Wednesday, July 20, 2016

An Interview with Jack Carter - Part Nine

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you know Joe E. Brown?

Jack Carter: God, no! He was a big movie star. Are you kidding? I was just a kid when he was a star in Hollywood. I didn't know anybody out here. When I came here during the war years I met everybody through Morey Amsterdam. Morey took me to Ann Sheridan's house. She was married to the actor George Brent then. Whenever Morey got hired to write for a big star he took me along. He took me to Metro. He took me everywhere. And he had people over to his house. Morey loved the Dead End Kids. We were all close. The Bowery Boys... I got to mostly know Huntz Hall and Gabe Dell. Huntz Hall was a close friend. Huntz was married to a sweet girl named Anderson. He lived on Hayworth Avenue in Hollywood and then married a terrible lady from New York. She once attacked my wife in a bank because she was wearing a fur coat. Oh my God, a terrible girl. Huntz was notorious for having this great, big, schlong.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Carter: Huntz Hall and Milton Berle and Forrest Tucker. They said the three of them should get together, braid it and make a challah. Berle was notorious for the big schlong, but Huntz had a massive one too.

Kliph Nesteroff: I never heard that about Huntz Hall.

Jack Carter: Yeah, very few people know about Huntz Hall's big schlong (laughs). We hung out together. The Dead End Kids were red hot then, y'know. I really befriended Huntz. The others... well, Bernie Punsly became a doctor... and then the little guy with the hat...

Kliph Nesteroff: Leo Gorcey.

Jack Carter: Yeah, he thought he was king of the shit house.

Kliph Nesteroff: You started in show business shortly before you joined the army, right? You met Morey Amsterdam before you were in the service...

Jack Carter: Yeah. We were up in Vancouver, British Columbia. I think I met him at a gig in Yakima, Washington and we went to Vancouver to do this bill together. Morey and I went boating with some guy early in the morning and I fell asleep on the boat. This was around 1942 or so, I guess. We worked in Vancouver at that theater. The Beacon?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah.

Jack Carter: It's old town now, isn't it? That area? 

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, it's the poor neighborhood today.

Jack Carter: God, I went to the best restaurant for Chinese in Vancouver with that columnist Jack Wasserman. He took us. And that guy Webster. He's not alive anymore, is he? Jack Webster?

Kliph Nesteroff: No.

Jack Carter: The Scotsman? He was a sweet man. He loved me. God, I loved performing at The Cave. I used to do radio shows at that station a few blocks to the left of the club. It was upstairs.

Kliph Nesteroff: CKNW.

Jack Carter: Yeah, big interviews. Everybody listened to it and phoned in. It was a big deal. Every night after my show we'd go to The Penthouse, which was run by that Canadian mafia family - Rocky and Joe Phillipone. Great food! I got a mickey there (laughs) after I sat with some hood's girl. I was supposed to go to Los Angeles the next day for a big thing, but I was finished. Two days I laid in bed tossing and turning and throwing up. And I remember another night at the Hotel Georgia when I had a big fight with my wife and she locked me out. I was naked in the hallway with nothing but an umbrella.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Carter: She was going to leave me. We had a big fight, but she stayed. They gave me a nice suite there. I guess the club paid for it. That bar used to jump in the Georgia Hotel. Wow! That bar was packed. Every night you could... it was a real pick-up bar, y'know. Of course, I didn't know from that. There were a lot of Vancouver sports figures that hung out there. My big joke during their football season - when the... what are some of the names of the teams?

Kliph Nesteroff: The B.C. Lions...

Jack Carter: Yeah, my joke was when the lion roars - the ala wets!      

Kliph Nesteroff: I'm pretty sure you're the only American comedian who did CFL material. 

Jack Carter: "You can be sure that when the lion roars - the ala wets!" The Alouettes were the Montreal football team, right?

Kliph Nesteroff: Right.

Jack Carter: Yeah, that was one of the jokes I did when I played The Cave. I played Vancouver every year so I had
 a lot of local stuff. There was a guy named Oil Can Harry, right? He had a club there. And there was another room that used smaller performers called The Essex.

Kliph Nesteroff: The guy that used to book the Cave left to open his own supperclub. A guy named Isy Walters. He had Lenny Bruce deported from Canada after his only show there.

Jack Carter: Yeah, Isy. That's the name. He and my friend Sid Golden who lived way out by the airport... they were part of this hip, rich, Jewish hierarchy that used to go nightclubbing in Vancouver. They'd always be there Friday and Saturday with twenty people back when I was red hot. Hy's Steakhouse was across the street. 

Kliph Nesteroff:  For that gig at the Beacon back in 1942 with Morey Amsterdam, you're billed as: "Jack Carter: International Comedian." And the two movies that were playing when you were there was a comedy starring Hugh Herbert and the horror film Black Dragons with Bela Lugosi. This was before you went into the army? How many gigs were you doing?

Jack Carter: Well, after that I was working San Francisco at The 365 Club. I was a big hit there and that's when I got drafted. I flew all the way back to Brooklyn and they sent me to San Antonio, Texas. Fort something. There was an air field there called Randolph Field, but I was in the Army. I forget the name of my base.

Lew Ayres was in my company. He was a conscientious objector so they put him in the medics or something. San Antonio was beautiful back then, but it pissed me off that I had to leave San Francisco in the middle of this good engagement. I remember Tony Martin came to see me. He was an officer at the naval base there in San Francisco. There was a scandal and they decommissioned him and made him a private. It was a scandal about his getting special treatment because he was a famous singer. Private Al Morris - that was his real name. But he came to see me and he was nuts about this girl singer Betty Black. I had a great photo of he and I and Betty and someone else. I gave the picture to someone and they never gave it back to me. It used to be in that pile right there. Son of a bitch! 

Kliph Nesteroff: He had an early TV show too - The Tony Martin Show - a 15 minute thing. 

Jack Carter: He's a strange guy. You've got to get to know him. Not a nice man. Very snappy, very edgy, kind of always angry. I played golf with him at Hillcrest. He hit a shot this far from the flag and he got mad because it wasn't on this side of the flag. 

Kliph Nesteroff: A lot of the old singers seem to be angry or difficult.

Jack Carter: Yeah, big temperaments. No one more so than Sinatra, of course. Sinatra was his own special breed. He wanted to be a gangster. He was dying to be tough. He'd punch out anybody.

Kliph Nesteroff: Maybe it was an ego thing because the singer was always in the headline position and the comic was always the opener...

Jack Carter: Yeah, that's true. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Maybe the ego was inflated by their billing.

Jack Carter: Jerry Vale is easy going. He can get kind of pushy. And he's cheap too. Very cheap. He tried to steal a lottery ticket from my wife. He tried to claim it was his, but they were her numbers and she won. He wanted to claim it. We were with Ed Sullivan too - a whole bunch of us. Terrible. Luckily she played the same numbers all of the time, so she could just rattle them off from memory. But they're okay and we talk to the Vales all the time. They used to be friendly with the Norm Crosbys, but that friendship ended. Crosby turned out to be a real asshole and a real joke thief. He'll steal your act blind.

Kliph Nesteroff: Really?

Jack Carter: Norm Crosby and I were friends for a long time, but he is a joke thief and he stole a ton of material from me and many others. He got up in temple once and started to do one of my stories. I stopped him. He's a reciter. He has no actual funny bone, but he knows how to put jokes together and blend them and do a half hour. He was always an opening act, never a headliner. Never in your life will you meet someone who says they're a Norm Crosby fan, y'know.

Kliph Nesteroff: Eddie Fisher was notoriously moody back in the day. You guested on his television show in 1958.

Jack Carter: Yeah, after The Jack Carter Show was canceled I signed with Freddie Fields and he got me all kinds of guest shots on TV and big money too. Freddie Fields got me the biggest money of any agent I ever had. He got me a lot of work and I did programs like Garry Moore...

Kliph Nesteroff: What do you remember about The Garry Moore Show?

Jack Carter: I was doing fine until I had a fight with one of his writers in the early sixties - Woody Allen. We did a talk show, a panel together, and he disrespected somebody. I jumped into the conversation and attacked him back and we were trading lines. We were never friendly again. I used to go see him do his jazz thing in New York and he wouldn't even talk to me. I did Garry Moore five or six times. I did The Perry Como Show and Perry turned on me. He didn't like the song I was doing. It was an Irish-themed show and I sang that line, "I'm the only Italian in MacNamara's Band." He thought I wrote that and told me it was in bad taste.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Carter: Como never used me again. I couldn't believe it. What a moron! He thought I had put that in there to make fun of Italians! That's the way it went down and I never did the Como show again. Nick Vanoff was a gopher on that show at the time, just working as a stooge.

Kliph Nesteroff: You appeared on The Bob Crosby Show.

Jack Carter: Yes. Bob was on my show a couple of times as well. He was great and we did a thing with his brother Bing, a set of three sketches. Ben Starr wrote it and Ben is still around. He's brilliant. He was my great writer on The Jack Carter Show in 1950. He would stay over the weekend for the live broadcast so I had someone with me in case of trouble. The other writers didn't give a shit. Ben Starr, I still see him. He's still funny.

Kliph Nesteroff: Let's talk about Judy Garland. You did some stuff with her.

Jack Carter: Yes, people have mentioned that appearance to me a lot - The Judy Garland Show. They've been replaying them, I guess. People said there's one where Judy and I are mirroring each other and doing impressions. Mel Torme was the songwriter on that program. He wrote her special material. He never got paid. They stiffed him or something. Begleman and Fields charged tremendous amounts of money to CBS during that series. CBS built a yellow brick walkway for Judy and they built things for her in her home. They had all the [CBS] workmen do it and got away with murder. And then they stole all her money. Whatever deal they made, they kept it all and gave her shit. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You did an episode of The Hollywood Palace with Judy.

Jack Carter: Yeah, Roy Gerber booked that show. The producers were Bill Harbach and Nick Vanoff and they liked me. I think I did five of them.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did the episode in which they reunited The Nicholas Brothers.

Jack Carter: Oh, I loved them. All of those great Black dance teams. I loved The Step Brothers and was very friendly with them. And then there were The Clark Brothers, but they moved to England and I used to see them there. The Nicholas Brothers though - there was nobody like them.

Kliph Nesteroff: Nobody liked them!?

Jack Carter: Who?

Kliph Nesteroff: The Nicholas Brothers.

Jack Carter: Who said that?

Kliph Nesteroff: I thought you just said that.

Jack Carter: No, I said there was nobody like them!

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh!

Jack Carter: No, are you kidding? The Nicholas Brothers? They were the kings! With the knee drops and the splits and the leaps? Any movie they were in - like Sunrise Serenade with Glenn Miller and Sonja Henje - they did that number where they slide down the steps.

Kliph Nesteroff: They could stop any show.

Jack Carter: Yes, and they did. Yeah. The little guy was the real hoofer. Fayard, the older one, was more classic. And the real classic dancers were the ones that Fred Astaire took so much of his style from - John Bubbles.

Kliph Nesteroff: Buck and Bubbles.

Jack Carter: Buck and Bubbles, yes. Buck was the funny little one who did the "Negro jokes." They were the first ones to do real racial jokes.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Jack Carter: Yes. I loved doing that. I became friendly with the lady who produced it. Howard Morris was in that episode. He was Sid Caesar's stooge when we were both on NBC. The actress was Dorothy Malone or someone like that and she had to slap me in the scene. I said, "Slap me. Don't pull your punch. Make it look real. I can take it." Well, she hit me and knocked me out cold! She gave me a shot with her fist. She didn't do it open handed. She closed (laughs) her fist. A pretty blonde actress.

I forget what I played, but I was thrilled to do it. I did a lot of dramatic shows like CBS Playhouse. I did this episode called The Runaway Bus about a guy who steals a bus and drives to Florida to get away from it all. It had good actors like Wallace Ford and that other guy who was hot for a while... Oh, I can't think of his name now. He never became a big star, but he was a good actor. I did the anthology shows and some 1950s science fiction programs. It was tough because I wasn't known as a dramatic actor, so to convince William Morris to go after those things for me - that was tough.

Kliph Nesteroff: I saw you in a sci-fi show called Tales of Tomorrow - about a flying saucer.

Jack Carter: Yeah. Later on I did an Amazing Stories that Spielberg produced. Tobe Hooper directed it and Dick Shawn was on with me. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Hitchcock didn't have any real involvement with that show of his - just lent his name and did the wraparounds.

Jack Carter: Just the name. That girl was his producer - forget her name. An older woman.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did two episodes of Batman with Adam West.

Jack Carter: Yeah, I played Hot Rod Harry. I get more mail than anything else asking for signed pictures of Hot Rod Harry. They invite me to these things out by the airport where poor souls sign autographs. BarBara Luna wrote me a letter, "Please come to the convention. Shecky was here and he loved it." Well, Shecky can go demean himself for ten bucks a pop, but I can't do it. A lot of people do it and they come home with a couple thousand.

Kliph Nesteroff: You gotta pay the bills, I guess. A lot of people live high on the hog when they're famous, but it doesn't really last...

Jack Carter: [snoring]

Kliph Nesteroff: Jack?

[Jack is asleep]


Anonymous said...

That is the greatest ending to an interview you've ever done!

alf landon said...

Jack's dead

Barry Rivadue said...

At least he didn't die at the end of the interview.

Mark Murphy said...

Kliph: Great stuff, as always. A few things:

I suspect that the Alfred Hitchcock episode Carter talks about is "Most Likely to Succeed." I think I've seen it, and I looked it up. Morris is in it, and the leading lady is not Dorothy Malone but the late Joanna Moore, who showed up on a lot of shows back then. She was also married to Ryan O'Neal and, yes, was the mother of Tatum O'Neal.

The producer Carter refers to has to be Joan Harrison, who was associated with Hitchcock for many years, working on both his movies and TV shows, and produced several movies on her own. She was married to author Eric Ambler.

I also must respectfully disagree with the statement that Hitchcock had "no real involvement" in the TV show. Over the years he directed about 18 episodes. I've also heard he had some say in the choice of stories, but I'm not sure about that.

Again, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Kliph, I've been reading your work for several years now.

This latest interview with Jack Carter is nothing short of brilliant, and I mean Jack Carter is brilliant and you are the interviewer who asks a question and then gets out of the way. It's great. That means you are brilliant too.

I wish you would put a date on these interviews.

Kliph, I've enjoyed these so much I owe you money.