Friday, May 27, 2011

An Interview with Milton Delugg - Part Two

Kliph Nesteroff: Broadway Open House lead to so many different things. Of course, it established the template for late night television. It was the predecessor to The Tonight Show as the very first late night entertainment comedy show.

Milton Delugg: Sure.

Kliph Nesteroff: Dave Garroway guest hosted Broadway Open House and that, presumably, lead Pat Weaver to placing him as host of the first morning entertainment program, The Today Show.

Milton Delugg: And he became a star.

Kliph Nesteroff: The other people that auditioned for the hosting job on Broadway Open House ended up getting their own shows.

Milton Delugg: Yup.

Kliph Nesteroff: Also it lead to Frank Sinatra cutting a single with Dagmar, Jerry Lester signing with Coral Records and yourself getting a recording deal with MGM.

Milton Delugg: Yes. All of those things are true! It was just a remarkable time and really, Kliph, if we hadn't been the only thing on late at night - I don't think any of us would have been as important or as lucky as it all turned out.

Kliph Nesteroff: Despite the free-wheeling nature of the show - it did have writers. Some of those writers became big names like Danny Simon...

Milton Delugg: The two brothers - Danny and Doc. Danny Simon and Neil Simon.

Kliph Nesteroff: Also Allan Sherman.

Milton Delugg: Yes. Danny and Doc became big writers on Broadway.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you have much involvement with the comedy writers on the show?

Milton Delugg: Well, we started off all alone and I think Jerry hired the writers. So, I wasn't too involved with them. It was like - "Jerry opens door. Delugg walks out wearing accordion and says something." You know?

Kliph Nesteroff: Jerry Lester left and he was replaced for a spell by Jack E. Leonard, Buddy Hackett, Jan Murray...

Milton Delugg: Yup. Fat Jack. He was the original Don Rickles and he was always very nice. He was a very heavyset man. Jan Murray left and got his own show and I was also musical director on that. Now, you wanna talk about budgets - I had a three piece orchestra. That was it.

Kliph Nesteroff: Was that Charge Account?

Milton Delugg: Charge Account and a show called Treasure Hunt... which later Chuck Barris did. I got to meet Chuck Barris in the early fifties. He came from Philadelphia, wanted to come to New York, and was selling something called Cue TV. You ever hear of that?

Kliph Nesteroff: No.

Milton Delugg: It was a little machine that sat on the top of the camera and it rolled and you could read the script. You didn't need cue cards or anything like that.

Kliph Nesteroff: The original teleprompter.

Milton Delugg: Exactly. Of course, once Chuck sold Cue TV to NBC and ABC and CBS and Dumont - there wasn't anymore business. That's all there was. He wanted to be a songwriter and he wanted to be on television.  He is such a dear man. We talk many times a year and our relationship is very good. He presented ABC with a show... he had been a page or a gopher... he became Assistant of Daytime and he came with a show called The Dating Game. They turned it down and so he put as much money as he could together, came to California, and sold the same show to ABC out here and it was an immediate hit.

Kliph Nesteroff: I spoke with someone not long ago who I think you would have worked with on the Jan Murray show. Micki Marlo.

Milton Delugg: Oh my Lord! Yup. My golly! She did Charge Account. Very pretty girl. Good singer. She had a couple of hit records. That lady is a big talent.

Kliph Nesteroff: You worked on a show that nobody remembers called Seven at Eleven. What do you recall about it?

Milton Delugg: Sure. Seven at Eleven was one of the after-shows of Broadway Open House and there were seven of us on the show. I had about four men in the band and there was Buddy Hackett and somebody else. There were seven people.

Kliph Nesteroff: And what do you recall about the early Buddy Hackett?

Milton Delugg: He was just a little bit too powerful for television. Johnny Carson loved him a lot and used to put him on. I thought he was a real funny man.

Kliph Nesteroff: Was he difficult, though?

Milton Delugg: Off and on - yes. The answer is... yes.

Kliph Nesteroff: Two other actors I have listed as being on Seven at Eleven, two great comic talents, Herbie Faye - and Sid Gould.

Milton Delugg: Herbie Faye and Sid Gould. They were both very good. They were not quite strong enough to have their own shows and both funny.

Kliph Nesteroff: Herbie Faye you eventually saw all the time on The Phil Silvers Show - Sgt Bilko.

Milton Delugg: Yeah. That's right. You know, Bob Hilliard and I... Bob was a lyric writer. We wrote a show, a musical, called Bilko.

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, really?

Milton Delugg: Yeah, but Phil Silvers didn't want to do it. He said he had five or six years of playing that soldier character on television and he was looking for a new kind of part.

Kliph Nesteroff: Wow, I had no idea.

Milton Delugg: Early sixties.

Kliph Nesteroff: You just had the idea or you went ahead and wrote the production?

Milton Delugg: We wrote it and there were some pretty good songs in it. Bobby was a remarkable lyric writer. Very good. Nothing ever happened with any of it. Once Phil turned it down, you're not going to get someone else to play that part.

Kliph Nesteroff: Phil Silvers was great in Top Banana.

Milton Delugg: Oh, he was wonderful. Was there a show called High Button Shoes? I think so. It was a musical - not on TV. Jules Stein, Sammy Cahn... and there was a hit song in it. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Phil Silvers was a powerhouse. He could steal any scene.

Milton Delugg: And he did (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: You mention working on Guys and Dolls. Did you get to know George S. Kaufman at all?

Milton Delugg: Really, no. I knew who he was, but we were never friendly. It wasn't like with Frank Loesser, who was such a help to me. Like I tell you, lucky.

Kliph Nesteroff: I must ask you about Fred Allen.

Milton Delugg: What a talented man. My golly and a nice man too. I got to do his television show.

Kliph Nesteroff: Judge for Yourself.

Milton Delugg: Yeah and, Kliph, it wasn't a hit at all. It wasn't for Fred. It was a kind of a talent show and it didn't show him off like it should have, but that was Goodson Todman.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did it upset Fred Allen that he was never able to truly break through in television?

Milton Delugg: I think so. Jack Benny who was his dear close friend was a smash - and Fred wasn't. It bothered him a little.

Kliph Nesteroff: Also on that show was the singer Kitty Kallen.

Milton Delugg: Right. I did a lot of hit records with her.

Kliph Nesteroff: She is still alive somewhere. She is underrated. She clearly influenced many other singers - most notably Patsy Cline.

Milton Delugg: She had something wonderful going for her. She always sounded like a young girl. It didn't matter if she was thirty-five years old, she still sounded like a kid and I did a lot of songs with her.

Kliph Nesteroff: Also Bob Carroll and a group called The Skylarks were both on Judge For Yourself.

Milton Delugg: Yes, they were a group that was very good. 

Kliph Nesteroff: The director was Jerome Schnur.

Milton Delugg: Jerry Schnur was the first director I was ever friendly with. He directed Two For the Money which was Herb Shriner and he was a big talent. He was Mark Goodson's man and he did a helluva job.

Kliph Nesteroff: Fred Allen's Judge for Yourself and Herb Shriner's Two For the Money were very, very similar. 

Milton Delugg: Yes.

Kliph Nesteroff: Fred Allen was supposed to be the original host of Two For the Money...

Milton Delugg: Yeah, well, he was... let me see. I get them mixed up. Two For the Money was a such a hit that they were sure Fred Allen would make it with this - but it didn't fit him. Or he didn't fit it. But he was a dear man. 

Kliph Nesteroff: People don't talk much about Herb Shriner these days.

Milton Delugg: You're right. Each of these guys had a different sense of humor. His kind of a joke was he came from a small town, "It was so small that on Fridays we used to go to the park and watch the cannon" or "On Thursdays I'd go the local bakery with my girlfriend and look at the cookies and I would watch her face break out." Those were Herb Shriner type of jokes. That's the way he thought.

Kliph Nesteroff: The first comedy material Woody Allen ever sold was to The Herb Shriner Show.

Milton Delugg: Yes. It's true. You know something? After five and a half years, Herb decided he didn't want to do anymore game shows. They gave him a shot at his own [variety] show, but something was wrong with it. I had the band on that, but it just didn't take off at all. 

Kliph Nesteroff: He didn't do much in the nineteen sixties.

Milton Delugg: He used to buy antique cars. I guess you know the story. He was in one with his wife and something happened to the car or the driving mechanism and they ran into a lamp post. Both of 'em. A bad ending.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did another show that nobody remembers called Battle of the Ages with Morey Amsterdam.

Milton Delugg: Sure!

Kliph Nesteroff: What do you remember about that?

Milton Delugg: I remember I did the music!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Milton Delugg: There were contestants over sixty and under sixty. It was just a way to get another  show on the air. It wasn't a good idea.

Kliph Nesteroff: All through this time during the fifties you were so busy doing these TV shows, but you also started working fulltime for a couple of record labels.

Milton Delugg: Yes I did. Like I told you about King Records with Hoop Dee Doo. The other track on the record was Rollercoaster and that became the closing theme for What's My Line. Can you imagine? For twenty years! An accordian solo! My God. I did a lot of work at Columbia and I was all over the joint.

Kliph Nesteroff: And Bob Thiele appointed you head of the music department at Signature Records and at Dot Records.

Milton Delugg: Yup and we had a few hits. When Bob was at Coral, Good Lord, he had Don Cornell, The McGuire Sisters, you name it. He was very hot and he was very good. He found a fellow by the name of Jackie Wilson. Remember him?

Kliph Nesteroff: Hell, yes. Of course.

Milton Delugg: Bob brought me this fellow Jackie Wilson who sang five bar phrases. Nobody seemed to be able to match it with anything. I got lucky and I did a mess of hits with him.

Kliph Nesteroff: He went on to be kinda the flagship singer at Brunswick Records.

Milton Delugg: Yup.

Kliph Nesteroff: He had a sad ending to his life too. He was on the bill of one of these Dick Clark Legends of Rock n' Roll tours. He was onstage singing a phrase from a love ballad, "My hearrrrrrrrrt!!!" And at the same time fell backwards and his heart stopped beating. Everyone thought it was part of the act, but he slipped into a coma and never came out of it.

Milton Delugg: That's true. Everything you heard was true.

Kliph Nesteroff: Bob Thiele and Dot Records - one of his first releases was an album called Poetry for the Beat Generation featuring Jack Kerouac. Do you remember that?

Milton Delugg: I don't remember that because it wasn't very musical and I was his musical director. He found all kinds of artists I would never have picked. That's the worst part of it! I was a damned fool and he was right. But he found people I would never have picked and he was right!

Kliph Nesteroff: I'm just guessing, but perhaps you are referring to some of his clients like Buddy Holly and Sonny Curtis.

Milton Delugg: Yes, Bob Thiele had them on Coral. Buddy and the drummer used to listen to the playbacks and look like bookends. They'd just stare at each other. I remember thinking, "Jesus Christ. Where did they learn to speak?" He said, "Well, in that second chorus we sped up and then we slooed down." Can you imagine someone saying, "slooed down?" But boy, were they hits.

Kliph Nesteroff: I understand you met Carol Burnett probably before anyone else.

Milton Delugg: Sure. I was doing The Paul Winchell Show and she was either going to be my girlfriend or the girlfriend of Jerry Mahoney who was one of the puppets. And Jerry won out and she became the puppet's girlfriend. I think Carol was about fourteen then. She remembers that too. Paul Winchell was another big talent. Remarkable. 

Kliph Nesteroff: When you were around Winchell did you ever hear him talking about the famous artificial heart that he would go on to invent?

Milton Delugg: Well, he did invent that and he was always working on something. He was a mechanical genius. He was the first one to truly figure out how not to move your lips in ventriloquism. You can't say "very" without moving your lips, but you can say "there-y" with a "T.H." and make it sound like "very." He was able to substitute words and letters and he was the one who figured that out by himself.

Kliph Nesteroff: Something I find remarkable about your career in television is that - there was no other bandleader of your era that got so much screen time. There were lots of other bandleaders in television, but they were pretty much relegated to the orchestra pit - whereas you seem to participate in sketches and on-air banter in almost every show.

Milton Delugg: Yes, well, it all came from that one line about Dagmar. "Who cares?" Honest to God. "Jerry, this is the new chick with the band." He looked at her and that was like a three minute take because she really was stacked, y'know. And that's when he said, "How does she sound?"

Kliph Nesteroff: You're the template for all that came after. Johnny Carson would banter with Doc Severenson and David Letterman with Paul Shaffer. You paved the way for all of that.

Milton Delugg: Lucky. Let me tell you, I was lucky.

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, what was it like working with Johnny Carson in the early days of his Tonight Show?

Milton Delugg: He was a loner. He really was a loner. After he said goodnight and I started the theme he was gone. You'd look up at his desk and he was already gone. He just really was a loner. We never got to socialize. Different from any of the other hosts that I worked with.

Kliph Nesteroff: Why did you not continue on with The Tonight Show?

Milton Delugg: Chuck Barris. My good friend. I used to send all the takes from New York for The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game and The Mother-In-Law Game and whatever Chuck had out here in California. He called and he said, "Milton, I need a live band on my show." That lead into The Gong Show. So I came out from New York with my family for eight weeks and ABC took that show for two nights a week and NBC took it for five days. That was the big reason and I never had such a good time in my life! You have no idea. We had every hooker auditioning because they could make more money in a minute and a half on The Gong Show than they could make in two weeks working the street!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Milton Delugg: Kliph, it was remarkable.

Kliph Nesteroff: Your composition Rollercoaster was used as the end music on What's My Line, but you never actually worked physically on the show. Were you in the orchestra pit on I've Got a Secret?

Milton Delugg: I played it many times. They also used a recorded theme, but every once in a while they would have a live orchestra because they would have somebody on who sang or danced or did something in which they needed live music.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you get to know the I've Got a Secret panelist Henry Morgan?

Milton Delugg: You know... I was in the army with Henry Morgan!

Kliph Nesteroff: Really?

Milton Delugg: Yeah! We were stationed in Santa Ana. That's a little town about thirty or forty miles from Los Angeles. That was basic training for the Air Force and Henry was in the unit and I was in the unit. Isn't that remarkable? And you knew about it!

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, I didn't know about that detail. I've always been a fan of his because of all the comedians of that era, nobody is as biting or as cynical as he.

Milton Delugg: That's right. I did a radio show with him at that time. They used to let us out of basic training one day a week to do a radio show. Can you imagine? My God. More luck. I liked Henry Morgan a great deal. Johnny Carson would have him on once in a while too. Johnny liked him.

Kliph Nesteroff: And you also worked on The Bill Cullen Show. Cullen does not get credit for how quick of a wit he was.

Milton Delugg: You're right and what a charming man. He had a bad leg. I don't know where that came from. I think polio when he was young or something, but it sure didn't slow him down. Worked on his morning show five days a week. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You know, Milton, the way I first became familiar with your work was not from any of these television shows and it was not any of your famous compositions. I was first introduced to you by way of a wonderful little novelty album called The Monster Ball on United Artists...

Milton Delugg: No kidding!

Kliph Nesteroff: Your name isn't even on the cover. It says "By The Vampires."

Milton Delugg: (gasps)

Kliph Nesteroff: In small print on the back it says Milton Delugg and his Orchestra.

Milton Delugg: Sure. A fellow by the name of Sonny Lester ran the company. Every record company has a [stock] catalogue. That was one of the catalogue albums. Oh my Golly. Jesus.

Kliph Nesteroff: And that album is just great. I listen to it all the time. I love it. I don't know who was doing the faux Karloff and Peter Lorre type voices that are inserted over some of the songs...

Milton Delugg: I don't remember either, but it's got to be kind of corny?

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, it has those silly Bela Lugosi impressions over some of the groovy music...

Milton Delugg: Yes, but the music has got to be kind of corny!

Kliph Nesteroff: No!

Milton Delugg: That was in the sixties!

Kliph Nesteroff: The music is fantastic! That's what makes it!

Milton Delugg: Good Lord. 

Kliph Nesteroff: That is why your name was burned into my brain!

Milton Delugg: Jesus Christ. Well, thank you. Thank you, Kliph.


Kevin K. said...

You know, Kliph, not only are these interviews wildly entertaining, but guys like Milton Delugg -- who, let's face it, isn't remembered by your average person -- must appreciate someone who not only is interested in them but truly enjoys their work. Even on paper (or, rather, onscreen) Delugg's joy in talking to you is palpable. You're doing good work -- keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Fascinating information about Buddy Holly. I believe the session with Mr. Delugg was for "Rave On" and I wish he would have gone into more detail about his time with Buddy. The New York years are sort of lost to time for Holly fans. He lived in Greenwich Village for a few months before his last (fatal) tour, and not much documentation exists about that time.

Anonymous said...

You said:

"Well, just wait til tomorrow and you'll get to read someone who DOESN'T enjoy talking to me!"

I'm dying to know which interview that was. Everyone seems happy to speak with you, and your interviews are a breath of fresh air in a world where most interviewers don't know anything about who they're talking to. Often, your subjects are pleasantly surprised at your depth of knowledge. I love reading these interviews. Please let me know which subject was less than happy, the curiosity is killing me!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful interview.

Here's some trivia: That youtube photo you posted of Buddy Holly (the music is actually Sonny Curtis. He wrote the Mary Tyler Moore Theme, and performed with the Crickets after Buddy's death) was taken during a rehearsal with Ed Sullivan. In most photos of Buddy Holly, he is smiling. If he looks less than happy in this photo it is because of his unpleasant experience with Ed Sullivan.

Buddy wanted to perform his current hit "Oh Boy!" but Sullivan felt it was too suggestive, and wanted a quieter song. Buddy replied "I told all my friends I'd be doing Oh Boy and that's what we're going to do."

Holly had been scheduled to perform two songs. Sullivan cut him down to one song, and mis-pronounced his name during the introduction. During Buddy's performance, Sullivan had the spotlights lowered, and instructed his sound man to lower the volume on Buddy's guitar. If you watch the clip, Buddy quickly adjusts the volume on his strat twice, but the guitar is barely audible. Somehow, he got through the number.

Weeks later, Holly was contacted by the Sullivan people and offered another spot. Holly cursed them and said something to the effect of "No thanks, I already played the Ed Sullivan show."