Sunday, June 19, 2011

An Interview with Jack Carter - Part Three

Kliph Nesteroff: I was watching an episode of Sanford and Son that you did.

Jack Carter: Oh my God, I will get another three dollars. I talked to Shecky Greene yesterday.

Kliph Nesteroff: The best.

Jack Carter: His wife cashed a cheque for eight cents.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Carter: I got one for eleven cents the other day for a re-run of Just Shoot Me.

Kliph Nesteroff: I talked to Shecky last week.

Jack Carter: No kidding? He's a sweetie.

Kliph Nesteroff: Ah, he's great.

Jack Carter: He called and he gets on the phone with Roxanne and he does routines on me that are hysterical.

Kliph Nesteroff: Shecky did a show in Vegas at the start of April.

Jack Carter: Yeah, he did a two-nighter. Norm Crosby did one too. I don't think either one did any business because I don't see them coming back. Shecky can't just jump in. He's got to be somewhere where he hates the owner, hates the hotel, so that he's got something to go on. Shecky works on anger. He did a concert here a couple of years ago. It was okay. It was for a big audience - he rented out a theater. It's hard for him to get cooking. Of course, drinking used to help him get crazy, you know.

Kliph Nesteroff: Right.

Jack Carter: He was known for that. He and I are the only two stand-ups left. And I'm sitting down now (laughs). I wanted to do a gig in Florida. I said [to my manager], "Why don't I come out with the walker?" He said, "It'll never work. Half the audience is crippled."

Kliph Nesteroff: Right (laughs). I was going to mention that the episode of Sanford and Son - not only are you in it, and obviously Redd Foxx, but also the great vaudeville star Benny Rubin.

Jack Carter: Benny Rubin, yeah. He worked for Jack Benny a lot. Benny Rubin, Mel Blanc, that world. Benny Rubin was always around playing little Jewish characters. Benny Rubin was on that show?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah.

Jack Carter: Wow. I didn't think he was even alive then. What did I play? An insurance agent or something?

Kliph Nesteroff: Tax collector.

Jack Carter: Tax collector, yeah.

Kliph Nesteroff: There's a scene in a waiting room with you, Redd Foxx and Benny Rubin all together.

Jack Carter: I loved Redd. When I was in the main room, Redd was in the lounge at The Riviera working as dirty as you could be. I mean he was really heavily, filthy, you know? He (laughs)... He was the forerunner of filth. I remember (laughs), my wife hates the joke, but it's my favorite Redd Foxx joke. (In Redd Foxx voice) "This girl said she wanted me to kiss her where it smells. So I drove her to El Segundo."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Carter: El Segundo. That's a real run down area here with oil wells and stuff. "El Segundo!" I had a funny thing happen with Redd Foxx. We were in Atlantic City for a boxing bout. The fight was over in four seconds. Knocked somebody out in the first round. There was a mugging on the way out. It was a crowd scene, y'know? Some kid had his hand in Redd's pocket. Redd went to work on this kid. The kid was trying to rob him. It was so funny when he told this kid off! "You motherfucker! Get whitey, don't rip on me you motherfucker!"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Carter: They took the kid and hung him upside down on a fence until the cops came. Redd was furious (laughs). Yelling, "Don't pick on me! Pick on some white guy! Pick on the ofay! The ofay!" Oh, Redd was funny.

Kliph Nesteroff: Is that when you got to know him - in Vegas?

Jack Carter: Yeah, in Vegas mostly. I was headlining and he was in the lounge. So were Ike and Tina Turner! They were in the lounge at the same time, alternating with him.

Kliph Nesteroff: Wow!

Jack Carter: But he did some... he really did some gory humor, you know? Then he got the NBC show. He wanted a window and that ended his career (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: Were the Vegas audiences that came to see him surprised? They knew him from this sitcom and then they'd come see him live and it would be this really dirty act...

Jack Carter: No, that was after. The dirty act was before. Once he started TV he didn't do the public appearances anymore. It ended right there. Then he got sick. And died. He was one of the big lounge acts. He and Rickles, Rowan and Martin, and The Mary Kaye Trio. Then of course Keely [Smith] and Louis [Prima] were the biggest. Whenever we'd go see them, I'd get up with them. I'd always get up... the other night I got up with Keely at the Hollywood Roosevelt and did Louis Armstrong with her.

Kliph Nesteroff: Really!?

Jack Carter: Yeah.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was the event?

Jack Carter: She was appearing there. There was a nightclub and they opened a cabaret at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. I was in the audience and she introduced me and before you know it I'm up there doing Louis Armstrong with her.

Kliph Nesteroff: I didn't even realize she was still around.

Jack Carter: Who?

Kliph Nesteroff: Keely Smith.

Jack Carter: Bigger than ever! One of the great voices! Still singing, still working, yeah. She's the last of the Vegas greats. Oh, she's marvelous. Got a great voice.

Kliph Nesteroff: I was digging through my Jack Carter archives, as usual. I found another old review. October 1942. You played the Orpheum in Los Angeles. You did impressions of President Roosevelt and Wendell Wilkie.

Jack Carter: Yeah, I did Wilkie.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were on the same bill as The Al Lyons Orchestra, dance team of Lolita and Ardo and Jimmy and Mildred Mulkay - harmonica players....

Jack Carter: Yup and I was doing Wilkie. I was the only one who did an impression of Wilkie. I think I had a bad deal there at that Orpheum. I think the guy canceled me. I had a bad experience with the owner and he remained an enemy of mine for the rest of my life. His name was Samuel Cohen and he used the name Sherill Corwin. Y'know, like a hide-out Jewish name. Later on I met his son who was also a prick; Bruce Corwin. I think they canceled me because I wasn't funny enough or something.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were very young at that point.

Jack Carter: Ugh, I got seven dollars for the date and I was just a kid.

Kliph Nesteroff: Here's another billing. March 1946. The Capitol Theater... this must be New York...

Jack Carter: Oh, yes. I skyrocketed. I came out of the army and I went right into Loew's State! Right to The Capitol! Unheard of! People would be around for years before they'd play these theaters. I was on the closing bill at Loew's State; the last vaudeville house in New York. I was appearing at the same time in the Broadway show Call Me Mister. I replaced Julie Munshin who went out to Hollywood where he did two movies and then he died.

Kliph Nesteroff: That first gig you did at The Capitol was with Sammy Kaye and His Orchestra and "a sexy girl singer" named Marie McDonald.

Jack Carter: Yeah.

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember that?

Jack Carter: Yeah, she did my show a few times. She was the shtup of the west. That's the big blonde that Bob Hope took to Europe with him all the time. Everybody screwed her. Including me. I think.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Carter: She was gorgeous. A tall, busty, gorgeous blonde.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, I have an LP by her.

Jack Carter: Sammy Kaye had that show and it turned out it was lottery. It was a gambling... they canceled us. It couldn't be in the theater because... well... there was money involved. Sammy became (laughs) one of my best friends. It turns out that Sammy Kaye and the Orchestra... he came across like a Midwesterner, but he was really Jewish. He loved to go to Florida. I set him up at the Talton Hotel. I was friendly with the owners. That's where I started in New Hampshire, with the Talton family, the Jacobs family. They were very close with Jolson. So I didn't do the Catskills, I did the elegant parts. I was in the White Mountains in Vermont and that area where Moss Hart had a thing called Seven Lively Arts. Moss Hart and George um...

Kliph Nesteroff: George S. Kaufman.

Jack Carter: Yeah, Kaufman, yeah. Boy, you come up with these names!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) Well, George S. Kaufman, come on!

Jack Carter: I did the elegant Catskills. No Catskills for me. I started up there at the Lake Charlton in Vermont's White Mountains. With the Jacobs family I was canceled after the first show. I screamed and cried and they kept me on and I stayed on the whole season.

Kliph Nesteroff: Why did they cancel you after the first show?

Jack Carter: I was dirty the first show. I didn't know, you know? I said, "I'll be better! I'll be good!" And then I became a regular. I stayed there the whole summer. I befriended the Jacobs family and they had the Talton Miami. From then on whenever we went to Miami we stayed at the Talton. And everybody stayed there; The Ritz Brothers, Milton Berle, Sophie Tucker and anyone that was friendly with Walter Jacobs and the Talton family... and that was the show where Jolson introduced me! There was a big benefit with Walter Winchell.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was Jolson like?

Jack Carter: Oh, he (laughs)... he was a bastard! I was going to do a one-man Jolson show, but a couple of guys beat me to it. The thing is I negated everything. I'm a negative. I turn everything down. I could have been a gigantic star had I not been so negative. My wife says, "You're mister negative! Everything is bad! Everything won't work! You won't take a chance!" I had a guy writing the show, a wonderful writer. He also wrote jingles in New York and he also wrote me a Bert Lahr show and I tried to do that, but the Bert Lahr family rejected it.

Kliph Nesteroff: But Jolson...

Jack Carter: Jolson was a terrible man. My Jolson show was to open up with me doing [George] Jessel saying, "In the annals of the day, the great man, may he live forever. His voice is pure. He sings from heaven..." You know, a whole Jolson eulogy. And on the way out reporters run up and say, "Mr. Jessel! That was wonderful! What was Mr. Jolson really like?" And I, as Jessel, say, "He was the worst son of a bitch that ever lived!" That was how the show opened.

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, that's great.

Jack Carter: But it became too involved. We had to have a girl to play Ruby Keeler and this and that and I gave up on it. Later Larry Kurt wound up doing it. I did Guys n' Dolls with him in Jersey. A wonderful production. I found out he was gay. Yeah. I used to go home on weekends. I was off on Sundays and I'd go from Jersey to L.A. and back. I saw him at the airport "meeting guys." (laughs) That's funny.

Kliph Nesteroff: When did you first get to know Georgie Jessel?

Jack Carter: Oh, well... I always knew him. I think when I worked Loew's State and the closing show it was with him. I used to see him run in on Milton Berle and interrupt Berle. And then Berle would come out and interrupt him. They hated each other, y'know.

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, really?

Jack Carter: They also went with the same women. Yeah. Jessel was after Milton's ex, whom he loved until he died. I forget her name.

Kliph Nesteroff: Was that the primary reason they hated each other? Over women?

Jack Carter: Uh, it was over everything. Jessel was really brilliant. He was a very bright man. People put him down a lot, but he should have been bigger than Jolson. But Jolson screwed him out of the movie. There's a big story about that.

Kliph Nesteroff: I don't know that story.

Jack Carter: Yeah, Jessel was doing The Jazz Singer on stage. They offered him the movie. He said, "Ah, movies are no good. It'll never work." Jolson said, "I don't blame you. I wouldn't do it either." Then Jolson went ahead and took the movie... and took stock in Warner Brothers and it was a big hit. I was on a tour. This terrible Roy Radin tour. Roy Radin was murdered by the mafia. He tried to be the producer of The Cotton Club, but they killed him instead. He was a terrible man, but he used to organize a vaudeville group with a lot of acts. We used to call it The Rejects of '93. He had about twelve acts. Donald O'Connor, Gloria DeHaven, Danny and the Juniors. Me. and we'd tour. He really made his money because he'd have these ex-police detectives along and they'd go in and [coerce] people to take ads in his [commemorative] magazine for the show. They forced these people to [buy ad space] and his book would make a fortune in each town. He'd make two-hundred and fifty thousand in each town. We found that out later. You never heard about my escape with Jessel from Pittsburgh?

Kliph Nesteroff: No... 

Jack Carter: It was like a movie scene. Ah, well, I'll tell you when I get to Vancouver. I should really write my book and do it with you.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah! Let's do that!

Jack Carter: How are you at ghost writing books?

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, I'm supposed to be doing that very thing for Woody Woodbury right now.

Jack Carter: Oh, Woody is a big fan of mine. He writes to me all of the time. I had hired a guy in New York. I got Phyllis Diller's [literary] agent in New York, this gal, and she suggested this writer. I flew him out here. He contributed nothing. We wasted a week. He spent an hour with me, in which we pieced together a chapter, but it was bullshit. Just a long string of jokes.

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, I would love to do it with you. 

Jack Carter: Well, anyway, Jessel was on one of the tours with me. We sat together on the bus for hours talking. He was brilliant. I had just read Bert Lahr's book and a book on Broadway shows and whatever I mentioned - he knew everything about. I mentioned a party. He was at that party. Named every name. I used to do an impression of Jessel introducing people. Milton [Berle] would throw me a name and I would do it the way Jessel would do it with his flowery language. "John Wayne!" Okay. (In George Jessel voice). "In the annals of history when wildwood goes through the sagebrush. Coming out of the west, out of the hills, was a tall man. An elegant man. Guns blazing from the side..."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Carter: (laughs) Like that. I nailed it every time. He'd just throw a name and I would do that. Anyway, traveling with Jessel on the bus with Donald O'Connor and all the acts. We went to Cleveland. We did a show there and I suddenly realized this creep Radin... I did the show and he left with Demond Wilson and they went off to an orgy party and left us at the theater. Not even a way to get back to the hotel! The next day we were in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. We were there and we were going to do a little show in a vaudeville house. I said to Radin, "We don't have a show booked in Greensburg!" He said, "Well, we were going to have to stop by here, so I booked one." 

I said, "What do you mean you booked it?" I wasn't going to do this show [for free]. He had the detectives walk in with the guns to force me to do the show. I said, "I'll do a few minutes, but I'm not going do any more." Demond Wilson was his buddy for drugs. Demond Wilson from Sanford and Son. So we got to it, this little vaudeville house, which was terrible and we put a show together because he had us trapped. He collected money from whoever came. He was a terrible thief! A crook! An awful man! A big fat garbage pail!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Carter: He had this chicanery. He'd get on the phone for hours. Anyway, he and Demond were up the hill at a Holiday Inn or a Sheraton. We were at a hotel that had a radiator by the window and the shaneel bedspreads. Four-dollar-a-night rooms. Down the hallway were the detectives drunk. With hookers and drinking. Jessel was in tears. He was crying. "This is terrible! I want to go home!" I said, "We're going to go home, Georgie. We're going home." I went to the manager's office. I said, "How far are we from Pittsburgh?" He said, "Sixty-five miles." I said, "Get us a cab." 

We were going at four in the morning. We waited until these guys were drunk and out cold. I looked out into the hallway. Jessel had his bag ready and mine. I picked up his luggage, walked across the grass to the manager's office, the cab was waiting and he drove us to Pittsburgh airport. We had no flight booked. No airplane fare. We got to Pittsburgh. Jessel liked to drink, y'know. He loved to drink. The bar was open at the airport. He got a few bourbons in him and he was wearing his uniform. He had that blue uniform with the medals. The blue uniform looked just like a pilots outfit - and he had the hat too. 

He traveled with that full outfit and every town we had gone through - he knew the town. We were in Harrisburg. "When I was last in Harrisburg, well, me and the sheriff had a wonderful time. I love this town..." Ah, he'd never been there in his life! So anyway, the plane was there that was going to LA. We were so scared that they were going to see that we were gone from the hotel and that they were going to come after us. We went to board the plane. Jessel was bombed. He's staggering up the runway. A woman sees him and goes, "Oh, God! If that's the pilot - I am not getting on this flight."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Carter: She ran down back off the steps. We got on the plane, we sit down, and there was a delay. I'm sweating. I'm looking out the window of the plane now for these gangsters, these ex-cops, with their guns. Eventually they were going to sober up and see that our rooms were empty. There was a delay and we had to get off the plane. And they wouldn't serve any drinks on the plane so we went back into the airport. Jessel starts drinking again. More bourbons. About an hour later we get on the plane. Nobody showed up and we took off and we got to L.A. and his friend came and got us and that was the last time I ever saw Georgie Jessel. He died about a week later. So that was my great escape with George Jessel from Greensburg, Pensylvannia.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Carter: And Demond was up on that hill at the Sheraton or whatever with the cocaine and the hookers. And we were in the four dollar shithouse. A motel. The worst. The lowest. And a broken mattress.

Kliph Nesteroff: Man alive. That's an incredible story.

Jack Carter: A couple weeks later I was in a restaurant in L.A. and Radin gives me a big wave and a hello like he's a friend of mine. He died about two years later. They killed him. They gave him the old string around the throat. And a bullet in the back of the head. He tried to get in on the scam. He got friendly with what's his name. Uh, Evans...

Kliph Nesteroff: Bob Evans.

Jack Carter: A real drug addict. Charlie Evans?

Kliph Nesteroff: Bob Evans.

Jack Carter: Yeah! Bob Evans. Their father made millions in the garment district. He was Evans Picone. He invented the pinking shear.

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, really?

Jack Carter: Yeah. That's what made them millions. Bobby only lives a few blocks from me - he's still alive. He nearly lost his house, but Jack Nicholson bought it back for him.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, Evans is the famous "The Kid Stays in the Picture" story.

Jack Carter: Yeah, yeah, that's it. He's a total misnomer, Bob Evans. A total disaster. A total drug addict. His brother Charlie just died. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, well, he's almost a cartoon. A human cartoon.

Jack Carter: Absolutely. Yes. Somebody liked him though and made him the head of Paramount for a minute. That was with Gulf and Western.

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, that was a weird time.

Jack Carter: Yeah, it was. Paramount had a new head every week and there was the other drug weirdo - Frank Yablans. I knew the brother, Irwin. A real putz. Irwin and his wife (groans). You can't believe some of the people we get out here running studios. Now we've got this little vontz who's got his name on everything. Brad Grey. I was at Don Rickles' party the other night. I got up and just demolished him. I'm the only one that can destroy Rickles. Bernie Brillstein, he was brilliant. He was a giant. Brad Grey was the little office boy that Bernie put in and he took over... and he screwed Bernie at the end. And now he's head of Paramount. He's got all the comics like Martin Short. He brought them all to the Rickles party. They all got up. And they died. None of them could follow me! They've got nothing to say. John Stamos! Bob Saget! Although Saget's funny - but he's got to be dirty, y'know. But he's a clever kid.

Kliph Nesteroff: Don Rickles and John Stamos are close for some reason. I've never really understood how that happened...

Jack Carter: Yeah. Well, you know... Rickles makes strange friends. 


ajm said...

Yet another great interview!

Randy said...

'Shaneel' is actually spelled 'chenille'. It's French for 'caterpillar'.

Anonymous said...

More great stories from Jack Carter! Keep 'em coming...or better yet, write that book with
him when he comes to Vancouver!
You've already got one sale, Kliph!

Sam Kujava

Scott C. said...

Fantastic interview, Kliph! I grew up in Rome, NY and we were one of the regular annual tour stops for the Roy Radin Vaudeville Revue that Jack Carter mentions here. They were great, crazy shows with very strange line-ups. I saw a bunch of them when I was in my teens, including the one Jack was on with George Jessel and Demond Wilson. Tiny Tim was on quite a few of them, and I can remember seeing other names like Milton Berle, Pat Paulsen, George Gobel, Godfrey Cambridge (he worked blue!), Smokin' Joe Frazier, Morey Amsterdam, Cab Calloway and many more less illustrious names like George Savalas, Jud Strunk, Susan from Sesame Street, the Harmonica Rascals and so on.

greg6363 said...

I will have to correct Mr. Carter on one fact. Redd Foxx did perform in Vegas after "Sanford and Son". Due to problems with the IRS, Foxx had to go back to doing standup in order to pay off some back taxes. I saw him at the old Hacienda Hotel in 1990. The opening acts were LaWanda Page and Slappy White. Foxx came out a little after midnight and did 90 minutes as he put the audience in stiches. He still had it and a year and a half later, he was gone. After experiencing this master of comedy in person, I knew I had just seen something special which I would never ever see the likes of again.

Michael Powers said...

I cannot wait to read that book! God, this was a blast! This was maybe the best interview you've done, Kliph, since Carter comes across so colorfully and seems so utterly honest. What a treat this one was. Jack Carter makes up for Gary Owen and then some!

Barbara said...

Couple of corrections: As Randy said, it's chenille bedspreads.

And Charles Evans of Evans-Picone was Robert's brother, not his father.

Did you know that Jack, his wife and a friend were in a horrible accident a few years back? I believe the friend died.

Bobby Wall said...

Great, just great, Kliph! It's a shame that someone like you never interviewed people like Jessel, Jolson, etc. Speaking of Jolson, everyone spoke ill of Jolson. He was a true horror. I would love to hear stories about why he was such a bastard. He must have been so insecure. I think so many of these talented people are insecure, too.

Anonymous said...

Jolson died sitting at a restaurant table at the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel in 1950. I believe a plaque is in order at that overpriced dump.

Kevin Kravitz said...

Growing up I always looked forward to any appearance by Jack Carter. Sullivan, Dean Martin Roasts---next time, ask him about his hilarious appearances on Comedy Central's roast of Drew Carey & last years Parks & Recreation where he plays Chris Pratt's shoe shine predecessor.
He's right about Robert Radin. He was murdered mysteriously during the making of Robert Evans' production fiasco of Coppola's THE COTTON CLUB!
Demond Wilson? Wow! He's s preacher now. In his post Sanford career, he was considered troubled, pretentious, un-hireable & I think Larry King said he was the worst guest he ever had. Jack Carter has lent some insight why!
Thanks Kliph from Kevin

Kevin Kravitz said...

Reading your wonderful interview, Kliph, I'm reminded of seeing Redd Foxx in that last Vegas engagement at the La Hacienda. Redd didn't come out until his warmups Bernie Allen & Slappy White performed. But the two oldtime comics sat in the audience before the show & spoke with everybody. Then Redd got a tv show, The Royal Family, and died suddenly only a few episodes into it.
One of my favorite facts is that Redd Foxx was the only celebrity invited to Elvis Presley's wedding & this was as a dirty comedian and before he did SANFORD & SON. I think he liked Demond personally, but admitted that he couldn't convince NBC to hire him when he returned with a reboot of SANFORD! Thanks again Kliph!

sanford said...

I would like to know when Demond Wilson did that tour with Carter and Jessell I assume it had to be when he was on Sanford. He was a pretty young when he got on the show. He was 22 when he got out of the army. He did some tv including All in the Family as a robber. Carter said NBC refused to put him in the reboot according to Carter. His Wikipedia page said he turned it down. He was a cocaine addict though.

Stephen Z. said...

If Jack Carter was accurate about the dating, Demond Wilson did the Roy Radin tour in the spring of 1981. George Jessel died in May 1981. Radin was murdered in June 1983.

kochillt said...

Investigation Discovery's 1980s:The Deadliest Decade recently produced an episode "The Cotton Club Murders" about the drug related murder of Roy Radin, as a close friend of his was suspected of disappearing with both cash and Columbian cocaine, and the attempted shakedown failed to come off with the hit men too impatient to get the information before shooting him 13 times. If it weren't for Roy Radin I never would have met my idol John Carradine here in Youngstown, sorry to learn about the lack of accommodations. My dad loved Jack Carter from the Dean Marin roasts, and was born the same year in 1923.

Unknown said...

I was music director/conductor/pianist for that ill-fated Roy Radin tour with Jack Carter. Jack definitely bailed on the tour right at the beginning, but I never heard about the virtual hostage situation, etc. Elements of Jack's version are probably exaggerated. We musicians definitely had the impression that Jack, who was the headliner, felt upstaged and disrespected by Roy's giving star-treatment to Demond Wilson – riding in the limo with Roy while Jack rode the bus with the rest of us, etc. – and that that was the main reason he faked the heart attack and ditched back to Los Angeles. I'm pretty sure that Eddie Fisher and Donald O'Connor were on that tour – they were definitely on the two preceding tours I did as orchestra pianist, with saxophonist/conductor Tim Fowlar leading as music director. Come to think of it, Eddie would have been the headliner, so maybe he wasn't on that tour. Pretty sure Donald was.