Saturday, May 28, 2011

An Interview with Marty Allen - Part Two

Kliph Nesteroff: I found a billing from November 1950. You and your comedy partner Rex Dale playing The Monte Carlo in Pittsburgh. You were on the bill with a female tap dancer named Lu Claire and a singer named Mildred Don and...

Marty Allen: Yeah, so?

Kliph Nesteroff: Backed up by Bobby Cardillo's Orchestra...

Marty Allen: Yeah, so what?

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, what do you remember about...

Marty Allen: Well, those were the early days when I was the local comic. The comic that was starting to come up out of the ranks of Pittsburgh entertainers. I remember playing there with Lu Claire, the girl dancer. If I remember correctly her brother was the agent. I worked with a lot of people and it was like training in baseball or football. You train in the minors and try to improve yourself and try to decide which way you want to go as a performer. This was the training period in which you try to build yourself and figure out who you are.

Kliph Nesteroff: Eventually you and Steve Rossi became identified with The Sands in Las Vegas...

Marty Allen: Uh huh.

Kliph Nesteroff: But you played The Last Frontier hotel in Vegas as early as 1953 with your comedy partner Mitch DeWood. Was that your first appearance in Vegas?

Marty Allen: No, I believe I played The Sahara first. It was all building toward the big thing. It's all your past. It's all [part of] maturing as a performer.

Kliph Nesteroff: You formed the comedy team Allen and DeWood in 1951. Mitch DeWood was...

Marty Allen: Who?

Kliph Nesteroff: Mitch DeWood. Your comedy partner. He was the cousin of Danny Thomas.

Marty Allen: Oh yeah. Yeah, they were cousins.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did the fact that he was a relative of Danny Thomas help you two...

Marty Allen: No. Danny was a very brilliant comic. A very brilliant comedian. He encouraged us, but he didn't do anything... anything that happened came from our basic talents.

Kliph Nesteroff: Before you and Mitch DeWood broke up you had a taste of big time show business. You played The Copa together. I read that on your closing night you had both Jackie Robinson and the Duchess of Windsor in the crowd.

Marty Allen: (grunts)

Kliph Nesteroff: (silence)

Marty Allen: Well, there were always many celebrities in the audience. There was a restaurant called Danny's Hideaway where all the celebrities used to congregate, have dinner and whatever and usually he would bring whichever celebrities were dining at his restaurant over to The Copa for the opening night. So you'd never know who was going to be in the audience and on any given night there were any number of celebrities - so I can't single out any one particular person. I don't know. Was that in a column?

Kliph Nesteroff: The Billboard vaude-review section.

Marty Allen: Yes, well, I couldn't pick out one or two. Whoever was appearing in town you'd have show up at your opening night. Many a night you'd have the biggest actors, actresses and comedians. You never knew who was going to be in the audience.

Kliph Nesteroff: I heard that while you were playing a gig in Canada, you met Paul Anka long before he was famous.

Marty Allen: Yeah. Yeah. I met his parents. They came to see me at a show and invited me to their home for dinner. That's when I first met Paul. He hadn't begun his career yet. He was just starting singing and writing.

Kliph Nesteroff: Speaking of Canada - did you get to know the comedy team of Wayne and Shuster? Along with Allen and Rossi they were one of Ed Sullivan's favorite comedy teams.

Marty Allen: Oh, yes. Many times on the Sullivan show. They did so many. They were an excellent team and Ed loved them. I don't know how many times they appeared, but I know they did many.

Kliph Nesteroff: They hold the record.

Marty Allen: I'm not sure if they hold the record.

Kliph Nesteroff: Another mainstay of Vegas was comedian Joe E. Lewis.

Marty Allen: He was very likable and a very fantastic comedian, very funny. You know what happened? Sinatra made a movie of his life and he was one of the first acts I remember meeting. I thought he was just so wonderful. What was nice about him was that he was a nice guy to everybody. He wasn't aloof. Just an excellent comic.

Kliph Nesteroff: In 1961 the comedy writer Jay Burton had written a screenplay with Allen and Rossi in mind called Baby Boy.

Marty Allen: Nah.

Kliph Nesteroff: Around the same time you hired Bob Hope's former writer, Gig Henry, to produce some material.

Marty Allen: Well, there were a lot of people that wrote for us. You never knew who they were. I couldn't say it was Bob Hope's writer or this one's writer. They were writing for everyone so you can't single out any one particular writer. All were very good comedy writers and they would write material for you. You never knew what they were going to come up with and if it fit your type of comedy then you were very lucky.

Kliph Nesteroff: Who would be in charge of curating comedy material for Allen and Rossi? Would your manager call for submissions? Was an ad placed in the trades?

Marty Allen: No, no. If you knew of a comedy writer and you told him you had an idea then they would submit it. If it worked out and it was what you had intended then you would buy if off of them. That's how it worked. There were a lot of great comedy writers that eventually got into television and movies. I didn't know if they were Bob Hope's writers! They were comedy writers! They'd submit it. If it was good you would buy it.

Kliph Nesteroff: You and Steve Rossi performed often on The Garry Moore Show. Carol Burnett, of course, was a regular on The Garry Moore Show.

Marty Allen: Yeah.

Kliph Nesteroff: In the early sixties Allen and Rossi teamed with Carol Burnett for a nationwide tour.

Mary Allen: Yes, when she went out on her first tour, which was a smash hit, she was absolutely the darling of everybody on television. Very talented, very likable, and everybody loved her. I believe we went to The Sands Hotel together in Vegas and she broke all records. I had a number that I did with her and Steve and I did something also. The Garry Moore Show was excellent. Garry was very likable and one night we were on with Robert Goulet and Barbara Streisand. We did many of those shows. I eventually ended up doing every show. I got the title "Darling of Daytime Television." I did every game show that was ever on television. I went up and down the dial. I did everything from Beat the Clock to Circus of the Stars. You name it, I've done it.

Kliph Nesteroff: I've seen that episode of The Garry Moore Show with Allen and Rossi, Barbara Streisand and Robert Goulet.

Marty Allen: And I knew right off the bat that Carol Burnett would become one of the biggest stars on television - just by watching her work. She was dynamic.

Kliph Nesteroff: I found a press release from around that time that announced Garry Moore was planning on producing a show that was going to star you and Steve Rossi.

Marty Allen: I don't know what that is. Never heard of it.

Kliph Nesteroff: Allen and Rossi were also slated to have their own TV series in the Fall of 1965 called Hello Dere.

Marty Allen: They always came up with ideas. I don't know how far they'd... you never knew from day to day whether you were going to do a television show or a Broadway show or if you were going to do a movie. Everybody said they were going to do something for Allen and Rossi and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't work. I don't remember it.

Kliph Nesteroff: You two did lots of comedy records and...

Marty Allen: We did a lot of albums and they were big sellers. We did Hello Dere, Hello Dere Again, Batman and Rubin... I remember a whole gang of them. We did very well with the record albums.

Kliph Nesteroff: You also recorded a couple of straight songs...

Marty Allen: I did?

Kliph Nesteroff: You did a single called Israel.

Marty Allen: Oh! I wrote a thing... yeah. Yeah, a long time ago. Uh huh.

Kliph Nesteroff: I read that you sang it on The Mike Douglas Show and then it was released as a single on Roulette Records.

Marty Allen: Uh huh. Uh huh. Yeah. I have it in my files. I believe it was... I'm trying to think when that was. I remember doing it on Mike Douglas and it was very dramatic. It was a different side of me. It was a side of me as a writer and it pleased me very much.

Kliph Nesteroff: That's why I ask. A real departure.

Marty Allen: In fact, I've just finished a book called Hello Dere! Welcome to My Life. It's in the hands of someone who is thinking of publishing it.

Kliph Nesteroff: I saw a photo of you and Steve receiving an award from the National Association of Gag Writers. The award was for Comedy Team of the Year and it was presented to you by the old vaudeville comedy team of Smith and Dale.

Marty Allen: Smith and Dale? The comedy team?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes.

Marty Allen: What year was it?

Kliph Nesteroff: 1962.

Marty Allen: Oh yeah? They were way, way in the early days of vaudeville. Smith and Dale were the Martin and Lewis of that era. Well, we were getting all kinds of awards. I know they were a very popular team. To get an award from them was quite an honor. We kept getting all kinds of awards. It was very rewarding to get these awards. As we kept moving up the ladder we were getting all kinds of, thank goodness, wonderful awards and what they said about us was very, very good.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, you guys were on fire.

Marty Allen: Yeah, we caught fire.

Kliph Nesteroff: You got to know Jimmy Durante fairly well, didn't you?

Marty Allen: Yes, very well. He was a wonderful, lovable man. Very talented and a very lovable man. Very nice man. Very warm. I remember doing something with Jimmy. I think I did an interview with him and he was very kind with me. I knew his wife very well. His wife was a former Copa dancer. My wife and her became very dear friends and I'd go over to his house several times in Beverly Hills. He was one of the greatest performers in our business. One of the great stars of all time.

Kliph Nesteroff: Were you influenced at all by the heyday of Martin and Lewis?

Marty Allen: No. I thought they were wonderful. I thought Dean was a phenomenal straight man and Jerry was a brilliant comedian. They were top notch, but my style was altogether different. I always felt that my style was different. I speak to Jerry... Jerry and I have always gotten along very well. There was no rivalry or competition. We just became very good friends.

Kliph Nesteroff: In the late sixties you and Steve put out a comedy record called Allen and Rossi Meet the Great Society...

Marty Allen: Yeah.

Kliph Nesteroff: There was also a book called Allen and Rossi Meet the Great Society.

Marty Allen: Yeah. The book was a cartoon book. We had our own captions put above [our photos]. It was very funny. A really funny book. We used all kinds of images of people from Washington and people from the movies and it was our own cartoon book and it sold very well.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were the ones who actually wrote the material that's in the book?

Marty Allen: I wrote a lot of the... we wrote a lot of the captions.

Kliph Nesteroff: When you two broke up you started doing dramatic roles. You did an episode of Big Valley with Barbara Stanwyck.

Marty Allen: Yes. I was nominated for all kinds of acting awards because it was a dramatic bit. How it happened was they saw me in Vegas and they told me they had this part. At the time I had the wild crazy hair. He said, "Would you cut your hair?" I said, "Yeah." I played the part of a Jonah. A Jonah is a bad luck guy. If you were on the range or something and the cattle ran away - they'd blame it on the Jonah. They said he was a bad luck kind of guy and he should be off the ranch.

The Barbara Stanwyck and Linda Evans characters come to my defense and say there's no such thing as a Jonah. It was very dramatic and I received many accolades after I did it. Then I did other dramatic bits. I was running up the dial. Steve and I parted very amicably. After we did all these shows and had great success I started getting offers to do all these shows and they couldn't use two guys. We had reached a peak. We parted very friendly and then I became a regular on Hollywood Squares and I got that title "Darling of Daytime Television." I must have done hundreds of game shows. Every game show that came out I was on. Password. Beat the Clock. You name it and I did it.

Kliph Nesteroff: I saw you do a dramatic turn in a low budget film from 1972 called The Ballad of Billie Blue.

Marty Allen: Ballad of Billie Blue. Yeah.

Kliph Nesteroff: What do you recall about that experience? It was a Christian film.

Marty Allen: Yes, it was a religious... well, it became a religious film. It was one of the first dramatic things I did. Then I did a very wonderful film called Mr. Jericho with Connie Stevens and Patrick Macnee from The Avengers. We went to Malta and filmed it in Malta. It was for television. I believe it was for ABC.

Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned that the Ballad of Billie Blue "became" a religious film. Does that mean when you accepted the part it wasn't initially a Christian movie?

Marty Allen: Well, I... it wouldn't matter to me if it was or if it wasn't. I was offered a part and I went ahead and did it. Then after that I did a film called A Whale of a Tale where I played a fisherman. Whether it was religious or not... I think it eventually became religious. I think it wasn't supposed to be at the beginning, but somehow it turned out that way.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was the experience of doing The Last of the Secret Agents like? When I spoke to Steve Rossi he told me it was miserable. He said you two were at odds with the director and the writers.

Marty Allen: Well, the movie was very funny and it was a very excellent movie.

Kliph Nesteroff: (silence)

Marty Allen: We wanted to do more of our routines [in the picture] because it would prove who we were as a comedy team. The director went in a different direction. When you're doing a big film like that and you're a comedy team, you want to do your comedy material. One or two of your [signature] routines to enhance it, but he went in a different direction. But the movie... people say they love the movie! We got tremendous reaction. Have you ever seen it?

Kliph Nesteroff: As much as I could.

Marty Allen: Oh no, it's an excellent movie. Very funny.

Kliph Nesteroff: (silence)

Marty Allen: Nancy Sinatra was in it and wonderful character actors...

Kliph Nesteroff: Lou Jacobi.

Marty Allen: Lou Jacobi, yes. I have people that keep calling me to see if they can re-release it. They think if they showed it today it would be considered a comedy classic.

Kliph Nesteroff: (silence)

Marty Allen: I don't know if Paramount still owns it, but I enjoyed the movie. Every time I have watched it I thought it was funny and not only that, but it was done very well. Very tasteful.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was the experience of working with director Norman Abbott like?

Marty Allen: Well, he was a good friend of ours. We had no problems. It wasn't like we didn't know who Norman Abbott was. He directed in a different way and made it more like a story rather than playing it like us doing routines in the movie. It had a wonderful story idea. And everybody that ever saw it - they thought it was a classic comedy! If it was brought back today people would relate to it.

Kliph Nesteroff: How did you two know Norman Abbott?

Marty Allen: I knew Norman because I had done some things with him for television and we became very good friends.

Kliph Nesteroff: And working with Nancy Sinatra? The movie has a great title song at least.

Marty Allen: Oh yes. I was friends with Nancy long before the movie. I knew her and Frank Jr. for a long, long time before the movie ever came out because I knew the family very well. I knew her mother Nancy Sr. and I knew Tina. I knew them all. I thought she did an excellent job in the movie.

Kliph Nesteroff: I watched you recently on a Dean Martin Roast of Redd Foxx. How well did you know Redd?

Marty Allen: I knew all these guys because we were all working different gigs together and came in touch with each other. We just became friends. Not bosom buddies. In the early days we all used to meet in New York when we were all playing different gigs. There was a drugstore, I remember, called Hanson's Drugstore. All the comics would meet there after they played their different gigs. That's how we all met and got to know each other. We bonded. They don't have that today. It's a whole different ballgame. There isn't one place where they all meet.

Kliph Nesteroff: So many of the guys talk about Hanson's reverently. Hanson's and also the B&G Coffee Shop and...

Marty Allen: Yeah! You know, you'd meet in a coffee shop, "Hey! How'd you do?" "Oh, it was wonderful!" "Where'd you play?" At that time the Catskills were hot and all the comics were playing the Catskills and the different hotels. A lot of them were playing different places in New York, you know, and we'd all meet and talk about the particular places we played. That's how we got bonding between each and every one of us.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you enjoy being a solo performer in between comedy teams?

Marty Allen: Yeah. Mmm hmm. I did. I enjoyed it very much. I could have matured into a single performer. I worked toward it but... I certainly could have made it solo.

Julia (1968)

The Dating Game with celebrity contestants Bill Bixby and Richard Dawson (1968)

The Jack Benny Program with guest Milton Berle (1965)

The Lucy Show with special guest stars Charlie Cantor, Milton Frome and Milton Berle (1965)

Classic Television Showbiz's Late Late Show: Charlie Chan in the Chinese Cat (1944)

Friday, May 27, 2011

An Interview with Milton Delugg - Part Two

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

Milton Delugg: Sure.

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

Milton Delugg: And he became a star.

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

Milton Delugg: Yup.

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

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

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

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

Kliph Nesteroff: Also Allan Sherman.

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

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

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

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

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

Kliph Nesteroff: Was that Charge Account?

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

Kliph Nesteroff: No.

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

Kliph Nesteroff: The original teleprompter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kliph Nesteroff: Was he difficult, though?

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

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

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

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

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

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, really?

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

Kliph Nesteroff: Wow, I had no idea.

Milton Delugg: Early sixties.

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

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

Kliph Nesteroff: Phil Silvers was great in Top Banana.

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

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

Milton Delugg: And he did (laughs).

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

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

Kliph Nesteroff: I must ask you about Fred Allen.

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

Kliph Nesteroff: Judge for Yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kliph Nesteroff: The director was Jerome Schnur.

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

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

Milton Delugg: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milton Delugg: Sure!

Kliph Nesteroff: What do you remember about that?

Milton Delugg: I remember I did the music!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

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

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

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

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

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

Kliph Nesteroff: Hell, yes. Of course.

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

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

Milton Delugg: Yup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Milton Delugg: Kliph, it was remarkable.

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

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

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

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

Kliph Nesteroff: Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milton Delugg: No kidding!

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

Milton Delugg: (gasps)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kliph Nesteroff: No!

Milton Delugg: That was in the sixties!

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

Milton Delugg: Good Lord. 

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

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