Saturday, August 25, 2012

An Interview with Ben Starr - Part Two


Kliph Nesteroff: We were talking about some of your contemporaries in the comedy writing field. Charlie Isaacs, whom you worked with on The Martin and Lewis Show and the Al Jolson program, was a chief writer for Eddie Cantor. Eddie Cantor had a reputation for being a bastard to his writers.


Ben Starr: Oh, yes. Right. Eddie Cantor had a radio show right before TV. Somebody recommended me so I wrote a half hour show for him. He liked it very much. I got a call that he wanted to meet me on one of the studio stages. So I went. He told me how great I was and was shaking my hand - and the entire time he was shaking my hand he was looking to see who else was around. The show I wrote for Cantor involved a short guy - and that was the genesis for my play Small Packages.


Kliph Nesteroff: You also wrote for the sitcom I Married Joan.

Ben Starr: Yes, that was the beginning of filmed television. I wrote a few of those and that got me going. As a result I was hired to go to New York to do The Jack Carter Show. Joan Davis was good. And speaking of Eddie Cantor - she and Eddie Cantor, as bizarre as it sounds, had a big love affair.

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh really? Cantor had a reputation for shtupping a ton of girls behind his wife's back.


Ben Starr: Yes, right. Knowing both of them - Cantor and Joan Davis - it was like really? The picture of Eddie Cantor in bed with Joan Davis... ugh... this is something you don't need!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Ben Starr: They had a big thing.

Kliph Nesteroff: Were you ever on set for I Married Joan? Sherwood Schwartz told me that when he worked on the program she would demand line changes while they were shooting. Schwartz said the writers took turns having to be the poor bastard stuck on set trying to appease her.


Ben Starr: I'll be darned. Sherwood did me a great favor. Sherwood recommended me for a show he was doing. He was leaving to do a pilot he wrote called The Brady Bunch so I became story editor for My Favorite Martian. I then left to write The New Phil Silvers Show. They did ten shows and I wrote five of them - because I would get in at nine in the morning and start working. 


A lot of the guys would waltz in at quarter to twelve and say, "It's time for lunch." You know? There are certain guys that just can not sit down to write unless it's night. They want to live the day and they start writing at ten at night. They'd come in and say, "Jesus, I wrote until two in the morning!" But it was because they didn't start until ten o'clock. I like to get right in and do it. I know I'm a freak in that way. I love writing. It's an adventure. 


The idea that I can take what used to be a blank page or a blank screen and create something, write it, and lets say it gets bought and produced and I made it possible for people to get jobs? And it'll make a lot of people laugh? I am intrigued by that whole process. Why shouldn't I sit down everyday and write? It's what I do.

Kliph Nesteroff: How was the experience of writing The New Phil Silvers Show? Nat Hiken had no involvement in that.


Ben Starr: No, but that was a fun show. We had a guy - Rod Amateau. Rod was the producer - director. Phil was a sweetheart, a real sweetheart. It's so great when you're writing for someone who delivers, so I had a blast. We worked at 20th Century Fox. I'd come in the morning, pitch ideas, get the go ahead and sit down and write a script.

Kliph Nesteroff: There was a guy named Lawrence Marks that wrote for it...


Ben Starr: Oh, Larry Marks. Fat Larry! Fat Larry was in charge of the writers. His office was next to mine. We called him Fat Larry for obvious reasons. In radio, when Fat Larry showed up to be interviewed by Groucho Marx, Groucho said, "I hope we aren't paying him by the pound."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Ben Starr: Fat Larry was in charge and my office was next to his. He was an interesting guy. Because of his size he had a different view of life. That size thing - it was something that worked. He had an offbeat approach to comedy that worked for him.


Kliph Nesteroff: Phil Silvers was, by every assessment, fun to write for. But the most notorious abuser of comedy writers was a man you were hired to work for in 1954 - Red Buttons.

Ben Starr: Oh, God. Yeah. That was an interesting thing. Larry called me to team up. We were both with the Morris office. They hired us to write for Red Buttons' new show. It was to come from New York on X date. The pay was great. I was making plans. I had a house, a wife and one or two kids. It involved going east because that's where the show was. The guy who was going to produce it was named Ben Brady. I did not like this guy. 


He was an attorney who became a producer. He was a liar. I didn't trust him and I didn't like him. At any rate, we were invited to come talk to Red Buttons about the show. We started telling him about the kind of characters we were toying with. He said, "Okay. Be sure the guy is this but he is also that." Whatever character we talked about he said that. 


I said to Larry, "Good, but bad? This guy wants both sides of everything? It's impossible." He wanted a character that was tall, but short, y'know? "I want a character that is funny, but not so funny that..." "For the marine character I want him to be tough... but not so tough that..." For everything. 


I saw in two seconds that this was not going to work. This was why his other show had been canceled, I thought to myself. You can't deal with him. And the producer Ben Brady, who was supposed to go to New York with us, was saying, "No, no, he means this and that." When Larry and I were alone I said, "I don't know about you - but I ain't moving to New York. Red Buttons is crazy and Ben Brady is a liar." Larry was very close to Ben Brady, but he agreed there was no way we could make it work with Red Buttons. 


So we go to the Morris office. We were called to George Gruskin's office. Ben Brady was there, but Red Buttons wasn't. That week there was a story on Larry and me in TV Guide. We say, "We're not going." Gruskin says, "Well, you have to." Ben Brady says, "You have to." I said, "No, I'm not going to go because Buttons is crazy and you're a liar!" Larry didn't say anything. We didn't go and that was the end of that. Our picture was in TV Guide and a story about us going east, but you gotta either live your life or you don't!


Kliph Nesteroff: And then you wrote for Red Buttons again much later on a forgotten sitcom called The Double Life of Henry Phyfe.

Ben Starr: Yes. At one point Buttons was free and it was a different kind of show. It wasn't a stand-up show and by then he had done Sayonara. That changed everything. I submitted ideas and he bought a couple from me and they did it some place. I got to know Buttons a little more and he was a different guy by that point. He was nicer. He became a nicer person, there is no doubt. My group, my lunch group, which used to meet at the Friars Club on the West Coast... once in a while Red Buttons would come and join us. 


Buddy Hackett used to join us. Hackett was a funny guy. One day he joined us for lunch and he said, "I was in my house and I heard my dog barking. I went outside and there he is - he's chasing a car. I ran after the dog, 'Come back! Come back! You'll get hurt!' Then I thought, 'What the hell am I doing? I don't have a dog." Hackett was funny. He got away with a lot of risque stuff in Las Vegas because the delivery was so innocent. He wasn't like Rickles who comes on strong. Hackett was funny and he had the face for it. He could say off color stuff and get away with it.


Kliph Nesteroff: Now you worked as a primary writer on The Jack Carter Show on NBC - 1950-51.

Ben Starr: That was something. If you got through that... I used to say to people... I was in World War Two and I was a navigator on B-17's. I did thirty-five missions and we got shot down. All kinds of crap happened. I said, "If I can live through that... and Jack Carter... nothing phases me."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)


Ben Starr: I could walk into the office of the President of the United States and it wouldn't bother me. It would be nothing because [of my experience with] Jack. Jack, first of all, is a talented guy. Jack Carter will never need an enemy as long as he can look in the mirror. This was our routine. I was called to replace the guy who was head writer of The Jack Carter Show. When I got to New York they were working six days a week. They'd be off Sunday. I changed that to five days a week. 


The show went on Saturday night right before Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows. We'd be off Sunday and come back Monday. Monday morning at ten o'clock we'd meet in a room at the Edison Hotel. The writers were myself, Larry Klein, Marvin Marx and the producer Ernie Glucksman. We would start pitching ideas for sketches. It was a one hour live show during which we did a monologue, two sketches and a production number. 


We'd pitch all day, go for lunch, come back until eight o'clock at night. Jack would turn everything down. We'd come back Tuesday at ten o'clock. Same routine. Everything we pitch - Jack turns down.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)


Ben Starr: Same thing Wednesday. By now, Ernie Glucksman was a basket case. He's producer and nothing has been accepted. When we finally agreed on the sketches and knew the kind of people we needed, Ernie would call the Morris office in California and say, "We need the following actors to fly in and be here for Thursday morning to start rehearsal." The next day! 


So he would be sweating by Tuesday night. Wednesday we knew in our gut that Jack would have to accept a couple sketches - or else the show doesn't go on. We would have to pitch it and write it and bring it in Thursday morning to start rehearsal for Saturday broadcast! So, in the course Jack would approve two sketches. Now it's eight o'clock at night and Ernie's hand is shaking and he's ready to pass out. We had a running joke: "Tell him to get Kay Francis." She was an actress from way back. 


We'd go home to wherever we were renting an apartment in New York. Each writer would go home and at about ten o'clock I would start writing. We would write all the jokes for Jack's monologue. Ten o'clock the next morning, Thursday, we're there at the Edison Hotel and there would be the stars that were flown in over night from the Coast - and they had no idea what they were going to do. Now we would rehearse Thursday and Friday. 


This is what would happen every week. We'd get to the Hudson Theater. Almost every Saturday, the morning of the show, this is what would greet us outside the theater. Jack would be there. Ernie Glucksman would be there. An agent from the Morris office would be there. Pat Weaver would be there. And the steward, who was the union guy for all the guys that put up the sets, would be there. Nobody would be building any sets in the theater. Why? Jack had insulted all the hammer guys who construct our sets.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)


Ben Starr: Jack would have insulted them. And we were all waiting for someone to arrive with a case of champagne.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Ben Starr: The case would arrive and they would give it to the steward. Then everybody would go in and start rehearsing! This was Jack.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Ben Starr: He was very talented. Jack is a real talent. He can do voices, he's a good actor... but he's Jack!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Ben Starr: (laughs) You know? So what can you do? I used to drive him crazy. We'd be up in the room at the Edison Hotel all day and he hasn't accepted anything. I get up at the window and look out as if I'm looking far out. He'd say, "What are you looking for?" I'd say, "I'm looking for the West Coast."


Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) Oh, ouch.

Ben Starr: "Because I can't wait to get back there." You know? Anyway, the show was well-written. I didn't know Sid Caesar then, although he is a friend now. You know, you get ideas for sketches from newspapers or whatever. Sometimes we would come up with an idea and the guys on Your Show of Shows would have come up with the same idea. 


They didn't know it and we didn't know it. We'd write a sketch and they'd write a sketch and at the last minute we'd get a call, "Hey you guys can't do that sketch cause Sid's guys are doing that sketch." And Sid was king so... it kept you busy, but you really learned to write under pressure.

Kliph Nesteroff: Jack mentioned you had guest stars on the show because they had stormed off the Milton Berle show the same week.

Ben Starr: Yes and we had Berle on once or twice. Berle liked Jack. Lucky for Jack. That helped because Jack's reputation... you know. Jack was making a lot of money, Jesus. He'd walk around with cheques folded up for... what back then... must have been a fortune. Jack is one of the world's great complainers.


Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Ben Starr: Boy, really.

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, I know Jack pretty good.

Ben Starr: How do you know Jack?

Kliph Nesteroff: I did an interview like this with him about sixteen months ago and he was very flattered that I knew so much about his career. We did a series of them. Jack is maybe the funniest guy in conversation.

Ben Starr: He's funny! He is truly funny! Yes, he is very sharp.

Kliph Nesteroff: And he's a walking history of show business.

Ben Starr: Absolutely!


Kliph Nesteroff: You also wrote for the television version of Duffy's Tavern.

Ben Starr: Oh, yes. The very beginning of Duffy's Tavern. Ed Gardner was the star and Ed Gardner was a fucking animal.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Ben Starr: He was a fucking animal, this guy. The character he did was funny, Archie the manager. I still do a line he used to do in his show. He'd say, "Eddie, get me some coffee." And then he would say, "This coffee is just the way I like it. Nice and tepid." Anyway, Gardner was an animal. We started doing that show at Hal Roach Studios in Culver City. At lunch time the writers and I would go in the little restaurant they had. Every once in a while Gardner would be there. 




He'd go behind the counter himself. He'd pour himself a bowl of soup and then he'd get a scoop of ice cream and put the ice cream in the soup. I said, "Ed? You put ice cream in your soup? What's that all about?" He said to me, "What's the difference!? They all go down in the same place!"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Ben Starr: He had a son who was really gonna be the son of Ed Gardner. We were at Ed's house to discuss a script and his son was standing at the door with a plate. Ed whispers to us, "Don't touch anything." 


The kid walks in and says, "Here, dad. Here's a nickel for you." It was on the plate. Gardner takes the plate and says, "Thanks. Now get the hell out of here." Ed says to me, "You know what my son does? He heats up the nickel. He puts this nickel in the oven and heats it up in the hopes that I will touch it and burn myself." This was Ed's kid doing this! Ed explained that his son was mad at him "because I keep the good ice cream for myself." 


He once told me he had a house on Sunset Boulevard. Nice house. He was putting it up for sale. He called a real estate person and said, "I wanna sell my house." He had her look at it and asked, "What do you think I could get for it?" She said four hundred thousand or something. So, later in the day he calls her and he disguises his voice. He says, "Hi, I'm looking for a house." And he describes his own house.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Ben Starr: He says, "How much do you think a house like that would be worth?" She says, "Oh, around six hundred thousand dollars." He says, "You're damned rights six hundred thousand dollars, you bitch!"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)


Thursday, August 23, 2012

An Interview with Burt Holiday of The Gaylords



Burt Holiday: We had great success with Italian songs. We were the number one singers of those songs. Three gold records all had Italian in them; Tell Me You're Mine, From the Vine Came the Grape, The Little Shoemaker.

Kliph Nesteroff: I listened to a ridiculous song by The Gaylords - an Italian version of Yakety Yak.

Burt Holiday: Oh, yeah (laughs). Yeah, we did a whole album of rock and roll favorites in Italian. We used the original guys, too, that played on the original sessions. We had the saxophone player on Yakety Yak who was with The Coasters at the time. Anyway, we brought together as many of the original people for that as we could. Mercury Records arranged it for us.


Kliph Nesteroff: Last night I watched your appearance on The Colgate Summer Comedy Hour...

Burt Holiday: With Sammy Davis?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes. I was wondering what you remember about that. It was one of the very first television appearances for The Gaylords.


Burt Holiday: Boy, that's a long time ago. Yes. Sammy was just getting started then. You know the song Mr. Bojangles he used to do? He got that from us. We were working at Lake Tahoe at Harvey's and that was one of the numbers I did. Sam would come to see us often. After the show I said, "Sam, that would be a perfect song for you to do!" He said, "You know, you're right!" So that's where he got the idea to do Mr. Bojangles. That was a big, big number for him. He was a multi-talented guy.


Kliph Nesteroff: That same Colgate episode featured comedian Jay Lawrence.

Burt Holiday: Jay Lawrence, yes, there wasn't more than a fast hello. We hung around more with Sammy than anybody else on that program. We did that and we did The Hollywood Palace, The Glen Campbell Show and a lot of Tonight shows. We did a special with Andy Williams, a special with the Laugh-In show. We worked with everybody. Bob Hope. Red Skelton. Don Rickles. Ronnie [Gaylord] wrote Don Rickles' theme song, I'll Trade You Laughter For Love, which he uses in his act all the time. He closes with that song. Looking through the archives, we were the first recording group out of Detroit to receive a gold record. That was 1953.


Kliph Nesteroff: The Gaylords were playing The Falcon Club when you were signed by Mercury Records.

Burt Holiday: Yes, what happened was we were working the club and Ronnie was going to be drafted. We decided to make a record first and give it to our fans. Our most requested song was Cuban Love Song. We went to United Sound, which is where Motown recorded all their stuff. In those days they had acetate. If you made a mistake you had to start it all over again. We did it about fifty times. We finally got it the way we wanted it to sound. We said, "Let's put this Tell Me You're Mine down - the one with the Italian words in it."


My dad had an Italian bookstore in Detroit and they'd be able to sell it there. We did that song - one take. After we got through with the session Joe Syracuse, the engineer, said, "You mind if I try get this out to a record company?" We didn't care. I said, "Sure, go ahead." He got Mercury Records interested - but they wanted Tell Me You're Mine - the song we did in one take (laughs). That was an immediate hit. Right away. It was incredible for us. In a month's time it climbed the charts to number one. That was our first gold record and that was a freak thing to happen.


Kliph Nesteroff: What was The Falcon Club like?

Burt Holiday: It was a lounge type place. We started at a place called The Conner Showbar. The Falcon was the same thing. They were bowling alleys and they had a lounge with a stage. In those days that was very popular. We used to alternate with The Four Freshman. They would work on the west side of town at a place called The Crest Lounge. On the Monday we'd go to the Crest and they'd come play The Conner or The Falcon Showbar. I also had a radio program for a couple of years out of Windsor, which is just across from Detroit.


Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, really? Was your show on CKLW?

Burt Holiday: Yes, right. I ran out of people to interview. It was a music-of-your-life station and I interviewed a lot of people before they passed away like The Mills Brothers, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis...

Kliph Nesteroff: October 1953, The Gaylords played The Chicago Theater.


Burt Holiday: A beautiful theater. We worked it a number of times. That was a great experience for us, but the biggest experience happened when Ronnie got drafted. There we were, Don and I, not knowing what to do. We went to see Buddy Greco perform. He worked The Falcon too. He asked us what we were going to do and we really didn't know - because Ronnie sang the lead, y'know.


He said, "Listen, I'll work with you guys. Get another guy to sing the high parts." And that turned out to be another big, freak success for us. We worked with Buddy for about four months. The last job we had was in Youngstown, Ohio. The company in the meantime started recording Ronnie solo. They said, "You guys can record but... just record novelty songs." I said, "Well... okay... but can we do regular songs on the B sides?" They said, "Okay."


Anyway, we recorded a song called Mama and Papa Polka, which got a lot of play, but the B side was a song called Strings of My Heart. In those days, jukeboxes were very, very important. The Jukebox Association picked Strings of My Heart as the "Hit of the Month." This meant it went in 280,000 jukeboxes they had around the country.


Kliph Nesteroff: Wow.

Burt Holiday: So that was the end of that. They let us do ballads, regular songs, from then on. We did Isle of Capri, Ramona, From the Vine Came the Grape and the hits. On and on.

Kliph Nesteroff: 1953 - shortly after the Chicago Theater - you guys went on a tour of one-nighters with Duke Ellington.


Burt Holiday: Duke Ellington. That was the biggest thrill of our lives! Imagine that! Here we are working lounges in bowling alleys and all of a sudden we're working with the fabulous Duke Ellington! That was fabulous. That was a big thrill for us. Joe Glaser, the agent, represented Duke Ellington and Duke introduced us as "The Purveyors of Tonal Zest." He was fabulous. A super talented guy who never got the credit. He was a genius. Fabulous.


The whole band - they were all legendary guys and they did two hundred and fifty one-nighters a year. Can you believe that? That's hard to do. All great guys and great musicians. We worked all over. Ballrooms, mainly. We traveled by train. It was a great experience for us and I'll never forget it.


Kliph Nesteroff: Your manager at the time was a guy named Mannie Greenfield.

Burt Holiday: He was our manager for a while and then we were with the office of Jerry Perenchio. I don't know if that name means anything to you, but at one point he was the second richest man in California. A fabulous guy. He had his own company and he was with Yorkin and Lear and produced a lot of movies.

Kliph Nesteroff: 1954 you did another mass tour of one-nighters with Don Cornell and Jerry Fielding.


Burt Holiday: Yes, that was a big success. Don Cornell had Size Twelve and we had Little Old Shoemaker. We went all over the country. We finished the tour in New Jersey.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes - you played The Rustic Cabin in Englewood, New Jersey.

Burt Holiday: (laughs) Yes. You've got a lot of information on us! It was a nice place, as I remember. It was so long ago. Of course, we ended up in Nevada for so long. We played Harrah's for twenty-two years. We were on our way to California, stopped in Reno and liked it. We were supposed to be there for two weeks and it turned out to be our home. We played Harrah's with Fats Domino. He got so in [gambling] debt that he owed them more than they were paying him! Some guys would get addicted.


Kliph Nesteroff: March 1955 - another engagement at the Chicago Theater. This one with Roy Hamilton...

Burt Holiday: Oh, yes, he was great - and he died young. All those dates we did at the Chicago Theater were great. Of course, you're there all day long, which is not the easiest job in the world. The first show was at eleven [in the morning] and I guess we did four shows between movies. In those days, it was a real bargain, boy.


Kliph Nesteroff: What was the difference between an eleven AM show and a ten PM show? There must be a difference in the dynamic.

Burt Holiday: Well, we weren't as warmed up in the morning, obviously. But it wasn't too much of a problem.

Kliph Nesteroff: The same Roy Hamilton - Chicago Theater engagement, you guys were on the bill with Jack Carter.

Burt Holiday: Jack Carter, the comedian. Yes. He was nuts!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)


Burt Holiday: Real hyper guy. He always complained about the band. He'd get off the stage, "Goddammit! Goddamn the band!" Always complained (laughs). A great comedian though. A cranky guy. A Vegas guy. A famous story was when we were working Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. It was around three in the morning. We were just finishing up our show around three o'clock in the morning. There were just a few people in the lounge and all of a sudden people came rushing into the lounge. Following all these people was Frank Sinatra in a golf cart!




Jilly comes up to us. He says, "Do you know You're Nobody Til Somebody Loves You in E Flat?" What happened was... Frank gets onstage. He had got in an argument with Carl Cohen, who was casino manager at that time. Frank wanted more [gambling credit] and Carl said, "No, you've reached your limit." They got in an argument.


Frank tried to punch him and Carl hit him in the mouth. Frank was known for drinking pretty good. Frank gets up there and he's singing, "You're nobody... til somebody..." It was so embarrassing. Here's our idol up there and he's missing his teeth. No teeth - trying to sing. It was a time.


We also did a birthday party for Frank out at his house in Palm Springs and Frank didn't show up. We had to sing happy birthday to him over the telephone. Everybody had to line up and say, "Hi Frank, happy birthday." All the movie stars were there and everything. Everyone had to line up. Frank didn't show up for his own birthday party at his own house! He was a legend, I tell ya.


Kliph Nesteroff: You played a long stint at Newt Crumley's Holiday Theater Bar with Harry WooWoo Stevens.

Burt Holiday: Oh, yes, yes, that was the Holiday where we really got started in Reno. Woo Woo Stevens was a banjo player. Newt Crumley was great. He was a big hero. He died in a plane crash with the banker who supported all the casinos in the northern part of Nevada. He was a jet pilot and he owned the Holiday. The plane iced up, but he knew they had no chance. They got into a spin and for four or five minutes they knew they didn't have a chance. That was terrible.


Kliph Nesteroff: April 1961 you did the Latin Quarter in New York.

Burt Holiday: Latin Quarter had the most beautiful girls in the world. They outshone all the girls in Las Vegas. They were from Europe, most of them. The week before we were there Rowan and Martin played it. New York being the hub of the international... there was a group of Arabs sitting in the front row. Dick and Dan had a routine where Dick gets drunk and Dan says, "You're drunk!" And Dick says, "I'm not drunk! That guy over there is drunk!" And he points to someone in the audience.


This night he points to one of the Arabs. After the last act everyone comes out and takes a bow. A representative with the group of Arabs, there were about fifteen in their group, came up to the maitre'd and said, "You know, we need an apology. That's against our religion. We don't believe in getting drunk or drinking." Gigi goes backstage and tells Dan, "You better offer an apology to these guys." Dan said, "Okay, very happy to do it." They stopped the band and Dan got up and apologized. The Arabs all stood up and accepted the apology.


Next week we were working there and a contingency from Cuba were in the audience. We did a little routine, a blackout, about Castro. I'm on the firing line and, "Do you have any last words before you are shot? Cigarette?" "No, I'm trying to quit." "Ready, Aim..." "Castro - he stink!" "Whatchoo say?" "Castro, he stink!" "Are you looking for trouble?" And that was the little blackout.


After the show these guys go up to Gigi and they want an apology. Gigi came backstage and said, "You have to apologize to these guys." I said, "For what? He's an enemy of ours! I'm not going to apologize. I'll only apologize if the boss tells me." What was his name? With the daughter.


Kliph Nesteroff: Lou Walters.

Burt Holiday: Lou Walters, right. I said if Lou Walters says I have to apologize then I'll apologize. So they waited and they were there and Lou finally comes backstage and Gigi explains, "They did this bit and the Cuban contingent was insulted and Burt doesn't want to apologize." Lou said, "Burt, come over here with me." He grabbed me by the hand and I thought, "Ah, dammit, I'm gonna have to apologize." He goes up to the contingent and he says to them, "Goddammit, you guys get out of my club! I never want to see you here again!" He told the guys to get the hell out of his club (laughs). He was on my side! He had a lot of nerve (laughs).


Kliph Nesteroff: You played the Saddle and the Sirloin in May 1961.

Burt Holiday: We worked there with Bob Hope. It was a bit embarrassing for Bob. We did a routine about football. We did it and he came on after the break... and he did the same joke! It had no effect at all. He thought, "My God." He didn't realize that we had done it, you know. It threw him off for about fifteen minutes and he had a hard time getting back into his routine. It wasn't our fault. He should have listened to what we were doing! We did a lot of comedy. We worked a lot with Don Rickles and Buddy Hackett. They were a pleasure to work with.


Kliph Nesteroff: What was Buddy Hackett like?

Burt Holiday: Well, he was... he was feisty! Feisty, but funny. He didn't get the credit when he passed away. There wasn't much said about him, but he was funny. When he'd walk out onstage, he just had that charisma. Rickles was a pussycat and not at all like what he pretends to be like onstage.

Kliph Nesteroff: When did you first encounter Don Rickles?


Burt Holiday: He was a star already. We worked the lounge with him at the Sahara. That's where he became really well known - like Louis Prima and Keeley Smith. We worked with him at that lounge in the Sahara. We became very good friends and played golf with him a lot. He had dinner at our house a lot when I lived in Reno. Like I say, it's a beautiful song that Ronnie wrote for him, I'll Trade You Laughter For Love. It's perfect for him.


Kliph Nesteroff: October 1961, you played Eddy's in Kansas City.

Burt Holiday: We worked Eddy's with John Gary. I don't recall much about the club exactly, but there isn't a place we haven't worked.

Kliph Nesteroff: A comedian I spoke with told me it was a real Outfit joint, but I guess all the clubs in those days were pretty much run by the Mob.

Burt Holiday: Yes. If I remember it had a pool right in the middle so you had to work around it. It wasn't the best set up in the world. Oh well. It was work.

Kliph Nesteroff: September 1962 - the Mapes Skyroom.


Burt Holiday: Yes, that was in Reno before we were hired at Harrah's. It was a landmark in Reno, but they've since torn it down. It was a beautiful hotel and the Skyroom was gorgeous. It overlooked all of Reno. The clubs in Nevada were perfect. The sound was perfect, the lights were perfect. It wasn't like some of these other venues where you're taking chances or when you'd have to work ballrooms and the facilities aren't great. But any venue in Vegas or Reno or Tahoe were just perfect places to work. And the best places to work were theaters.


Kliph Nesteroff: You played The Thunderbird in Las Vegas.

Burt Holiday: We worked The Thunderbird with Dinah Washington. Dinah is one of my favorite singers. She was married to a football player named Dick "Night Train" Lane. All-pro, very good, played for the Detroit Lions. I got hold of him and told him I'd like to have him on my radio program. It was Thursday night and I had the engineers on the other end of the room. I said, "Ladies and gentleman, on the phone, my favorite singer's husband, Dick Lane. Dick, welcome to the show." He said, "Uh huh," and mumbled something I couldn't understand. I said, "Dick, what have you got going on these days?" He says, "Mmmph gmph rmmp."


Again, I couldn't understand. The guys in the engineering room are laughing! I said, "Uh, what is your favorite Dinah Washington song?" He says, "Ahg mm hmm rmph." We couldn't understand a word he said for the entire interview! We found out later that his son had just got arrested in Detroit for selling drugs. He was mad and wasn't in the mood to do any talking. He was live on the air, but we couldn't understand a word he was saying. I had Ray Anthony on once. He was hard of hearing and all he kept saying was, "What you say? What you say?" How do you do an interview on the radio with a guy saying nothing but, "Huh? What? Huh?" Yeah (laughs).


Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned earlier that you did some kind of a Laugh-In special?

Burt Holiday: We went on a tour with those guys [as Gaylord and Holiday]. We went all over the country. We worked the hotels. We worked Montreal and a couple of arenas. The whole cast. Dan and Dick, Ruth Buzzi, Goldie Hawn - the entire cast and they did their television bits and we did ours. We came off the best because we were used to working a live nightclub audience and they weren't. They were a little stiff. It's a good thing they had us on that tour, to tell you the truth.


Kliph Nesteroff: July 1963 - Gaylord and Holiday played Isy's in Vancouver.

Burt Holiday: I love Vancouver, yes. We worked Isy's a lot. That was a great club and Isy was a great guy to work with. I bet we played it around eight times. On certain nights at the last show - all the hookers would come in. And they were a great audience! Real dumb girls, though. Real flakes. They'd come in looking for customers, but they loved Isy's. Isy must have taken care of them with free drinks or something. I don't know. I loved the town.


Kliph Nesteroff: 1968 - you returned to Detroit to play The Moon Club.

Burt Holiday: It was part of the hotel. That was the first time we played Detroit in a long, long time even though we were from there.

Kliph Nesteroff: The big clubs in Detroit - there were a few like The Roostertail, but it seems like the main ones were across the border in Windsor.


Burt Holiday: Yes, I'm trying to remember what it was called...

Kliph Nesteroff: The Elmwood?

Burt Holiday: The Elmwood. We never worked that, but we worked The Top Hat very often. We did work all over Canada. Edmonton, Winnipeg and we did the Calgary Stampede three times. Canadian audiences were great for us.


Kliph Nesteroff: I watched an episode of The Hollywood Palace that Gaylord and Holiday appeared on with Arthur Godfrey.

Burt Holiday: Arthur Godfrey, yes. We did it about four times. When we did them they were taped live. They wouldn't re-shoot. We were in the dressing room with Maurice Chevalier and we sang a song for him. I think he was a little insecure. He wore suspenders and a belt, which we thought was peculiar, but he was a real gentleman.




Outside of saying hello that was the extent of our meeting Arthur Godfrey. We worked a lot with Julius LaRosa over the years and he had a lot of stories about working with Arthur Godfrey. He didn't care for him. We worked with Vic Damone. Jerry Vale was a good friend of ours. Sad about both of them - they can't work anymore. Jerry has dementia and Vic had a slight stroke and can't sing.

Kliph Nesteroff: We've mentioned Rowan and Martin and Don Rickles... are there any other comedians that you guys were particularly chummy with?


Burt Holiday: Red Skelton. He was a real funny guy. Danny Thomas. We worked with him and I wrote a song for his wife Rosie. She became good friends with my wife. The song was called, "I'm Danny's Rosie." She was an ex-singer from Detroit. Every time she was introduced she would sing the song. I have a picture of us with Danny and Rosie. 

Kliph Nesteroff: There was a comedian from Detroit named Jackie Kannon.


Burt Holiday: Yes, he worked a club there called The Gay Haven. Boy, but to be a comic in those days you really had to have material. A comic had to go out there and do around forty-five minutes then introduce an act then do another fifteen minutes and then introduce another act and then after that do their regular act. Comics in those days - they really learned their trade working clubs like that.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was the Gay Haven like?


Burt Holiday: It was a beautiful club. It was a real nightclub. It held about five hundred people. Real nice.

Kliph Nesteroff: Apparently it was another Mob club. So many of those clubs, as I mentioned, were run by the Mob...

Burt Holiday: Well, in Youngstown you'd really run into that. Out there you'd run into guys who had their guns right on the table (laughs). But other than that we never got involved with that. We were working there when I got the call from the jukebox company that our song had been picked up. It was already a hit because of the 280,000 records they got for their jukeboxes. Boy, that was something. A different time.