Friday, May 8, 2015

An Interview with Peter Marshall - Part Three

Kliph Nesteroff: Most people know you as the longtime host of Hollywood Squares. Nobody seems to realize you were doing comedy in nightclubs for over ten years, throughout the entire 1950s. You were in two different comedy teams - and if we count your screenwriting collaborations with Dick Gautier, that's three. You did all kinds of nightclubs and knew every major comedian in the business, so today I wanted to talk to you about the other comedy teams on that circuit. I especially want to discuss the forgotten acts. Most people know about the successful 1960s comedy team Allen & Rossi - Marty Allen and Steve Rossi - 1960-1968, but I wanted to ask you about its precursor - the comedy team of Marty Allen and Mitch DeWood.

Peter Marshall: Yeah, I knew them quite well. Mitch became an agent and he was actually booking shows in Vegas for a long time after they broke up. There's not much to tell you about them. They were okay. Marty Allen is a good friend of mine, but I was never impressed with them, to be frank with you. They were just okay.

They had a solid act, but if you want to talk about comedy teams - nobody ever talks about Phil Silvers and Rags Ragland. They were brilliant. Wheeler and Woolsey, the kind of people that were around earlier than me. The only big comedy teams that were around when I was around were Allen and Rossi. Marty Allen and Mitch DeWood never gained much ground. They worked a lot, but they never became famous. I was in [Tommy] Noonan and [Peter] Marshall, of course, and [Peter] Marshall and [Tommy] Farrell, of course. Other comedy teams like Kirkwood and Goodwin worked little clubs in New York. You're Canadian so there was that Canadian comedy team I always thought was just terrible, Wayne and Shuster. Oh, God, they were awful.

Kliph Nesteroff: They were one of those acts that Ed Sullivan loved. You saw them on television all the time just because Ed Sullivan liked them. Nobody else in America did.

Peter Marshall: Right. It was always amazing to me that Sullivan would keep using these guys.

Kliph Nesteroff: Sullivan was notorious for cutting a comedian's legs off just before they went on stage...

Peter Marshall: Yeah, tell me about it, I was there...

Kliph Nesteroff: He loved Wayne and Shuster so much that he let them go as long as they wanted. They would go on for fifteen, twenty minutes.

Peter Marshall: I know. We were signed to do twelve Ed Sullivan shows. After we did about three... we never came off well. We did sketches. We were not monologists and what's his name... the guy who produced it...

Kliph Nesteroff: Bob Precht.

Peter Marshall: No, long before Bob.

Kliph Nesteroff: Marlo Lewis.

Peter Marshall: Marlo Lewis. Marlo would say, "Cut three minutes!" I'd say, "Cut three minutes? That's the whole sketch, Marlo." And it was live, you know. You couldn't cut so you'd speed up and lose all the flavor of the sketch. So after about three of them we said, "No more." We didn't fulfill the contract. We didn't want to do it anymore - not realizing as bad as it could be, doing the Ed Sullivan show was great for you (laughs). If you didn't come off well nobody cared. You were on The Ed Sullivan Show. When you really wanted to come off well and have great pride, you don't figure it like that. If you did The Garry Moore Show they would just knock themselves out for you.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was that comedy team you mentioned? Kirkwood...

Peter Marshall: Kirkwood and Goodman. Jimmy Kirkwood and Lee Goodman. They were very popular, especially in New York cabaret. In fact, Lee Kirkwood went on to write a little thing called A Chorus Line.

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, right, of course.

Peter Marshall: Lee did a lot of commercials. They were big in New York cabaret.

Kliph Nesteroff: Cabaret is defined as venues like the Blue Angel, the Reuben Bleu...

Peter Marshall: Yeah, the Bon Soir, all that.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about BS Pully and HS Gump?

Peter Marshall: They were very funny, they were very dirty. BS would come out and say, "My name is BS Pully. BS don't stand for Boy Scout! It stands for Bullshit!" That was his opening. He did terrible things, just terrible things. He did a thing at Ciro's. I don't know if you can use this, but he went to the men's room like a paraplegic. He tried to get his fly open and he talked to the guy next to him, "Urghunyaya wid my zippa!" And the guy helps him, "What are you crazy?" He finally gets his zipper down and his joint out and he says [clearly], "Thank you very much. I appreciate that."

He did shit like that. He was just a crazy man, but he was very funny. HS Gump was a little, tiny thing. They were never big by any stretch. They were a novelty act. In those days you couldn't say damn in a club, but BS sure did. They were always closing him down or throwing him out. He went on to do Guys and Dolls and I'm sure you know all that. I mentioned that one of my favorite comedy teams were Phil Silvers and Rags Ragland.

They did Who's on First long before Abbott and Costello. There was The Kate Smith Show. That was the biggest radio show. It was like The Ed Sullivan Show, but on radio. You wanted to get on that show. They were in burlesque. Phil was the greatest straight man that ever lived. If you watch Sgt. Bilko, he's really playing straight for all those people. He was the greatest straight man that ever lived. My partner Tommy Noonan got up once at the Lord Tarleton Hotel in Miami Beach during a benefit and he was drunk. He went up onstage and Phil Silvers grabbed him and Tommy was never funnier in his life. Without saying a word!

Phil Silvers was just amazing - he was a comic too - but he was really the greatest straight man. He was really brilliant. They were doing Who's On First and some other stuff. How to Pick Up a Girl and all of those old burlesque things. They were booked on The Kate Smith Show, which was a big shot for them. So they said, "Hell, we're not going to do the old crap." So they bought all new material and they went out on the show and just bombed. Then Abbott and Costello went on the show and did Who's on First and became the biggest comedy team around.

Kliph Nesteroff: I had heard a version of that story from Will Jordan, but he told me it wasn't Rags Ragland, but Herbie Faye.

Peter Marshall: No, it was Rags Ragland. You talk to Will recently?

Kliph Nesteroff: Couple weeks ago.

Peter Marshall: Oh, really? I keep calling and there's no answer. I'm very worried. He's been very ill.

Kliph Nesteroff: I keep hearing that he's very ill, but I've also talked to him several times in the past couple years. Apparently he's always about to die, but then talks enthusiastically for hours.

Peter Marshall: He has more stories than anybody I know. He has pictures of everybody. He keeps sending me all this stuff. I love him. He's a beautiful guy. We worked together in Canada many years ago when we were both young. I'm just so fond of him.

Kliph Nesteroff: I get a kick out of him because he can talk show business for hours, no matter how obscure the figure.

Peter Marshall: He's the one that should have written a book because he's got all the pictures. He sends me pictures of people that even I have forgot. Just amazing.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about a comedy team I think you started out with. Dick Van Dyke and Phil Erickson.

Peter Marshall: Well, that wasn't really a comedy team. That was a trio. When I knew Dick Van Dyke, he followed me into Larry Potter's. It was a mime act. They did shit to records. They were a record act, but it wasn't two guys, it was three guys and they had a name I can't remember. I just saw Dick the other night, we were at a party together. We both had similar careers in a way, although he became a much bigger star. He did Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway and I did Birdie with Chita Rivera in London. We both started out in the army. I was a disc jockey in Naples, he was a disc jockey for the service. After the war he did a comedy act, I did a comedy act. He did Bye Bye Birdie, I did Bye Bye Birdie. Then we both got TV shows in the 1960s and they were both successful. He did motion pictures and I did motion pictures. 

So I've known Dick and yet I'm not close to Dick at all. Very few people are. I think Bob Newhart is kind of close to him and maybe Steve Lawrence. Dick, for some reason, has always been very sweet to me, but never very warm. Jerry on the other hand has been terrific.

Kliph Nesteroff: Is there a story that when Jerry Van Dyke started doing his nightclub act, he and Dick didn't speak to each other for several years? Jerry stole his brother's material.

Peter Marshall: I know they've had problems. And it's Jerry. Jerry is crazy.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Peter Marshall: But he's funny. You ever see him do his act with the monkey?

Kliph Nesteroff: No, I've only seen his Lone Ranger lip synch bit.

Peter Marshall: The monkey thing... he used to rent this monkey. It wasn't his money. He would rent it from some guy in Vegas. It was the funniest goddamn thing. Did you know Mickey Rooney did an act with Joey Forman?

Kliph Nesteroff: No, I didn't know that.

Peter Marshall: Mmm hmm. It was a wonderful act. Joey Forman and Mickey Rooney. Yeah, they did a comedy act.

Kliph Nesteroff: 1950s?

Peter Marshall: Or early 1960s. They worked Vegas a lot. They did a wonderful sketch called Look at the Moose. It was a take-off on Candid Camera and that's where the camera was - in the moose. Forman kept saying, "Just look at the moose." I don't remember the sketch too well, but it was hilarious and Joey Forman was cute as hell. Do you remember Joey Forman?

Kliph Nesteroff: I had a comedy record by Joey Forman. I remember his guest shots on Get Smart. I know he was close with Eddie Fisher.

Peter Marshall: That was his closest friend, which is strange because Fisher wasn't the nicest man in the world. Joey Forman died quite young too.

Kliph Nesteroff: I haven't talked to anybody yet who remembers this, but in the late 1940s Joey Bishop was in a comedy team with Jack Soo.

Peter Marshall: With Jack Soo? I didn't know that!

Kliph Nesteroff: I wish I had more info on it, but all I have is a newspaper blurb that announces their break-up.

Peter Marshall: You know who was a comedy team for about an hour and a half? Remember Johnny Johnston?

Kliph Nesteroff: And Gene Baylos.

Peter Marshall: Yeah! That's very good that you know that. They were a big hit at the Americana Hotel. My friend Lenny Green put them together. He's still alive. Lenny is 95 and sharp as could be. He was an agent. He put them together, took them to the Americana and the wives started fighting about billing and money. That just blew the whole thing, but they were real cute together.

Kliph Nesteroff: Weren't they represented by the guy Martin and Lewis dumped.

Peter Marshall: Abby Greshler?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, Abby Greshler.

Peter Marshall: I don't believe so. Lenny Green is the only one I know that managed them. Abby was our manager for about an hour and a half. He got us La Martinque.

Kliph Nesteroff: He was kind of in a scramble at that point wasn't he? Trying to find another Martin and Lewis?

Peter Marshall: Yes. Yes. He was very good for us, but he was just so ridiculous. He was cheap and other things. Abby used to drive us crazy. Do you talk about the Wesson Brothers? They were a wonderful comedy team, Dick and Gene Wesson. There's a movie called Starlift that I'm in with Tommy Noonan where we do the chef bit. It stars Dick Wesson. Doris Day is in it and all these different people. He plays the young soldier through the whole thing. He's the guy who used to go, "Hey, Gene! Gene!" That's where Jerry got, "Hey, Dean! Dean!" Jerry Lewis stole the whole thing from Dick Wesson.

Kliph Nesteroff: I think the Wesson Brothers spent a lot of time at Hanson's Drugstore.

Peter Marshall: Right. That was the meeting place. That and a place called the Bird and the Hand, which was right next to Lindy's. If you couldn't afford Lindy's, you wound up at the Bird and the Hand right next door. In our youth we would hang out at Hanson's, you know. Do you go back in time and talk about people like Cully Richards and Joe Frisco?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, I've been investigating the Club 18 where they both performed in the 1940s.

Peter Marshall: Oh, Jack White's Club 18? I worked with all those guys at Charlie Foy's.

Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned it a bit last time.

Peter Marshall: Yeah, Charlie Foy's was like the Club 18 but in Los Angeles. We worked there and did a revue. We would go in for three months every year. Carl Ravazza would come in and we'd put our own little show together. We had Ben Blue, we had Joe Frisco, Cully Richards and the bartender was Frankie Hyers.

Frankie Hyers was the guy who invented the phrase, "Away we go!" The Gleason thing. It was his catchphrase - and then Jackie Gleason took it. He developed that at the old Club 18. It was Jack White's club in New York. Gleason took that from him and he was the bartender. All the waiters were old vaudevillians. Sammy Wolfe and people like that. All those guys came out of vaudeville.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did that bother him that "Away we go" was lifted?

Peter Marshall: Did it bother Frankie Hyers?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah.

Peter Marshall: You know, I doubt it. I doubt it. They were all friends and you just took. He also worked Charlie Foy's. And then there was Jimmy Ames too. He was just to die for.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, sounds hilarious the way you have described him. - that he sawed off the legs of chairs in the audience.

Peter Marshall: We had dinner one night with Buddy Hackett. I belong to a group called Yarmy's Army. We were sitting around talking and Buddy Hackett told me his favorite comic was Jimmy Ames.

I said, "You're kidding! That's my favorite comic!" He and Shecky were my favorites. Have you talked to Shecky? As I mentioned to you before, those are the kind of guys that made me laugh. Monologists never got to me, the Alan Kings and those guys. The only monologist that really made me scream - especially when he did bad - was Jack Carter. When Jack Carter bombed nobody was funnier.

Kliph Nesteroff: He's always funniest when he's angry.

Peter Marshall: Yes, when he's pissed. The first time my wife ever saw him it was a benefit hosted by Harvey Korman and McLean Stevenson. It was a golf thing. It was filled with celebrities and there was a show. A comic would get up and then this little old yenta would get up and sell raffle tickets. It was a long evening. I got up and sang a tune. Finally it got so late Harvey said, "Jack, I know we haven't called on you, but it's so late... I'm sure you don't want to get up. We're just going to say goodnight..." Jack got up. My wife had never seen Jack work. He recapped the entire evening, he did everyone's act, he did the yenta selling the shit. I've never seen anything that funny! 

Kliph Nesteroff: You mention Alan King. Jack Carter told me this and I was wondering if you knew anything about it. He said that Alan King just stole Sam Levenson's act.

Peter Marshall: Uh, that's not true. Not true. Jack's just bitter. That's not true. May have stole his style, but I don't even think that. I mean, Alan was around for years and he was with Tony Martin for years. And I mean years. I mean, he never made me laugh, but if I ran a club I would have bought him in two seconds. You know what I'm saying? People loved him. He got big laughs. Didn't make me laugh, but I'm the worst.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about the early Don Rickles. Did you see him in the late 1940s or early 1950s?

Peter Marshall: Yes, I worked at a club in Washington, DC. It was a Chinese restaurant upstairs. Can't think the name of it. There was a little club downstairs that couldn't have had more than, I don't know, sixty people or something. That's where I first saw Don Rickles. I had known Don from when I was working the Roxy. He was going to dramatic school with Tom Poston, who was my best friend. He used to hang outside the stage door. He won't admit this, by the way. The first time I met Don Rickles was at the stage door of the Roxy when I was appearing with Tommy Noonan. He was like a little fan. He started hanging around Hanson's - and then he started doing Jack E. Leonard's act. Doing Fat Jack. That's how it started. His breakthrough was a little club in Miami Beach called Murray Franklin's. 

Kliph Nesteroff: What did his act sound like early on?

Peter Marshall: It was Fat Jack's act. He took it and expanded on it.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Joe E. Ross?

Peter Marshall:I worked with him at Billy Gray's Band Box. He was a very funny man. Very crude. He always had the most beautiful women I'd ever seen and I couldn't figure it out because he didn't look clean. He always had great looking broads and he was very funny. Noonan and Marshall went in for one night, we two gentile guys, and it was a Jewish club. We went through the roof and we stayed there forever. That was our start really. We worked with Billy Gray... you talk about Billy Gray at all?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, I am currently writing about him.

Peter Marshall: He was wonderful. Wonderful. I wish there were more film on him. I guess the only film is the thing with Tony Curtis.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, Some Like it Hot.

Peter Marshall: Yeah, Some Like it Hot, he played the agent. But he was a wonderful comic. Jesus, he was funny. 

Kliph Nesteroff: A lot of the people that used to work at Slapsy Maxie's ended up at working at Billy Gray's Band Box - and I don't just mean the acts - but the people behind the scenes.  I read that the mobster Mickey Cohen had an office at Billy Gray's Band Box...

Peter Marshall: I used to see him almost every night. He used to come in all the time. I didn't know him, but I'd say, "Hi, how are you, Mickey?" He'd say, "Hey, Pete." That was about it, but he was always there. I don't know where his office was, but he was at that club every night. It was owned by a guy by the name of Max Gold, who was in the scrap metal business and made a fortune... and blew it all in Vegas by the way. I think he was really the owner of the club, and he could have been connected. I don't know. Cause all those guys were connected. Billy Gray wasn't connected. He was really the front guy. Whether he had a piece of it, I don't know.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have a photo of Mickey Cohen and Billy Gray together at the airport...

Peter Marshall: Oh, wow. That's neat. When I became an entity and was making a lot of money, Billy would call me. He would always try to borrow money from me. His son died. He was always broke. You'd send a few dollars here and a few dollars there, but I was a young kid trying to raise four kids. "I can't afford this." He said, "But you're doing great!" I said, "Yeah, I'm doing fine but... y'know..." It was very sad to me. His whole life went to shit.

Kliph Nesteroff: I spoke to Frankie Ray recently and he told me he met Lenny Bruce at a strip club called the Near and Far, which was owned by Mickey Cohen.

Peter Marshall: Was it on Western Avenue? I told you the story before about how I got Lenny the job at the Crescendo - he was working then on Western Avenue at a strip club with his wife. I don't know if that was the Near or Far or not. Chuck Landis owned the Largo and then he bought the Crescendo. Do you talk about Tommy Melody at all? Tommy Melody was in the Bataan march and he was captured by the Japanese. He was a rotund comic and he gave Noonan and Marshall an idea, which became the first big bit we ever did. He said, "I have an idea for a thing maybe you guys could do - What does a singer think about after singing the same song for forty years?" Now we go to the Florentine Gardens, which in its day was a big club out here in Hollywood. We're working a benefit there. What's the guy who played the drunk all the time? You know, the comic who played the drunk?

Kliph Nesteroff: Foster Brooks?

Peter Marshall: Foster Brooks! Foster Brooks was the emcee at this benefit. Also on the show - and it was the last time they ever worked together - [Lou] Clayton, [Eddie] Jackson and [Jimmy] Durante. They came in and they said, "The chorus girls are going to do a thing. Would you guys open?" I said, "For Clayton, Jackson and Durante? Sure!" Well, we were a smash.

They demanded more. I said to Tommy, "Let's do What a Singer Thinks About." I went to the piano player and said, "Embraceable You in C." We had never rehearsed it. I said, "You ever wonder what a singer thinks about after singing the same song for forty damn years? It's his hit song and he has to sing it because the public demands it. But his mind has got to wander. Here's what a singer might think about." "Embrace me, sweet embraceable..." And then the thinking voice comes in, "I'm gonna be sick." Tommy did this dialogue between everything and that's the bit that got us from about five hundred a week to twelve-fifty. That's the bit that everyone started talking about and Tommy ad-libbed the whole thing. Nobody talks about Tommy Noonan, but he was a brilliant comic. Just watch Gentleman Prefer Blondes. How clever. He was so clever.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was the Florentine Gardens like? I took a photo of it recently, it's still standing. 

Peter Marshall: It was a big nightclub on Hollywood Boulevard. Nils T. Granlund - he was like Ziegfeld - it was his club and it was doddering in those days. We would work it and the strippers like Betty Rowland - wife of the comic Gus Schilling - came in. Hal March would come in. You talk about Hal March and his partner at all?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, his partner Bob Sweeney. I don't talk about him that much, but Bill Dana keeps mentioning him to me.

Peter Marshall: They were very cute.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about some of the later comedy teams... I don't know whether you would have encountered them... Jack Burns and George Carlin...

Peter Marshall: Yeah, I never saw them work except on TV. And then Jack Burns worked with the other guy...

Kliph Nesteroff: Avery Schreiber.

Peter Marshall: Yeah, Avery. I never saw them work in a club. I can't really comment on them, but they were very good and different.

Kliph Nesteroff: There was another latter-day comedy team, Grecco and Willard - which was Fred Willard.

Peter Marshall: I see Fred all the time. He's my neighbor. He lives around the corner from me. Yeah, he had that terrible publicity and that hasn't been too good. What was the fat guy he worked with? It was a comedy team...

Kliph Nesteroff: The Ace Trucking Co.

Peter Marshall: You should interview Fred. He's very shy to begin with. He's the antithesis of what he portrays.

Kliph Nesteroff: He's so incredibly funny. Naturally funny.

Peter Marshall: Just wonderful.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about a gentleman I spoke with just last week - Professor Irwin Corey.

Peter Marshall: Oh, I loved him. I worked with Irwin at the Latin Quarter a hundred years ago. Very funny. Is he still around?

Kliph Nesteroff: He's a hundred. He already looked pretty old sixty years ago.

Peter Marshall: He's still around? Irwin's still around! And he's still making sense?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, he was lucid and I think he got a lot of pleasure  talking about this stuff - although he's mostly deaf. It reads well online, but I was yelling the whole time. So was he.

Peter Marshall: Oh, I'm sure. He was clever. No one was like Irwin Corey. He was unique like Chaz Chase. You remember Chaz Chase? I also worked with him at the Latin Quarter. He came out and ate his collar and his tie. He ate everything. Ate his whole outfit. Chaz Chase, very funny guy. That all came out of vaudeville and they'd only do nine minutes, but it was nine hysterical minutes. Like the German guy who came out with a microphone. What was his name? He never said a word. He came out, hit the microphone, the microphone hit him. For ten minutes he would just fight with the fuckin' microphone. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You and Tommy Farrell played the Palace. The legendary vaudeville venue had been closed for a long time when it reopened in the 1950s as a presentation house. You have mentioned that retired vaudevillians would hang around there and criticize everyone...

Peter Marshall: They would go to this restaurant next door. They would come in and catch the first show opening day at ten o'clock in the morning. Then they'd go to this restaurant around the corner, so I would hang out there too and have lunch. Just watch them. I never met Smith and Dale, but I saw them work and I saw them in this restaurant. I admired them so much.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about obscure comedian Harvey Stone?

Peter Marshall: Oh, Harvey. Very clever. He died on a cruise ship. Harvey had one of those nose jobs that came out like Nanette Fabray. Harvey was very clever. He was a monologist that made me laugh. I didn't know him too well. Do you talk about Jackie Miles? He was wonderful.

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, your brother-in-law Dick Haymes - when he had his big break at La Martinique - he was on the bill with comedian Jackie Miles.

Peter Marshall: La Martinique - he opened for Jackie Miles, yes.

Kliph Nesteroff: Jackie Miles was so popular for a while and then he kind of just vanished from the scene...

Peter Marshall: He did. I think he had a drinking problem. He died quite young. I was at his wedding when he married his first wife. She was from Sharon, Connecticut. She was beautiful. It was at the Lord Tarleton Hotel in Miami Beach. I was just a kid. I was like twenty-one or something. Jackie liked me. He invited me to the wedding. He did a thing on Gene Autry, "I'm a rollin." He was very clever. He was really hot for a while. I think he had a drinking problem, I'm not quite sure, but it did wane.

Kliph Nesteroff: His name was everywhere around 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949. Jackie Miles in every city. Then by the time television gets hot you never hear from him again.

Peter Marshall: I think it was booze. I'm not sure.

Kliph Nesteroff: He did an act in the 1930s with Lenny Kent.

Peter Marshall: That's another act I worked with at Billy Gray's Band Box, Lenny Kent. Someone would come in late and he would do the whole act. That was his big thing.

Kliph Nesteroff: February 1954, Marshall and Farrell played the Hotel Jefferson in St. Louis.

Peter Marshall: Yes, I remember that vividly.

Kliph Nesteroff: With the Puppeteers and the Leroy Brothers.

Peter Marshall: (laughs) That I don't remember! The Puppeteers and the Leroy Brothers. I used to work the Chase Hotel every year with Tommy Farrell. Over at the Jefferson we were kind of a hit, so they put us in the Chase. In the winter you would work the room down below and in the summer you'd work the room up above. The comedian Jerry Lester would come with his wife Alice and they would spend two weeks with me. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Jerry Lester and his brother Buddy Lester were both comedians. I heard that had a lifelong feud. Some kind of a jealousy there...

Peter Marshall: Very much so. I was close to both of them. I was very close to Buddy Lester up until his passing. Last time I saw Jerry Lester - there was a huge photo of the icons from NBC from 1926 to 1986. Everybody is in the picture. It's like that great Metro photo, y'know. Everybody who ever worked at NBC is in it. There's Hope, Carson, and everybody. It goes back. Jerry Lester came in the dressing room.

I'm sitting there with Johnny Carson, Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Jerry Lester walks in. I said, "For Christ's sake - this is it! This is the Tonight Show! Take a photo!" I don't think they ever did. I went over and gave Jerry a hug. I looked over at Alice and she shook her head. He didn't know who the hell I was. He had alzheimer's.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was the source of acrimony between he and his brother?

Peter Marshall: It was back and forth. They would get friendly and then they would have a fight and then I don't know. I always thought Buddy's act was brilliant. Did you ever see Buddy's act?

Kliph Nesteroff: Never. I mean, I've seen him in many TV shows but I've never seen his nightclub act.

Peter Marshall: He had a thing full of hats. I think he stole it from an old vaudevillian - Hats Parker. There was a guy by the name of Hats Parker that came out with hats. He would just put hats on and do different people. The funniest thing he did, for me, was the half-man/half-woman. The left side would be a man and the right side would be a woman and he would walk it. 

Kliph Nesteroff: At the Chase Hotel in St. Louis there used to be a house comic named Eppy Pearson. I was wondering if you knew anything about him.

Peter Marshall: No, not really, but The Chase was the room where I first saw Shecky Greene. I was working the room and there was a little lounge upstairs called the Zodiac Room. That's where that Eppy guy worked and that's where I first met Shecky in the early 1950s. He did three shows a night, making a hundred and fifty a week. I never saw anybody as good.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Jack Roy - Rodney Dangerfield?

Peter Marshall: He did [HollywoodSquares and he came to see me when I was doing La Cage [Aux Folles]. All he wanted to talk about was my sister. "I can't believe you're Joanne Dru's brother." I said, "Uh, yeah." What else am I going to say? 

Kliph Nesteroff: Another comedian who is now barely a footnote - Sid Gould. He is best known as a character actor in many Lucille Ball sitcoms - but he had a nightclub act in the 1940s and 1950s.

Peter Marshall: Ohhhhhh, he was wonderful. He'd look at you and do these little asides. Oh, he was so cute. He used to do a thing with initals. You'd go BD. "Bette Davis." Name any initial and he'd name every actor that there had ever been with those initials. That was his big game. For a day and a half he did an act with Ralph Young.

Kliph Nesteroff: From Sandler and Young, yeah.

Peter Marshall: Yeah, he did a comedy act. I knew Ralph since he was twelve years old and when he was singing with Les Brown. His best friend was Shecky. They lived next to each other in Palm Springs. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I talked to Leo DeLyon about Ralph Young.

Peter Marshall: Leo was so talented. Is he still around? God love him. He's darling and so talented. I loved his act and then musically he was so talented.

Kliph Nesteroff: He did an act with Phil Silvers in Las Vegas.

Peter Marshall: Yeah, they were at the Riviera, I believe.

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you know anything about comedy writer Cy Howard?

Peter Marshall: He was one of those guys like Jerry Davis. He had great ideas. He wrote one of the funniest pilots I ever saw. It was with Zsa Zsa Gabor. I forget who played the husband. I can remember the joke. They were extremely wealthy and living in Bel-Air. She came in and said, "Tonight, darling, I'm going to make dinner." "Oh, that's wonderful! What are we having?" "I don't know, where's the kitchen?" (laughs) I thought that was a good joke. Cy Howard was a writer, I met him, but I didn't know him. Yeah, a great idea guy like Jerry Davis. But when it came down to writing the stuff it wasn't too good, only great ideas.

Kliph Nesteroff: I saw an advertisement that, in order to promote your movie The Rookie, Fox was offering a seven minute Noonan and Marshall short subject to theaters.

Peter Marshall: You know, I saw it when they did it and it was very funny. I don't know where it is. It disappeard.

Kliph Nesteroff: Was it something other than your nightclub act?

Peter Marshall: Yeah, I only remember how we ended it. I was smiling and the thing is still running and I say, "Cut it off!" That's all I remember.

Kliph Nesteroff: You played the Cal-Neva Lodge a few times, a notorious Mob entity. BWhat was that place like when you played it?

Peter Marshall: I've been working Tahoe since 1950. I was at the Tahoe Village when Sammy Davis Jr. and Will Mastin were the opening act. Stateline was the big club. Across the river, the Cal-Neva never really made it. Sinatra owned it at one time and Sam Giancana and all those guys. It was a lovely club and I was one of the last guys to work it. I worked it with George Gobel. They asked us if we would come in and do a show. I worked it with Marilyn Maxwell and we did Panama Hattie, but it was called Belle of New Orleans. I also worked it with Gordon MacRae, but the club never quite made it. It was the wrong side of the river, the beautiful side. The south side was the place where Harrah's is and all of that.

Kliph Nesteroff: The Marilyn Maxwell engagement was July 1953. The Gordon MacRae engagement was July 1957.

Peter Marshall: Oh my God, see?

Kliph Nesteroff: Was it a Mob joint in the 1950s? I know Giancana took it over in the 1960s but...

Peter Marshall: The whole thing was always the Mob. Always the Mob. I don't know what Mob it was. It was whatshisname who had the Sands Hotel. It was the Mob guys that ran the early Sands. It wasn't Giancana in those days, it was some other crew. But you know, working for the Mob guys - that was the best.

Kliph Nesteroff: July 1960 - Noonan and Marshall played the Desert Inn with the McGuire Sisters. One of them was dating Sam Giancana. Was he around?

Peter Marshall: I didn't see him, but I'm very close to Phyllis. I can remember Phyllis coming in one night. She said, "Give me a hundred dollars." I said, "Why?" She said, "We'll be partners in blackjack." I said, "Okay." A hundred dollars was a good amount in those days. I gave her a hundred, she put it down and lost. She said, "Well, that's it." I said, "That's it? Thanks a lot, Phyllis!" (laughs) No, I never saw her with Giancana. She was dating Dan Rowan in those days - and he's lucky to have not been killed. That was probably our last date together, Noonan and Marshall. Then we did the movie and broke up. I went to London to do Bye Bye Birdie in 1961.

Kliph Nesteroff: You and Tommy Farrell did a special for ABC in New York called Two of the Most.

Peter Marshall: Oh, that wasn't a special. That was a series and it ran for about a month, five hours a week, an hour a day. Did you know a singer by the name of Marilyn Lovell? She was our singer. Mel Powell was our pianist and we had a trio. It was a big hit and actually we beat Jack Paar who was opposite us. We were the highest rated daytime show and what happened was that someone from ABC bought all the J. Arthur Rank movies. They had to put them on some place so that's what they did. They canceled us and replaced us with J. Arthur Rank films. It was the biggest shock in the world because we were a big hit. 

Kliph Nesteroff: What kind of stuff did you do?

Peter Marshall: It was like Regis, that kind of a thing. We had guest stars and we would do sketches and I would sing. We would do man on the street type things. We were the first guys to ever do The Answer Man or the Question Man, whatever it was called.

Kliph Nesteroff: You guys were doing that before Steve Allen did it?

Peter Marshall: Yes. We were the first guys to do it. Bob Arbogast was our writer and he wrote it. The first joke ever done for that was,"Chicken Catchatori." That's the answer. The question was, "Who's the longest living Italian war ace?" That was the first one ever written (laughs). Then we used to see our stuff being repeated on The Steve Allen Show. Yeah. Bob sued and won. You ever hear of Bob Arbogast?

Kliph Nesteroff: Sort of.

Peter Marshall: He was really brilliant. He was just a wonderful writer. That's when I started writing because you're doing five hours a week with one writer and needed help. So I started writing stuff and that's when I found out I could write some stuff.

Kliph Nesteroff: I didn't know that show lasted that long.

Peter Marshall: We had a lot of guest stars. Tommy's mom... I just came across some older pictures with Glenda Farrell. The old Warner Brothers actress - that was his mom. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I had read that prior to you Tommy Farrell was in a team with a guy named Brian McCarthy.

Peter Marshall: No, Gene McCarthy. He replaced a guy from The Bernard Brothers. It was Gene and something Bernard. Check out the Bernard Brothers. They worked the Waldorf. They were a real class act. Then Gene and his partner, can't think of his name, something Bernard, they broke up and Tommy Farrell joined Gene and they were together for a long time. And then something happened to Gene. I don't know if he got sick or if he got sick of working. It was the first successful record act, the Bernard Brothers.

Kliph Nesteroff: February 1955, you and Tommy Farrell played the Last Frontier with Dorothy Dandridge.

Peter Marshall: Yeah! Well, let me tell ya (laughs), she was beautiful. The sad thing was she wasn't allowed in the casino. After the show they would take her to the South side of Vegas to the Black section. She was so sweet. I've got a great picture of the three of us. She was just so beautiful and so sweet. That's where I got to meet Nick Farito. Nick was her conductor and a very famous conductor. He was with Perry Como for forty years. Huge. That's when I first met Nick. Yeah, she was not allowed in the casino. Can you believe that? Just awful, God almighty.

Kliph Nesteroff: November 1956 you played the KoKo Club in Arizona.

Peter Marshall: That was the only nightclub in Phoenix. The KoKo. God, I haven't heard that name in ages. My God.

Kliph Nesteroff: You spoke before about La Boeheme in Hollywood, Florida.

Peter Marshall: I worked that with Gigi Durston.

Kliph Nesteroff: Danny Thomas said it was run by the Mob - Meyer Lansky's brother and Joe Adonis.

Peter Marshall: Was it? That I don't know. I can remember I worked it with the Art Mooney Orchestra and Gigi Durston, who was a very big society singer.

Kliph Nesteroff: May 1956 - Farrell and Marshall at the Hotel Roosevelt in New Orleans with Joanne Wheatley.

Peter Marshall: I remember. Interesting story about that hotel. The owner went to jail for nine years taking a rap for Huey Long. When he came out they gave him the hotel. He was the loveliest man you would ever want to meet, a Jewish guy named Seymour Weiss.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was the crime?

Peter Marshall: Who the hell knows. It wasn't murder. It was some kind of wheeling and dealing. It was a lovely hotel. Now it's a Fairmont or something. In those days they had a full orchestra downstairs and a showroom. It was glorious and they treated you so wonderfully. When you worked for the mobsters you were treated like royalty! And we were just an act, you know. But they treated us like we were Sinatra. They were so lovely. I can't even think of working for Mob guys that were bad guys. I can think of lots of corporate guys that are just shit.

Kliph Nesteroff: Shecky Greene became successful in New Orleans. Sammy Shore became successful in New Orleans. Another comedian that became big in New Orleans is very obscure - Al Bernie.

Peter Marshall: I remember Al Bernie. I didn't know that. I know Shecky did a double act with Frankie Ray.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about impressionist Guy Marks?

Peter Marshall: Guy Marks. Guys in the business would just scream at Guy Marks.

Kliph Nesteroff: Didn't he walk away from show business at one point?

Peter Marshall: I think he did, yeah. I don't know what happened. Who knows what happens. People have problems. He made us laugh a lot. He was quite wonderful.

Kliph Nesteroff: Speaking of comedians with problems - how about George Kirby?

Peter Marshall: George did my show. He did Hollywood Squares before he went to jail or maybe it was after he got out. He was very clever. A Black man doing impressions was kind of unusual and he was before Sammy Davis Jr, y'know. He was very good.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Jackie Mason?

Peter Marshall: I'm not a fan of him as a person, but he made me laugh. He's one of the only guys who did Hollywood Squares that I told the producers not to ask back. He was disruptive. But he was very good. I followed him up to Harrah's Reno one year. I was there to see his act and he was wonderful, but not a very nice person.

Kliph Nesteroff: You saw the very early stand-up of Woody Allen.

Peter Marshall: The first time Woody Allen ever performed in New York, he was introduced by Tom Poston and I. His manager Jack Rollins also handled Tom Poston, who was my best friend. He said, "I got this writer named Woody Allen. Would you guys introduce him at the Americana Hotel?" I said, "Sure," and that was his first big appearance onstage in New York.

Kliph Nesteroff: What year was that? Around 1960?

Peter Marshall: Something like that, I guess. I didn't know Woody Allen at all, but Tom did.

Kliph Nesteroff: You penned two scripts with Dick Gautier, best known for his work on Get Smart. People wouldn't think of you two as screenwriters.

Peter Marshall: Dick and I did Bye Bye Birdie together in Vegas. We became very close friends. We were together every day and then he stopped talking to me at one point and I could never figure out why. We weren't friends anymore, which is sad because I loved him and he is really a talented man. Jesus, he's a wonderful artist, a great impressionist and a fine actor. He does so many things. I don't know. I was struggling before Squares, trying to make a buck and we started writing. We wrote a couple of TV things and then a friend of ours said, "Hey, I'm doing a movie on marijuana. Would you write the script?"

So we gave him an outline. He said, "That's perfect. We're shooting in ten days." Didn't even have a script! We locked ourselves in an office and wrote this thing called Mary Jane. It was a big hit. It's a terrible movie. Fabian was in it and he said to the director, Maury Dexter, "Hey, can I change this?" He said, "Sure!" We said, "No, hold it! You can't change that! That's the storyline!" "Ah, don't worry about it, we'll fix it." I never went back to the shoot. Today you can't do that, but in those days you could do anything. They destroyed you. The script had been real good, but it became a terrible picture. Then we wrote God Bless You Uncle Sam and it was turned into a thing called Blackjack. It was sort of a teeny bopper Dr. Strangelove. And that's a good movie. But there were all kinds of litigation between the guy ho put up the money and the director. I walked away from it. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I have it under a different name - Wild in the Sky.

Peter Marshall: That's it. It was called God Bless You Uncle Sam and then it was renamed Wild in the Sky and then Blackjack.

Kliph Nesteroff: In the mid-1970s you hosted a television special called The Saturday Evening Post with Phil Spector. What was that?

Peter Marshall: Yeah, it was for the producer Pierre Cosette, a friend. Pierre got the rights to The Saturday Evening Post and put this special together. It wasn't very good. Chuck McCann was in it. A great story teller.

Kliph Nesteroff: Sort of like Pete Barbutti.

Peter Marshall: Yeah, you ever see Pete Barbutti play piano with his nose? It was kinda like Ben Lessy and Patti Moore.

Kliph Nesteroff: Ben Lessy and Patti Moore are yet another forgotten comedy team. They played Billy Gray's Band Box all the time and even did Vegas with Billy Gray himself.

Peter Marshall: Yes, they were old vaudevillians. She was married to Sammy Lewis, a producer and a very successful one. She was very content. One of my favorite stories about Benny and Patti - they were robbed walking down the street...

Ben Lessy lived with them. They were very wealthy. The robber got a diamond ring and a watch worth eight thousand dollars and all this cash. And from Ben Lessy they got two dollars (laughs). It was in the paper. I laughed so hard, because he was very cheap. (laughs). Oh, shit. We all screamed. The whole town was screaming. Oh God, anyway....


Unknown said...

Coincidentally, I found this video a few days ago. Peter Marshall, Jerry Lester, and Julie Newmar.

KING OF JAZZ said...

Wonderfully rich post as usual. I agree on one thing totally--even as a young kid I didn't think Wayne & Schuster were the least bit funny.

Kevin K. said...

Brilliant stuff. The descriptions of some of these acts are just so bizarre -- fighting with a microphone, the nose bit. By the way, that photo of Buddy Lester looks like Former governor Howard Dean.

I hope you've got more with Peter Mashall. Incredible memory.

Anonymous said...

For some exquisite torture, here is an extended tribute to Wayne and Schuster. I dare you not to stare blankly and wonder why people thought they were funny:

I love the interviews here, but the white text on black background is offputting and unnecessary. What is this, 1996?

TIme for a clean re-design. I'm tired of seeing horizontal lines in front of my face after reading the interviews.

John Clark said...

Dick Van Dyke has 5 Emmys, 1 Tony, 1 Grammy, and 1 Golden Globe. Peter Marshall has 2 Daytime Emmys.

Hal Horn said...

I'll stand up for Wayne and Shuster; I always liked their CBC specials of the 60s and 70s. That said all three Peter Marshall interviews have been terrific. Really great stuff.

Brian said...

Another great interview, giving insight into so many areas of that era. Just a terrific read! If you get the chance, though, I'd love to know what broke up each of his comedy teams. And after being in one, what prompted him to get into another?

Many thanks for the entertainment, Kliph!

buschmann said...

Brilliant stuff. The descriptions of some of these acts are just so bizarre -- fighting with a microphone, the nose bit.

I don't know. I used to think the same thing. Until I watched old Chaplin and Keaton movies from the 20s and 30s.

A lot of these edgy nightclub comics from the early '50s were just aping what they'd seen the silent film comedians do.

Lily Tummler said...

The comic who fought with the microphone was George Carl. His act can be seen here: