Thursday, July 7, 2011

An Interview with Eddie The Old Philosopher Lawrence

Kliph Nesteroff: This morning I was watching a cartoon that you wrote and starred in called Abner the Baseball.

Eddie Lawrence: Oh yes, in which Bernie Wayne did the music. Right.

Kliph Nesteroff: We'll get into cartoons in a bit, but I wanted to talk about the beginning of your career. You started out as a disc jockey on the Armed Forces Network.

Eddie Lawrence: Yes, that was in the army, but I started out before that. I was a deejay in the army and I was on late at night. All the guys were kept [awake]. Among my visitors when I was on were people like Field Marshall Alexander, who told a few jokes and his sub altera came and sat there sort of cozy until two in the morning. I used to just talk... it was similar to that film about Vietnam... about a guy who deejays in the army.

Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned that you started out before that. What were some of your first gigs prior to that then?

Eddie Lawrence: First gigs were in the neighborhood doing Maurice Chevalier for half an hour. Stuff like that. In the early days before the army... it is difficult to remember because it was over seventy years ago... I'm in my nineties! I can hardly believe it! But I was in the theater here and there - neighborhood plays and things...

Kliph Nesteroff: So how did you end up on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour?

Eddie Lawrence: Oh, Major Bowes. Well, everybody ended up on Major Bowes in those days. It was like American Idol - except over the radio. We all went on more than once because it was radio [so you would not be recognized]. I went on under different names like - Barry Lane! Lane Barry!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Eddie Lawrence: Marcel Duchant... and I [was billed] as "The Peerless Impersonator." I did a lot of impersonations. Major Bowes called me Peerless. He thought that was my name. You'd finish your act and people would vote for you by phone. Whoever got the most votes and whoever gave out the most nickels won. I did my impersonations of actors and put them in situations - like Bela Lugosi donating blood and stuff like that. It was all rehearsed, of course. I was a painter too - and one time I brought my etchings along and Major Bowes held them up over the radio! That was the first time that was ever done - and the only time, I think!

Kliph Nesteroff: So did you ever actually win the show or win the show under a pseudonym?

Eddie Lawrence: I never won the show, I don't think. Others were really organized for that sort of thing. My father could only handle about a thousand nickels. But they did figure out something to make me sort of famous. After I did my act the Major said, "Listen after you do your act, just stick around. We're going to figure something out and you're going to go on to another show after that. Your first professional appearance." It was all framed, you know, but that's showbiz. I enjoyed it. I did my things, whatever I did, and then he called me back and said, "Just a moment, Peerless! You're going to do your first professional performance around the corner at CBS in theater number three!"

I screamed "What!?" Lee Strasberg would have kissed me for the way I [faked] it. I ran around the corner and along the street people were cheering. It was a big thing. "There goes that kid!" they yelled. I went over to the stage manager. Walter O'Keefe was waiting with a dummy script and I was waiting with the real script that I had been rehearsing all day - with Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Alice Faye and, I think, Basil Rathbone. After the show I rode the subway back home to Brooklyn, re-reading my lines trying to remember where the laughs were. The next day it was in all the newspapers.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was the CBS program?

Eddie Lawrence: It was The Walter O'Keefe Hour.

Kliph Nesteroff: Around this time you started to perform with a man who became quite a well-known character actor named John Marley.

Eddie Lawrence: Oh, John. I met John in the army. I was writing an army show that was a take-off on Casablanca and it was actually going to star Humphrey Bogart! We had Annabella - she was married to Tyrone Power - and we had Bogey all set. Somehow along the way we lost Bogey. Annabella sort of discovered [John Marley]. She said, "There's your Bogey, right there." There was a communications guy working in the room with us.

It was John Marley and he had a very commanding face and he looked a little like Bogey and so we hired John. We gave him a little audition. He was [already] an actor - which was very strange - and we used him in the production. We teamed up and I did a lot of shows with him. One was a Hitler musical, which was way before Mel Brooks. This was in the army! John played Goering and I played Hitler. We had an orchestra drawn from Les Brown and Glenn Miller and guys like that.

Kliph Nesteroff: I found a note that says you and John Marley appeared together on radio on something called the Kool Penguin Room.

Eddie Lawrence: I don't remember that, but we did a lot of guest shots. After the war NBC hired us. The Lawrence and Marley Show. We went on every day at quarter to seven, just before the news in New York. It was local. We went on and it was sort of a forerunner of the Sid Caesar shows - we did take-offs on things. We went on for months and had a lot of famous listeners who wrote letters. It was very encouraging. Then John sort of drifted into acting and he was a great actor and director and theater personality. Later, as you know, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Love Story and he was the guy in The Godfather with the horse's head! That's him! I was a comedian and then I created The Old Philosopher and all that crap.

Kliph Nesteroff: In the late forties you acted on a radio show called A New World a Comin' directed by Joseph Gottlieb and written by B. Edgar Marvin. It was a script called Down to Earth - an allegory on prejudice that was set in outer space.

Eddie Lawrence: I remember Joe Gottlieb. He was a director at WMCA, I belieive. Well, that was so long ago. I did a lot of guest shots and stuff... including The Steve Allen Show. I did a bunch with Steve, but I was on with Sinatra once.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have you down as being on an episode with Julius LaRosa, Mamie Van Doren and Don Adams.

Eddie Lawrence: Yes, that was the same thing. Sinatra was on when I was, definitely. I remember because he had lost his voice. Sinatra had lost his voice and he drank tea while Steve sang or something (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: You had a manager named Buddy Robbins.

Eddie Lawrence: Buddy Robbins - that was AJ Robbins' son.

Kliph Nesteroff: Around this time you got a gig writing for The Victor Borge Show.

Eddie Lawrence: Yes, I did end up writing for Victor and The Kay Kyser Show and I appeared on The Victor Borge Show. I think they just released a disc of the old Victor Borge Show and, I believe, I am on it. Someone sent me some photographs. I wrote for him. The staff wrote this thing, "The Hit Parade in Old Vienna." We did a take-off. "In fourth place... Beethoven's Fifth!" Then we did This is Showbiz done in the times of Shakespeare. Art Carney, Louis Nye... we had a great cast. All my old friends. We worked with Victor for a while. Then I started to write plays and I went to Paris to study painting with Fernand Leger. I started out as a painter. I wrote a couple of plays that were done a couple of times - one acts.

Kliph Nesteroff: How did you drift into writing for television?

Eddie Lawrence: Well, I don't know. I did my own material and I guess someone heard me. "Do you write your own material?" "Yes." "Well, we have something open on the Kay Kyser show. You know him?" "No." "Well, come over. You've got the job." That was Perry Lafferty. As a matter of fact I was getting off the ship from Europe and I started writing for him for a couple of years. The College of Musical Knowledge. I wrote with a guy named Bob Quigley. He was a talented man.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was Ish Kabibble like?

Eddie Lawrence: Ish was a doll. Merwyn Bogue was his name. He was Kay's accountant too (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, really?

Eddie Lawrence: (laughs) Yeah. Ish was a doll... and funny... and quite funny. He wrote a book, actually, about Kay afterwards.

Kliph Nesteroff: During this period did you ever play any of the Broadway theaters... not in terms of Broadway shows... but as part of the roster of performers that played the movie palaces prior to the screening of the motion pictures - places like The Paramount and...

Eddie Lawrence: Well, yeah, The Roxy! I played The Roxy. I was drafted out of The Roxy before the War started. I was on staff at The Roxy theater and they were grooming me for a producer's job on the Coast - which is what I heard. So I stuck with them, but then I got drafted. There was a wonderful man named Jack Partington who kept sending me my salary while I was in the army for a while. It was a wonderful, gesture.

Kliph Nesteroff: What did your act consist of before you got drafted?

Eddie Lawrence: Well, I did the latest Joe Louis fight as broadcast by Groucho Marx or Roland Young and different people - how they would broadcast. Stuff like that - Charles Boyer as Napoleon... I became the first comedian to play Radio City Music Hall. I had wonderful accompaniment with this great orchestra. I think that was my first job on Broadway - the Music Hall. The microphone turned off - and it's a big place the Music Hall - they put on the floor mics and it wasn't really one hundred percent correct.

I didn't complain because it was my first job and I was afraid to complain. I think Vincent Minnelli was the producer or director of the production. Afterward someone said, "Aren't you going to complain about that?" I said, "I was too frightened to complain!" From there I went to The Roxy. I was hired by The Roxy for writing and framing shows - you know. Putting shows together. The feature at The Roxy had been the R.A.F. Drill by the Roxy girls. We had a meeting - and I may have come up with that idea - I think I did - and they were very happy. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Your track In Old Vienna became a big hit.

Eddie Lawrence: Old, Old Vienna, yes. That was actually my first record - wasn't it? I think so.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes. I understand it resulted in you signing with the William Morris Agency.

Eddie Lawrence: I can't remember. I guess. But I do remember that Moose Charlap - that's when I met Moose. Buddy Robbins introduced me to Moose Charlap, who later on had written Peter Pan and stuff like that. Moose ran down to the Carnegie. We did the track for Coral Records, which was on the same block as Carnegie Hall. They were having a rehearsal there. Moose ran down and got some of the musicians to come in and record on Old, Old Vienna. Some great musicians made up the orchestra.

Kliph Nesteroff: That record was a bit that you were doing on stage first?

Eddie Lawrence: No, I just wrote it and did it for the record and then later I did it on various television shows. I did it with Paul Whiteman's Orchestra. Paul couldn't (laughs) he said, "This is not for me." He put the accordionist in charge. It was comedy and he had a lot of cues and everything and he wasn't too young by then, but he was very sweet. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Bob Thiele and Milton Delugg were in charge of Coral Records at that point.

Eddie Lawrence: Bob Thiele was a wonderful, creative man. Milton Delugg was one of the gang, yeah. Oh, we had good times in those days.

Kliph Nesteroff: At what point did you develop this routine The Old Philosopher? It was right around that time.

Eddie Lawrence: Yes. Well, I originated a character in the army called Sentimental Max. He'd just say (in quivering voice), "Today... it's gonna git better, it's gonna git good. It's gonna git better, everything is going to OH-kay." And things were terrible. I had that voice. It was sort of a crying Jolson. It kept coming to me and I kept using it. You don't know how these things come about. Then I sat down one day and I wrote The Old Philosopher. I was represented then by Dick Dorso. I went up to him and David Susskind and I said, "I have this thing I'm going to record this afternoon - I want you guys to hear it."

They brought in some famous people - directors and things - y'know, all famous. They all sat down and I did The Old Philosopher for them. They laughed and the response was fantastic! In the end this famous director got up... God, I wish I could remember his name... and he said, "I'll tell you why this is not going to go. It's not going to be a hit. We know what you mean by this - but the people won't know. It's too over their heads." I walked out and I was very down. I thought, "God, this is going to be a disaster." A few days later I turned on the radio and they were playing it every hour on the hour - and it was a major hit.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes.

Eddie Lawrence: But a lot of those people agreed that it wouldn't go because it was too subtle.

Kliph Nesteroff: When you appeared on The Steve Allen Show is this what you were performing?

Eddie Lawrence: Yes, I did The Old Philosopher. Steve loved it right away.

Kliph Nesteroff: What were some of the other programs you appeared doing that?

Eddie Lawrence: Oh, I did several. All different shows. I did Carson much later on when I did a variation on The Old Philosopher. I did David Frost. I don't know - that was later on. I did The Cheverolet Show. I remember that. It was the Dinah Shore program, but Cesar Romero was the emcee. Well, I did Soupy Sales and Garry Moore and Merv Griffin... and Dr. Demento... I'd go everywhere.

Kliph Nesteroff: You ended up getting a very nice part in Bells Are Ringing.

Eddie Lawrence: Yes, Bells Are Ringing was my first Broadway show. I was in Three Penny Opera - which was off-Broadway. Bells Are Ringing - I auditioned and got the part of Sandor - which was a big part. Two songs and I loved it. It went for three years.

Kliph Nesteroff: You got to know Jule Styne and Betty Comden and...

Eddie Lawrence: Oh, very well. Yes. Great talents. Betty and Adolph who I would see many times after. I mean, we were together for three years. Judy Holliday and Sydney Chaplin, who recently died.

Kliph Nesteroff: Jean Stapleton.

Eddie Lawrence: Jean - yes. Wonderful. Alice Pearce took her place when she left and Alice Pearce is a funny woman. She was one of Noel Coward's favorites and she had done a lot of Broadway. She was a Broadway person.

Kliph Nesteroff: Now in 1958 you showed up in an episode of Sgt Bilko with Phil Silvers and a young Alan Alda.

Eddie Lawrence: (laughs) I just saw that! As a matter of fact, I hadn't seen it until the other day. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Not ever?

Eddie Lawrence:  Not ever! I played an art dealer with a beard (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember anything about that experience?

Eddie Lawrence: Yes. When I sat down and they made me up, they showed a pornographic movie in front of me.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) What?

Eddie Lawrence: (laughs) That was where I first met Mickey Freeman. He became a good friend later on.

Kliph Nesteroff: What do you remember about Phil Silvers?

Eddie Lawrence: Well, he was Phil Silvers. Exactly what you see. He was a brash kind of funny, funny, always on kind of guy. And really talented. One of the greats. If you learned your lines - you better forget 'em, because he changed everything while we were doing it.

Kliph Nesteroff: Shortly after this you drifted into doing voices for cartoons. How did you end up working for the Paramount cartoon division?

Eddie Lawrence: They called me. They heard my records. I had done several albums - something like ten albums and I had a lot of stuff other than The Old Philosopher. Like [a routine called] "Fix Your Clock," which SJ Perelman rather liked. I was thrilled. And they felt they could change them into cartoons - adapt them. So I wrote a few more and they did. I think they won some prizes up in Canada. Later on they had me do new ones with the characters Shorty and Swifty. They were all right, but they weren't as good as the other ones.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about some of the people you would have worked with. Voice actor Jack Mercer... also a guy named Gilbert Mack.

Eddie Lawrence: Yes, I remember Gilbert Mack as a short guy with a big moustache. I worked with all these people, but I did a lot of stuff where they'd just call me in the morning and I'd go in and do it in the afternoon.

Kliph Nesteroff: Three directors that you would have worked with there as well - Irv Spector, Seymour Kneitel and Howard Post.

Eddie Lawrence: I remember Seymour, yes. And Irv Spector... they were very kind to me. I could do them in one afternoon - as I remember it. I wrote the stuff. I always kept working here [in Manhattan] and was getting stuff.

Kliph Nesteroff: A couple of those cartoons that you appear in - some of them are quite satirical. There's one called In the Nicotine that has you as a man that must quit smoking and is thrown into a sanitarium - there's another that is quite dark called The Plot Sickens about a henpecked husband that tries to murder his wife.

Eddie Lawrence: I don't remember those!

Kliph Nesteroff: They're both excellent and I think you do four or five voices...

Eddie Lawrence: Well, they may have changed the titles. They sometimes would change the title after we recorded them.

Eddie Lawrence: You mean an imitation?

Kliph Nesteroff: It's you doing commercial spots for some rug cleaning...

Eddie Lawrence: Well, I did hundreds of commercials, but some guys would try to imitate me. When Bette Midler won that Supreme Court case - it all stopped. I just don't remember that. So difficult to remember as there were so many different things.

Kliph Nesteroff: I want to ask you a little bit about the Broadway musical Kelly, which you wrote. You did the book and the lyrics and it was a very expensive and highly anticipated production... but it became... and is... a storied... debacle. 

Eddie Lawrence: Yeah... well... it's a... it was... well, it was a terrific show. If you want I could read you a couple of great reviews - before they changed it. It was misunderstood and now - even in the Susskind book - you'll see two sides to the story. It was a satiric play. What it was poking fun at was what they wanted to take seriously. First they loved it [and they said it would] break down barriers! But they got frightened of what they bought. We held one big preview and invited three hundred people, some of them very famous, and it was sensational! It was in New York. But some of the big shots said... and it was the same critique I got for The Old Philosopher. "People will not understand this." Now it would be taken as if it were simple! They'd all get it right off.

Kliph Nesteroff: At the time it never ended up having a proper cast album... 

Eddie Lawrence: No, we didn't. But now we do have a cast album. We did a one-day... we did it again off-Broadway in a theater where we had a one-day rehearsal and we actually did an album. It isn't bad. It could be much better, but it's not bad. We did get some good reviews for that. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I had read that initially when the original production was being mounted in the early sixties that there was a bidding war for the rights to the cast album...

Eddie Lawrence: Oh, yes...

Kliph Nesteroff: And that in 1963 it was Roulette Records who initially gained the rights to the cast album and then Columbia somehow wrangled that from them. Do you know the story there? 

Eddie Lawrence: Yes, Columbia. I thought we'd go with Columbia in the end - but I can't remember the details.

Kliph Nesteroff: Roulette Records was... 

Eddie Lawrence: Roulette Records, I remember them. That was a guy that owned a nightclub. A lovely guy, I thought. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Morris Levy. 

Eddie Lawrence: Yes, Moe. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you have any specific dealings with him? He's sort of a storied character as well.

Eddie Lawrence: (laughs) I know! We loved him! Moose and I loved him! He was backing it and he said, "This is great stuff!" In the beginning Susskind and Melnick adored it. "This is going to break down barriers! It's going to run ten years!" I said, "All I want is one year. We just want to get up there and entertain the people."

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you end up leaving the production before it opened?

Eddie Lawrence: Well, we were there opening night because we were suing. This was, I believe, the first time the investors sued. It was no longer [resembling] the show they had put their money in. They changed everything in the show, except for Never Go There Anymore, which was a song that became a standard. The only thing they didn't change - became a standard!

Kliph Nesteroff: I understand they brought in Mel Brooks to tinker with the script...

Eddie Lawrence: They brought in several writers. Mel felt bad about it, but they brought in several writers who had nothing to do with my... Mel aside... they had nothing to do with my kind of philosophy. Like Henry Gibson - let him do his own and he was very good at it. They brought in serious writers - but who needs them? They weren't wanted. They all knew Susskind and Susskind, you know... I think they should have called me. Some writers turned them down and said, "No, no, what Eddie does [is good]." I can show you letters from people at Metromedia, executives and everything, that say, "We read it. Nothing wrong. Beautiful show. No reason to change it."

Kliph Nesteroff: Regardless, it got a full overhaul and it bombed. Was the reason that it closed after that opening night... did that have to do with the lawsuit? Is that what actually brought it to a halt?

Eddie Lawrence: I don't know what happened. They closed it because they were going to lose a lot of money by even going a week. It was all to do with money. Three English guys came to my house. They were following it and they wanted to write a book [about the debacle], but I wasn't in the mood. The other guy wrote that thing for the Saturday Evening Post, which did sort of take our side - and that was how we won the case.

Kliph Nesteroff: Right around the same time that all of this was going on - you replaced Officer Joe Bolton on WPIX as the host of an afternoon children's show. 

Eddie Lawrence: Oh, yes. I did that show everyday (laughs). It was... every day I went on and it was a Three Stooges spot I hosted. The three of us were on... Joe Bolton, Chuck McCann and there was the other guy who did Dracula... wonderful guy... 

Kliph Nesteroff: John Zacherley? 

Eddie Lawrence: Zacherley, yeah.

Kliph Nesteroff: Was this just an improv kind of gig, hosting these Three Stooges shorts on afternoon TV?

Eddie Lawrence: Yeah, it was fun. It was fun to do that. I did anything I wanted. Any routine I could come up with. I had contests and I did it for a long time. Nine months or something.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did another Broadway show called Sherry.

Eddie Lawrence: Sherry was The Man Who Came to Dinner. George Sanders was in it. He left and Clive Revill took over in Philadelphia. I played Banjo. I thought it was a pretty good show. I don't know. It didn't get great reviews so it closed. It ran a few months.

Kliph Nesteroff: What do you remember about George Sanders?

Eddie Lawrence: (laughs) He was very aloof. Kind of amusing in a way. Always talking about the old Hollywood days. Very funny in a way, but he didn't realize it. (In George Sanders voice), "Eddie, there is a young fellow who was reading off his arms!" There was an actor who couldn't memorize too well [in Sherry]. He had everything written on his shirt. George said, "I'll let you know [when he does it]." I said, "Please don't let me know on stage!" Sure enough, on stage George Sanders is poking me. "See! There he goes!" (laughs). Oh, God.

Kliph Nesteroff: I always really enjoyed George Sanders in films but...

Eddie Lawrence: Oh! Brilliant! Brilliant actor! But just a little bit nuts. He could have been great in Sherry. In fact, the last night when all the famous people came when he said he was quitting - he was wonderful! He was something else! Otherwise, he didn't have his heart in it. Drank a quart every show. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I understand, according to Hollywood lore, he was an absolute bastard.

Eddie Lawrence: Oh, yeah. Well, he didn't listen to anybody. It seemed to fit him - this part - but his heart wasn't there. He didn't want to do it. But he did it probably for the money and... I liked the guys who say, "I'm doing it for the challenge." They're doing it for the money. The challenge is getting the money! 

Kliph Nesteroff: There is an LP you put out called An Evening with Eddie Lawrence at The Dunes Hotel. Did you do Vegas briefly?

Eddie Lawrence: No, I always turned down Las Vegas. I should have gone, but I never did. I never did any Dunes. They changed titles, I know. I don't know why.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were in a 1970 motion picture that the experimental artist and sometime animator Ernie Pintoff directed.

Eddie Lawrence: Yes, Ernie! A wonderful man!

Kliph Nesteroff: How did you get involved with Ernie Pintoff?

Eddie Lawrence: He was an old friend of mine. I had an office on the next block and Val Irving introduced us. We were close friends our whole lives. I still see his wife.

Kliph Nesteroff: Pintoff was underrated talent.

Eddie Lawrence: Oh, yes. He did some very unusual cartoons. He did the one with Mel Brooks.

Kliph Nesteroff: The Critic.

Eddie Lawrence: Yes. 

Kliph Nesteroff: He did another one - my all time favorite - called Flebus.

Eddie Lawrence: Is that the one with the violin?

Kliph Nesteroff: It's the one with a little guy with a flower and he's trying to be friendly to everyone and ends up in psychoanalysis.

Eddie Lawrence: Oh, yes (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: You were directed by Ernie in a film called Who Killed Mary What's 'Er Name.

Eddie Lawrence: Yeah (laughs). Who Killed Mary What's 'Er Name. John Morley was in it too. We did like a cameo for him. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember anything about that experience?

Eddie Lawrence: Yeah, well, we went downtown and did it all in a day and had a lot of fun.

Kliph Nesteroff: Red Buttons was in it?

Eddie Lawrence: Right. Red was the star. He played a detective. He had to fight a guy (laughs). He had to subdue a guy who was six foot eight. He said, "It's hardly the part for me!" Red.

Kliph Nesteroff: Then when you appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson - John Marley was also on that episode.

Eddie Lawrence: Yes, John appeared with me on Carson that one night. But I appeared with Carson about thirty times. He had me on all the time. Usually on a Friday. I said, "I want to go on Monday or Tuesday." He said, "Why? Friday is good! Friday is when we get our biggest audience!" I said, "I want to meet Vittorio Di Sica!" He said, "Oh God." So he put me on with Di Sica! Di Sica was wonderful. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Most of those appearances with Carson must have been when he was broadcasting his show from New York.

Eddie Lawrence: All New York, yes. I used to go to California for fun, not for work. I did some stuff there, but...

Kliph Nesteroff: What was Johnny Carson like?

Eddie Lawrence: Wonderful guy. I loved him. Last time I saw Johnny I was walking on Sixth Avenue and it was drizzling. I was walking toward Radio City and behind me was this guy without a hat. It was Johnny. No one recognized him. He put his arm around me and he said, "Hiya Bunkie!" We quickened our pace and ran the rest of our way to Radio City. They destroyed a lot of good stuff. There was a guy there who was very nervous and he destroyed all the NBC tapes from before a certain time - all with the greats on 'em like Jack E. Leonard and Jackie Miles and people you'll never see again. Boy, did Carson get angry - and he was right.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you know some of these nightclub comics? You mention Jackie Miles.

Eddie Lawrence: Jackie Miles. I met him and I knew Jack E. Leonard. Yeah, I knew most of the comics. I wrote for some of them. I didn't like nightclubs. I did get some good reviews and that, but I never liked them. That last show of just sitting around. I preferred writing and I preferred the theater.

Kliph Nesteroff: Who were some of the comics that you wrote for?

Eddie Lawrence: Well, I wrote for all the guest shots on The Kay Kyser Show. We had a comedian every week as a guest star and I helped write. Some didn't need any help - like Fred Allen, who was a genius. Well, Jack E. Leonard, Bert Lahr... to Sid Caesar I sold sketches. I think I sold a sketch to Jack Haley and... Wally Cox. I can't remember who else. I was (laughs) actually instrumental in getting Wally Cox to go to Las Vegas! He wanted to kill me! I said, "You can't miss! You'll have Marlon Brando there!" So he took the gig and he died like a dog (laughs). They killed him. He paraded in front of my apartment house. I wrote for a lot of people. Bert Lahr was great. He was a great artist. In fact, when he used to do Godot, he used to call me. I knew Jason Robards quite well and we all used to chat. We did that movie together - Minsky's. The Night They Raided Minsky's. It was on recently on PBS.

Kliph Nesteroff: That film featured a lot of fine character actors.

Eddie Lawrence: Everybody who was in it! Everyone in it was wonderful. That wasn't Bert in a couple of scenes - God, I wish I could remember his name - who posed as Bert.

Kliph Nesteroff: Will Jordan.

Eddie Lawrence: Because Bert had died during the shoot.

Kliph Nesteroff: Herbie Faye was in it...

Eddie Lawrence: Herbie Faye! 

Kliph Nesteroff: Herbie Faye would have been in that same episode of The Phil Silvers Show that you were on.

Eddie Lawrence: The Night They Raided Minsky's we did in New York and had some great fun... Norman Wisdom...

Kliph Nesteroff: And there was another film you were in - again with John Marley - again with Ernie Pintoff - called Blade.

Eddie Lawrence: Blade, yeah. I can't remember much about Blade. John was a detective - he played Blade. 

Kliph Nesteroff: And one more film - The Wild Party.

Eddie Lawrence: The Wild Party, yes. That was, believe it or not, a great director - an Englishman...

Kliph Nesteroff: James Ivory.

Eddie Lawrence: Ivory! A Merchant - Ivory film. Raquel Welch was in it and there were a lot of battles on the set. It could have been much better. If they had left it all to Ivory it would have been all okay, in my opinion.

Kliph Nesteroff: What kind of battles were there?

Eddie Lawrence: Welch had an acting coach that caused issues. I didn't hang around much. I came in. Played it like Erich Von Stroheim. And went out. I didn't hang around. It was in Riverside, California.

Kliph Nesteroff: How did you get involved in that? This is one that certainly was not a New York production...

Eddie Lawrence: Well, they knew about me and... I don't know. Lansbury produced it I guess and I knew Edgar fairly well and he knew my work.

Kliph Nesteroff: You also had an association with the musician with Nilsson. You did a commercial for him.

Eddie Lawrence: Oh, Nilsson! Harry Nilsson. Yes. He called me up. It was John Lennon and he. I'm sitting in the kitchen. The phone rings. It's John Lennon. I almost fainted! He wanted me to do a commercial for them for an album they were putting out. I said, "How do we do this?" He said, "Just give us your agent and you do everything. You book it. You write it. We want one minute." Well, I loved that kind of an assignment! So I did it. "And you ask your agent - how much he wants." That was Harry Nilsson and John Lennon. But that's it. One thing leads to another. And you get your fans.


Mackdaddyg said...

Good interview. I've only known of this guy in passing. Glad to see his story get told, plus he sounds like a nice guy.

Jerry Beck said...

Beautiful interview! I grew up in New York and never knew Eddie subbed for Officer Joe! Paramount adapted many of Lawrence's skits as animated cartoons, and Eddie wrote many originals. He attended my Museum of Modern Art tribute to Famous Studios in 1995. Great guy! Thanks for this terrific interview!

Dave said...

Thanks for a great interview. The reason why Eddie Lawrence was a good friend of Jason Robards is that they shared a passion beside acting: art. They were both good friends of another artist friend of mine, and he raved about Lawrence's talent. What an accomplished guy.

ajm said...

A decade ago Stephen Sondheim wrote a list titled "Songs I Wish I'd Written." Along with compositions by Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers and Harold Arlen was one of Eddie's songs from KELLY. Nice compliment.

Anonymous said...

The cartoon about the violinist that Mr. Lawrence brought up was "The Violinist", which Ernest Pintoff produced and directed as an independent short in 1959. Carl Reiner did the voice. Pintoff was one of the few renowned animation directors of his time to make the leap to directing live action and stay there.

mindwrecker said...

Fantastic! Another great read. And here I'd been following you on WFMU and you have your own venue over here (figures!). Thanks for this piece, and thank you to Eddie for being so chatty and helpful!

Bobby Wall said...

What a great interview! I remember Kelly opening and closing in one night. And I remember wondering if the Eddie Lawrence of Kelly was the same comedian I used to see on Carson. And Eddie wasn't telling a lie -- Carson did love him. Carson had him on the Tonight Show many, many times. And Eddie always used to go over great! What a talented man he was/is. And he's in his 90's and his memory is so great! It must be great to have that kind of talent! Great interview Kliph. And you do your research like no one does. Oh, one thing -- I do find it hard to believe that Carson was on the street in NYC -- hatless -- and no one recognized him. And -- wow! -- for Sondheim, the most amazing lyricist to have ever written a song -- to pick an Eddie Lawrence song as one that he had wished he had written -- what a tribute to Eddie Lawrence's talent!

Eddie lawrence said...

I was glued to every word.
One point I want to clarify re the writers brought in on "Kelly"
It wasn't my dear friend the gifted wit,HENRY Gibson, was the playwright WILLIAM Gibson.
What a delight to come across our interview.
Thank you
Eddie Lawrence

Anonymous said...

Oh Hi Eddie, Allow Me To Introduce Myself, Mufasa from the Pridelands, I Want to Ask You A Question, I've Once Heard Mike Kazaleh (Animator of the 90s Pebbles Ads and Of Tiny Toons) once say that Howard Post never even used you in his Cartoons AT ALL, Yet i Can Defiantly hear you in This ONE:
Care to Have Anything to Say About that, not to be rude of course, just askin'

Susan R said...

What a wonderful piece. My father was Buddy Robbins and he loved Eddie. Its so warming to know Eddie is still kicking. As some else noted, he was an artist - he pained and drew. I have a wonderful sketch he did of my father. Its my favorite.

Largelee said...

I've been a fan of Eddie's comdedy records for as long as I can remember. He is truly a living legend!

Unknown said...

I was lucky enough to perform on the same bill with Eddie Lawrence just a couple of years ago at the NY Friars Club. What a great treat! He went up with a 3 piece band, did a 15 minute set of The Old Philosopher, and absolutely killed. He was strong, his jokes were fresh and funny, he was just terrific!
Dave Konig

Wayne Cotter said...

What a great interview. It's very difficult obtaining information about Eddie Lawrence, a true comic genius. I have numerous Lawrence albums, but you introduced me to a couple I've never seen. I was also unaware of the animation that he was featured in. I recently picked up a copy of "57 Original Auditions for Actors" by Eddie with an introduction by Jason Robards. A very strange book published in 1983.

Brett Canavan said...

I grew up watching this talented gentleman and then, saw very little of him. A recent post by the wonderful Mark Evanier reminded me of why I enjoyed him so much and there was a link to the wonderful interview as well! Thanks to Eddie for still being around and reviving a fond childhood memory.

Anonymous said...

He is also a very talented artist as some of my family own some of his paintings.

Rich Pulin said...

Great interview with a great artist, Eddie Lawrence!
A true 'un-sung hero'…
I just learned so much about this wonderful creative
genius in this interview!
He knew and worked with EVERYONE!
Johnny Carson adored him!
He' now 95…YESTERDAY!
I would LOVE to meet him!
My late Dad brought 'The Old Philosopher home
in the 50's……I loved it so much and played it so many times, that I wore it out!
How great hearing it again on youtube, and then finding this interview!

Brian said...

Sad news that Eddie passed away yesterday at the age of 95 -- just read this interview, now I want to get all his albums. Great interview, got it off his Wikipedia page -- very interesting man and a great career. And I loved the fact that he himself was amazed he was in his 90s!

Ken said...

Another great read! Many thanks! Fantastic that you were able to put this piece together before Eddie passed away.

Anonymous said...

"Officer Joe"Bolton wasn't hosting any local kids tv shows on
Ch.11.when Mr.Lawrence was hosting his show on the station
back then. The only kids tv shows seen on that station then
were:"The Chuck McCann Show","The Eddie Lawrence Show"
and"The Mighty Hercules Show"(then mc'd by John Zacherley).

freeeemo said...

I recall Eddie Lawrence's Three Stooges Show on WPIX. He would do his Ol' Philosopher routine and tell jokes that went over every kid's head and administer "thumps" when kids wrote in with their problems. I distinctly recall him mentioning that he had to leave the show due to the Broadway commitments of KELLY. That was very distressing to me as I really missed him.