin Kaplan: I never really worked with them anyway. I met John Wayne in the commissary. I laughed and he threw me out of the commissary. I was with Joanne Woodward and Thelma Ritter and we all left together.
Kliph Nesteroff: What do you mean he threw you out?
Marvin Kaplan: He didn't like the way I laughed.
Kliph Nesteroff: That is bizarre.
Marvin Kaplan: He threw his weight around. This was at Paramount. I was with Woodward. Paul Newman was a lovely man. Maurice Chevalier. I worked with Chevalier. Eva Gabor. Zsa Zsa. Red Skelton was tops and one of the great people in our business. Overlooked - Red Skelton.
Kliph Nesteroff: Red Skelton could be tough on his writers, though.
Marvin Kaplan: Yes. He was. I understand that, but I didn't work with him as a writer, only as an actor and he was kind and sweet. He was very kind to other people. Jeanie Porter was on our show and he had worked with Jean at Metro. She was married to Edward Dmytryk. Jeanie was doing a bit on Skelton's show. He got the footage from a movie they did at Metro twenty years before and he played it for her, so she felt important. He was a very kind man. I loved Skelton.
He had gone through a lot of tragedy. His son died very young. His wife committed suicide. He went through terrible times. Huntz Hall was a riot and a funny man. I directed him in The Sunshine Boys in Texas. He was a wonderful guy. Let's see. Gabriel Dell. They were all part of the studio system. Mickey Shaughnessy.
Kliph Nesteroff: I loved him. He was always playing a cop.
Marvin Kaplan: A marvelous actor. My favorite character man was John Banner. He was Schultz on Hogan's Heroes. Dean Jones was very nice. Shirley Jones was terrific. I managed to work with some wonderful, wonderful people. Janet Waldo, whom I worked with in radio. Y'know? June Foray - one of the top people in radio. Daws Butler and Don Messick whom I worked with in cartoons. Arnold Stang. Jonathan Winters. Marvelous!
Kliph Nesteroff: You did an episode of General Electric Theater that featured Jack Benny.
Marvin Kaplan: And I did a promo show with him for when they [opened] CBS Television City. I loved Mr. Benny. He was a great man. I worked with George Burns and Gracie Allen. These are great people!
Kliph Nesteroff: You did an episode of Make Room for Daddy with Danny Thomas.
Marvin Kaplan: Yes, I worked with Danny and Sheldon Leonard directed that. I played Evil Eye Schultz on his program. From that day on he always called me Evil Eye. He could never remember my name. Danny and I went to see Last of the Red Hot Lovers when they played it out here. Ken McMillan was doing it. He replaced Jack Weston who got sick. We went to see Jack, but Jack wasn't in the show. McMillan wasn't up to it. He wasn't good in it at all. Danny Thomas was sitting in back of me and he starts a standing ovation for McMillan and (laughs) he was the only one standing.