Saturday, January 4, 2014

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

An Interview with Pat Carroll - Part Three

Pat Carroll:  Martha Raye was one of the great lady comics. Yet, the thing that impressed me about her - she was such a great singer. Was it Nat Hiken when she had her own television show?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah.

Pat Carroll: No matter what the sketches were or how wild they were, he always had her sing one ballad in a slit skirt, looking like gangbusters. She had great legs and she had great pipes and she could sing a ballad to make you cry. She could play a sketch where you would laugh until you cried. What a great performer Martha Raye was.

Kliph Nesteroff: When you first came on the scene you were constantly compared to her.

Pat Carroll: Was I?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, Martha Ray-esque.

Pat Carroll: I didn't know that. That thrills me to pieces.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did a Doris Day movie that happened to be George Carlin's film debut.

Pat Carroll: With Six You Get Eggroll. My cohort from the Sid Caesar days, Howie Morris, directed me in that. It was Doris' last film. I was on the set with George Carlin and I think I had run into him elsewhere. He was always very cordial and a very funny man. Didn't he have gorgeous success in his life? I love the fact that young people dug him so much. He was a God to them. A God to them! He spoke the truth from heaven as far as they were concerned and I was very thrilled for him. Because I thought he deserved his success, highly.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about producer Ernie Glucksman...

Pat Carroll: Now did I work with him at Tamiment also, if I'm not mistaken? Ernie was involved in some early stuff I did. He was like the movie idea of what a producer is. He always made me laugh. As a producer he made me laugh. He always had something very cogent to say about what was going on.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did Jack Paar's show several times...

Pat Carroll: Dear, nervous Jack Paar (laughs). I've never seen anybody so nervous before going out to do a performance. I don't understand how the man had such success because he must have gone home and taken powders and all kinds of nostrums because you can't be that nervous and continue to live healthily. But he did work hard. And he made a lot of mistakes.

And he was a bumbler and I'm sure he said things he had not fully thought through. But the man caught the imagination of the television public. That's all you've got to have with that camera on you is that ingredient. I think he absolutely mesmerized them because they never knew what he would come up with. That in itself is a talent.

Kliph Nesteroff: Sid Melton.

Pat Carroll: Oh, my darling Sid Melton! That was another nervous nellie, God bless him. He had done The Danny Thomas Show long before I ever appeared on the scene. He was a nervous wreck! I practically had to hold his hand and pat his brow.

He'd go on and you'd think nothing was wrong. But he was so nervous. If I had been like him in anyway you would have heard chattering teeth, that's just how nervous he was. But he was fun and he was a good actor and he knew exactly what his place was and played that to the nth degree. He was a wonderful companion. He really was. I always got a kick out of Sid.

Kliph Nesteroff: The Danny Thomas Show aside, you worked with Sid Melton in a production of Come On and Play at the Ivar Theater in 1954...

Pat Caroll: Yes (laughs). He was just as nervous then! Ha ha! That's all I can think of about Sid! I just think of him quaking before he had to go on. I used to think, "You should never have got into this business!"

Oh my God, what a nervous nellie. He'd get onstage and you would never know that existed. Sid, God bless him. I loved old Sid. He was a dear heart, a wonderful companion and despite his nervousness he belonged in this profession.

Kliph Nesteroff: He was so prolific.

Pat Carroll: Oh, yeah, he was in everything! Films, old television shows... everytime he was in a film you'd go, "Oh, that's Sid Melton!" He had an amazing, long career and can you imagine - he was nervous all that time!

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Jack Carter?

Pat Carroll: Jack Carter, now there was sharp fella. He came from another school of this profession. He tickled me because he was so showbiz. He was real showbiz. You know? But a very clever performer.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about all of those Village nightclubs and Uptown Cabarets you played. Those were the only real nightclubs that seemed to book, with the exception of Jean Carroll, to book female comedians. A lot of them. The majority of the female comics were doing the Village Vanguard, the Blue Angel, the Bon Soir...

Pat Carroll: That's right.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yourself, Imogene Coca...

Pat Carroll: The Bon Soir is the place that I never worked. I think you're absolutely right about that and, except for Martha Raye, I don't think we had many in the professional field until Lucy came along and made the whole career of "comedienne" okay. You no longer had to be an ugly girl to be a comic. She made it possible for any young woman to do comedy anywhere. You know, when I was doing The Danny Thomas Show we were on the same lot where she and Desi did the Lucy show.

Lucille Ball used to come to my dressing room out of sentiment and I got to talk to her. We talked about her early days at MGM. She said, "I am doing work today that I was taught to do by Rags Ragland and Buster Keaton." MGM kept them under contract and they taught comedy classes to the young contract players, Lucy being one.

She said, "They used to give us a prop to take home with us and study every part of it, get so familiar with it, we could throw it in the air, catch it and do anything we want. That has helped me so much." I keep thinking of her using stilts in her show and how adept she was with any kind of prop.

It was because those men taught her the familiarity you have to have with a physical prop. How wonderful of her to give the credit was due. She was a very generous woman that way. How smart of MGM to have those two brilliant men of comedy and both different, very different in their approaches, teach the young players about comedy.

Kliph Nesteroff: What kind of crowd came to see the show at the Village Vanguard and the Blue Angel?

Pat Carroll: The Village Vanguard also appealed to that Village crowd and the Blue Angel appealed to the black tie crowd, because it was the place to go after dinner. But saloons are all very similar no matter what they are because they exist for two things: sex and booze - possibly entertainment. We were third on the list. Ha ha!

So when you get up to perform your act, whatever it is, you have those three bugaboos to fight immediately. I was never really that comfortable doing that work. It was nothing I was ever that interested in, but it was how I was making a living - so I was grateful to have the work. I think I had some talent and some entertaining material and I did my best, but I didn't like that atmosphere.

Kliph Nesteroff: Some of the other women that were in that same atmosphere at that time were Betty and Jane Kean...

Pat Carroll: Oh, well, those ladies for golly sake, they were showbiz kids! To see them at the Latin Quarter or wherever it was - they were a wonderful act. Jane would be the glamor girl and Betty would do the comedy and then they'd switch roles.

Yes, they were just wonderfully entertaining. I saw Jane shortly before she died and she was still the same gal, still happy to be in this profession. They grew up in it, worked in it, and were very successful and they were good.

Kliph Nesteroff: Another who was part of that scene was Connie Sawyer.

Pat Carroll: Oh my God, Connie Sawyer is in her nineties today, Kliph. I saw her this past year and she's in the actor's home. She's ninety-three or ninety-six and she's still driving.

Kliph Nesteroff: She actually just turned a hundred and one.

Pat Carroll: Oh, I will send flowers to the actor's home. Oh my God, she made it. She still goes on auditions, can you believe it? She is adorable. She cusses like a trouper. The first year I was in New York I couldn't afford to go back to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving. I had met Connie at one of the rooms. She heard I couldn't get home and she invited me to her home in Connecticut for Thanksgiving. Now is that adorable? I had a wonderful time! I never forgot Connie for that. How out-of-the-way generous. I never saw her perform that much so I never had an estimate of how she did, but she was so thrilled to be in this profession and it was a joy to be around her.

Kliph Nesteroff: I spoke with Jack Carter and he said that what Imogene Coca had been for Sid Caesar,  Connie Sawyer had been to Jack Carter.

Pat Carroll: Oh, I didn't know that. How wonderful. I bet they worked together great. These people were wonderful. She is a funny lady. A funny lady. She tickles and delights me. My daughter met her recently for some reason and she just fell in love with her. She said, "That Connie is something special." Oh, thank you for telling me about her birthday, Kliph. I shall salute her with joy. She deserves it.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did a television version of Cinderella with Walter Pidgeon and Ginger Rogers.

Pat Carroll: (laughs) Ha ha! That's right, that's right. I played one of the ugly step sisters, the one with the creaky knees. Doing that Cinderella was wonderful. Lesley Anne Warren was eighteen years old. Richard Rodgers would run to the Farmer's Market at two o'clock in the morning to get some special thing she loved. She was enchanting. Celeste Holm was there and Ginger Rogers and Walter Pidgeon who were darling.

Oh my God, they were so dear! It came the wedding scene with the horses and the horses misbehaved. Our director came on the squawk box and said, "Everybody take five. Get the prop man and let's clean this up." So we all waited five minutes and then again on the squawk box, "Could somebody please get Joe and we'll clean this up so we can get on with the session!" Finally, Joe comes on set with the shovel and he stands there looking at this devastation. Finally the director says, "Joe, what is the problem?" He said, "Well, until it stops steaming it belongs to special effects." Ha ha! Ha ha!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Pat Carroll: Oh my God, we couldn't get back to taping for another fifteen minutes, people were falling down laughing! Is that hysterical? Until it stops steaming (laughs). I've never forgotten that. This was at two o'clock in the morning. They made it like a film so we ran into dreadful hours. But it was a delightful experience and Barbara Ruick was the other step sister. They used to call us Thelma Todd and Marie Dressler.

That's the way we were called to come to the set for a session. "Would Marie Dressler and Thelma Todd please report!" Where they got that I don't know, but we were Marie Dressler and Thelma Todd! Ha ha! What a darling girl she was. She was married to John Williams and she died on location. She was shooting a film, she was late for call, and they found her dead. She had a heart attack. It was so tragic.

Kliph Nesteroff: Someone else who died while performing was Dick Shawn. And you had some kind of connection with him.

Pat Carroll: Talking about Tamiment, Dick Shawn was the most electric, young entertainer I think I had ever seen. He was absolutely electric. He was a tall, handsome, virile, young man. He'd come onstage and the women would just swoon with laughter. He was a wonderful entertainer. I don't think of him as a comic, I think of him as an entertainer. He used to do a routine called Massa Richard. "I think I see Massa Richard comin' down the road!"

And one night, I don't know what got into me, but I knew he was going to do Massa Richard so I had props get me guns and I had three guns and rifles and I came down the aisle. The audience started to laugh and Dick didn't know what was happening. Dick finally caught on. He said, "Oh my God! Massa Richard is here." Well, I didn't know what to do because now I had to keep going! (laughs) But he turned it into hysteria. Of course, I was just doing it to annoy him.

He turned it into brilliant comedy and I became speechless standing there with guns all over me and I thought, "This young man is a genius." I just did it as a joke and he turned it into a brilliant bit. I also saw his turn at the Palace as an opener for Judy Garland. He had those people in the palm of his hand. He was a tough act for Ms. Garland to follow. The next day in Variety there were like five columns on Dick Shawn.

He was just - I don't know what happened to Dick's career. I thought, "This is the next Jolson. This man is the next Jolson. He is overwhelming as an entertainer." Somehow, whether it was bad advice from agents or whatever, his movie career never really happened for him the way it should have. I don't think films could have captured him. You had to see him live. You had to see this dynamo live to capture his brilliance. He was just magnificent, Kliph. I wish you could have seen him. He was such an entertainer and a sheer triumph at the Garland show. Sheer triumph at the Palace.

Kliph Nesteroff: That's remarkable.

Pat Carroll: It was. It was remarkable and what made me so sick was that the rest of his career was not remarkable. He had those qualities and it should have happened for him. Somewhere along the line someone gave him bad advice.

Kliph Nesteroff: I don't know if you'll remember this... it's a motion picture that was maybe never even released. It is the lost, unknown comedy film of the sixties. From 1967 - a film called Silent Treatment written and produced by a guy named Ralph Andrews. It was a feature-length, silent, slapstick film done in color...

Pat Carroll: Oh, yes! I remember that!

Kliph Nesteroff: It featured every comedian in the business.

Pat Carroll: Yes, because we had all worked for Ralph on You Don't Say or one of the game shows he produced and owned that made him a very rich man. Everybody worked for him. We all appeared on those shows and he had everybody in that film. Was it ever released?

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, I've never seen it...

Pat Carroll: And I certainly have not... I bet you it was just never released. Who is all in it?

Kliph Nesteroff: It stars Pat Carroll, Rod Serling, Rowan and Martin, Phyllis Diller, Richard Deacon, Godfrey Cambridge, Wally Cox, Marty Ingels, Mickey Manners, Cliff Arquette, Les Crane, Carl Ballantine, Nick Adams, Rose Marie, Doodles Weaver, Paul Lynde, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis...

Pat Carroll: Look at that! Look. At. That. That is everybody!

Kliph Nesteroff: Jackie Coogan, George Raft, Gene Autry, Rudy Vallee, Forrest Tucker... It's like a bizarro version of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World...

Pat Carroll: Only it didn't get released! Ha ha!