Monday, October 7, 2013

An Interview with Pat Carroll - Part One


Pat Carroll: I haven't thought about Camp Tamiment since I was there. You have made things come into my mind I haven't thought about in years. You know, I met my husband there, so it has a very special place in my heart.

Kliph Nesteroff: Your husband was an agent?


Pat Carroll: He turned into an agent, but he had just come down from the Yale Drama School. He'd gone there to study with one of the big designers because he thought he wanted to design theaters. The big magoo said to him, "Lee, your interiors are magnificent, but you couldn't design an exterior to save your life. Go into something else." He was quite right.


He met the son of a big agent at the Morris office who said, "Why don't you be an agent?" So that's what he became. He worked at Tamiment that summer backstage. He was like an assistant stage manager. That's where it all started.

Kliph Nesteroff: When did you start at Tamiment?

Pat Carroll: I think it may have been 1952, but I first came into New York in 1950. It was within that three year range and that's how I got into television.


Kliph Nesteroff: You did a production prior to Tamiment - Small Beer in Springtime...

Pat Carroll: Yes, at Catholic University. That was in the summer. I went to Catholic University as a civilian actress technician. I was supposed to teach a class about scene design. Father Hartkey wanted me to stay on and give me a scholarship. I said, "No, Father, I'm a stock actress now and I have my Equity card. I have to go into New York." 


Kliph Nesteroff: February 1950 you performed in a production of Razzle Dazzle at the Hotel Edison.

Pat Carroll: No, I actually left the show before it opened at the Edison. I did it off-Broadway, but I didn't care for what they were doing so I left the show.

Kliph Nesteroff: At Tamiment, presumably, that is when you first encountered Max Liebman.


Pat Carroll: He had put together Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca from there. He knew that it was a repository of young talent. He came and the first year he hated me. The second yeah, "Ehhhhh, she's getting better." The third year he decided to hire me and I did a number of his wonderful specials for television. Tamiment was so wonderful for young performers. I can't tell you how great it was.


I had done probably two hundred roles in stock before that, but this was different because you were doing an all-original revue every weekend! Every weekend! Can you imagine? They had a dance company and a full pit orchestra that doubled as a dance orchestra for the guests. We had sketch writers, composers, lyricists and you rehearsed all day long. You would be in a choral number or a dance number and you'd be doing sketches. Every Wednesday night we did a cabaret. The orchestra went onstage as they did at places like the Paramount.


Kliph Nesteroff: As I understand it, your performing there lead to you getting a regular gig on The Red Buttons Show.

Pat Carroll: That's right. Will Stein and Joe Glickman came to see something and thought I would be wonderful to play Red's punch drunk fighter friend. I was hired. The Buttons show - that was my first television. So, you see, Tamiment was very good to me, very good indeed.


Kliph Nesteroff: The Red Buttons Show was legendary for its behind-the-scenes turmoil.

Pat Carroll: It was an overnight sensation. Here was a little fella who was one of the top comics in burlesque - and the youngest - and overnight he was a sensation. I remember standing in the room after they showed the first episode. Here was Red surrounded by Time, Life, Look, all the theatrical newspapers and he was an overnight star.



They had a big party at Danny's Hideaway. I said, "How does this feel, Red?" He said, "Kid, it only happens once in a lifetime. I'm loving it!" And he was. I was only with him one season. George Burns said, "You got too popular on the show. Red had to fire you." I said, "I guess that's it, Mr. Burns. I don't know." But I was out by the end of the season.


Kliph Nesteroff: The show only lasted two seasons, but it was famous for burning through writers, producers, directors... the crew had a crazy turn over rate.

Pat Carroll: There wasn't a writer that didn't wear it on his sleeve that he'd been canned by Red (laughs). Well, you know performers, Kliph! When things aren't going right, the first people they blame are the writers. It's a shame because without the writers what do we say?


Kliph Nesteroff: Did you see that conflict or tension?

Pat Carroll: Oh, yes, yes. Listen. If you became an overnight star wouldn't you get a bit of ego? Sure, I would. Red suffered from the excesses of immediate success. But he deserved it because he worked his fanny off in anonymity for so many years and he was still a young man. Of course this was glorious and he was king of the hill.


Anything he said - that was it. That's very enticing. I'm sure a lot of people suffered because of Red's ego, but I think the last time I saw him was in the dressing room for ER or something. We were both on the show. Red kind of apologized to me in a way for canning me all those years ago. I said, "Water under the bridge, Red. All is fine." But I think he had a wonderful career.


Kliph Nesteroff: Around that time you started playing a lot of the Village nightclubs like the Village Vanguard...

Pat Carroll: Yes, the Vanguard, the Number One Fifth Avenue and the Reuben Bleu.

Kliph Nesteroff: And the Blue Angel.


Pat Carroll: No, I never played the Blue Angel, I played the Reuben Bleu and that was considered the nth degree for cabaret performers. I wrote to my mother, "You'll be very proud. I'm working in saloons now." Well, she was so upset! I said, "Don't be upset! It's only because it sells liquor, otherwise it is a very fancy joint." Julius Monk was the fella who selected talent. He had asked me to audition for him, but I had never played rooms. So, I went and sang something silly for him. You could never understand him. He sounded English by way of Paris. He said, "Well, I wooda coombla floomba." "I don't understand, Mr. Monk." Someone translated. "He wants you to come work here. Can you put an act together?"


So I called some friends of mine that were writers. Mike Stewart and a couple of other chaps, they wrote me some material and I began forming an act. I went out of town and the first place I played was like a roadhouse and they threw dinner rolls at me! That's how good I was, how wonderfully good. I was doing material like, "Look good, look glamor, look Harper's Bizarre." Well, these people weren't interested in that. They wanted something snappy. They threw dinner rolls at me, but you live, you learn and I finally broke in the act in Boston. I worked at the Reuben Bleu in New York for a year or two. That was interesting, I had never done that kind of thing before.


Kliph Nesteroff: You say you never played the Blue Angel?

Pat Carroll: No, I never played the Blue Angel... oh! The Blue Angel! Oh, yes. It was the one downtown I didn't play. The Blue Angel I played two or three times.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have an advertisement for you playing the Blue Angel with the strangest line-up. It's you, Mort Sahl and the actor John Carradine.

Pat Carroll: Yes, Carradine did Shakespeare. Carradine would work at anything if it turned a buck. He was an admirable guy. He drank too much, God bless him. So did a lot of people in those days. But the man was a good actor, he loved poetry and he loved Shakespeare. I could not discount him. I enjoyed him. I found him a great raconteur. A very interesting man and a wonderful actor.


Kliph Nesteroff: And Mort Sahl?

Pat Carroll: Mort Sahl and I ended up living across the street from each other in Beverly Hills! But I never saw Mort very much. He came in, did his act and left. He was very busy at that time because he was frighteningly popular. I first saw him work in San Francisco at a little place called the Purple Onion. 


He explained politics in a way that I never thought of. He made it funny, understandable and I thought he was frightfully bright and that's why we all listened to him. He made us laugh and he made us think. So three cheers for Mort!

Kliph Nesteroff: Somebody that played all these same Village nightclub,s and with whom you were on the bill with in April 1953, is Professor Irwin Corey.

Pat Carroll: Oh my, there was no one like Irwin Corey. And he's still going strong in his nineties. He had the most unusual act in the entire theatrical heaven. The man was audacious. That's all I can tell you, absolutely audacious.


I would watch him work and I couldn't figure him out. The audiences adored him because he was a constant surprise. He was an intellectual irritant. He would make you think whether you wanted to or not. He was amazing and he still is.

Kliph Nesteroff: January 1954 there was talk that you were going to star in a television version of Baby Snooks. You were going to do the old role made famous by Fanny Brice.

Pat Carroll: Oh, I don't remember that. Obviously it was only a rumor. I don't even remember it.


Kliph Nesteroff: At the same time there was talk you would star in the television version of Fibber McGee and Molly.

Pat Carroll: I remember some talk about that, but as always with rumors, it was just talk. I don't think they ever made that revival - or if they did I never even saw it. I would have been happy to do it - because I was always out of work. I could have used it (laughs). So I wish some of those rumors would have come true!


Kliph Nesteroff: Sounds like NBC put you under contract and was looking for some kind of starring vehicle. December 1954, producer Ben Brady was hired to develop a show specifically for you.

Pat Carroll: No, I don't remember anything about that, but I was under contract to NBC. They would loan me out to other networks. It was like the early days of film studios. You were hired help and they could do anything they wanted with you. I remember working for CBS on something and nothing ever happened. People were always kind to me and tried to keep me working.


Kliph Nesteroff: You did several Max Liebman "Spectaculars." A handful of them were with you and Jimmy Durante.

Pat Carroll: Oh, how I adored Jimmy Durante since I was a child. I loved that man. I think it was the purity of him. He was was who he was - and it showed. What a good man. I was doing one of the Liebman specials with Jimmy and the first day I was so in awe of him that I could barely speak. He was such a natural human being that you just had to relax around him. He made no one starchy. On the second day I was clowning around and he said, "Pat! I want you to come on my teevee show!"




And I thought, "Oh, isn't he cute. He's just being nice." The Morris office called me the next day and said, "Jimmy called and he wants you to do his show." I was so thrilled, Kliph, oh my God! That thrilled me. My parents did not have a TV set. They went out and bought a television just because I was going to be on the Durante show. I told them, "Come see the show and I'll introduce you to Jimmy. I just love him so much and I know you've always loved him. Come see the show." So they didn't get to see me on TV because we didn't have recorders then.


So they came to the show. We rehearsed all week at Jimmy's house. His whole place was just full of warmth and nostalgia. It was Jimmy. Here we are, it's a show my parents have come to and they're sitting up in the bleachers. Jimmy did the warm-up for the show and he was out there. He said, "Folks! I met a little girl while I was in New York doing a Liebman show...


I liked her so much I asked her to come out here and be on my show. I'd like you to meet her! Pat Crowley!" I was standing next to the director and producer and my jaw fell. The producer shrugged and said, "Pat, that's the way he is. He can't remember names." So I walked on and said, "Jimmy, that was the nicest introduction, but I must correct you because my mom and dad are sitting up in the bleachers. My name isn't Pat Crowley." He said, "What is it?" I said, "Pat Carroll." He said, "Well then who the hell is Pat Crowley?"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)


Pat Carroll: (laughs) My parents got the biggest kick out of that and I asked Jimmy if they could meet them. They came backstage and they were so fascinated. He was so kind to them and so dear. He was never anybody else but Jimmy. Later I lived in Beverly Hills and being a good catholic I went to the Good Shepherd Church. Jimmy and his little daughter and my mother would make sure to sit behind them. He would always lean over to the nursemaid and say, "The kid has to go to the turlet!" (laughs) My mother adored that.


He was such a good man, such a kind, loving father. His partner for many years, the fella in the tux and the hat, the singer... I asked him, "Does he have an enemy in the whole world?" He said, "Not a one. If anybody said a bad word about Jimmy there would be a rush of a hundred people to come and poke that person in the mouth." Isn't it wonderful to have that kind of a reputation? And Jimmy deserved it. I was sitting in a restaurant with him in New York when we were rehearsing the Liebman show and people were coming in off the street when they heard Durante was in there. Cops, taxi drivers, businessmen, mothers with kids. He just sat and held court for all these people.


Kliph Nesteroff: How about Max Liebman? He could be very tough.

Pat Carroll: He could be very tough, but it was because he was a perfectionist. One time we had words. He called later and apologized, which showed he was a gentleman and a mensch, because he was wrong and I knew it. We shook hands mentally and we had no problems from there on in. But he was a perfectionist and wouldn't take anything less than the best from anybody. I loved working for him. I got to work with people like Marcel Marceau, for heaven's sake. Jack Buchanan, Jimmy Durante and the quality of stars he got for his specials was just extraordinary.


Kliph Nesteroff: You did a television version of Best Foot Forward for Liebman.

Pat Carroll: Oh, what fun that was! I loved the music and I loved the cast. The composer and lyricist were just the finest young men and such good songwriters.

Kliph Nesteroff: One of the writers on staff of the television version was Neil Simon.

Pat Carroll: I had worked at Tamiment with Danny and Doc Simon. Neil was then known as Doc. The two of them wrote some of the best sketches I had ever seen. I also did my first Broadway show, which was a musical revue. Danny and Doc did the sketches for that as well. Wonderful writers. Just top drawer writers. You couldn't get better.


Kliph Nesteroff: On that same special, this was April 1954, your fellow cast member was a very young Arte Johnson.

Pat Carroll: Arte Johnson - I had worked with him at Tamiment too! You see what Tamiment was? It was a seedbed for all of us young performers. Arte went on to television fame and Laugh-In and all of that. 

Kliph Nesteroff: There was yet another Liebman special, this one called Variety. You were on it with Perry Como and Buddy Hackett.


Pat Carroll: Oh my Lord, Buddy Hackett. I also did another television thing with Buddy Hackett. It was a sketch on a subway where I played the accordion. I played very badly, but I played it. Buddy was a much better actor than people know. Always been a very funny man. Uniquely funny, he thinks funny, he feels funny. I don't think he has ever disappointed.


Kliph Nesteroff: You left NBC to take the starring role on Broadway in Catch a Star.

Pat Carroll: Yes, that was my first Broadway show and it was a bit of a flop. I think it ran three weeks, but it was still my first Broadway appearance and I will always cherish it. My mother and my grandmother came to see it from Los Angeles. My grandmother drove everybody crazy, poking them and saying, "That's my granddaughter." But it was a wonderful time.