Friday, July 3, 2015

An Interview with Jackie Curtiss - Part Seven

Kliph Nesteroff: I heard that comedian Guy Marks walked away from show business at one point.

Jackie Curtiss: He would do that. He was impulsive. Someone would say, "You know what you oughta do, Guy? You should go to the desert and dig up sand." And he'd leave with a shovel. If you want to describe Guy Marks - he was bizarre. But a talent that was unbelievable. There was no end to his talent. He was incredible.

Kliph Nesteroff: You encountered film comedian Bert Wheeler...

Jackie Curtiss: I always wanted to meet Wheeler and Woolsey because I had seen them in movies as a kid. I did a club date with Al Bello, my first comedy team. Bert Wheeler was in the audience. Afterward he came backstage and pulled me aside. He gave me advice. This what you do, don't do this, do that, always do this. He just gave me some sound comedy advice. He said, "Would you like my telephone number?" I said, "I'd love it!" He gave me his number. A couple months later I called and... he was dead. That was it. It was a moment.

Kliph Nesteroff: Frank Gorshin.

Jackie Curtiss: Frank followed us in to Jerry Lewis' KoKo Club, although at that time it was called The Safari. We just became friends around the pool. Later in Los Angeles he would come by my apartment and have dinner with my wife and I. Just talk, no show business. He was another frustrated singer. He wanted to be a singer, not an impressionist.

But just like Will Jordan he would say, "They won't let me do anything else. I want to sing." He was another guy who could contort his face and look exactly like the person. He did Burt Lancaster and turned into Kirk Douglas immediately. He was really incredible with what he could do with his face. And what an actor! Wow. He did a war movie with Robert Wagner and he was excellent.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did a roast with George Jessel...

Jackie Curtiss: Yes, actually, did you ever talk with Irwin Corey?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, I did.

Jackie Curtiss: He and I hung out together. I did a Jessel roast, one for Red Buttons, Bing Crosby, and four or five other roasts. I went up to the manager and asked, "How did you find out about us?" Meaning me and my partner Bill Tracy. He said, "Irwin Corey told me if we didn't use you that he would never do a show for me again." About six months later I ran into Irwin and I said, "Irwin, I want to thank you for the Jessel roast." He said, "What are you talking about?" I said, "You told them if they didn't use us that you would never work for him again." Irwin said, "That son of a bitch! He didn't understand! I told him if he ever used you I'd never work for him again!"

But that's Irwin. There was a great singer that I knew named Anne Richards. She ended up singing with Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson. She turned lesbian in later years. She was on the Playboy Circuit and Irwin was just crazy about her - especially because she was a lesbian. He wanted to change her. I followed Irwin in and Anne was held over. The dressing rooms were just little cubicles and you could hear from one to the other. Irwin went into her cubicle and said, "Anne! I really want to make it with you!" She said, "I don't make it with guys." He said, "I know that... but can I just jerk off while you're here?"

She said, "You do what you want to do." He said, "Can I hold on to your dress while I do it?" He went through this whole thing. She told me she let him hold on to her skirt and he got off.

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh my God.

Jackie Curtiss: I mean, but that's Irwin!

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Bert Lahr...

Jackie Curtiss: I met Bert Lahr in Boston. He saw my show and for some reason fell in love with it and came backstage. He was going to be in town for a week and he made a point, every night, to come to the Playboy Club. We went and had breakfast together. It was hard for him because people would think of him as just the Cowardly Lion, but he was so articulate and so kind. He told me, "I see so much of me in you." I said, "What?" I told you about the time Harpo Marx came backstage and said, "I envy you so much. I envy any comedian that can talk." All those little things... I really have had a gifted life. Even if they're only these one-time things like that day with Groucho I told you about. One of the greatest days of my life.

Kliph Nesteroff: What are your feelings about Jack E. Leonard vs. Don Rickles?

Jackie Curtiss: I was friends with both of them. When Don was starting to come up, Jack E. Leonard said, "That's my road show." But Jack was a lot softer. He didn't put people down personally whereas Don did. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Jack E. Leonard truly believed Don Rickles stole his act...

Jackie Curtiss: Oh, yes he even said that to me, "Son of a bitch! He stole everything. The only thing he hasn't stolen is ring-a-ding-ding." But he was a very, very nice guy. Very sweet. The amazing thing about Jack E. was how light on his feet he was.

Kliph Nesteroff: He always did a little dance.

Jackie Curtiss: Did I tell you about the time he opened at the Magnolia Room in the Drake Hotel? Over there it had always been chanteuses like Hildegarde. Jack had never been in the room. Bill Tracy and I were sitting ringside. He walked onstage, took one look at this room and said, "Holy Christ! Was this room ever new?" We fell over. I asked Jack, "Can we use that line?" He said, "You're welcome to it. It was an ad-lib." When I did club dates that were real bad I used it. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Previously you mentioned Buddy Rich...

Jackie Curtiss: You know the story of Buddy Rich when he went to the hospital just before he died? The first thing they ask you is, "Are you allergic to anything?" So he's sitting there in the gown and they ask him, "Are you allergic to anything?" And he says, "Country and western." 

Kliph Nesteroff: Buddy Rich was funny. He did all those Carson appearances and he was one of the few that could go on Carson's show and get away with dissing him.

Jackie Curtiss: He was really a cranky guy. He had a love - hate relationship with Sinatra. They did a lot for each other, but when they were both with the Dorsey band, they had fist fights.

Kliph Nesteroff: There are those famous outtakes of Buddy Rich reaming out his band members.

Jackie Curtiss: Right, sure.

Kliph Nesteroff: People have traded those tapes for years.

Jackie Curtiss: I have all of those, some of them are very famous - Orson Welles, Dean and Jerry...

Kliph Nesteroff: Orson Welles when he's being directed by some poor schlub... 

Jackie Curtiss: I'll send you what I have. I have Dennis Day throwing up in a toilet. Real obscure things. I have the Cliff Norton song, "No Shit."  I'll send you that with the episodes of the Sullivan show I did. The second time we did The Ed Sullivan Show - I thought it was over for us. I arranged to do a gag with Sullivan because he always wanted to be in our sketches. So, at the end of the second routine I had a thing I was going to do with him but... I ended up breaking his toe on live television.

You'll see it. At the end of the show he had his foot in a bucket with a paramedic there. I walked in and said, "Now, Ed, you know that was your fault. We rehearsed it and you moved your foot." He said, "Why you son of a bitch! You'll do anything for publicity!" I said, "We're fired?" He said, "Fired? You got ten shots, kiddo." He loved me, but I broke his toe in front of millions of people. Watch his face and you'll see him shaking his leg. Because he goes on with the show, y'know. There's a lot of background to all of these shows.

We did so many appearances on The Steve Allen Show and he really liked me. I got a call from Jeanne DeVivier, the talent coordinator, and she said, "Jackie, you're on this week. Steve wants to talk to you." He gets on the phone and says, "Jackie, I have a favor to ask of you. Have you been reading in the paper about Elizabeth Taylor? She ran off with Richard Burton and deserted Eddie Fisher. They threw her and Richard out of Italy and they flew to England and they wouldn't let them in. They flew to Mexico and they wouldn't let them in Mexico. So I want us to say something about it, but I don't want to seem like I'm picking on her. Can you do a couple of jokes referencing it? That way when you come on the couch I can say, 'Funny that you mention Elizabeth Taylor...' and then I can get into it gently." I said, "Sure, Steve. I'll write a whole new routine. So I wrote a piece called the Son of Elizabeth Taylor and he let us do ten minutes.

Kliph Nesteroff: Steve Allen and you must have gotten along, I would think. 

Jackie Curtiss: Yes, we were kinfolk. We always spent time together talking. Jayne Meadows was a real bitch and I was there at the time... Steve, like anybody else, was a philanderer and fooling around. Well, she caught him. When she caught him - that was it.  She never let him out of her sight again, every show.

Kliph Nesteroff: Pete Barbutti told me about that incident.

Jackie Curtiss: For a while Pete and I were with the same agency. Shecky, myself and Pete. Bel-Cord Artists. We all hung out. Pete was so unique. He was such a hip guy. We were at a restaurant in Vegas and he ended up doing this in his act. He looked at me, picked up the coffee and saucer and said, "Hey, wanna see me put a cup of coffee down?" I said, "Uh, okay." He puts it on the table and looks at the cup and says, "You don't even taste good. In fact, you're really rank." That was him putting a cup of coffee down. He thought of that just at that moment.

I did a show called Wrap-up, that they actually burned it was so bad. Rock Hudson was in it, Tony Curtis, Jonathan Winters and I. The director was the other comic on Your Show of Shows...

Kliph Nesteroff: Howard Morris.

Jackie Curtiss: Howie Morris. Howie Morris was directing us and we were sitting with Rock Hudson. Howie told us about the time Mel Brooks held him up in an alley. To hear him tell the story was wild. I was at the Playboy Club in Denver with Bill Tracy when The Producers came out for the first time and we must have gone to see it fourteen times. There's so much stuff in there. The other thing with Howie Morris... we all knew that Rock Hudson was gay. 

At that time he was married to Jim Nabors. For some reason Rock took a liking to me and we had lunch whenever Jim couldn't pick him up. He called me J - rather than JC, as I called myself at the time. One day he said, "Oh, I have to meet Jim, so we can't have lunch today." So I'm standing there and Jim Nabors drives up in the European Rolls Royce, with the steering wheel on the right side. Rock gets in the car and shuts the door. As soon as he does, this very masculine guy, goes fey. Very gay. 

When he came back he gave Jim a peck on cheek, got out of the car, and then - boom - back to being completely masculine. He had this big album under his arm. He took me to his dressing room and he said, "I'm going to show you this, but you have to promise not to tell anyone about this. It's very private." I thought, "Wow, what is this?" It was the photo album of his wedding to Jim Nabors. He had the guy - what's the poet's name? Rod McKuen. Rod McKuen and this other guy, a football player, and they were in gowns. 

They were playing the bridesmaids. He had all these pictures of an actual wedding just full of all of gay Hollywood. Photos of him taking the cake and shoving it in Jim Nabors' mouth. Jim was the bride and Rock was the butch one. I saw this whole thing. There had always been rumors about this and I never believed... this isn't for print, by the way. I told me wife about this and I'll tell you but... Anyway, I felt so great that he trusted me to this degree.

Kliph Nesteroff: This is insane.

Jackie Curtiss: I'm telling you the pictures were unbelievable. It knocked me out.


Kevin K. said...

Please, Kliph, post the audio of Dennis Day throwing up in the toilet. I picture him immediately going into "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" afterwards.

mackdaddyg said...

Interesting stuff as always. I've heard the Buddy Rich, Orson Welles and Martin/Lewis stuff, but Dennis Day?!

Speaking of Pete Barbutti.....will there ever be a part five?

Thanks as always.

Patrick said...

I'm curious; how would anyone verify that it was really Dennis Day throwing up in a toilet, instead of someone who just sounded like Dennis Day throwing up in a toilet?

Anonymous said...

Eddie Buzzell directed a couple of Marx Brothers movies. They fought with him like cats and dogs. His style of comedy didn't mix with theirs.

There was a brief mention of Harpo Marx, but you didn't ask any followup questions. When I think of classic showbiz, I think of the 1920s, '30s and early '40s... Harpo, Groucho, Chico, Chaplin, Buster Keaton. You're younger than me. You think of classic showbiz as Shecky Greene in Las Vegas in 1963.