Saturday, May 14, 2011

An Interview with Rip Taylor

Kliph Nesteroff: I was looking at an advertisement from 1957. Rip Taylor at the Moulin Rouge Room - in The Di Lido Hotel - with Mandy Campo and his Orchestra.

Rip Taylor: My God, you are old. Where do you find these things? Yeah, I started there. My latest play got rave reviews. I'm not bragging - I didn't write them. It's called It Ain't All Confetti and it talks about all that stuff in that play. You'll find it very interesting. It's full of stuff that people never knew. I didn't want to bother people with telling them about my childhood and the abuse and the foster homes.

You must see it. You must. It's so interesting and I got reviews that were so flattering and I am going to tour with it. I was just so surprised. The first ten minutes is my nightclub act and everyone is laughing because they expect that. Then I say, "You wanna know how this all started?" That's how I get them and talk about the serious stuff and how I was in politics and things you never, never knew.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, for a lot of people it is as if you appeared out of nowhere with a moustache and confetti.

Rip Taylor: Especially for the followers of Jackass because I'm in all those movies and it's a new audience. They say, "Who is that crazy man?" And they all come and see me! So I've got the new kids. So I'm still at it.

Kliph Nesteroff: Looking through the old newspapers I see that there was talk of a TV pilot for you as early as 1956 called Campus Co-Ed. Do you remember that?

Rip Taylor: No, I do not. You are older than I thought!

Kliph Nesteroff: I'm probably younger than you think.

Rip Taylor: Oh.

Kliph Nesteroff: But I was just looking through all of this stuff.

Rip Taylor: Well, it's nice that you would. The Dovel Hotel was in Miami Beach and I started there. Was there for a long, long time and did a lot of one-nighters. You'd get twenty dollars a show. That's how it started...

Kliph Nesteroff: I wanted to ask you about some of the other performers that would have been in Miami at that time. Did you know [pioneering gay comedian] Rae Bourbon?

Rip Taylor: I didn't know him, but I saw him work. He was very funny. And very risque for the times. You know what I mean? He was filthy as a bastard. We'd go late to see that and then we'd go to see Rickles who was in Murray Franklin's bar. And Dick Hablin was another wonderful comedian. There were a bunch of comedians and we would all do shows. Charlie Carlyle. We'd all do a bunch of shows each and every night. They still do shows up and down the beach from 3rd all the way up to Golden Beach, which I guess is 186th Street. Frankie Scott was another comedian. They were all just a bunch of wonderful comedians and we all belonged to a club called The Footlighters.

Kliph Nesteroff: And what was The Footlighters?

Rip Taylor: That was like The Friar's Club. A wannabe type of thing in Florida for all the young comics.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about a fella named Tubby Boots.

Rip Taylor: Tubby was funny and dirty also. Dirty was the thing after midnight in Florida. Not all of them were dirty, but when they were they booked 'em specifically for those people that stayed up late. And they did more than hell and damn jokes. They were filthy. People didn't want to watch TV that late in those days - even though I think the only thing that was on was smoke signals.

Kliph Nesteroff: A lot of people think that Lenny Bruce was the first to do dirty material, but he...

Rip Taylor: No, he was just the one who got arrested for it.

Kliph Nesteroff: There was another dirty Miami Beach comic named B.S. Pully.

Rip Taylor: B.S. was hysterical! Hysterical! He used to work a burlesque show called At the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas for years. Frank Sinatra backed him - and then they put him in the movie Guys n' Dolls.

Kliph Nesteroff: You appeared on The Arthur Godfrey Show early on.

Rip Taylor: Years and years and years ago. My God, can you go into what I did yesterday instead of all these old people? What you're asking is all in the play. All of it is. You don't know that I was a page in the United States senate. That'll explain it. You didn't know I was abused. You didn't know the marriage. You didn't know the stars. It's all in there. And people say, "I didn't know that!" I say, "Well, it wasn't important to me."

Kliph Nesteroff: You mention marriage. I see your name in a lot of old gossip columns and they are talking about your assorted romances in the early sixties... fascinating.

Rip Taylor: Yeah.

Kliph Nesteroff: I was just speaking on the phone with a woman you would have worked with in 1956 at The Nautilus Hotel - a woman named Micki Marlo.

Rip Taylor: Micki Marlo was a gorgeous singer. She is still around in Miami, but not working. I do speak to her on occasion and you know who else? Jack Carter. He was a comic there too. He's getting old now. We all are, but he's in a wheelchair. Don't tell him I told you.

Kliph Nesteroff: I was just talking to him yesterday, actually.

Rip Taylor: Oh, that's good. Did he tell you he's in a wheelchair?

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, he's not moving around so well. He was hit by a car last year.

Rip Taylor: Yes, he was. I couldn't believe it.

Kliph Nesteroff: Still survived, but he's mentally agile and can walk with a walker...

Rip Taylor: Yeah, I couldn't believe that, my God.

Kliph Nesteroff: And Jan Murray's wife.

Rip Taylor: Jan Murray's wife, Toni. Yeah. Brutal. Brutal.

Kliph Nesteroff: What do you remember about Jack Carter back in those days?

Rip Taylor: Oh, he was the king of cabarets! King of cabarets! Wonderfully funny. Clever. Not political. Wasn't Woody Allen. You never had to say, "What did he mean by that, Harry?" Not that type of humor. Although there were a lot of those around and we all did Merv Griffin. When you got around to Ed Sullivan, well, that's when we'd really make the break. The stars watched The Ed Sullivan Show and that's how you'd get booked.

My first real job was with Eleanor Powell, the movie actress. She saw me on Sullivan and took me to Vegas. After that I worked with Frankie Laine and all the movie stars booked me. I was nine years with Sammy Davis and then Sinatra and Goulet and Sandra Dee, Maurice Chevalier, Andy Williams and Hermione Gingold. Then more movies and more television shows and eventually my own things like The $1.98 Beauty Show and cartoons. All of that was fun. I loved Chuck Barris. He is absolutely, positively insane, but wonderful.

Kliph Nesteroff: I'm talking with his old bandleader next week, Milton Delugg.

Rip Taylor: Oh, Milton! He's a wonderful man! Send him my love! Magnificent!

Kliph Nesteroff: You did a lot of Ed Sullivan and you did a lot of Merv Griffin. Did you ever have the chance to appear on The Jack Paar Program?

Rip Taylor: Never did. I don't know why. I don't think I was cerebral enough. I did one-line jokes and props and visuals. He never booked me anyway.

Kliph Nesteroff: Last year I was doing some research on Jack Paar and discovered that he was a vehement homophobe. So much so that he devoted an entire chapter in one of his books to his quite serious assertion that homosexuals needed to be eliminated from show business.

Rip Taylor: Well, I never worked that way. And nobody has ever said anything - nobody has ever not booked or did book me because of whatever they think I am. You know? It's funny how they instantly categorize you when they see something different. "He's a freak." Then they steal your stuff. I rang a bell and then Laugh-In rang a bell. I did props and now that little bastard is doing it. Calling himself "The King of Props." Leave me alone. He's an ass. And a thief. Leave me alone. I don't want to fight with him. He's working. Leave me alone. There's enough room for all of us and I never claimed that I invented prop comedy - I just did it. He took it. Okay. Fine. Move on. Jesus. God.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were around during the heyday of comedy records as well...

Rip Taylor: Yeah. I was never... I was visual. That's why I was never asked or wanted to do a comedy record. I did have the same manager as Vaughn Meader at the time. He really made a killing, until he got killed, of course.

Kliph Nesteroff: There was an announcement in Billboard magazine that there were talks of you doing a comedy LP and a tentative title: I Cried All the Way to the Bank.

Rip Taylor: Yes, but then I didn't even want to after a while because the material wasn't that funny and you have got to see me. I prefer being more outrageous visually. Still do. When Rip Torn robbed the bank with the gun when he was drunk... they keep thinking it was me! On my website I have a picture of him and me and it says, "He's the drunk. I'm the comic." I met him when he was married to Geraldine Page. His last name on the mailbox when they were married it said "Torn Page." People used to say that and he'd get mad. I said, "Well, then take your name off the damn mailbox!"

Kliph Nesteroff: I was looking at a 1964 Earl Wilson column...

Rip Taylor: Oh, yes, he was a wonderful man.

Kliph Nesteroff: The headline: "Rip Taylor is Torn by Fans Mistakes." Talking about people confusing you with Rip Torn.

Rip Taylor: Exactly.

Kliph Nesteroff: So, that has plagued you your whole career.

Rip Taylor: Yes, but he is such a good actor. But doesn't Rip Torn sound like a made-up name?

Kliph Nesteroff: I thought maybe it was. I thought maybe it was a creation of the guy who created Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter...

Rip Taylor: Henry Willson. No, but it does sound like a made-up name. And his father was also named Rip Torn. Here's a coincidence. My name is Charles Elmer Taylor. His is Rip Elwood Torn. How do you like that? I want to kill him (laughs). I wish he was funny and not a drunk!

Kliph Nesteroff: I also wanted to ask you about The Copacabana.

Rip Taylor: Oooh, that was the mecca in those days. Then I went to The Latin Quarter. But oh, The Copa! Boy, oh, boy. Jerry Vale. Then he took me to Carnegie Hall when he was making his album. Oh my God. My first joke was, "People ask me 'How'd you get to play Carnegie Hall?' I said, 'Practice.' You know, all those old jokes, but they worked! The Copa. I was with Connie Francis. Oh, God, it was just marvelous. That was the best.

Kliph Nesteroff: And what was Copa boss Jules Podell like?

Rip Taylor: Ahhhhhhh!!! His daughter wrote a book and I'm in it. You should read it. It's hysterical. But that's all I want to say about Mr. Podell (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned Vaughn Meader. You were also in a television special with him. Were you around him in the aftermath of JFK's assassination and the steady decline of Meader's career?

Rip Taylor: It affected him overnight. He didn't work again forever. Forever! He ended up believing he was JFK!

Kliph Nesteroff: Another venue I have jotted down...

Rip Taylor: And the Catskill Mountains. I got a lot of work there. A lot of work up there in the summer and I was the only gentile. I don't know how I got work.

Kliph Nesteroff: Also The Cotillion Room of the Beau Rivage...

Rip Taylor: Ooooohhh, class! Class! Class of Miami at the time. Classy Americana Hotel! Oooooh! Classy!

Kliph Nesteroff: You performed there with someone named Monique Van Vooren.

Rip Taylor: Yes, Monique Van Vooren.

Kliph Nesteroff: Who is she?

Rip Taylor: She's like Saks Fifth Avenue. She was like the St. Regis. They used to have a chanteuse at The Plaza. Older people liked them. No one knew who the hell she was. But the old Jews would say, "You gonna go see Monnee-kyooo?"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Rip Taylor: (laughs) I said, "Oh, God!"

Kliph Nesteroff: And you played the Chez Paree.

Rip Taylor: That was Danny Thomas and Sophie Tucker. That was really big time in Chicago. Yeah. I helped close a lot of clubs (laughs). Eddie's in Kansas City. Big clubs, though. Big clubs. Big money.

Kliph Nesteroff: The Horizon Room in Pittsburgh.

Rip Taylor: Oh, yes. That was right at the airport. Wonderful. I used to buy their pretzels for breakfast (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: It's funny that some of the people that used to perform at these huge, huge venues are names that are lost to obscurity. Playing with you at the Horizon Room were the dance team of Sealer and Scabold and a "singing emcee" named Bob Carter.

Rip Taylor: Can't seem to remember their face.

Kliph Nesteroff: At what point did you do the switch - or how did you evolve - from being the comedian wiping his face with a hanky billed as "The Crying Comedian" into the character we all know today with the confetti and moustache and so on?

Rip Taylor: I'll tell you how I became "The Crying Comedian." It happened on The Ed Sullivan Show. We did two shows. The first show [a rehearsal run-through] in the afternoon, the second show at night and between shows he was drinking. He forgot my name and couldn't read the cue cards. I came out crying - and I became "The Crying Comedian." It's as simple as that. Same jokes that I did at three o'clock, I did at eight o'clock and I became "The Crying Comedian." You can't make that shit up! I mean, that's ridiculous! People forget your name, but they remember, "Oh, get the guy that does that! Get the guy that does that thing!" So that was my tag and I became "The Crying Comedian." Then I rang a bell and Laugh-In took that. Then I did props and I was "The Prop Comedian." I was dying like hell on Merv Griffin's show. The jokes were dumb and I tore the 5x8 cards, threw them up in the air and it became confetti.

Kliph Nesteroff: Ahhhhh....

Rip Taylor: I knocked over his desk, walked up the aisle, went to Sardi's and said, "Well, that's the end of my television career." I went home that night. Their switchboard had lit up. They said, "Get the guy that went crazy!" And that... is how the confetti started.

Kliph Nesteroff: Fascinating.


Ted Hobgood said...

Oh no! Was enjoying this so much! Did the end get cut off?

Thanks so much for posting these fascinating interviews with the gret old stars.

normadesmond said...

well, i'll certainly reexamine
my opinion of jack paar.

Ted Hobgood said...

Excellent! Thanks for posting this; a fascinating read.

Elipso said...

comanRip Torn is actually Elmore Rual Torn, Jr

Domenic Dee said...

One of my all time favorite stand up comics from back in the day! Thanks for posting.

Domenic Dee said...

One of my all time favorite stand up comics from back in the day! Thanks for posting.

Unknown said...

Rip performed in the heyday of American nightclub history. All of Kliph's interviewees are emblematic of a time that is dead and gone. This site is a great repository of voices from showbiz's golden age.