Tuesday, December 1, 2015

An Interview with Dick Gautier - Part Three

Dick Gautier: I don't know if you know the name of this comedy team: Gordon Connell and Jane Connell. They were super hip in the 1950s. God, they were funny. He played piano and she sang. They were married and did a lot of stuff on Broadway later on. They worked with Sid Caesar on As Caesar Sees It. They were a comedy team at the hungry i and the Purple Onion. I loved their act. 

Kliph Nesteroff: There are a lot of forgotten comedy teams from that era. There was the very successful sister act of Betty and Jane Kean, pioneering female comedians.

Dick Gautier: Betty and Jane Kean were pretty funny. They were the first sort of vulgar ladies. She'd take out a cigar and light it and then the other would say, "What is that - a substitute?" That kind of shit.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about beatnik comedian Lord Buckley?

Dick Gautier: Ah, I loved Lord Buckley. I thought he was brilliant. He killed me. Oh, Jesus, such a mind, but he was crazy. He was demented. His family had to address him, "Yes, Lord. No, Lord." They had to bow to him when he came in the room. I mean, he took it to those lengths. I wasn't there, but that was the word. Who was the other crazy guy comedian... Jimmy something? I don't know if this translates, but he would get hostile and say to the audience, "What do you want! What do you want from me? Okay, okay, stay right there, don't move." And he'd pick up a chair. "You want me to eat this chair? Is that what it is? Okay! Okay, well, I'm going to eat this fucking chair!" I mean, he was such a wild man.

Kliph Nesteroff: Maybe that was Jimmy Ames.

Dick Gautier: Yes, it was Jimmy Ames! God, he was great. He didn't go anywhere with it because he couldn't do it on television.

Kliph Nesteroff: The only reason I know his name is because he was mentioned to me by your old pal Peter Marshall.

Dick Gautier: Well, you know, Peter Marshall and I were really, really good friends. We were really tight. We did movies together. We did an act together for a short time.

Kliph Nesteroff: I didn't know that.

Dick Gautier: Yeah, we worked together for a short time and we just did it for fun. We did it for friends and then we did it on some television shows. They wanted us to roast Walter Matthau on television and we did. He liked us and we liked him. Peter and I wrote a couple movies together. Yeah, Pete and I were really close. We haven't seen each other in years.

Kliph Nesteroff: So, did something happen?

Dick Gautier: Yeah... actually. Something happened. And I don't even remember what it was. I pissed him off or he pissed me off or who knows. After a while you don't even remember what it was about.

Kliph Nesteroff: I interviewed Peter Marshall and he doesn't remember what the tiff was about either.

Dick Gautier: Yes, like fighting with your wife. "What the hell were we arguing about?"

Kliph Nesteroff: You opened for the Kingston Trio in, of all places, the Cocoanut Grove.

Dick Gautier: Yeah, I felt comfortable doing that because the Kingston Trio brought in a folkie kind of audience that would like my act. We did a tour afterward. I did okay except for one terrible night. I couldn't get into my dressing room because for some reason it was locked. I couldn't change my clothes and I was in terrible, smelly clothes I had been in all day. Performers, we need a certain kind of preparation time. I lost that preparation time and I went on and it went terrible. So, it happens. But that tour was mostly pretty good.

Kliph Nesteroff: Two routines you used... out-of-context this is meaningless, but you did a bit called A Day at Cape Canaveral and another called She Got Stabbed at the Prom.

Dick Gautier: It was a a take-off on all the silly teenage songs at the time. A Day at Cape Canaveral I wrote with Gary Belkin. He wrote for Sid Caesar and various other people. I never just bought material from people - I had to be in on it. When I was acting in a Las Vegas show in the 1970s, I got to know everybody in town pretty good and someone said, "Why don't you do stand-up here?" I said, "I don't know, I haven't done it in so many years."

I got a call from some agent, "They're talking about having you open in Vegas with your act." I said, "Really? Jesus, my material is too dated. It's too old and I don't know what people are doing in stand-up these days." So I went to all the comedy clubs to look for guys to bounce stuff off of. I must have seen two hundred guys. You know who I ended up with? I paid them a hundred dollars an hour to work with me. This is absolutely true: Jay Leno and David Letterman. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Another interesting comic among those Uptown rooms was the Professor Irwin Corey.

Dick Gautier: The Professor Irwin Corey is incredibly brilliant and I knew him pretty well, but he is a terrible human being. Honestly. He's the lowest kind of prick you would ever want to meet. God, is he awful. I was working there and he came in. All he did was say bad things about me, my act and my talent. Just dreadful. But I found out that it was kind of a Napoleonic thing. He was very small and I was probably a foot taller than him.

Enrico Banducci called me and my collaborator Larry Tucker. He said, "Hey guys, I'm here in New York and I'm looking for some new acts. Would you guys come over and tell me what you think about the new crop?" So we said sure and we're sitting at a big table. Irwin Corey walks in with his manager. His first words were, "What the fuck are these guys doing here! Goddamn leeches who come in here and eat your fucking food! What the fuck!"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Dick Gautier: I mean, that's how we were greeted. I tell you, I had had it. I used to be very strong in those days. I grabbed him by the lapel and I picked him up off the floor. I said, "You are such a cocksucker, Irwin. Keep this up and I will throw you out the window - and I can do it." There was an open window and I carried him over to it. From then on he'd say, "Hi Dick, how are you?" It's funny how you have to push some people, but that's what a bastard he was. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, on this topic then, let me ask you about some other comedians who have reputations. Jack Carter.

Dick Gautier: Yeah, I've worked with Jack a lot. He played my father in a television show. The first fifteen minutes of every day we'd sit and wait for him to finish complaining. "God, Jesus Christ, my coffee was cold, for fuck's sake. I had to send it back and the cream was sour." All he did was complain for fifteen minutes and then he would finally settle down and we would get to work. Jack is kind of manic.

I love him, but I hate him. He's really hard to take and it's too bad, but I have known him forever. Do you have the comedian Thom Sharp down? Thom Sharp was one of the funniest guys. He opened for me at the Playboy Club in Phoenix, Arizona when I was breaking in some material. You ever hear what he said about comedian Ronnie Schell? Ronnie Schell is one of the cheapest men in the world. Thom Sharp's line: "Ronnie Schell is so cheap that when he eats alone he asks for separate checks."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Dick Gautier: Thom Sharp is so quick, wonderful and dry. He is a gem.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did The Joey Bishop Show and some game shows with Joey...

Dick Gautier: My ex-wife, an actress who has since passed on, Barbara Stewart, played his wife in a series. She wasn't crazy about working with him. She didn't knock him, but she said, "He's kind of hard to work with." My meetings with Joey were fine. I never had a problem.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Buddy Hackett?

Dick Gautier: Buddy Hackett was mean from the ground up. I did his show when I was flailing around in New York trying to get something going, when I was working clubs. He was never nice. He was just never nice. But when I got his television show I had very little to do. I was almost like an extra. Carol Burnett was in it.

Kliph Nesteroff: The show was called Stanley.

Dick Gautier: That's right. Max Liebman produced it and it was live. I tell you, he was just impossible to work with, even for Carol. Carol Burnett never knocks anybody but, boy, she does not like Buddy Hackett. When I was in Philadelphia trying out Bye Bye Birdie, Buddy was doing a show called [Viva] Madison Avenue. And it was getting killed. Just gettin' killed. When he found it was me who had been like an extra on his show and I was now playing the lead in Bye Bye Birdie and getting great reviews, it really pissed him off. So much so that one night when he was eating at Harvey House, I walked by and said hello and he took his keys and he threw them at me. He said, "Hey, Dick, bring my car around, would ya!" I said, "Certainly, Mr. Hackett." I took the keys and went back to my theater and dressing room and back to rehearsal (laughs). He looked around everywhere for his keys and couldn't find them. Four hours later he comes storming in, "Where are my fucking keys!" That's the kind of guy he was. He was... just... awful. Mean. Always an angry man.

Kliph Nesteroff: Jackie Mason.

Dick Gautier: Jackie Mason I don't know too well. Merv Griffin got a group together that he called the best story tellers in the business. I was considered one of them along with Orson Bean and Jackie Mason. Pat O'Brien, believe it or not, was another. We'd go on and we'd tell jokes and I got to know him a little. He didn't feel like we should be there in his company. He felt like he should be by himself. Other than that he was okay.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were, of course, in Get Smart as Hymie the Robot. You were also in a sitcom called When Things Were Rotten. Both of these were Mel Brooks sitcoms. Was that the connection there? Is that why you were in When Things Were Rotten?

Dick Gautier: Well, Mel, yeah. I didn't see Mel when I auditioned for the part as Hymie in Get Smart, but I got that. Mel said he loved my timing. He was quoted saying I had exquisite timing. I think that is why I got the part of Robin Hood in When Things Were Rotten. I heard that he wanted to fire me. This has never been told before in public. He thought that I was difficult on When Things Were Rotten - and I was. They wrote me a little vain and egotistical in the pilot, but they didn't know how to write me so that it was funny. Everyone else was funny and my character wasn't. So they kept going back and forth, "Do it this way. Do it that way." I was in the middle and I just didn't know what the hell to do. I guess I was being problematic. "Guys, who am I? What am I? What direction am I going in?" I've never been able to talk to Mel about it and defend myself about that accusation. I have never been difficult on any other show. Ugh. Anyway... 

1 comment:

Mark Murphy said...

Another great job, Kliph. Thanks again.

A few things:

Mr. Gautier's late ex-wife was Barbara Stuart, not Stewart. She was perhaps best known (in my day) for playing Sgt. Carter's girlfriend on the Gomer Pyle show. But she was always good in anything she did (including "A Thing About Machines" on Twilight Zone and playing the victim in the Chevy Mystery Show episode that introduced Lt. Columbo -- played by Bert Freed -- to TV viewers).

Jane Connell, who died a couple of years ago, was perhaps most famous for playing Agnes Gooch in the Broadway and movie versions of the musical "Mame."

Did Mr. Gautier say anything about "Mr. Terrific," a show that managed to be terrible despite the services of Mr. Gautier and John McGiver?

Nice to know that Mr. Gautier seems to be doing OK. Always seemed like a nice guy.