Friday, July 10, 2015

An Interview with Jack Carter - Part Nine

My sessions with Jack Carter occurred during the final four years of his life. He was a wealth of showbiz history. He had a facile mind for minor details and an incredible memory for old nightclubs and forgotten performers. He was a fantastic resource and his profane anger was endlessly entertaining. I have hours and hours of unpublished transcripts. Jack Carter was not merely a showbiz veteran, but an impromptu history teacher.

Jack Carter: Carl Reiner sent me a copy of his new book. It's called I Remember Me. I'm flipping through it and what do I fucking come about? A picture of Shecky Greene and then a whole chapter on Shecky. I said, "Where the fuck did that come from!" Carl had raved about me and told me I should have done Jolson as a one man show.

The show Call Me Mister, I did it on Broadway and then Carl did it on the road with Buddy Hackett and a comic named Alan Dreeben. I was on an hour before him with a big TV show in 1950. Where was Shecky? I had four big TV shows! Cavalcade of Stars, The Dorsey Show, The Minstrels...

Kliph Nesteroff: Pick and Pat.

Jack Carter: Yeah. Shecky had nothing! He's a lounge comic! He pleases waiters and waitresses. I mean, not that he isn't brilliant, but I was so fucking mad!

Kliph Nesteroff: What was the Shecky chapter about?

Jack Carter: I didn't even read it. I couldn't. Where did Carl come up with Shecky as his favorite? I didn't say anything to anybody about it. I'm just eating it up amongst myself. [Jack flipping through a series of advertisements I brought him] I'm amazed you found a Call Me Mister playbill. Ah, yeah, The Riviera with the DeMarco's. The DeMarco's got me out of the Army and into the Air Corps with Lew Spencer. An ad for the Mapes Skyroom? I was one of his favorites, Charlie Mapes.

Great, beautiful hotel up on the roof. I worked it with Lili St. Cyr, with Billy Eckstine, with several people. Charlie Mapes said, "Jack Carter, goddammit. He comes in here with a new act every time." This picture - it was Sun Valley with Louis Armstrong. I remember there was this singer I nailed, a Black singer who was almost white. Gorgeous. She spilled an orange juice on me. I cursed her and I blew the whole thing. Oh, this is a photo of Jack Palance. Once I was in line with Jack Palance, a real charmer, and a woman came up to us. She said, "You know, who's here? Dinah Shore!" He said, "Get the fuck away from me, you idiot." She was this little lady who was a real character that hung around supermarkets. One time she came up to me and said, "Do you know who you are?"

Kliph Nesteroff: You worked with Buster Keaton on your TV show. How about Harold Lloyd?

Jack Carter: Never met him, but he lived right up the street. He owned this whole Beverly Hills compound. About four homes in a row. This multi-millionaire owns the house now. Buster Keaton had a big, weird home up Hartford Way. It's still there. It's like a museum piece. Very strange. He built it like a castle almost. He was the sweetest man I ever, ever met. I booked Buster Keaton through an agent named Ben Pearson and he handled some of those great, old giants. Tom Corman, my agent, was friendly with Ben Pearson and he did The Jack Carter Show.

Kliph Nesteroff: I recently watched this terrible documentary about Jack Sheldon... It was basically homemade...

Jack Carter: Rickles always hires Jack Sheldon for his parties. He was the band at Rickles last party, which didn't go well for me. I was crippled after my accident. Fucking Norm Crosby sat at my table. He'd been doing all my jokes. As I got up I said, "I'm doing this joke, Norm, so forget about it!" So I was in no mood. I got up and Sheldon was in the band. 

Usually I kid Jack Sheldon and heckle him a little to get a roll going. I didn't do that. I did some stupid thing at the start and it was terrible and I never got going. I never scored. It was the worst outing I've ever had at Rickles' with a whole celebrity crowd. Brad Grey, Mrs. Sinatra, everybody. I just got by with a couple of stockies. 

I gave a joke to Norm Crosby because he has no material. He has a song now! Norm has a closing song, I can't believe it. We're not friendly anymore because we resented this lady marrying him who has taken all of his money. 

Kliph Nesteroff: In the late 1940s you worked Newport, Kentucky...

Jack Carter: Yeah, down by the river there were a lot of nightclubs.

Kliph Nesteroff: The Lookout House.

Jack Carter: Yes and Mrs. Jimmy Brink. She hit me with a pocket book and knocked me cold because I called it The Outhouse. I never worked there again. I worked at the Beverly Hills Country Club. It had that tragic fire and one of the chorus girls was Norm Crosby's wife and her sister. I'd always go and hangout there.

Kliph Nesteroff: That was the big Mob area.

Jack Carter: All Mob. You could hire a hit man there. That was the home of a famous hood, and it was all Mob. Especially down by the river.

Kliph Nesteroff: There was a place called the Glenn Rendezvous.

Jack Carter: Glenn Rendezvous, yes. Down by the river there were four or five late joints. Gambling. Oh, what's the name of the hood who came from there? But you could hire a gun to put someone away.  That is where you went for a hit man. 

But, y'know, Norm Crosby... We went for a weekend in Palm Springs to the home of this girl who was married to Jerry Moss, Herb Alpert's partner. She was in a pilot I did called Friends, Romans, Countrymen where she was a slave. It didn't take. That was a William Morris disaster. In order to do that pilot I left Freddie Fields and my shot at having a great agent. We were never friendly again. I pulled out of my contract with him even though he was making me money. You know the story of Freddie Fields? He brought David Begelman into the business. Begleman committed suicide.

He owed Sidney Kimmel three million dollars. He would have been in jail for life, but instead he killed himself. Danny Wilkes was the one who got the call to come to the hotel room, but he couldn't find him because he registered under another name. He was just an insurance agent married to Freddie's cousin and Freddie got him into show business. He had no talent at all, but he was a sweetheart of a guy, Begelman. He loved to laugh. He emulated a writer named Harvey Orkin who was very funny and fashionable, sort of like Cy Howard. Cy Howard was a one-story playwright. He had one hit and it never happened again just like the guy who wrote Stalag 17. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Cy Howard was busted in a prostitution scandal in the 1950s.

Jack Carter: He had a big home up on Sunset with a big driveway. He was pushy and gregarious. You were reminding me of that show I did with... what's his name? Burt Mendelson? Bob Masterson? Buddy Ebsen?

Kliph Nesteroff: Buster Keaton.

Jack Carter: Yeah, Buster Keaton.

Kliph Nesteroff: You know, I went and saw Tony Bennett at the Hollywood Bowl the other night...

Jack Carter: Why? He has no voice at all. A klutz. You know who else is a klutz? Michael Buble. He's like Frankenstein walking around the stage. My doctor is his doctor. Our other buddy who plays piano kinda discovered him and pushed him - David Foster.

Kliph Nesteroff: I wanted to ask you - who was this comedian Ollie Franks? He was on a bill with you and Jeri Blanchard at the Kitty Davis club in Miami Beach.

Jack Carter: Oh, I knew him. He was a singing comedian of George Abbott's. I remember Jeri Blanchard vaguely. God, the names that disappear. I mentioned stuff to you about Bob Hope and his last girl. One of Hope's tricks was named Joey Monroe and she lived in one room with her mother. Hope was so cheap he wouldn't give them enough money to eat even. He had about five of these girls around town.

I remember once I was banging this Russian girl. Hope said, "You got to get out of here quick!" "Why?" "Kirk is coming over!" Kirk Douglas was screwing her too. Another place I was at with a girl, "You've got to leave. George Marshall is coming over." An old director was seeing this girl. Kirk Douglas had several around town. The wives always knew. Jack Benny was the only one who never screwed around.

Kliph Nesteroff: I thought he had an affair with Giselle McKenzie.

Jack Carter: Yeah, supposedly, but I don't think so. George Burns got caught cheating so he had to buy Gracie... there's a whole story there about what he had to buy her. He really did love her though. He used to go to the cemetery and sit and talk to her. What a sweet man, what a sharp guy. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Some guy told me that Bob Leslie wrote all of Alan King's material. Bob Leslie from the Leslie Brothers.

Jack Carter: How would you know about the Leslie Brothers? They were insane! When I worked in New York the little one was on the phone in the lobby all day. I had to get the police to get rid of him. He was always asking for money. They'd hang around by the stage door and they were a terrible act! Terrible. Bob Leslie was the little one who drove me crazy. 

You have all these ads for the places I worked in Canada. I worked an Arab place outside London, Ontario with a vicious, nasty boss. Had to climb stairs to the club. When I was in Canada I stayed at the Frontenac, I used to call it the front and back. And at the Elmwood, over in Windsor, the owner had never been friendly. We'd go to Detroit for dinner with Al Siegel, who owned the Elmwood. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You previously mentioned the Jewish comedienne Molly Picon. Was she sort of like Fanny Brice?

Jack Carter: No, she was a sweet little lady and she was very minute. She did little comedy things, "There are hands - that do applause, there are hands - that do the work. There are hands that give me a hand." She had a beautiful number about hands. Her husband was a famous Jewish writer, Jacob Kalish, who wrote for the Yiddish theater. He wrote plays and stuff. Molly Picon was a bright little woman and she was in the original Fiddler on the Roof. She was classy, she wasn't mawkish. She had some great, great numbers and was a very delicate little woman. Molly Picon was a big star of the Yiddish theater and of regular vaudeville. I worked a big nightclub with her in Montreal. It was a big club in an alley.

Kliph Nesteroff: El Morroco?

Jack Carter: El Morroco was above a bank at first and then it moved near the hockey arena. So we'd hear the roars of the hockey fans during the show. I loved the El Morroco. I went to see BS Pully when he worked with HS Gump. He loved me.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was HS Gump like?

Jack Carter: Tiny little guy, a little nebbish, the kind you slap around like on The Benny Hill Show. Gump was a cute, little nebbish. "Bleed, Gump, Bleed!"BS Pully used to slap him around, "Bleed!" There were a lot of nondescript comedians in those days. There was Paul Gray, who was a very tall, unfunny man who had a commercial kind of an act like Jan Murray. Very manufactured. But Jan was brilliant at ad-libbing. Billy Vine was a great character. An actor, basically. He did a crying thing. His whole act was crying and blubbering. He worked the Latin Quarter a lot.

Kliph Nesteroff: Rip Taylor used to do the crying thing. I guess it was a common shtick in those days.

Jack Carter: Rip is a sweet man. When I was in the hospital he came by every day. In those days there were so many civilians that became comedians. They had three jokes and they were in. In those days there was so much work. A lot of comedians were just emcees. Little Jackie Heller was a little singer, Pittsburgh originally and then he ended up in Florida and eventually Las Vegas. Danny Goldberg was originally in Philadelphia and then he wound up at the Sands. 

Kliph Nesteroff: People always want me to ask you about Eugene Levy. He did an impression of you on SCTV back in the early 1980s.

Jack Carter: Yes, Albert Brooks used to do an impression of me and so did Eugene Levy and Martin Short. "Don't get me started, don't get me started." When they did SCTV, Eugene Levy did what was a typical nightclub act and it was me. It was a put-down... but it was okay. It was funny so I actually didn't mind.


KING OF JAZZ said...

Unparalleled gold!Thanks for being the catalyst!

mackdaddyg said...

I was surprised when I saw that Jack died a couple of weeks ago. I wasn't surprised that he had died, but instead I was shocked that I saw a headline about it on the internet. I didn't think anybody cared, so it was bittersweet in a way.

Good job interviewing this guy. Thanks for sharing.

Phil In Phoenix said...

Jack Carter was probably the biggest star that should have been but wasn't. Of course, most of that was his own doing. But your skills as an interviewer shows what a fascinating guy he was, Kliph. And he still had a pretty amazing career.

I found a website from a guy who was in the band on the Roy Radin tours. Interesting stuff that you and your followers would enjoy. And, of course, he mentions Jack as being the most miserable guy on any of the tours.

KING OF JAZZ said...

Carter would have made one hell of a Willy Clark in THE SUNSHINE BOYS.

greg6363 said...

Yes, folks. That's the same David Begelman who ripped off Judy Garland while serving as her manager as well as Cliff Robertson when he (as head of Columbia Pictures) forged a $50,000 check by signing Robertson's name to it.