Monday, November 1, 2010

An Interview with Woody Woodbury - Part Two (July 6, 2010)

Kliph Nesteroff: So, we were talking about the game show Who Do You Trust. You hosted this program on CBS, taking over for Johnny Carson when he first got the gig as host of The Tonight Show.  

Woody Woodbury: The audiences were superb and they came by the busload. They passed out little trinkets to everyone in the audience. Samples from the sponsors. Chef Boyardee, I can remember, was one of the sponsors. General Mills was another. We always had a good time. A few of the writers for Who Do You Trust went on to big time stardom in the writing field.

Kliph Nesteroff: When you replaced Carson on the game show Who Do You Trust in New York - you would tape five shows in three days and then fly back to Florida to do stand-up?

Woody Woodbury: We'd do two shows on Monday. One live and one taped. The second show was Kinescoped. Wednesday, we'd do one show and then I'd hightail it to Northeast Flight Number Five. I'll never forget that. I would fly down to Miami. I had a little Mercedes at that time. A little 230 SC and I'd run from the airport, jump in the Mercedes, rush up to Lauderdale, grab a bite to eat at the house and was on stage at eight thirty. I did that for a couple years and had a great time. I used to think I traveled a lot, but you should see my son. He accumulated over two million frequent flyer miles.

Kliph Nesteroff: What does your son do?

Woody Woodbury: He does illusions. Magic on cruise ships. He was a cruise director for a long time too.

Kliph Nesteroff: So does he run into anybody that you used to work with? I know Marty Allen does a lot of cruise ships.

Woody Woodbury: Oh, yes. Norm Crosby still does them. The cruise ships to me cease to be fun. I did the first cruise ships ... way back.  It was a whole different scene. I have got nothing against the cruise ships, but they don't have entertainment like they used to. They have performers on that can't perform and don't get paid well. They have singers that can't sing and dancers that can't dance. Marty Allen, somebody just told me about him, less than a week ago. I think he's working in Vegas now. Let me write his name down and I'll see if I can track him down for you ... I just got back from Palm Springs, Los Angeles and San Diego. I did a show at the San Diego Marine Core Air Station - at the club. Jerry Coleman was there, second baseman for the Yankees years ago. He's now the voice of the Padres and we're great friends. We flew together in the war. Then I saw a couple of other guys I was with back in the Korea days. It was a lot of fun and the show went great. The people are so great and I think they pity me because of my age (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Woody Woodbury: I heard this crazy story about Rusty Warren! Selling everything and moving to Spain or something? Apparently that's not true? 

Kliph Nesteroff: She's in Hawaii. 

Woody Woodbury: I mean, I'm not trying to find her or anything, but she's permanently in Hawaii?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, she's lived there since 1989. Although, she didn't sell all of her stuff. She has all of her memorabilia from her career in a warehouse in Arizona. She's trying to figure out some place to showcase it.

Woody Woodbury: I know she had a couple of horses and stuff like that in Scottsdale. I was out there doing a [gig for] Warner Lambert before they were bought by Pfizer. I forget who I did it with. Norm Crosby or somebody. We tried to get a hold of her when we went, but she was not there. I just know her from the old days down here in Florida. If you ever talk to her again tell her I'm sorry I missed her ten years ago. I loved her work. Such a crazy woman. Funny crazy, that is. Not mentally crazy. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You two were both lumped into the same genre because of the comedy records.

Woody Woodbury: Yes, no doubt about it. Because of the comedy record albums. Yes. Knockers Up was her big hit.

Kliph Nesteroff: She just turned eighty-one and seems to be doing alright. What is your birthdate?

Woody Woodbury: February 9, 1924. I am eighty-six years old. I feel terrific. I've got about two or three shows booked here, but I really have to cut back. Once I get on stage it's great, Kliph. I have a wonderful time. But the airport security is such a pain and getting there. You try to stay in a good mood, but some of those [security] people are so haughty. Give anybody power like that and they just think God sent them to earth to tell you what to do.

Kliph Nesteroff: How's your friend [Hee-Haw star] Roy Clark?

Woody Woodbury: Oh, he's great. I worked with him in Indiana. We've been friends for so many years. He's had hip and knee problems, but as soon I announce him and get him out on that stage, man, he's like he was when he was thirty. He just kills the audience. They just love him. He does magnificent shows. He's a marvelous human being. He's an icon and a legend.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were on an episode of Hee-Haw once, weren't you?

Woody Woodbury: Oh, yes. I was on there for a whole week and then I wrote some stuff for Archie Campbell. That's all history, I don't even remember what I wrote. I go back in my old archives and I look through [stuff I wrote] and I wonder how people ever even did it. It was funny when I wrote it, but I think "Oh, jeez, I was capable of much better than that."

Kliph Nesteroff: Were you writing stuff for Archie Campbell on Hee-Haw or for a live act of his?

Woody Woodbury: Yes, on Hee-Haw. I just wrote a few inserts. We stayed at the Maxwell House in Nashville. That's where all the writers and cast and crew stayed back in those days. I wasn't in Nashville very long, but I was there long enough to do that kind of stuff. I got to know Junior Samples and I got to know Grandpa Jones really well. 

I got to know most of the cast and had worked with them before. One of the days that I was there, they brought in Ed McMahon. Ed was in a lost world. I guess he'd never seen anything like Nashville or something, but he played it well. They tried to find some stuff for Ed to do and he was so... I'm not going to say awkward, but he was not used to that laid back country [style]. He was a city guy and he was trying to do these lines. Everybody was laughing so much. It turned out good. Eddie was a great guy, God rest him. I had lunch with him about three years ago. In fact, I have a couple of photographs with him from when we flew in the war together. Of course, going back to Johnny Carson - when I took over his daytime show we would meet every day at Sardi's West. Carson didn't drink that much, but Eddie was known to take a few and I did too. This is way back around 1850 right after the Civil War. God, it was so long ago. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I know Shecky Greene is around.   

Woody Woodbury: Shecky is the best. He was living down here for a while. I know his wife. She didn't care for it down here, I guess. They live in Palm Springs now. I've got his address and I've got his phone number. I don't know how he is about doing interviews. I could drop him a note for you if you think it would help. Unless you don't care to interview him. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I care to interview everybody and not to sound too morbid, but certain fellas aren't going to be around forever.     

Woody Woodbury: That's right. He's another hero of mine. He is just magnificent. A funny guy. I just love his sense of humor. Of course, I loved Henny Youngman... I loved all of them. Had great times with all of them.   

Kliph Nesteroff: In the early sixties you started doing larger rooms. You did a few engagements at Mister Kelly's in Chicago.

Woody Woodbury: 1028 North Rush Street! Boy, what business we did there. In fact, when I left there one of the brothers who owned it told me I had the all-time money record there for the two weeks I worked. And there were people [that played] there that were much more popular than myself. I did draw drinkers on account of that crazy club I had, The Booze is the Only Answer Club.   

Kliph Nesteroff: Was there much merchandise? Woody Woodbury Merchandise?   

Woody Woodbury: Fletch Smith, the fella that started the comedy record album business, he was a good merchandiser.  He turned it over to other people. He didn't think the records were gonna sell like that, I didn't think the records were going to sell like that. He came out of retirement just to handle those records. Then he hired some other performers and he recorded some other people.

Kliph Nesteroff: I saw something for sale on the internet recently. A Woody Woodbury ashtray. What would that have been from?

Woody Woodbury: Yeah, we had those. That was from the hotel I believe. I still have some of those from the Beach Club Hotel and the glass ones are from the Bahama Hotel. Of course, I don't smoke, but you still have a tendency to save those kinds of things. Those ashtrays... someone told me they saw a guy who wanted to sell one. He was trying to get a hold of me. He wanted to sell it to me for four dollars or something.

Kliph Nesteroff: I noticed on one of the clips of The Woody Woodbury Show that recently surfaced, there is one of those ashtrays on the desk.

Woody Woodbury: Oh, it could be. I did smoke in those days. Smoking wasn't so verboten then as it is now.

Kliph Nesteroff: I wanted to ask you about some of the people that worked on your talk show. Jim Jordan. Does that name ring a bell?

Woody Woodbury: Yeah! Jim Jordan... that was Fibber McGee's son.

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh! He is related!

Woody Woodbury: He was his son. Jim Jordan Jr. was a great friend of mine. He got out of the business. When the show was over, he had bought some land up near Carson City, Nevada for forty cents an acre. He sold it for about eight million dollars or something like that.

Kliph Nesteroff: So, he directed your talk show.

Woody Woodbury: He was the director of The Woody Woodbury Show. He was married to a pretty little girl, an actress, named Beverly Tyler. Beverly Tyler did a flock of B-pictures. She was a cute girl, but she never got into the big time.

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you know what Jim Jordan Jr. had worked on before?

Woody Woodbury: I think he had directed some children's stuff or something like that. His father and Ralph Edwards were good friends. Maybe that was the connection, but he was very, very showbiz wise. He knew how to direct, he knew what camera postions and angles were. In his early years he got into alcohol. Then he got into A.A. and he never took a drink from the year 1940 on. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Had his father passed away by then?

Woody Woodbury: No, I think his father passed away in the seventies.

Kliph Nesteroff:  How about a guy named Robert Ridgely?

Woody Woodbury: Bob Ridgely! He was my announcer and he was terrific. He was great. His wife didn't care for me. I used the audience, as I told you before, doing the shows. I used to do a routine where I'd pick out a twenty-five year old girl with her husband and say, "Look at the beauty of this girl! And look at the guy she married. Isn't it a shame that's the best she could do." Silly stuff like that. "Look at that girl! Can you believe she has a daughter twenty-eight years old?" Now, the girl herself would be twenty-six. Well, one night Bob and his wife were in the audience and I said, "Look at Bob Ridgley. The greatest announcer anybody was ever lucky enough to have and there's his wife who is thirty years older than Bob." Which was lunacy because she was twenty-five years younger than Bob. Well, she was so insulted. Everybody else laughed and she got her back up and she didn't have any time for me after that.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Gary Abrahams. He was a writer on the show. 

Woody Woodbury: Gee, I just know the name, but I'd be hard-pressed... we must not have had much contact... let me see. There was Ed Bailey and a guy named Chapman and who else [was writing]? Those shows were pretty well ad-lib. I didn't contribute much to the writing, although I got the final say before film time. I'd be in my office there at KTTV ... They would interview each person that was going to be on about the general area [we'd discuss]. They would form a couple answers. Say we had somebody like you on the program who was in the broadcast business and you wanted to talk about how you got started in the broadcast business and who helped you. They would frame that, but then we would sort of ad-lib it ... it just made for a fun show. We never got into [controversy], I just forbid it. I told Ralph, if you're going to be like that one guy out there who was so dirty... what's his name? He tried to get the Jews that hated the Blacks and the Blacks that hated the Jews...

Kliph Nesteroff: Joe Pyne?

Woody Woodbury: Joe Pyne is exactly who. I said, "I'm not going to do a show like that." I've lived enough years to know that kind of stuff is just no good. It's just no good. There was never race, never religion, never politics that we were discussing. Just talk entertainment. Give credit to Merv Griffin, he kept his the same way. When he took over the show he maintained that. He never got into anything heavy, although he could have some heavy people in there. One time I had Eddie Rickenbacker, the old hero from World War One and the guy who started Eastern Airlines. I had him on the show and he was very, very, political oriented. I knew it - but I promise you - he never got into it. When he first walked out onto the stage he had to walk out through the curtain and you had to turn left to home base where I was seated. The first thing out of his mouth was, "Can you imagine me walking out here and turning to the left?" He was a Republican type, you know. He said that and I just got him off of that [topic] right away ... and made him tell the story of when he was marooned in the Atlantic.

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember a producer on your show named Critchfield?

Woody Woodbury: Yes, I do. I didn't get along with him too well. He was on the floor. I can't badmouth him, I just didn't get along with him too well because... well... I just didn't get along with him. I didn't dislike him. James Critchfield.

Kliph Nesteroff: Now... For Those Who Think Young... originally titled A Young Man's Fancy, right?

Woody Woodbury: That's right.

Kliph Nesteroff: Originally was supposed to co-star Ann-Margaret and then she dropped out.

Woody Woodbury: That I am not aware of. I did not know that.

Kliph Nesteroff: Directed by Leslie H. Martinson.

Woody Woodbury: Yeah, Les Martinson.

Kliph Nesteroff: What can you tell me about him? He was kind of a legendary trashmeister - made a lot of cheapie by-rote B-films.

Woody Woodbury: He was a task master. I got along well with him and I learned. He was the kind of guy who, if you learned your lines you'd have no problem. But if you got on camera, whether over the shoulder shots or whatever, and you screwed up... he had very little patience. When he'd yell "cut" by God, he would scream and holler. All because somebody didn't learn their lines. Some of the kids got nervous working with Les, but I got along with him well. I learned my lines. I used to practice and it came easy for me.

Kliph Nesteroff: Martinson was kind of like a William Beaudine in the sense that he could just crank 'em out. He made an awful lot of B-movies and cheap TV shows.

Woody Woodbury: Yes, he made a lot of movies. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Around 1970 you returned to Las Vegas and you performed at Caesar's Palace.

Woody Woodbury: Yes. We were the opening show at Caesar's Palace. Don Knotts, Andy Griffith and I was in the lounge. At first I was going to emcee the show, but then they had a special opening where Don came out and played his dumb cop thing. I worked in what they called Nero's Nook. That was the cocktail lounge which was fine with me. It was okay, but it wasn't... I mean, I loved Caesar's and I knew everybody there. I had worked in Vegas so I knew all the locals there. But the room wasn't set up right and furthermore you could always hear the slot machines. That was always a hang-up. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Were you privy to the wiseguy atmosphere of the time?

Woody Woodbury: Sure. The whole town was run by the mob in those days. The Desert Inn was owned by the Cleveland Mob. Ruby Kolod. Tom McGinty. Kosloff had The Frontier. Merv Adelson had The Sands and they opened La Costa, the country club by Oceanside, California. The word was "connected." A lot of those guys were connected and I worked for them. They were mobsters and they were great people to work for. As long as you did your job, they were magnificent. I had a great time in Vegas. I could never say anything bad about Las Vegas because I don't know anything bad about Las Vegas. The years I worked there I did a lot of shows. I emceed out there with a lot of performers. I wouldn't even know where to start to tell you all the people I worked with out there. Bob Newhart and God, everybody. Worked up in Reno, followed Bill Cosby in and...

Kliph Nesteroff: Jack E. Leonard?

Woody Woodbury: Oh, sure, Jack was a good friend of mine. I belonged to the Friar's Club in New York and I'd see Jack. Now and again he'd come in to the hotel in Fort Lauderdale if he was in town and when he would come in it would completely disrupt everything. But that was his nature and everybody knew it. I let him have free reign in there and he would run right out of gas before long (laughs). Henny Youngman was another one who would come in and he was terrific.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about another guy that a lot of the old nightclub comics always talk about, but who didn't do a lot of TV: Gene Baylos.

Woody Woodbury: Oh, Gene Baylos. He was funnier offstage than on. Oh, he was hilarious. Rickles and I used to meet him at the old Wolfies which was a popular restaurant in South Miami Beach. After Rickles' show and after mine, we would meet Baylos. There was a columnist named Walter Winchell that used to winter in Miami and he loved Gene Baylos and he loved Rickles and he tolerated me. We used to have breakfast and Walter Winchell was a night owl. 

That's how we got all the showbiz scoops and nightclub chatter. He'd come down to the Ronie Plaza and he'd stay there. He loved Rickles and we'd have breakfast at four in the morning with Walter Winchell. Gene Baylos would have that place in an uproar. He did things off the top of his head and just the way he was - was so funny. He had Martha Raye in stitches.

Kliph Nesteroff: Why do you think Gene Baylos never became a bigger star?

Woody Woodbury: Uh, I don't know. I guess it's a matter of timing - being in the wrong place at the wrong time - I don't know. All the other comics loved him. They all loved him. As did I. He was so funny. Just hilarious. He did crazy shtick and he did it all the time. He'd get on stage and say, "A lot of you haven't seen me before, but don't feel too good about that because I haven't seen you either. I just started a new business. I'm in the lint business. The lint business. Just started this business. The lint business." And he'd just keep saying that! He was a little guy, hands in his pockets. "You ever put your hand in your pocket like this and you find a little bit of lint? Well, I manufacture that. I'm the one who puts that in your pockets." Stuff like that (laughs). He was so silly. Just like... who was the other guy... Wright...

Kliph Nesteroff: Steven Wright?

Woody Woodbury: Steven Wright, yes. Baylos did that kind of stuff before Steven Wright was even born. Steven Wright is great, don't misunderstand me.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Joe E. Ross?

Woody Woodbury: Joe E. Ross? He was in Car 54, Where Are You? Oh, God that was such a time! Joe E. Ross was magnificent. I worked with him for the first time in my life in Jacksonville, Florida and he was on his uppers. This was long before Car 54. This was in the days of Little Jack Little who we talked about earlier. 

Joe E. Ross was a comic and an actor and he went on the road, I guess, just to survive. Joe E. Ross liked young girls. I guess all guys like young girls. Anyhow, he was a lovable, big, burly goof. He was smarter than... well, he was a cross between Maxie Rosenbloom and Yogi Berra. Oh, everybody loved that guy. Back to Las Vegas. I was working Vegas at the time and we went in to see George Kirby, a wonderful guy.  I was at a table with George Kirby and his wife Rosemary. We were there and The Rat Pack, Sinatra and Dean and Sammy were performing. 

Joe E. Ross was in the audience and he's got a young girl with him. Car 54 had been on the air now and Joe E. was very well recognized and the guys knew all about Joe E. Ross and his love for these young girls. Dean Martin found out that Joe E. Ross was in the audience. He invited him up on stage. While he's up onstage, and he's doing his old burlesque act from thirty years ago, they spirit the girl out of the audience. Finally they get Joe E. Ross off the stage and he goes back to where he was seated and he must have thought the girl was in the powder room or something (laughs). So he's waiting and waiting - the show is over. Room is emptying out and Joe is still sitting there waiting and waiting. Finally, Dean comes on stage and says, "Joe E! What're you doing?" He shouts, "I'm waiting for my girl! I'm waiting for my girl!" Dean says, "Joe E. you were on stage so long - everyone had a shot at the girl!" 

Kliph Nesteroff: Some of the guys remember Joe E. Ross' act as being very dirty. 

Woody Woodbury: No. No.

Kliph Nesteroff: He was also in a comedy team with a guy named Dave Starr. Do you remember him?

Woody Woodbury: Yeah, no. That was before my time. I worked with Joe E. and he was clean when I worked with him.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you ever work with Frank Gorshin? 

Woody Woodbury: No, but I got to know Frank pretty well because he was working in Vegas the same time I was. He was the greatest mimic. We'd go there late at night. I think he worked The Thunderbird or some place like that and we would go there after hours. We'd watch him and from there we'd go to see Louis Prima and Keeley Smith and Sam Butera and The Witnesses at The Sahara. That was Vegas in its glory.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Totie Fields?

Woody Woodbury: Totie married Marty Allen. Yeah. I only worked with Totie once and that was at a benefit. She was really a great gal. She reminded me of a girl named Jan Fleischman. I never really knew her personally.

Woody Woodbury: Oh, yes. Tubby. He was a legend down here. There's a guy who could get dirty. We had a mutual understanding. Tubby was [bisexual]. I had heard that, but I don't know if it's true. He was a helluva talent. He was a helluva performer and he would do a great job in Miami. We'd go down and see him every now and then. He was on stage until six in the morning.

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, wow.

Woody Woodbury: Yes, he was a good performer. It would be late at night and people would be full of whiskey and that kind of stuff. It was the old days and there were no restrictions. If you got drunk and the cops stopped you... one cop would get out of the police car and he'd take over and drive you home. That's the way it was in those days. He hosted a lot of burlesque stuff down there. I live in Fort Lauderdale, so when I say "down there" I'm referring to Miami. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I have a newspaper clipping from 1971 that reports that you were planning on publishing a book called The Encylopedia of Clean Humor.

Woody Woodbury: No, that's not true. I have never heard of that. Although, I am working on a book right now. A lot of which is the story I just told you.

- a great many of the images inserted into this interview are stolen from The Woody Woodbury Facebook Group -


Moose said...

Thanks for another great interview Kliph. I am so enjoying them!

Anonymous said...

These interviews are priceless. Great fun!

Anonymous said...

Happy to report that Feb 9 2024 is declared WOODY WOODBURY DAY in Wilton Manors FL in honor of his 100th birthday!