Thursday, August 1, 2013

An Interview with Frankie Man - Part One

Frankie Man: Will Jordan was a good friend of mine. Many years ago someone taught me how to imitate Will Jordan. I put it into my act where I looked and sounded exactly like Will Jordan. He told me a story once about being outside Hanson's Drugstore. The story is there were two comedians having a fistfight. Will says, "Hey, come on guys. Stop this. What are you fighting about?" The one comedian says to the other, "He stole my Phil Foster bit!"

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, different versions of that story have made the rounds. Did you hang around Hanson's Drugstore?

Frankie Man: Oh, yes, sure. Everybody did. You'd be talking about a certain comedian and all of a sudden that comedian would show up, whether it were Milton Berle or Jack E. Leonard. Yes, there was a comedian who used to hang out there who was a comedian's comedian named Gene Baylos. Have you heard about him? 

Kliph Nesteroff: People say Gene Baylos was hilarious offstage, but always bombed onstage.

Frankie Man: Well, his act was based on the fact he was bombing. So, naturally, the band would laugh and the hipper people in the audience would laugh, but the squares didn't understand what he was talking about. Though, he was always working Vegas. He was always working Atlantic City. He was a star up in the Catskills. 

He was one of the semi-names. But he never made it because he was very cheap and he gambled all of his money away. One night he was in Las Vegas shooting craps. The manager came and cut him off. "I'm sorry, Gene. We can't give you anymore chips." He said, "What do you mean! I've been playing here for two and a half hours!" "You're not on a winning streak, we have to cut you off." So Gene jumped onto the table and yelled, "I bet myself!" 

All the comedians would sort of follow him around because he would always say funny things. He used to go on The Dean Martin ShowHe was my favorite comedian. I think he was the funniest of all of them. I used to do Gene Baylos in my act too. 

I could do his voice and his mannerisms. A lot of his jokes were stolen or borrowed by other comedians and you might think they were just some old jokes, but they were taken from Gene Baylos. He and I have a very similar voice, this New York/Jersey nasal voice. Jerry Lewis also uses that type of voice. Every comedian had a different pitch and if you could get that pitch you could do their voice.

Kliph Nesteroff: Who were some of the people that took stuff from Gene Baylos?

Frankie Man: Almost every comedian used some of his jokes. "I'm so unlucky. I bought a suit with two pairs of pants and I ripped a hole in the jacket!" Those type of jokes that you might think are standard jokes, originally came from him. They became like standard jokes. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You were friendly with Lenny Bruce.

Frankie Man: Yes, we would smoke pot. Then Lenny got to the point where he said, "Y'know, Frankie, I can't smoke pot anymore. It's not doing it for me anymore." So that's when he went on to heroin and whatever else. But we used to all get together. At that time Buddy Hackett had a lot of money. The owner of Montrose Motors in Brooklyn was acting at his manager. Frank Faske.

Buddy would say things like, "I don't know if I can do that. I'll have to ask my manager." Frank Faske was the owner of Montrose Motors and he'd give money to Buddy, as much as he ever needed. He had a Cadillac, he had the finest tuxedos, and we would get together. Buddy would say, "Let's go down to Chinatown and have some Chinese food. I'll stop by and get some money." So, he'd get some money from Frank Faske, we'd go get Chinese food and we'd all do bits together. 

We'd all go back to my apartment and get high. One day Buddy Hackett came to us and said, "I can't hang out with you guys anymore. I get too paranoid. My eyes get too red. I'm afraid they're going to arrest me. I'm going to have to start hanging out on the golf course with Alan King, Sid Caesar and people like that. I can't hang out with you guys anymore." And he left our clique. 

Sure enough, he hung out with those people, went to Hollywood, California, and got his first movie. He drank a little bit too much for my taste, but he could always perform. We once had a drinking contest with Jack Eagle, Buddy Hackett and me. I think we went over to Mexico and we were drinking tequila to see who could drink the most. 

Buddy Hackett won, I came in second, Jack Eagle lost (laughs). Jack passed out and never drank again! I carried him up three flights of stairs. I drank when I was in a comedy team with Jack Eagle, but I performed perfectly and could handle it. But I got to a point where I stopped drinking and stopped smoking.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you remain friendly with Buddy Hackett after he left your clique?

Frankie Man: I did for a while until I got into a little trouble. That's another whole story with Gabe Kaplan, oh God.

Kliph Nesteroff: What's the story? 

Frankie Man: Gabe Kaplan came to visit me. I had this mansion in Coconut Grove, Florida with a natural swimming pool, adjoining hot tub and every kind of fruit in the world. It had an eight foot wall and we were all, kind of, nudists. I had a whole family I was living with. It was this guy named Sidney and he was our guru. 

He was a millionaire who took some acid or some mushrooms or something and he abandoned his business and left his family. He bought up this place in Coconut Grove and he talked me into buying the place across the street from him so we would have a little bit of a family. 

Anyway, that was my old mansion in Coconut Grove. An old friend that I helped get into show business was Gabe Kaplan. He wanted to become a comedian. I met him in New York. He said, "My parents have been supporting me and they're about to cut me off. I really want to become a comedian. Can you come to my house and talk to my mother and father?" So I went to his house. We had a nice dinner. I explained to them, "Your son has a lot of talent. It would be a waste to have him work some other job. I think he can make it as a comedian. You should support him and I'm sure you won't be sorry." 

So they did. And before you know it he was doing a bit about Ed Sullivan being drunk on one of his last shows. It was such a funny bit. It lead to someone considering him for the part of a teacher and it lead to him getting Welcome Back, Kotter. Years later he came to my house in the Grove. He said, "Frankie, my servant from England is looking for something other than pot. He wants to know if you can get him some cocaine." I said, "I don't have anything to do with cocaine - but I might know somebody that can help."

So I found a guy and he helped out the servant. The servant took the cocaine, went on a train to Pennsylvania, and these dogs tracked it down and they busted him! He got busted and he called me from jail. Naturally, I had no idea he was calling from jail. I said, "How's it going?" He said, "Oh, very, very well. Can you get me some more?" Now I turn into Edward G. Robinson. "Nyeah! Sure, I can get you whatever you want. I'll take care of you. Come on down." 

A couple weeks later I got a call from his wife. She said, "Well, I'm here if you can help me." I said, "Where's your husband?" "Oh, he went to Ireland to visit his sick mother." I met up with her and she was with her so-called girlfriend who had the typical Lesbian-prison-matron look. I even made a comment like, "Gee, you sure look like a narc!" She said, "This is my girlfriend, she just came to accompany me." I said, "I'll take you over to the place." She said, "No, no, I'm afraid. You go with him." Idiot that I am, I went with the prison matron. Before you know it the DEA came in. It was this room at the Baltimore Hotel in Miami, with an adjoining room full of police. 

I thought, "My God, what have I got myself into?" I thought about jumping off the railing! I didn't jump off, but I had to do seventeen months, five days time. Buddy Hackett found out about it and he disowned me. He said, "I don't want to have anything to do with you." 

I knew something was flukey with Buddy because Buddy Hackett and Lenny Bruce had been best friends. The first time that Lenny got busted in Philadelphia, I called Buddy. I said, "You hear what happened to Lenny?" He said, "Yeah, I heard." I said, "What can we do to help him?" He said, "I'm not going to do anything to help him! He'll probably stick a needle in my kid's arm!" And that was the end of the friendship between Buddy Hackett and Lenny Bruce.