Saturday, November 9, 2013

An Interview with Frankie Man - Part Two

Kliph Nesteroff: When did you first meet Lenny Bruce?

Frankie Man: Boy, I met him when I was eighteen years old. Many, many years ago. He was just doing club dates. He did impressions. I take credit for turning him into a hipper person along with Joe Ancis. I was funny offstage and onstage, so I had one up on Joe. I hipped Lenny to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. We became good friends.

I teamed up with Jack Eagle and Lenny came to see our act. He thought it was great. He said, "Boy, you guys are unbelievable. Stay in the business long enough and you'll become stars." When he became big I wanted to see him when he was playing New York. He said, "No, I don't give out any free passes. I know too many people. I wouldn't get a salary if I did that because I take the door." That was a pretty common thing. When you became famous then all your friends wanna come see you for nothing. 

I was a musician up in the Catskills. I was the leader of the showband at the Raleigh Hotel in South Fallsburg. Buddy Hackett would come and do his act. Then I would go over to the Concord with him and Alan King. Everyone would hang out at the swimming pool. I'd show up all dressed in a nice tie. Buddy Hackett used to call me, "The Little Man." "Here comes the Little Man in his tie. Isn't he cute?"

My real name is Frank Schreiber - and Buddy Hackett changed it to Frank Man from always calling me "The Little Man." I was like his mascot. We had a secret handshake. The cops stopped him once. They searched him, patted him down. He took a package out of his coat pocket and said, "Officer, would you do me a favor and hold this?" It had his pot in it! The cop never knew it, gave it back to him, and let him drive away. 

I told Buddy that I was starting to do an act and was in need of material. He said, "Anything of mine you do will not affect my career. You're going to be doing a lot of small joints when you start out." So he gave me the Chinese Waiter and a couple other things. I pieced it together with my "trumpet impressions." I can imitate almost any famous trumpet player on my trumpet and sound exactly like them.

Clyde McCoy, Henry Busse, Harry James, Al Hirt... my favorite was doing Satchmo Louis Armstrong because I could play, sing and sound exactly like him. So that was my act. I was looking for a job and Buddy told me, "You need an agent. Go see Billy Claire in New York City and tell him I sent you." I went and saw him. He said, "Buddy Hackett sent you? Okay, where are you working?"

I said, "I'm not working. I'm looking for a job." He said, "Well, if you're not working I can't see you, so how can I book you? Come back when you're working somewhere." Couple weeks later I was working at the Boulevard in Queens in what was like a society band and I was playing trumpet. All of a sudden it was Friday night and the comedian didn't show up. His name was Frankie Keenan.

Frankie Keenan got drunk, got in an accident and didn't show up. They all said, "Well, put Frankie Man on while the audience is waiting!" So they introduced me from the orchestra and I did about forty minutes. It went over terrific! The boss said, "I want to hire you for tomorrow night." I hired a trumpet player to replace me so this time I could enter from behind the curtain - like a big star! (laughs)

On Monday I went in to see Billy Claire and he said, "Oh, you again? Where you working?" I said, "I just closed the show at the Boulevard." He said, "The Boulevard!?" It was like the Queens version of the Copa. He said, "Well, I can get you a lot of work!" And he did get me a lot of work. I never went back to being a musician again. That's how I became a comedian.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was the Boulevard like? I had heard it was owned by Morris Levy.

Frankie Man: Could be, could be. When we worked the 500 Club in Atlantic City, that was supposedly Mafia owned.

Kliph Nesteroff: Skinny D'Amato.

Frankie Man: Skinny D'Amato. I did it as Eagle and Man. Jack Eagle and I. We worked with Nat King Cole... it was the only time we worked with him. We didn't know that when you work with a star you're supposed to do fifteen minutes. We didn't know.

We opened for him and we went out and did our hour! Nobody said anything until later. Then they told us they were replacing us with a comedy team called Allen and DeWood. That was the end of our experience with Nat King Cole. We were new. We didn't know. 

We would end the act playing the Saints Go Marching In. Both playing the trumpet, we'd march through the audience and go out the back door and march back in through the front door. It was a smash. So we did that with Nat King Cole and his people weren't too happy about it. Okay. So now we're on The Ed Sullivan Show. Bob Leslie was part of a comedy team called the Leslie Brothers and they were the hottest team before Martin and Lewis. They were the hottest thing in the Catskills.

They were a tummel team long before Martin and Lewis and just as funny. They'd get up in the morning and put on their tuxedos because they'd always get a call immediately to do a club date. That's how busy they were. When they broke up, Bob Leslie became a good friend of mine and he was writing material for us. He'd make suggestions. He told us to do the Saints Go Marching In and walk through the audience on Ed Sullivan.

Our manager at that time was Willie Weber who managed Don Rickles, Henny Youngman, Phil Foster, you name it. Willie Weber would say, "I made all these big stars!" And he'd show you pictures of Phil Foster, Gene Baylos, Sonny Sands, Jackie Mason - all these people are up on the wall. When I was getting ready to sign the contract with him I looked up at the photos on the wall and they were all looking back shaking their heads at me, "No. No. Don't do it. No."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Frankie Man: Anyway, we were on The Ed Sullivan Show and we had this thing where Jack Eagle dressed in Bermuda shorts and I dressed in a tuxedo. I said something about them and he says, "They're not Bermuda shorts!" I say, "What are they?" He says, "They're Kosher kilts!" They told us, "You have to cut that line from your act. It's too dirty."

Kosher is too dirty (laughs). They made it like we were talking about circumcising pants. So we were at dress rehearsal and Jack had this big trunk where he takes out different hats. One was like Napoleon and he put his hand in his vest and says, "Oh, have I got heartburn." Ed Sullivan came over while we were rehearsing. He said, "Wait you guys. Put that heartburn in the beginning. Take the other bit and put it here and the other bit here." Jack said, "Mr. Sullivan, we have it all rehearsed for a certain sequence and one is supposed to follow the other." Sullivan looked us and said, "What are you guys? Actor's Studio?"

So we had to change it. Willie Weber said, "Forget about what Bob Leslie told you. You can't march through the audience on a television show! They're not going to turn the cameras around for you!" So we cut out our closing, which hurt us. Of course they can turn the cameras around. I think Marty Allen and Mitch DeWood did it, where they turned the cameras around.

Kliph Nesteroff: And they always had cameras on the crowd anyway for when Sullivan asked a celebrity to stand up and take a bow. When did you first meet Joe Ancis?

Frankie Man: Joe Ancis went one way and I went another way and we didn't actually meet. I didn't ever see him at the B&G or Hanson's.

Kliph Nesteroff: Everybody credits Joe Ancis with hipping Lenny Bruce to smoking pot and listening to jazz. You're saying that you were just as much an influence on Lenny Bruce...

Frankie Man: I certainly had quite a bit of influence on him.

Kliph Nesteroff: Who else was part of that circle? You mentioned Buddy Hackett, Lenny Bruce..

Frankie Man: Marvin Worth. He went on to produce Lenny and The Rose with Bette Midler. Buddy Hackett got him in with us because he didn't actually have that much talent. He was kind of like a follower. I don't think he ever said anything funny. He had terrible breath.

You had to stay away from him a little bit, but Buddy got him into Hollywood somehow. He wasn't a stand-up comic, he was just a friend of Buddy's and he'd hang around with us and smoke pot. It was me, Lenny, Buddy, Marvin Worth and Bob Leslie in that clique. Bob Leslie wrote for Alan King.

He wrote him several bits, but Bob's problem was he was an alcoholic. But he could stay up and write all those Garry Moore shots for Alan King. Bob Leslie changed Alan King's image even to the point of the cigar and putting the fingers in the vest and walking around with a tough voice. Bob wrote him things about health foods. "You go to a health food restaurant and yell out, 'Hey, waiter!' and he brings it."

Kliph Nesteroff: Alan King started out doing a record act, but Jack Carter told me that his initial stand-up was just a bunch of old Sam Levenson routines.

Frankie Man: Well, Bob Leslie changed his image. Took him away from wife jokes to attacking different situations. He once said to Alan, "You know, it's Christmastime coming round. I know you're paying me $750 for each bit, but is there anyway you can give me a little raise so I can get something extra for the kids?" Alan said, "I'll get another writer."

So that was that. Bob went out and got drunk. So I always had it in for Alan King because of that. "I'll get another writer." Alan King also had a drinking problem. My God. It wasn't a problem for him. Before the show he would down a pint of scotch and never seem drunk until after the show. Nobody ever knew he drank.

Kliph Nesteroff: What about Jack Roy... the original Rodney Dangerfield.

Frankie Man: Jack Roy, yeah, he didn't make it with that. He had a little guy that was managing him named Roy Duke. Somehow they figured he should change his name to Rodney Dangerfield. I always told Roy Duke that he could be famous if he changed his. "Change your name to Donald - then you'll be Donald Duke!" But he never did - and Rodney got rid of him.

Roy Duke was with Rodney all the way in the beginning, driving him everywhere and doing everything nice for him and then when he became a bigger star he left him for a bigger agent. We weren't pals, but we knew each other. I lived across the street from him at 110 W. 86th Street. I would see him at night sometimes after my club date and we would just bullshit.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Jackie Mason?

Frankie Man: I've been imitating Jackie Mason for close to forty years. I was probably one of the first people that imitated him. Now everybody and his brother does a bad impression of Jackie Mason. The agents wanted Jackie Mason to get speech lessons when he started out. Bob Leslie talked him out of it. He said, "Keep the accent. That's going to help make you. When you have a voice people can imitate, it will help make you famous."

I was in a taxi cab. The cab driver told me, "I meet so many famous people in this cab. I met Morey Amsterdam. I met Henny Youngman." I'm talking to him and I start talking like Jackie Mason, "Well, I'll have you know I'm a very famous comedian and you don't even know who I am." So, I thought I'd trick him into saying I'm Jackie Mason. I say to him, "So, who do you think I am?" The cab driver said, "You're the one who plays the trumpet and works with that fat guy."

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you get along with Jackie Mason?

Frankie Man: Well, he came to my place in the Grove. We were casual friends. He knew that I imitated him. I even quote him in my bio. He once said, "Frankie looks more like me than I do." Ginger Reiter, the mother of Sheba Mason, called me up. They had been together a long time. She said, "Sheba is seven years old and Jackie won't help her. I have to go to court to get the alimony. He just doesn't want to help her in any way. Can you possibly put Sheba into your act? She wants to sing, act, dance and be in show business. Not the Fountainbleu or the Diplomat. Just some small shows you do."

So I coached her and we figured out fifteen minutes for Jackie Mason's daughter. You know, he had this daughter he wouldn't acknowledge. This was in all the papers, by the way. 

I would introduce her and say, "Sheba, a lot of people are wondering - are you really Jackie Mason's daughter?" She would say, [in Jackie Mason voice], "To tell you the truth - with a face like this - who else could I be?" Which got a cute laugh.

Kliph Nesteroff: July 1956, your comedy team Eagle and Man played the Gatineau Club outside Ottawa with the Hamp-Tones.

Frankie Man: Yes and we did the Cave in Vancouver. When we were there Oscar Peterson came to see our show. We went to say hello and he told us the only reason he came in was because he saw the marquee and thought we were a bird act.

Kliph Nesteroff: You knew the comedian Jackie Vernon...

Frankie Man: Jackie Vernon was originally a Jack E. Leonard type of comedian. He would attack the audience. He was a rough guy. I once fought with him, naturally. Danny Davis was a pretty good mimic and a pretty good comedy writer who used to hang out at Hanson's, but when he got onstage he wasn't funny.

He could only write funny stuff for other people. "You want fifty jokes or a hundred?" I remember one day he shaved his head and he looked like Yul Brynner. Anyway, he wrote this act for Jackie Vernon where he comes out and says, "You'd never know by looking at me that I used to be a real dull guy."

Vernon went from being like a Jack E. Leonard imitator to being a dull guy. And that became his act. I only saw him after he changed his act. I saw him at the Playboy Clubs. He did the Playboy circuit and so did Eagle and Man. There were about six that we would do. We'd go from one to the other to the other. I saw him do the dull guy and I told him, "You know, you're not going over." He said, "I know, but I'm sticking with this character. I'm going to make it with this character. You'll see."

He bombed, he bombed, he bombed, he bombed. Now, he was working - it could have been the Cave in Vancouver - and Steve Allen was in the audience. Steve was in town rehearsing for some show. They were sitting way in the back at the Cave and they were the only people there for the second show. Jackie Vernon came on stage and his opening line was, "Y'know, you'd never think it from looking at me that I was ever a dull guy." Steve fell off his chair! He thought that was so funny that he booked him on his show and that changed Jackie Vernon's career. He made it. I never thought he would ever go anywhere.

Kliph Nesteroff: You played the Elmwood Casino in Windsor, Ontario.

Frankie Man: Oh, yeah, we always played that. That was a big thing for us. It had a line of girls. When I was there I was going with one of the chorus girls and she was the emcee's girlfriend, but we were making it together and he didn't know. One night I was up in her room and there was a knock on the door. He says, "It's me. It's Jimmy. Hey, it's me! Sue! Didn't you hear! There's a fire downstairs!" I laughed. I said, "There's no fire, Sue. It's a trick." Pretty soon we see smoke. It's a real fire!

So I ran down with my trumpet and started playing I Don't Wanna Set the World on Fire. They took a picture of me with all the firemen around. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Let's get back to Lenny Bruce...

Frankie Man: I once got a call from Sally Marr. She said, "I recommended you to do the voice of Lenny Bruce. Can you send me a tape of you doing Lenny?" I sent her a tape and she played it for Steve Allen and Pat McCormick. They said, "Boy, Sally. Your son was really funny." She says, "That's not my son." They said, "What do you mean he isn't your son?"

I did the prison break or one of those routines and it sounded exactly like him. It's one of my best impressions. She told them, "It's Frankie Man - the Little Man. He does Lenny." They were going to do this show - Lenny Bruce Returns - with Jackie Gayle, Pat McCormick and some other people. They hired me to do the voice of Lenny Bruce. They wrote this story where Lenny Bruce comes back and he's in a taxi cab. Pat McCormick is the taxi driver. They were filming this and the cops pulled over the shoot because they didn't have a permit. I was in the back and in Lenny's voice I go, "Lookit this! I've been dead four years and they're still busting me!" It was for television and they paid me well.

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember the last time you saw Lenny Bruce?

Frankie Man: Yeah, it was in New York at the trial. Dorothy Kilgallen was on the stand and they asked her, "Where do you think the social comment is in shtupping a chicken?" That was the last time I saw Lenny.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you and Lenny remain close?

Frankie Man: Whenever I was in town I would see him. We'd hang out or go to his room. He wanted me to try dilaudid. I said, "No, I don't use it." He said, "No, man, you just skimp off it." I said, "I'm not going to skimp off it! Give me a couple pills and I'll take em." I took a couple pills and went to sleep and that was it.

If I had taken a hit, I might have become addicted because whenever a new pill came out, I would try it, whether it was DMT or STP or LSD. But I never really got hooked on anything even though I smoked for about fifty years. Then I went to NA and I was clean for fifteen. Then I went off for a couple months and found it wasn't doing it for me either. So I went to NA again and I got two years clean coming up. I don't drink or do any drugs. I live a healthy life now and play tennis four times a week. I'll be ninety soon.