Monday, March 25, 2013
An Interview with Woody Woodbury - Part Four
Woody Woodbury: I once did a pilot film for Warner Brothers. Jack Warner kind of took a liking to me years ago. I did this pilot and some guy, I don't know who he was, got so mad. He came to Jack Warner and said, "Why'd you give that son of a bitch the pilot for? I should have been up for that!" I got a kick out of Mr. Warner telling me that. Jack Warner used to smoke these big cigars and they came in these little individual wooden boxes. They were like long, little caskets just for a cigar. I still have one he gave to me. He was a real character.
Kliph Nesteroff: What was your association with Warner Brothers?
Woody Woodbury: Just that pilot and a couple of the directors. Joe Pasternak was at Warner Brothers for a while and I got to know him pretty well. I lived in Toluca Lake and Burbank was right there. I knew different guys at Warners. Jim Jordan was there for a while and he wound up directing my show for Ralph Edwards. Jim Jordan Jr, that is. He was Fibber McGee's son.
You've been in contact with Jack Carter? I had always been a fan of his. I followed him into a couple of places. I followed him into the Top Hat in Windsor. I used to do the Warner-Lambert shows with him years ago. We did those in Miami and Palm Desert. Usually at the Mariott or something. I worked with him quite a few times. I have a picture of he and Harry Ritz. Harry Ritz gave it to me.
Jack Carter was in an accident with Toni Murray? I knew her and Jan Murray when they were just newlyweds in 1947 or 1948. They used to come down to Miami and work The Clover Club with Rose Marie and The Vagabonds. We used to go water skiing. She was pretty. She was a Copa girl or something. Toni Murray was movie star pretty. Another guy that I miss that I got to know pretty well was Jack from Dragnet.
Kliph Nesteroff: Jack Webb.
Woody Woodbury: Jack Webb, yeah. He was very close to the Pickers who headed up United Artists. He was going at that time with this gorgeous girl, Angie Dickinson.
Kliph Nesteroff: You were a mainstay at the Clover Club in Miami. You were there nightly for a year or two.
Woody Woodbury: The Clover Club had great acts. Jack Goldman was a marvelous boss and he was especially good to me. Every time that I asked for a raise I got it. Nobody else would dare ask him for a raise. We were doing incredible business there in the lounge and I emceed other shows for him. That's how I got to know so many of the headliners. Jack was married to a beautiful Italian girl named Louise. Jack got interested in Las Vegas and he was in on the ground floor.
He was one of the initial backers - owners - of the Sahara. I don't know what happened, but in the process he stayed out there so long, things didn't work out, and he got divorced. Somehow he lost out and got bought out. By the time he came back to Miami he had no interest in his club anymore and he just faded from the scene. One night at the Bahama Hotel, about five or six years later, the room was full and doing great business. I walk in and there's Jack Goldman with an entourage of people. I introduced him from the stage.
Fort Lauderdale then had kind of an anti-Semitic flavor to it. When I introduced him and said he was the greatest boss I ever had - people stood up and applauded because they remembered the Clover Club. I mean, it was the plush place. It was like Ciro's in California or the Stork Club in New York or Lou Walters' Latin Quarter. Lou Walters built a place in Miami at one point and he called it the Latin Quarter South. Barbara Walters is his daughter. I remember Barbara when she was a kid. I would see her around when she was making the nightclub scene.
She was a pretty little girl. That was my time in Miami and then everything opened up for me in Fort Lauderdale. Sonny Werblin, he was next in line from Jules Stein at MCA. They were my agents. They wanted me to go to Fort Lauderdale. I went and at the time I was real bitter about it. I didn't want to leave Miami and the Vagabonds. But everything good happened to me in Lauderdale.
Kliph Nesteroff: Over in Miami Beach it was very much what you might call "connected."
Woody Woodybury: Yes. There was Murray Weinger with Copa City and there was the Beachcomber. Murray Weinger was a businessman out of New York and I think he had some money behind it. It was gorgeous, but it was really nothing compared to the Clover Club. Sophie Tucker never worked the Clover, but Jack wanted her to. She had family down here. So did Rickles. Don's mom lived down here forever.
Kliph Nesteroff: How about Place Pigalle where BS Pully performed...
Woody Woodbury: Place Pigalle was over on the Beach. I remember when Jerry Colonna was in town. He and I went over to the Club 22 and BS Pully was onstage. Colonna went crazy. Jerry was rolling over laughing at BS Pully. He was a dirty comic, but he was also a funny guy and had a voice like a cannon.
And when Don Rickles started down here... my friend Al Schwartz who I was with constantly... we were inseparable buddies. We'd go over to see Rickles perform and Al would say, "Honestly, I don't know if I wanna go in there." I said, "Why?" He said, "Because the Jews hate him!" I said, "He's Jewish. What are you talking about?" We went in there and Don was still perfecting what he was doing. He wasn't yet accepted for what he was. When he was first starting out he was making anti-Semitic remarks.
It was like when he did the Carson roast and he told Flip Wilson, "It's amazing you're sitting up here with us. You should be in back washing the dishes." Things like that. That's what he was doing at Murray Franklin's across the street from the Roney Plaza. He would say things that sounded anti-Jewish and those young Jewish kids didn't understand what the hell he was doing. They wanted to come over the goddamn bar and kill him. Don would tell you that himself.
Kliph Nesteroff: I have an early advertisement for Don Rickles playing the Admiral Vee Motel.
Woody Woodbury: I think that was a little later on. Do you have a year on that?
Kliph Nesteroff: 1958.
Woody Woodbury: Uh huh. Well, I'm talking about 1948, 1949, 1950.
Kliph Nesteroff: What was Murray Franklin's like?
Woody Woodbury: It was a small, intimate club. It was like a lounge bar and had a pretty good size stage. What was good about it was that the stage was behind the bar so you had command of the room. There was no escape. You were a perfect target for everybody. Don was starting to get his feet wet. You know who saw him? The Slate Brothers were down here in Florida.
They were down here and they liked Rickles. He shuffled around Miami and New York a few more years and the Slates never forgot him. They brought him out to their club. The Slate Brothers had a club on La Cienega Blvd out there in Los Angeles and they were connected to the Ritz Brothers and a lot of people.
Billy Gray, who worked the Band Box, and all the great performers out there. They'd have a lot of stars in there. I was in there three or four times and Sinatra saw Rickles there and just went up the wall. If memory serves, that's when Rickles really started to make noise. The stuff he was doing back then was pretty much what he does now, although I think it may have been a little more coarse. He had that kisser of his and he'd be making those eyes, rolling them and all this kind of stuff. Some of his stuff is still standard. Dick Haymes would be in the audience. "Dick, I heard you sing tonight. Go home. You're through." You know? That's the way he operated.
Kliph Nesteroff: Billy Gray's Band Box was a predecessor of comedy clubs. It really featured a lot of comedians. What do you remember of it?
Woody Woodbury: We used to go to it every now and then. It was on Fairfax, not far from where CBS is today. It was a nice place. It wasn't as classy as Ciro's. I went to Ciro's with Rose Marie and Bobby Guy and my own mom and dad for some reason. My mother couldn't get over how plush Ciro's was. "This is almost as pretty as the Clover Club!"
The Band Box had people like Noonan and Marshall. Peter was a vocalist, as you well know, and he has a great mind for comedy. I met Peter when I was working the Clover Club. I think it was probably 1948. He was at the Olympia Theater with Tommy Noonan. They were a comedy duo and when Tommy died... I thought that was going to be the end of Peter Marshall. They were bosom buddies for several years and he died unexpectedly. Did you ever know of a guy named Roger Ray?
Kliph Nesteroff: No.
Woody Woodbury: A comedian?
Kliph Nesteroff: No.
Woody Woodbury: He was an excellent musician. He played the marimba with two mallets, four mallets, six mallets and he was really great. He always had to be a supporting act. You hear the marimba two or three times and that's it. And he knew that. He was a great friend of mine. What he did was - he got work at some little lounge in Las Vegas. Word got to him that Las Vegas was really gonna blow up and expand. So Roger got into the cement block business. Think about that.
Roger retired with something like eight hundred million dollars. He supplied all the cement blocks for all the Strip hotels and Clark County. Roger Ray. He was a talented guy. I worked with him two or three times. He and Corbett Monica were good friends. When I worked the El Cortez there was no Strip in Las Vegas yet. The only place to work was the Sahara, which Beldon Kattleman had.
Nothing was ever called The Strip. It was called the LA Highway. They had a place out there called the Old Frontier. It was shaped like a big letter C. Gambling was wide open in those days, but nobody knew about it except people in California. I was working the El Cortez and the only other place was the Biltmore. That was downtown. Downtown was where all the activity was and there was nothing on the Strip except for Beldon Kattleman's place. The only comic who ever worked it was Joe E. Lewis. That was it. There was nothing else in Las Vegas. Nothing. I remember it well.