Wednesday, March 23, 2011

An Interview with Micki Marlo - Part One

Kliph Nesteroff: I was listening to a track of yours called Rock, Rock, Rock.

Micki Marlo: Yes, that was the first record. A double sided hit. Love's Like That was the big hit and the other side was Rock, Rock, Rock. My little [son] Bobby [Mayo Jr] believes that that started the whole rock era. Or one of 'em, who knows?

Kliph Nesteroff: It's an amusing song. There are a few tracks from that era that are like that. Rock songs that are in and of themselves about rock and roll.

Micki Marlo: Between you and I... I never really liked it. I thought little or nothing of it and when I did perform I performed Love's Like That.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were backed by Don Costa's Orchestra.

Micki Marlo: Actually, I recorded for this vocal coach who brought in his associate Bernie Lowe. Also Bob Horn who created Bandstand and a little local agent in Philadelphia. They put a meeting together and recorded me. Within the week I did my very first nightclub engagement. I was underage and my mom was unable to write her name in American, you know, they were born in Russia. So I taught her how to write her name and I actually signed the contract myself. It was for thirty-percent. I was able to get out of it later on. They became the biggest rock and roll recording company in the country. They became Cameo Records and eventually went on to do great things.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, they had Chubby Checker under their Cameo-Parkway moniker.

Micki Marlo: Exactly. Right. You know more about it than I.

Kliph Nesteroff: So you started on Philadelphia radio, didn't you? Wasn't Ed Hurst the springboard...

Micki Marlo: Ed Hurst and Joe Grady had a radio show and a dance party at the radio station. I was one of the kids who used to go to the station and dance in the afternoon. I loved to dance and I won four jitterbug contests. I had what they used to refer to as fast little feet. I would do three or four steps to a beat, while the other kids were doing one. I was dancing my life away. It was great for me. I was later fortunate enough to dance on Broadway and so on. 

So, this was just dancing down at the radio station and later Bob Horn brought it to television. Dick Clark had a tiny little studio back of where Bob Horn did the television show. He tried very hard to get me on his show. I did do it. Later on there was some conflict with Bob Horn. Dick Clark took over and turned it into Bandstand and made it what it is. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Bob Horn felt that Dick Clark had ripped off his idea?

Micki Marlo: I don't really know. I later did Summertime on the Pier with Ed Hurst. He had a bandstand show. It was the highest, I don't mean to brag, but it was the biggest and highest rated show in daytime television for Saturday and Sunday afternoons. So, that was pretty good.

Kliph Nesteroff: How did appearing on these shows translate into your getting into singing and getting a recording deal?

Micki Marlo: I was a junior fashion model. I used to sing around the office. I came from a not-too-wealthy background, so I was always looking for work. So I used to hang around as did some of the other girls and I would sing. At that time the hot song was I Didn't Know the Gun Was Loaded. With the little I knew about music, I used to sing it. They all used to say, including Mr. Neufeld who was a very elderly gentleman, that I had a good singing voice. He paid for my first singing lesson. It was with Artie Singer who later became my manager. They thought that I sang good enough to not continue with vocal lessons because that would spoil my natural style. And so it went. Within three weeks I was recording and they brought Don Costa in. They put this record out, Love's Like That with Rock, Rock, Rock and within a short time three other major companies were vying for my record. Teresa Brewer married the head of the company... oh, there was Columbia with Mitch Miller and there was this one... that started with a 'D.'

Kliph Nesteroff: Decca.

Micki Marlo: Decca! Exactly! Thank you. Not only do I love the way you spell your name, I think it's absolutely great, but you're very hip to the music business!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Micki Marlo: You're helping me along and I thank you, thank you, thank you for that.

Kliph Nesteroff: So that original single was for Cameo and then somehow you began recording for Capitol.

Micki Marlo: Yes. Capitol for almost a year. They flew me in to do Don't Go, Don't Go, Don't Go and another song, Pet Me, Papa. There is a picture of Frank Sinatra and I at a record session.

I did the song for a movie and it became a hit. I really don't know. I never really got any money from Capitol, which is why I switched to ABC Paramount. By then I had fired my agent because I was under age and signed my mother's name. I went to the Broadway stage. We did a show stopping number, Jane Morgan and I. It was quite wonderful. It was so good. I didn't even know the audience was still applauding. I went back to the dressing room to get ready for my next number and the audience continued to applaud. I didn't know that and the girls came back to get me to come and take another bow. I didn't about the theater all that much. I was very naive.

Kliph Nesteroff: The first single became a hit and then you went on to do your first nightclub appearance. Where was that appearance and what was that like?

Micki Marlo: That was in Philadelphia. The record was a very big hit in Philadelphia and that was at The Celebrity Room downtown. I knew so little about nightclubs and music and theater. I was first introduced to music by my cousin who was in the army. He brought me all his Glenn Miller records. We danced in the neighborhood.

Kliph Nesteroff: One of the kids in your neighborhood growing up was Frankie Avalon.

Micki Marlo: Oh, yes. He had a little club after I first started singing and he asked me to please come do a club date for him. I did it and I was paid twenty-five dollars. I usually got two hundred and fifty, but I did it for Frankie because the fellow that I danced with at the neighborhood center was [Avalon's friend] Baby Face Joe. We were all from South Philadelphia. He said come and dance and we'll let you sing a couple songs and so I did.

Kliph Nesteroff: How did you first get involved with The Steve Allen Show?

Micki Marlo: I think they heard the record and I was with William Morris immediately. They got me the first date. That was a guest shot and then they signed me for ten appearances. I stayed on when Steve was brought out to do The Benny Goodman Story. Just now in my life Goodman has become my favorite musician. So great, so calming and so smooth.

Kliph Nesteroff: So you must have worked with Skitch Henderson on the show as your orchestra leader and arranger.

Micki Marlo: Yes. The best. The very best in the business, very charming, very friendly, very warm. Did all my arrangements and then when I left the show to go to Broadway, he gave me all of the arrangements that he made. Skitch was the very best, created arrangements for me, suggested songs for me to sing that I just loved. I have record clips... there was a company in New York that you could call up and they would copy the music or the singing for me, right off the television set, and then present a copy for me for a very small fee. I have the acetates from NBC.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about some of the other people working on The Steve Allen Show. I assume you got to know Steve and Eydie, even though I understand they were on alternate nights.

Micki Marlo: It was Steve and Eydie, Andy Williams and myself who were the alternate singers. They would sing Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Andy and I would sing Tuesday and Thursday. The following week we would alternate and Andy and I would do Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Steve Allen was a very gentle and very shy young man. His mom was in vaudeville. He was just the opposite of a vaudevillian. One thing I remember... he invited me to do a commercial with him. We did the first fifteen minutes locally. The show went coast to coast at eleven thirty. 

We did a beer commercial. I never drank and to this day. You had to take a sip of beer at the end of the commercial, like a toast. I took a sip of the beer and made the most horrific face. I had never tasted beer! No one in my family drank. That was the end of me doing beer commercials.

Kliph Nesteroff: I think it would have been Knickerbocker Beer.

Micki Marlo: Very likely. That sounds familiar. I don't remember.

Kliph Nesteroff: At what point did you leave the program and why?

Micki Marlo: I left it to do some good paying nightclub engagements, my first of which was in Las Vegas at The Flamingo Hotel at a thousand dollars a week for four weeks. Then the El Rancho picked me up for four years at bigger and more money. I say bigger because it was like manna from heaven for us - us being the family. I think we lived in an apartment that was fourteen dollars a month. I left to do the nightclub work and then I did a lot of radio. Barry Gray invited me to do his radio show and Jan Murray was listening to Barry Gray. He was a great pre-Larry King. Great interviewer, great speaker, tall, good looking man. So I did the show and they were hysterical at my answers. Jan was looking for a sidekick at that time for his game show Charge Account. He called the William Morris Agency the next day and within a very short time I was doing the Jan Murray show. I was signed for ten shows. Then ten more. And then ten again. He came in one afternoon and knocked on my dressing room door. He said, "May I speak with you?" I said, "Of course. Come in." He said, "Tell your mother and your friends they can stop sending all the postcards! You've got the job." They were sending about two hundred cards a weekend. I stayed with him for almost six years. We did nightclubs. I worked with him at the Chez Paree, The Sands and many, many more.

Kliph Nesteroff: When you were working the El Rancho Vegas, you must have encountered or got to know the comedian Joe E. Lewis.

Micki Marlo: I worked with Joe E. Lewis. I was the singing act and there was an opening act. A stripper by the name of Lili St. Cyr. They built a cage for her around the room. They built a track and the cage would hang down from the ceiling. I don't know about that stuff. I never stripped. I was a shy kid and I still am. Anyway, she went around on this track and I had to follow her with this act. Joe E. Lewis used to say [to me], "Don't eat so much. You'll get a big stummy." He was a cute, cute man, but a big time gambler.

Kliph Nesteroff: A big time gambler and a big time drinker.

Micki Marlo: Yes, from what I knew.

Kliph Nesteroff: You also started appearing at The Statler Room in Los Angeles.

Micki Marlo: With Gene Sheldon who was very famous and had a hit record. He was a mandolin or ukulele player. He was quite funny and I think he did some pantomime and Skinny Ennis was the bandleader and he had a hit record. And my most favorite man in the world, Harry Ritz, came to see me. Schlepped all the way from Beverly Hills to downtown Los Angeles to see me and help make my appearance more important to me as well as to the people there. I had already worked with [The Ritz Brothers]. I had already worked with them quite a lot. I loved them madly, fully and completely. I used to watch from the moment I got off. I watched them from the start of their act to the very finish.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did some television with Jerry Lester...

Micki Marlo: Jerry Lester. Well, that show America After Dark that came on [after the Steve Allen] Tonight Show when they were looking for a new host for The Tonight Show. I was the only female that appeared on a nightly basis with them. I had really little or nothing to do other than to sing two songs. One at the beginning of the show and one at the end. I don't know that I had very much conversation with Jerry Lester or his brother Buddy whom I worked with sometime later at a club date. Yes, they were desperately searching for a new host. They [eventually] got Johnny Carson. Johnny Carson came in when I was working at a New York club, I think it was The Holiday House. He came in every night to see me and was quite inebriated, God love him. I had my mom with me or a girlfriend I would pay to come with me. I didn't want to work anywhere alone. So, he came in and he came backstage to see me. He was, as they say, stoned. "Stoned" and "gig" are two [outdated] words that I can't quite phase out of my everyday vocabulary. Anyway, he licked the door jam and came to see me with a glass in hand. My mother said, "What iz dis!?" We didn't even have a television set. We didn't even have a television set until I did The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, so I don't think she even knew who he was. I never worked with [Jack] Paar.

Kliph Nesteroff: How did you get involved with The Colgate Comedy Hour?

Micki Marlo: Well, I was appearing at The 500 Club in Atlantic City. I brought my mom. We went to see the club act and it was after my second engagement. We came to Atlantic City to spend a weekend at Mr. Greene's, who charged two dollars a night for the room (laughs). You're stirring great old memories up for me, Kliph, thank you. We went to see the act, I don't remember who the act was, but Jack Curtis was the emcee and we knew him from The Latin Casino in Philadelphia. He announced from the stage that I was going to open up at The 500 Club and mentioned the date, which was to be my third engagement. It was the week before Dean and Jerry were to make their appearance to promote their new movie Living It Up. They came to my closing night. They were to open the following night. I appeared there with Frankie Carr and George DeWitt. Jerry stood up after I went off the stage, he stood up on a chair and shouted, "Where's Micki Marlo!? Where's Micki Marlo!?" The upshot of it is, he booked me on The Colgate Comedy Hour

We did some of those. That was a nice meeting with them and I got to meet Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis and Dick Stabille and all of those people. They were all in the movie with Dean and Jerry. That was really sweet. That's how I met them. As a matter of fact, it was Jerry Lewis who knew that The Ritz Brothers were looking for a girl. They were going on a nightclub tour and he suggested me. That started me off on big time money.

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember much about those Colgate Comedy appearances?

Micki Marlo: In honesty, I don't. I remember it was exciting to be there and to see all the goings on. I had known television because I had started out as a junior fashion model and there was a gal by the name of Carol Reed. Later she became the ABC weather girl. I was a regular model [on Reed's regional television program]. I started as a junior fashion model at the age of fourteen. I had a couple of [magazine] covers. I saved my first cover. I was on some detective magazine and I'm standing in a fur coat. I'm standing on the corner and someone is stealing my purse.

Kliph Nesteroff: You played a place called Chubby's in Camden, New Jersey in the late fifties. I noticed in an ad for that joint that a young Don Rickles was playing there around the same time. What do you remember about Rickles back then?

Micki Marlo: Don, more than comedy, did a very dramatic piece called The Glass Head. He asked if his mom could sit with my mom because she attended every show [of his] as did my mother. He was a very young man and he did this very exciting and very dramatic piece. He wasn't an insult comic then.

Kliph Nesteroff: Someone who was an insult comic then was Fat Jack E. Leonard. Did you ever encounter him?

Micki Marlo: Yes! Yes! On my television show with Ed Hurst in Atlantic City he whispered... not-sweet nothings in my ear (laughs). He was a bit on the vulgar side, which was funny. I love comedy. Big fat Jack E. Leonard. He embarrassed me.

Kliph Nesteroff: I saw a photo of you with Buddy Hackett.

Micki Marlo: Yeah, I worked with Buddy and... Buddy was less than nice. Not to me personally, but I never got to really know him like I did some of the other fellows. In fact, we doubled, y'know,  two club dates in one night. We did a slew of them in the Atlantic Beach area. You'd do one club and then hurry to get ready to do your second. One night we performed with the La Playa Sextet and Maria was very nice. I needed my music from the bandstand. They hadn't sent it [backstage] to me. She offered to go get it for me. It was a wooden stage about four feet high and her high heels clicked. 

Buddy said something to the effect, while he was performing, "Who the fuck is on my stage!?" That turned me off and I didn't do much more work with him. I worked more with Alan King and Joey Bishop. Joey Bishop was my opening act. We were both from South Philadelphia. We had a lot in common and a lot to talk about and a lot to kibbitz. His manager managed me as well. Guy Marks was also an opening act of mine. He offered me some pills... which I quickly nay-nayed. I didn't take pills.


Tom Misnik said...

Another great one Kliph. Looking forward to part 2.

FYI, The Steel Pier radio show is still on the air. It's aired out of a station in Atlantic City that took over the WIBG call letters. Ed Hurst is still hosting it, he's been broadcasting for some 66 years now. Show airs 11:30-Noon Eastern Monday and Tuesday. You can hear it online.

Anonymous said...

Is Guy Marks still around? Probably not.

Anonymous said...

Did everyone in showbiz work with Joe E. Lewis?

Anonymous said...

TO,Anonymous said...
Did everyone in showbiz work with Joe E. Lewis?

March 24, 2011 3:22 PM


Nick said...

Interesting interview. I have an autograph of Micki and Joe Dimagio from Camden's Chubbies Restaurant from 1955 that I got from my Father. Did these two have something going and where is Micki now?