Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An Interview with Milt Moss - Part Two

Kliph Nesteroff: In 1949 you were the comedian at The Hollywood Show Bar in Pittsburgh.

Milt Moss: Oh, yes. There were a couple places in Pittsburgh. There was Lenny Litwin's Copa. Lenny also wrote for Variety. Across the street was the other big nightclub called The Carousel. They had some others on the fringe of Pittsburgh. Holiday House, I played that. I knew some of the big agents in Pittsburgh. God, some great memories.

Kliph Nesteroff: Now, I read that you also had appeared on the Benny Rubin TV show...

Milt Moss: Yes! I had an agent/manager in New York named Jerry Rosen. He booked me with Benny Rubin. He was a great vaudeville act, but he didn't seem to take to radio and TV. He did a lot of character parts on The Jack Benny Program and things like that. He was very well known in vaudeville. I didn't know this at the time, but it was told to me by several people. There were big circuits then and he was a big act, but he just couldn't make it on television or radio. Very talented man and a terrific guy.

Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned that you were good friends with Milton Berle.

Milt Moss: Oh and how!

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you ever appear on his television program?

Milt Moss: No, I did not. I did not appear on his show. It was at the same time that I was occupied with The Merry Mailman, so I couldn't. But I never regretted that a day in my life. Working with Ray Heatherton on The Merry Mailman was one of the greatest experiences of my life. We became such good friends. A very generous, cultured man. A very devoted American. Oh God, yes. Where some of these stories come about I don't know. What else would you like to know?

Kliph Nesteroff: You appeared on The Robert Q. Lewis Show.

Milt Moss: Oh, God that's the... that's the one person who... oh, God. That's the one person I didn't like. Yeah. Robert Q. Lewis. That was on radio. Definitely. On camera he was good, but off camera he talked... he was very... I don't know how to put it. He was a very bitchy type of person. I never liked him. The same with Griffin. The only two people that I worked with that I didn't like. Merv Griffin, as many times as I did it. One of the funniest times I did with Griffin... there was a side exit at the theater and they opened it up during the show. He walked out and the camera showed me out there with a pushcart selling hot dogs. Merv goes, "Milt, what are you doing out there?" The gag was that I was hiding Arthur Treacher's bottle of liquor.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Milt Moss: That's what the whole thing was about. I wish I had a copy of that. We did a lot of things. I would stand up in his audience in the balcony. "Hey Moy-yev! Come up heeyah in the balcony! It's funnier up here than you are!" Sometimes he'd look over at me. "You know it's dangerous to be funnier than the star!" I'd say, "It may be dangerous, but it's not difficult." Oh, a lot of stuff like that... but I really didn't like him. Those were the two guys - that and Robert Q. Lewis. 

Kliph Nesteroff: It wasn't anything personal between you and Robert Q. Lewis though.

Milt Moss: No, it was just... it happens. Some people you like, some people you don't.  I never really had any problem with anyone I ever worked with at all.

Kliph Nesteroff: Arthur Godfrey?

Milt Moss: Oh! Oh, that's... that's... that's the other one! Forget it! He can rot in his grave!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Milt Moss: The biggest anti-Semite in the world! I have a recording! I wish I could play you this recording! I tore his show apart doing a jungle routine. It was just absolutely fantastic. You have to hear this recording. At the end of it he says, "Get rid of that funny Jewboy."

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, wow.

Milt Moss: I will never forget that. That's a true story. I went for him. I lunged at him. Two guys pulled me off of his back. That's a true story. I'm giving you the truth now! Later on they took The Arthur Godfrey Show out on the road. They offered for me to play the theater for a day - I turned it down. I wouldn't. I told them, "I don't want anything to do this man." He was known [for being anti-Semitic]. One of the great jokes in Miami. He owned one of the hotels in Miami. Down there they used to fly airplanes with a banner on it and it would say, you know, "Eat at Joes" or whatever. You know what I mean?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes.

Milt Moss: There was a famous Jewish restaurant down there and the plane would fly around "Eat at the Famous Jewish Restaurant." The joke was that the plane flew over Arthur Godfrey's hotel and he had it shot down. That was the big joke at the time. Yes, that is a man I curse to this day. I will never forget that. Then I heard a lot of stories about him [that were not true], but this one happened to me personally.

Kliph Nesteroff: Around what year?

Milt Moss: I think it was around 1948.

Kliph Nesteroff: I had heard about his investment in that hotel that didn't allow any Jewish guests, but I had not heard...

Milt Moss: It was very strange. I will never forget that day. It's terrible (laughs). I could go into a similar story about Berle and a comedian named Frank Fay.

Kliph Nesteroff: Please do.

Milt Moss: I never knew him, but Berle went after him with a pipe! Milton never wanted to... people would bring it up and he would say, "I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to talk about it." Frank Fay, as I understand it, was a very good performer, a very good comedian, a very good ad-libber. I never knew him, this is just what I heard about him. He goes back to the twenties. Another story about Berle... he had this woman that he wanted to shack up with. She was at a for-women-only hotel. In order to stay with this woman he dressed up as a woman. He went up the elevator and in. He came out of her place the next day and he went down and out onto the street and of course he's dressed in these women's clothes. People are looking at him and they don't know who it is. People are laughing at him and he couldn't get a cab! He had to walk all the way to his hotel. He told me that was one of the reasons he leaned toward women's clothing - that made him realize how funny it was. That's one of the stories. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I have written down that you played Montreal...

Milt Moss: I played Montreal many times. There was a theater there called The Gaiety Theater. They had acts and they had strippers. It was good, but the opening show was always Monday morning - 12:01 am! They couldn't open before that. Do you understand? That's the way it was with the opening show. I played that theater a lot. There was a place called The Belvedere, there was a place called Canter's, there was another restaurant. A lotta places. I forget a lot of the places I played up there.

Kliph Nesteroff: The name of one was The Bucharest Room, which you played with singing star Taffy Towers and Gene Parr and his Orchestra...

Milt Moss: Yeah, that I don't remember. There were so many different places. Great city. I speak French.

Kliph Nesteroff: You played a club called Casey's in Toledo...

Milt Moss: Oh, yeah. God, I barely remember that. There was a big one... The Grayhaven in Detroit. The Grayhaven. Just thinking off the top of my head... there was The Merry-Go-Round in Youngstown, Ohio. That was a place I played a lot. I got these through people I knew and worked with on radio shows like Can You Top This. I was quite young. I worked my whole life, so I'm pretty happy.

Kliph Nesteroff: I wanted to ask you about Miami Beach, which was such a huge showbiz hub.

Milt Moss: Yes.

Kliph Nesteroff: April 1956 you played The Biltmore Terrace Hotel in Miami. There was also a film shot at Miami Beach that featured a lot of nightclub comics...

Milt Moss: Yeah, with Jerry Lewis. No, I wasn't in it, but some of my friends were.

Kliph Nesteroff: I didn't mean The Bellboy. There's another film called Miami Expose.

Milt Moss: Oh, yeah. I did a character part in that with my good friend Lee J. Cobb. I've got pictures of us together. I played a Spanish hotel police guy. Today you couldn't do that. Even though I'm a master of dialects, you would have to actually be Puerto Rican or Cubana to play a part like that. Yes, it was called Miami Expose. It was the last picture that Edward Arnold made. I didn't meet him. Lee J. Cobb said, "We're gonna go up to New York to do another picture. You're coming with me." It was written up in the papers, but it never came out. He didn't do the picture.

Kliph Nesteroff: What do you remember about the making of the picture? The original title was Shakedown on Biscayne.

Milt Moss: Yeah, that was the working title. I remember several scenes where they were investigating a murder in Havana and we filmed over there. I was having breakfast with Milton Berle just before the movie started shooting. He said, "What are you doing [in the picture]?" I said, "Milton, I've got a big part in the picture! They're paying me two-fifty a week for two weeks!" He picked up the phone and called Pine-Thomas or whoever the hell was the producer was and he got me five hundred a week for four weeks! Now that was Milton Berle. 

One of my other dearest friends was a great talent named Bobby Van. His real name was Robert Stein. What a great talent. What a shame that he died at forty-nine years old - July 31, 1980. A great dancer. His hero was... not Fred Astaire but... the tall, thin guy who played in the Wizard of Oz.

Kliph Nesteroff: Ray Bolger.

Milt Moss: Ray Bolger was his idol, yes, because he did a lot of eccentric dancing.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have great respect for dancers as it's something I wish I could do. I went to a Nicholas Brothers tribute in April in Los Angeles and it was magnificent.

Milt Moss: Oh, yes, they were great, great dancers. So was another guy - you ever hear of Peg Leg Bates?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes.

Milt Moss: I worked a lot of club dates with him, one-nighters. Yeah, he was great. One of the best acts I ever worked with was The Mills Brothers. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Going back to that film Miami Expose. It was directed by an entertaining B-movie maker named Fred F. Sears.

Milt Moss: I don't even remember the director! Would you believe that? I have a copy of it here. I think the woman in it was Patricia Medina, if I'm not mistaken. There was a guy in it, Alan Napier, the tall thin guy. I just had a small part in it, but it was good.

Kliph Nesteroff: You recorded a novelty single called Kitty Swims the Channel...

Milt Moss: Oh yeah! Oh God! My friend, a comedian, had a record company and we did a lot of things on that. That was one of the records and the other one was about Elvis Presley. The name of the record was Around the World with Elwood Pretzel. That was the name of it. There was a little comedian named Bobby Shields, he did the singing voice and I did all the other characters he met along the way.

Kliph Nesteroff: And you collaborated on some of these with a comedian named Lee Tully?

Milt Moss: That was him. September 16, 1991 - he died. Close friend for forty years, Lee Tully. I just spoke to his wife. My God, yeah, his real name (laughs) I keep telling you these things - was Cazden.

Kliph Nesteroff: 1960 - you were playing Pittsburgh's Horizon Room.

Milt Moss: Oh yes, that was Purcell... he was the agent or something and it was with Diana Dors.

Kliph Nesteroff: This gig was with Monique Van Vooren.

Milt Moss: That's the one. That's right. That was a place at the airport out there. Chicago had a lot of great places too. That was the greatest city. That's how I met my wife. I played there at the Hollywood Theater Restaurant and the Casino on the South Side. My wife died eleven years ago and it just tore me apart. We were married forty-two happy years.

Kliph Nesteroff: You appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson as you mentioned earlier. You came on as Howard Hughes' chauffeur.

Milt Moss: Right. His right hand man. I knew Johnny through Stan Irwin who handled him. I knew one of his headwriters and I gave them the idea of doing this put-on. Hank Bradford, he was a comedian who became a writer, and he got me to come on the show. I did an audition and I also came on as an income tax man. The last time I did it as Howard Hughes' man and I asked for a copy of it. They said, "We can give you a copy, but then you don't get paid." I said, "Fine. What do I care?" I was making plenty of money at the time. They gave it to me and it was a film. I had to have it transferred to video tape. He mentions at the end of it, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing." It tore the house down. He was very nice. That night he went up to the Westchester Dinner Theater and did a one-nighter there and he was absolutely fantastic. He did an hour and a half on the stage and I'll never forget it. It was just great - drove up there in the car with my friend Stan Irwin. Carson was very nice - very aloof, but very nice. Very peculiar, but on camera he was great - there was nobody like him. There never will be anyone like him.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you know Morey Amsterdam?

Milt Moss: I met Morey a couple of times. Morey would do club dates when my father belonged to the Masons. He would do these shows. He would sit for two hours with his cello and not repeat a joke for two hours - it was amazing... but I was not close friends with him. Milton Berle told me that Morey Amsterdam was one of the richest men in Hollywood when he died. He made a lot of investments. Berle told me that. He wrote a lot of songs - Rum and Coca Cola... a very talented guy. You ever hear of a thing - Bonds for Israel? I worked for them for over twenty-five years. It was a good income for me. In between other dates I worked for that as a comedian selling bonds. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You also narrated something in the seventies - a film called Gizmo.

Milt Moss: Oh, geez, yes, that's another thing! I almost forgot about that! Yeah, it was based on all inventions in history that failed. They were looking for a guy to do double talk at the beginning and double talk at the end. The guy said, "You have a very pleasant voice. How would you like to do the whole narration?" I said, "Fine! You pay me, I'll do it." It got a nice write-up in Variety. All crazy things. There was a yacht with a rope tied to it and a guy pulling it with his teeth and his teeth come out. All things like that. It was called Gizmo and I narrated the whole thing.

Kliph Nesteroff: How did you connect with Robert Goulet and become his opening act?

Milt Moss: Robert Goulet used a guy named Norm Crosby. His favorite boy. Goulet talked about him all the time when I worked with him! Norm was sick at the time and the agent booked me. It was just fantastic. At the end of the engagement Robert said, "Milt you were terrific and everything, but I want to tell you something. I have to take Norm Crosby." I said, "Thank you, Bob. I appreciate [your hiring me]." One night with Robert Goulet I was at a nightclub outside of Boston. I did my act, forty minutes, killed the people. He goes on, does his thing, does three or four encores. 

All of a sudden a woman comes onstage and lifts up her dress. Nothing underneath. Throws her keys down. Bob yells to the wings, "Milt!" I said, "Forget it! I'm not going out there!" They had to get security and took the girl off and he was able to go on and continue his act. The next day in the newspaper, I'm sorry to this day that I didn't cut the article out, it said, "Robert Goulet Pulls Big Publicity Stunt." Which was not true! Carol Lawrence his wife was backstage. Some crazy woman just did it, but it was not a publicity stunt. Can you imagine that? 


Bobby Wall said...

I just read both Part 1 and Part 2 and they were fantastic! Even though Milt Moss was not as big a star as some of your other interviewees (e.g., Shelley Berman, Shecky Green, etc.), it doesn't matter because they are still such a font of knowledge and information. In fact, people like Milt Moss can even be more interesting than the stars themselves because they are not as isolated. And Milt Moss certainly has been around, hasn't he?

I wish you had gotten more information about Merv Griffin and what Milt's problem with him was all about.

One thing confuses me and that is this: Why on earth would Milt Moss turn down appearances on The Milton Berle Show just to stay with Ray Heatherton? He didn't say that it was a contractual thing. But, jeez! Milton Berle was the biggest thing in show business. This puzzles me. It would be like turning down the Oprah show to do the Wendy Williams show. Makes no sense whatsoever.

And then, to almost lose the Alka-Seltzer commercial was dumb, too. And he realized it, too. And, boy! What it did for his career! I remember that commercial. It was really big!

Interesting about Godfrey. Arthur Godfrey was a known anti-semite and a real bastard. He fired Julius LaRosa ON THE AIR! That's the kind of bastard he was. But the good thing that came of that was that people turned on Godfrey and his ratings went down and his career didn't go too well after that. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy!

And, oh boy Kliph! If you can get Stan Irwin, you'll probably have enough information for a 10-part interview considering all the people he knew. I really hope you can interview him.

Keep the interviews coming! And ask everyone about Jackie Mason. Should be interesting!

Anonymous said...

You are connecting the dots that Drew Friedman misses. Milt Moss is a terrific font of living showbiz history.

Jay Pearlman said...

Back in 1992, I had the pleasure to work with Milt Moss when I made him up as the late (and quite controversial) publisher Robert Maxwell for a surprise personal appearance at a dinner. When I was finished, Milt was a dead-ringer for Maxwell, but his acting was the real tour-de-force - I remember he later told me that some people reacted as if Maxwell himself had risen from the grave!

Since the makeup was done at his apartment, I had the opportunity to meet Milt's late wife. She and Milt were very well-matched, and a lovely couple. They couldn't have been nicer to me. Milt reminisced quite a bit as I transformed him.

He was a gentleman. A total pro and great to work with. Really sorry we never had the opportunity to work together again.