Friday, June 10, 2011

An Interview with E. Duke Vincent

E. Duke Vincent: I spent a lot of time in your city. I was a television producer for years and years and years, so we were always up there shooting shows.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, there are some large, permanent studios here. MGM has a colossal concourse. North Vancouver has some big lots. The first one to set up shop was Robert Altman. He filmed McCabe and Mrs. Miller in North Vancouver and named his company Lionsgate after the bridge there - the Lions Gate Bridge.

E. Duke Vincent: Sure, sure. How long have you been doing this?

Kliph Nesteroff: I've been writing about show business ever since I left show business.

E. Duke Vincent: Super. Did you ever do anything on Pat Cooper?

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) Yes, actually.

E. Duke Vincent: The reason I ask is because Pat wrote a book and I'm in his book.

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, right. Yeah, I haven't read his book, but I did interview him and it was such a fun interview...

E. Duke Vincent: Oh, God.

Kliph Nesteroff: When someone gets so worked up like that it always makes for great copy...

E. Duke Vincent: (laughs) Patsy Caputo! We did a pilot with Pat for NBC. I forget what year it was. Sometime in the mid-eighties I think. I can't tell you how much fun we had with this guy. But what happened was... have you seen Pat do his act?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes.

E. Duke Vincent: So you know Pat does all of his relatives. I wrote a script and wrote parts for all of his relatives and him. We cast all of his relatives. They were all brilliant! Pat however...

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

E. Duke Vincent: Was not that funny! It was hysterical! I could not believe what was going on! Garry Marshall, a very famous director, directed the pilot. Pat was making us crazy because he just couldn't get into the "non-character" so to speak. In any event, he wrote three pages about it in his book and I got hysterical about it all over again.

Kliph Nesteroff: I wasn't able to get a copy of his book before I interviewed him, which was great when he asked me if I had read his book...

E. Duke Vincent: Uh oh!

Kliph Nesteroff: You can imagine his reaction. Then again that's his reaction to everything.

E. Duke Vincent: Interestingly enough, when you talk to him as you or I would just talk to him - he's fine. But try and get him to play a character - a character that's supposed to be him... he freezes. I couldn't believe what was going on.

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, sometimes stand-up comics are just great being their naked selves and to alter that in any way - they can't do it. Even a guy as brilliant as George Carlin, perhaps the greatest comedian of all time, was not a good actor. Even he would admit that. Yet, he could transform himself to do great characters onstage.

E. Duke Vincent: Jackie Gleason was a great actor and a great comic, but there are very few who could do both.

Kliph Nesteroff: Richard Pryor was one of the few to master both...

E. Duke Vincent: Yes, he was. He was magnificent.

Kliph Nesteroff: You mention Pat Cooper. On the topic of angry comedians, I was just speaking with Jack Carter...

E. Duke Vincent: Oh God, yeah.

Kliph Nesteroff: I find him fascinating as well. When he's at his angriest it's when he is at his most entertaining.

E. Duke Vincent: And he's the funniest. These guys, they are all legends at this point. That age group. They're in their sixties, early seventies... some of them mid-seventies. Jack Carter has got to be seventy-five, isn't he?

Kliph Nesteroff: Actually, Jack Carter is almost ninety.

E. Duke Vincent: Is he really? Oh my God, I didn't realize he was around that long. Wow.

Kliph Nesteroff: He's been around forever. He had one of the very first TV variety shows. He had his first television show starting in 1948.

E. Duke Vincent: God, I don't remember that.

Kliph Nesteroff: The Jack Carter Show was the lead in to Your Show of Shows...

E. Duke Vincent: Sid Caesar. Boy, talk about a talent. He lived... when I was in Beverly Hills for many years working with Aaron Spelling... twenty-nine years I was with Aaron Spelling... Sid Caesar lived about ten blocks [away]. I used to walk a lot and he used to walk a lot and I used to see him when I walked. You know, we'd wave and say, "Hi, how are ya?" I was never a friend of his, so I really didn't know him, but I'd see him all the time.

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, let's talk a bit about your television career. I understand that one of your first gigs was writing for the somewhat forgotten Bill Persky and Sam Denoff sitcom Good Morning, World.

E. Duke Vincent: (laughs) You've done your research! I did. I came out here [to Southern California]. I had written some spec scripts for the old Dick Van Dyke Show to prove I could write half-hour comedy. The Dick Van Dyke Show ended before I got a chance to do it, but they liked my scripts and they hired me to do Good Morning, World. That was Persky, Denoff, Carl Reiner and Sheldon Leonard. If you recall that was the first show in which we discovered Goldie Hawn.

Kliph Nesteroff: Right.

E. Duke Vincent: It was a great experience. Persky and Denoff, I think to this day, were two of the best producer/head writers that were ever in television. They, of course, did The Dick Van Dyke Show, as you know. Carl Reiner - what else can you say? You say Carl Reiner, you've said it all. They took me under their wing and I worked for them that year, but the show failed. However, what happened was that Dick Van Dyke wanted to do a movie with Carl Reiner and Aaron Ruben. Aaron Ruben was the creator, head writer and producer of the Gomer Pyle show. He said to Carl, "I can't go do that movie. If I go do that movie then I'd have to leave Gomer Pyle - and it's one of the top ten shows in the country. I can't do that." Carl Reiner said, "Don't worry about it. Persky, Denoff and I have got your man." "Who?" "Duke Vincent and his partner Bruce Johnson." "Never heard of 'em." And of course he hadn't! Nobody had!

But then Carl and Billy and Sam said to Aaron Ruben, "We guarantee the scripts. If they don't write them right and can't write them we'll do it!" Now what kinda back-up could you want better than that? Aaron gave me and Bruce Johnson, my writing partner at the time, one of the top shows in the country! We hadn't done anything. Just half a season of Good Morning, World. Then the show continued to be a hit, we did it and we did it well. Jim Nabors and myself and Bruce got along really well. Jim decided he didn't want to do Gomer Pyle anymore. It was in its fifth year and we did its fifth year. We said, "What are you going to do?" Jim said, "Well, we want to do a variety show and I want you two to produce it." We said, "Oh, great... can't wait to hear what CBS says when you tell them you want us two [unknown writers] to produce a variety show!" First, we never did a half hour - and now we've never done variety. I said, "They're going to go crazy." Well, they did. CBS wanted, you know, Greg Garrison. They wanted a guy who knew what the hell he was doing!

So Jim Nabors said, and I don't think this ever happens [today], "They don't do it - I don't do it." Pow. He forced CBS to hire us as the writer/producers of The Jim Nabors Hour. We did it. It was a hit. We did very well until a young talent came in and moved the timeslot so that we were opposite Flip Wilson. That's what happened to The Jim Nabors Hour. But for three years we did good.

Kliph Nesteroff: You ended up working on three straight programs with Ronnie Schell then.

E. Duke Vincent: Sure. I explained the kind of loyalty Jim had. When we did the variety show he said, "I want to hire Ronnie Schell and... oh my God, I'm forgetting Sergeant Carter's name...

Kliph Nesteroff: Frank Sutton.

E. Duke Vincent: Frank Sutton. We said, "Sure." So we did a thing within the variety show each week called The Brothers-In-Law. It was Frank and Jim as brothers-in-law and it was a fifteen minute sketch or so each week. Part of what happened was Freddy Silverman took over [the network]. He's a brilliant guy and he's a friend of mine to this day. He took over and he didn't like The Brothers-In-Law. He hated the sketch and he said, "I want to see more short sketches, so you have got to get rid of The Brothers-In-Law." Well, that meant getting rid of Frank Sutton. I went to Jim and said, "We've got a problem. Fred doesn't want us to do the sketch and he doesn't want Frank Sutton." Jim said, "No Frank Sutton? No show!" This time Freddy Silverman said, "No show."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

E. Duke Vincent: (laughs) So it goes both ways. That's the beginning of my story.

Kliph Nesteroff: How did you get your Dick Van Dyke spec scripts into the hands of the producers?

E. Duke Vincent: I was in the navy. I flew with the Blue Angels. When I got out I went to New York and there was a company called Seven Arts, which turned into Warner Brothers Seven Arts, but at that time they were just Seven Arts. They wanted to do a show at RKO General in New York about the space program. I applied for the job with a guy named Arnie Kane who went on to do a lot of half hour shows. Long story short, I proved to them I could do a five hour documentary called Man in Space. They gave us the job, we did it, it was a huge hit for RKO and Seven Arts. The last part brought us out [to California] to Jet Propulsion Laboratories. Arnie Kane was a dear friend from back in New York of who? Bill Persky and Sam Denoff. So he said to me, "You want to go see a Dick Van Dyke Show?" I said, "Sure."

So we went to a filming. I said to Arnie, "I think I can write this stuff." He introduced me to Billy and Sam and I told them that. Then Carl said, "You think you can write it? Go home and write it. Send us a script." I did. And then another one. And another one. Finally they said, "We think this guy can write. Come on out." So I moved to the West Coast from New York.

Kliph Nesteroff: A gilded life.

E. Duke Vincent: I really did. They say luck is when opportunity meets preparation and I get that. The fact of the matter is that other people have to help you. They just have to in order for you to become a success. I don't think the kids today get the kind of opportunities that I did with the kind of people that were around in show business in what I call the golden years; the Sheldon Leonards and the Carl Reiners and the Persky and Denoffs of this world. And the Jim Nabors! He was a big star! Huge! He didn't have to do that, but he did! He liked what we did and we had a lot of fun together. He said, "I just want to sing and have fun." That's the story of how I broke into show business.

Kliph Nesteroff: Tell me about working with Sheldon Leonard.

E. Duke Vincent: He was basically my mentor. He was the Aaron Spelling of his time. You have Jerry Bruckheimer today. There is always some huge, massive figure. You've got to remember what Sheldon did. He was an actor. I still see Guys n' Dolls and I laugh my head off. Sheldon did not only hour [television], but half hour. He introduced the first black - white relationship in television with I Spy. He was at every reading of every show we ever did. When I say "we" I'm talking about Good Morning, World. He had nothing to do with Gomer Pyle. He was at every reading of every show on The Dick Van Dyke Show. All the shows that he did. At one time, I think, Sheldon was the most powerful man in Hollywood.

Kliph Nesteroff: Certainly.

E. Duke Vincent: He was absolutely on top of his game and, once again, a sweetheart of a guy. He totally approved when Carl and Billy and Sam said, "We will guarantee the scripts." He said, "Absolutely. Do it!" So these were, in my mind, giants.

Kliph Nesteroff: Now a man I find impressive - he worked with Fred Allen and he worked with Nat Hiken - Aaron Ruben.

E. Duke Vincent: Aaron Ruben hired us for Gomer Pyle after Good Morning, World. Aaron had wanted to do a show called Baggy Pants - I can't remember what they finally called it when it came out. It was a movie for Paramount. That's when Carl said, "We've got the guys." Aaron Ruben would come to see us once a week when we came out with the new script. He would read it with us and make whatever suggestions. We worked with Aaron that entire year.

Kliph Nesteroff: He just passed away a year ago.

E. Duke Vincent: I just heard that. I did not hear it when he passed away.

Kliph Nesteroff: He was ninety-five.

E. Duke Vincent: Great writer.

Kliph Nesteroff: What do you remember about Billy DeWolfe?

E. Duke Vincent: (laughs hysterically) Does that answer your question? (laughs) Billy DeWolfe was one of the funniest human beings on the face of the earth. He lived in a place - a floor below Sophie Tucker... oh no... no, not Sophie Tucker um...  come up and see me some time...

Kliph Nesteroff: Mae West.

E. Duke Vincent: Mae West! He lived a floor below Mae West. He used to talk about all the body builders that would be in the elevator when he went up and down. He would tell stories about that and he always referred to himself as Mr. DeWolfe. Never Billy. I was Mr. Vincent. He lived on Rosemere in Los Angeles. He'd say, "Mr. DeWolfe could never live on a street called Oxnard. I would have to live on a street called Rosemere." Billy didn't understand the idioms of America too much. Good Morning, World was about two disk jockeys and Billy played the head of the station. So, Billy walks in while Ronnie Schell and Jobie Baker are using two putters to putt golf balls into glasses while a record is playing and they're not on the air. Billy walks in, looks at them and says, "Ah! Playing with your putts?" Well, of course, "Putz" is a Jewish world like schlong and we got it in. The censors finally caught wind and we had to take it out. When we did it before the studio audience the crowd went crazy. Billy had this look on his face like, "What the hell happened? What did I say?" He had no idea what the joke was.

Kliph Nesteroff: Ronnie Schell told me that Billy DeWolfe used to phone him at home and give him a hysterical play-by-play narrative of everything that he was watching on TV at the moment.

E. Duke Vincent: (laughs) He was a funny man.

Kliph Nesteroff: You also wrote a pair of Doris Day shows.

E. Duke Vincent: Yes, I did. That was when Bruce and I were partners. I forget how we got introduced to Doris Day. Oh, I know who it was! It was the director of the show who was a friend of Bruce Johnson's and he had heard about our scripts for Gomer Pyle. He said, "We'd like you to try write a couple for Doris Day if you have time." So we wrote a couple and we went to the set, but Doris Day's set was a closed set. We couldn't get on the set. We said, "But we're the writers!" They said, "It doesn't matter. You can't go on the set." We said, "But she wants corrections!" They said, "Phone her." We did this for about a week and a half. We finally got on the set and she turned out to be a sweetheart. She was another huge talent. One of the guys who was executive producer of that show was also an executive at one point at CBS.

Kliph Nesteroff: Seems like that era of television - the whole thing could be very incestuous with the same producers and writers and directors and character actors constantly crossing paths...

E. Duke Vincent: Yes, and in fact the same lot where we shot Gomer Pyle was on the same lot as That Girl, same lot as Hogan's Heroes, same lot as The Andy Griffith Show - it was all Desilu-Cahuenga. There was a commissary there called Hal's Cafe. Every lunchtime you would see some of the most famous people in Hollywood in Hal's Cafe having very bad food. Hal was walking around and Garry Marshall would say, "Hal looks like there was a cockfight on his apron." And he did! He wore the same apron for weeks at a time.

Kliph Nesteroff: This must have been an interesting time to be involved in television comedy as there were two different styles emerging. Norman Lear was revolutionizing the sitcom by making them issue oriented...

E. Duke Vincent: Correct.

Kliph Nesteroff: You worked on a show that was in a grittier direction than, say, something like Gomer Pyle or Good Morning, World, yet not quite as meaty as All in the Family or Maude... but it was getting there. A sitcom starring Herschel Bernardi called Arnie.

E. Duke Vincent: Yes.

Kliph Nesteroff: What can you tell me about your experience working on Arnie?

E. Duke Vincent: Well, we got hired by the man who created it. A friend of Bruce Johnson's. He was a director/writer and a very good one. He wanted to go off and do movies and he needed someone to do Arnie, which was a hit at that point and time. It was out of 20th Century Fox. We talked to him, he hired us and he said, "Well, you've got to go meet Herschel Bernardi." We said, "Sure. Where does he live?" He said, "Well, he lives somewhere up in the mountains." We said, "What do you mean the mountains?" "Well, he lives some place around where the big trees grow." It was a mining town up in the California mountains. We had to take a small plane there! There were no taxis. It was this little airport. We had to get a guide to take us to where Herschel lived and we had a hard time finding it.

Basically, it was a bungalow with a well and no running water. He was living with an Indian lady and camping out, as it were. We said, "What the hell have we got ourselves into?" Then we stayed the night with him - in sleeping bags! But we had a helluva good time with him. He was very funny. He was very with it. He understood exactly what he wanted the show to be. We got along well and we did the show for the next year. Unfortunately, again, we got involved in a timeslot change. With the change of timeslot the show's ratings dropped off and we got canceled. It was only two years.

Kliph Nesteroff: That's an interesting story about Bernardi. I had heard a similar story about the old character actor Elisha Cook Jr.

E. Duke Vincent: Oh, sure.

Kliph Nesteroff: During the height of his fame when he was doing a lot of parts, he moved out into the woods or the mountains and refused to have a phone. Whenever some casting director wanted to use him, well, everyone knew where he lived - it was way out of the way - and they would have to physically go to him. He was so confidant with his position as an in-demand character actor that he could have his way and the Hollywood producers pretty much all conceded to this unorthodox procedure.

E. Duke Vincent: Oh, dear. Well, y'know, whatever it takes. You know, I don't remember if Herschel had a phone. The guy who created the show, David Swift, said they sent a telegram that said his two new producer/writers would be arriving. I think that's how they got him. I don't think he had a telephone! I don't remember one.

Kliph Nesteroff: I really liked the show Arnie. It's underrated.

E. Duke Vincent: Well, it had that other great character actor in it... the guy that was in M*A*S*H.

Kliph Nesteroff: Harry Morgan?

E. Duke Vincent: No, not Harry Morgan. The guy who was very stoic. Roger Bowen. He was the boss on Arnie. He was a lot of fun too.

Kliph Nesteroff: Olan Soule was in several episodes of Arnie.

E. Duke Vincent: Yes, he was. I didn't get to know him very well.

Kliph Nesteroff: A lot of these guys you don't hear much about, but you sure know their faces. Herb Voland is another.

E. Duke Vincent: Oh, yes. I remember Herb.

Kliph Nesteroff: And a gentleman who you worked with before on Gomer Pyle - Allan Melvin.

E. Duke Vincent: Oh, of course. Allan was terrific. He was a lot of fun. I don't remember too much about Herb Voland because we were so busy at the time. We were also producing a show called SHARE, which is the big variety show in Hollywood. I spent less time on the sound stages than Bruce did, so I didn't get to know a lot of these people as well as he did. But what can I tell you? All of these guys were professionals. They wanted the work, they enjoyed working, they never caused a problem. They were the antithesis of star problems. All of them! By the way, that includes Herschel Bernardi. In those days you had total, complete professionals. In my later career I ran into people that, although they were professional, had egos the size of my house! And it wasn't as much fun. But be that as it may, that was the business that we were in.

Kliph Nesteroff: Why do you think there was a difference between generations of actors in that capacity?

E. Duke Vincent: Well... that's a damned good question. We talk about the "Greatest Generation." All of the people we are talking about are basically from that generation. I think everything changed exponentially when you had the era of the sixties. Rock n' roll, free love, hippies - that changed a lot of people and I'm not saying for the better or for the worse. I think that was the change that happened, of course, during the era of the Vietnam War. You had a huge shift in attitudes and people. Do you think they would have ever burned the flag during the Second World War? I mean forget about it. So you had to really... I mean, that affected entertainment. Motion pictures changed. You had Easy Rider and a lot of things happened during those years and it affected those that came later - either for better or for worse - but who the hell knows. That's a matter of opinion.

Kliph Nesteroff: I always had a theory... we're talking about the professionals that could go in there and do the job without ego getting in the way or performers that had a sense of humility yet a sense of confidence and purpose. It's just a layman's theory, but perhaps that comes out of the fact that a lot of these character guys came out of the trenches of working on the stage and vaudeville and had to really gain their chops in both a prolific and humble way...

E. Duke Vincent: You're absolutely right. I'm glad you... yeah. I agree with you completely on that. It was a... what's the right word? You learned... you went to school in the theater so to speak. You didn't learn at UCLA. I think you're right. It's interesting because it's a different attitude. I got a great story for you about Dynasty. The original guy we cast in Dynasty as the male lead was George Peppard. We were seven or eight days in and George was becoming a huge problem. Why? I am not quite sure. Of course, he was a big star; Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Blue Max, y'know. So, he was a big star, but on screen it really wasn't working too well. I talked to Aaron Spelling and Richard and Esther Shapiro who created the show and I said, "You know, guys. This just isn't working. We've got to do something." The long and the short of it is we shut down, let George Peppard go and the rest is history because Spelling picked up the phone and said, "Get me John Forsythe." So, you know, and that show was a lot of fun. But I think the show that I had the most fun doing was Vega$ because I was in Vegas doing Vega$. How bad could it be? I had Bob Eurich and Tony Curtis and Phyllis Davis and Greg Morris! I mean it was fantastic! And they were all pros.

Kliph Nesteroff: The theme of Las Vegas comes up in your post-television career as a novelist and in your new book The Camelot Conspiracy.

E. Duke Vincent: Yes. Basically, the book is about the deal the CIA makes with the Mob. It's a historical novel. There are eighty some odd historical characters. It begins with the deal the CIA made with the Mob to assassinate Fidel Castro during the last years of the Eisenhower administration. The quid pro quo for killing Castro was that the feds were going to allow the Mob to operate with comparative impunity. But what happened next was that JFK was elected President. He made Bobby Kennedy the Attorney General and the deal was blown out of the water when Bobby went after the Mob and in particular Jimmy Hoffa. Well, Hoffa was key to the Teamsters Pension Fund, which made the loans to the Mob to build their Las Vegas casinos. Well, since they had lost their Havana casinos when Castro took over, they needed Hoffa more than ever. So the plan was hatched to eliminate Bobby by assassinating his brother the President. They figured if they assassinated Bobby they would put in a like-minded Attorney General in his place. But assassinating the President meant that Lyndon Johnson would become President and throw Bobby, who everyone knew he hated, out of office. Which is exactly what happened and they got what they wanted.

Kliph Nesteroff: You, of course, lived through this whole period. To what do you attribute your fascination...

E. Duke Vincent: Well, when John Kennedy was elected President I was a Navy aviator flying with the Blue Angels. The new President was not only young and handsome and charismatic, he was a former naval officer and a hero! We were all very proud of him and we thought of him as one of us. So, when he was assassinated it was a tremendous shock and the conspiracy theories that started involving his brother Bobby became more and more fascinating to me. Almost everybody had a theory. The books came pouring out with magazine articles and interviews and government investigations. Even the movie JFK from Oliver Stone and I have voraciously followed all of this stuff over the years. So, for my fourth novel I decided to use what I suspected could be the truth as the background for a historical novel. I created a bunch of fictional characters to go along with the historical characters and called it The Camelot Conspiracy.

Kliph Nesteroff: And your next book will be about Vaughn Meader?

E. Duke Vincent: (laughs) God, there's a name I haven't heard in a bunch of years! What a career he had until the assassination.

Kliph Nesteroff: I'm going to write my own novel. The premise is that JFK was assassinated by a comedian that hated Vaughn Meader.

E. Duke Vincent: God, that's a funny notion. Vaughn Meader. What the hell ever happened to Vaughn Meader?

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, it's a terrible story. He went a bit crazy when he was unable to salvage his career. Fell heavy into drugs, turned into a mountain man - walked across the desert high on acid - found God - became a folk singer in Maine or something. It's kind of a common showbiz story in a way. When someone has such immediate and sudden success, as opposed to having a gradual build, it then tends to crash and end with equal immediacy... and then what that does to their own mind, well...

E. Duke Vincent: God, yeah, I guess...

Kliph Nesteroff: The First Family was not just the best selling comedy record of all time - at that moment it became the best selling record of all time period. I think he was supposed to be doing that shtick on Ed Sullivan the week of the assassination and that appearance got cancelled... I think so. I'd have to check.

E. Duke Vincent: Wow.

Kliph Nesteroff: And all of his appearances got cancelled after that because who wants to see...

E. Duke Vincent: Yeah, you can't do it. You can't do it. What a sad story. A lot of people were affected. Those three years, wow. You've got the CIA deal with the Mob, then he's in the Oval Office for three months and you've got the Bay of Pigs and then the invasion fails... then we come up with the Cuban Missile Crisis ... that's the backdrop of my book.

Kliph Nesteroff: To bring it back round to show business for a moment. Your books also have elements of The Rat Pack. You became good friends with Sammy Davis Jr. in real life...

E. Duke Vincent: I met Sammy when I was in New York as a kid living in Hell's Kitchen with my family. We used to go to Harlem all the time to see the jazz clubs. I used to play trumpet. One night I was in a club, I believe it was called The Rio. There was a singer there, this great singer was with a black group onstage. I think she was singing Green Dolphin Street. This guy next to me was screaming and clapping and saying, "Geez, she's terrific!" I said to him, "Yes, she really is. Do you know her?" He said, "No, but I come and see her a lot because I'm working around the corner." I said, "Where's that?" He said, "The Apollo," I said, "Really? What do you do?" He said, "I'm in an act called The Will Mastin Trio. My name is Sammy Davis Jr." That's where we met! That was 1950. In 1960 I was flying with the Blue Angels and we flew into the Air Force base in Las Vegas and that was when The Rat Pack was, so I called him.

He said, "Yeah! I remember! Come down and see me!" I met the gang and we became friends and later when I got out of the Navy and came out to the West Coast I would see Sammy a lot. When I got my divorce I actuallly lived with him for a few months. Then when I did the show Vega$ he, of course, was still there. And one of the guys I met was Johnny Roselli who was the Mob's man in Las Vegas and in Los Angeles. Johnny knew all of them and he was actually the guy who contacted Howard Hughes's man Bob Maheu to make the connection for the Mob to make the deal to assassinate Castro. Circles within circles within circles.

Kliph Nesteroff: The connection between the Mob and nightclubs, Vegas and the whole underbelly is eternally intriguing. 

E. Duke Vincent: It was interesting. Obviously they knew the Mob because the Mob ran all the big showrooms. In order to get into showrooms, you had to get to know them. Very few people don't know about Sinatra's association with Sam Giancana and the fact that his first job at The Riviera in Fort Lee, New Jersey...

Kliph Nesteroff: Bill Miller's Riviera.

E. Duke Vincent: Bill Miller's Riviera was at that point owned by a Jersey Mobster and his mother was instrumental in getting Sinatra that job. All through the years - and if you read the Dean Martin book by Nick Tosches - they were in and around the Mob all the time. Especially in Las Vegas. Until Hughes came along, all the hotels were Mob owned.

Kliph Nesteroff: One thing I want to ask you about, just before I let you go, is another forgotten television show that you were a part of called Temperatures Rising.

E. Duke Vincent: Oh my God! Yes. There were two shows. One was called The Paul Lynde Show and the other was called Temperatures Rising. We were at Columbia. Screen Gems. Both shows were faling. The head of ABC at the time got an idea that the thing to do was to combine the shows and make Paul Lynde the head of the hospital in Temperatures Rising. He brought us in to do it and I said, "You know what might work? There's a new hit called Hospital. If we use that premise - this is a hospital that is completely screwed up maybe we can do something with this." And that's exactly what we did and it was black comedy the way Hospital was. Well, the audience didn't buy that at all. They just didn't get it. It was funny if you like black comedy, but if you don't it would disturb you. So the show failed miserably and we lost the job and the show.

Kliph Nesteroff: It's a show that has been lost to the ages. Not too many people bring it up.

E. Duke Vincent: No, with good reason!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) But Cleavon Little was in it before he was in Blazing Saddles.

E. Duke Vincent: Yes, Cleavon was in it and he was very good and Paul was Paul. You don't do anything with Paul Lynde, but let him be Paul Lynde. Cleavon was the straight-man and Paul was only trying to protect the hospital to make sure he didn't get any insurance claims. That's what the show was basically.

Kliph Nesteroff: I've only ever seen clips of it, but it sure looks amusing.

E. Duke Vincent: Well, we thought it was hysterical, but the audience didn't (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, that's show business.

E. Duke Vincent: Yes, it is.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Kliph Nesteroff's Oral History of Hockey Night in Canada - The Dave Hodge Pen Flip (1986)

From the unpublished Oral History of Hockey Night in Canada by Kliph Nesteroff.

Bill Good, Broadcaster: I remember when Dave Hodge threw the pencil in the air in disgust - when they made him wrap up a game that wasn’t completed yet to go to a previously scheduled broadcast.

Dave Hodge, Host: It was a pen.

Bill Good: They’d gone into a second game going into overtime to fill time on the network and they made him bail on the game that they were in. He was obviously furious and that was the beginning of the end for Dave at CBC.

Frank Selke Jr, Executive Vice President: It certainly didn’t take long for the CBC to say “no more.”

Steve Armitage, Broadcaster: He left under less than ideal circumstances. He was very critical of the CBC’s decision not to pursue a game that went into overtime. I was there the night he threw the pen in the air, but that had a little bit of a history.  

Jim Robson, Play-by-Play: He was very good on camera, but there was always politics involved. For example, when he had his disagreement with the famous tossing the pen in the air. I think at that time he was negotiating a new contract and there was some kind of a difficulty in that. So there were other factors involved. It wasn’t simply that incident … There was a timing problem. They were going to overtime and decided not to carry it. Some decision was made to go to [other] CBC programming, I guess, and Dave used that to protest on-air. That lead to him leaving the CBC and Hockey Night in Canada, but that wasn’t the only factor, I don’t think. 

Steve Armitage: Dave had been critical on-air of the CBC management’s decision. Dave had been involved in a telecast that afternoon where [they had cut] away from a curling match and it involved B.C. in The Briar and it was [with] Bernie Sparks. I was doing skiing that weekend, and I was in the truck, where that decision had been made to cut away from The Briar to an NDP political convention in Ontario. Dave had been critical of that CBC decision – it had nothing to do with hockey. 

Dave Hodge: Well, Bob Cole and I and perhaps some others were in the studio just before six PM eastern time watching the Briar. Newfoundland was playing, so Bob was terribly eager to follow the progress of every rock. As six o’clock came the CBC cut away for news. Bob was furious. I shook my head and said, “This is no way to run a network,” and thought no more about it at the time. Until we hit the evening of hockey.

Steve Armitage: When Dave ended up making the stink about “the asinine” decision to leave a hockey game in overtime, Dave brought that in to play. He said, “This is the same network that left curling to go to the NDP convention and the only reason they did it,” in Dave’s way of thinking, “was because it was Ontario. Had it been any other part of the country it probably wouldn’t have happened.” We had done skiing that afternoon and then we went to curling and the curling was going [long] so the decision was made to cut to the convention. The [western feed cut to] Star Trek! So, that was eating away at Dave. 

Frank Selke Jr: CBC has made some very strange decisions in its history and that was one of them.

Steve Armitage: The final blow for Dave came when he had to pull the pin on coverage of an overtime game [the same day] … Dave had been told, “Hey, you’re paid to do a certain job. Your job is to do Hockey Night in Canada, you don’t schedule the network.” This was a network scheduling decision that was made, right or wrong.

Dave Hodge: The Leafs game ended. We threw over to the end of a Philly-Montreal game which Montreal was leading three to two until Scott Mellanby tied it up and it went to overtime and again the CBC cut away from the game, or made plans to go to other programming. I got the message in my ear to explain that we had no more time to cover this game. I remember pleading with the producer in the truck to sign off with a wide shot and I would be prepared to deliver verbally that message – but I did not want to have to come on camera and explain this policy. Clearly, I didn’t agree with it. Hadn’t agreed with it earlier in the day. More so, wasn’t in line with it when it was involving me directly. They said, “No. Sorry. The way to do this is to come on camera and apologize to the viewers.” I probably had five or ten seconds between actually been told that and being on the air. So, I didn’t have a chance to really compose myself.

Steve Armitage: You can’t talk about those kinds of things on the air. You’re airing internal dirty laundry. When everybody says to me, “It was the throwing of the pen and the comments before that, that led to his firing,” I tell people there had been a little bit of a build-up before that. It had been explained to him that if you continue in this manner you’re walking down the wrong road. Nothing but bad can come out of this … At that point he just said, “Screw it.” In his philosophy he couldn’t believe that they would do this. “I’m saying what I’m saying and to hell with the consequences!”

Frank Selke Jr: He felt that, as did everyone else connected to the show, we’re over here in Toronto, but let’s go to Montreal to finish the evening with this great [hockey] struggle that’s going on in Montreal … very quickly, he was told in his ear that the network says we’re not going to Montreal, we’re going to the news. And that’s when the pen was flipped and he made his statement to the effect of “What kind of a network is this that we’re dealing with?” to paraphrase. It was pretty obvious that he was fed up with the way the network was treating the hockey telecasts. “Hey, the news can wait for five minutes for gosh sakes,” and surely it could have. 

Dave Hodge: I said what I said, and I did what I did. I walked out of the studio – and realized I would probably never be going back in.

Harry Neale, Color Commentator: We went down to the Westin Hotel after. I was staying there and I said, “Why don’t you come down for a beer?” and we had a beer and neither one of us knew what was going to happen then. 

John Shannon, Producer: I had already been hired at Global [Television]. Twenty minutes later I phoned Hodge at his hotel and offered him the hosting job on Global - twenty minutes after his walking off the Hockey Night set.

Dave Hodge: I remember both of those things. I didn’t, as time went on, think what I did was that bad. At the time, I knew what the reaction would be. I knew that I would have to deal with it. I knew that the way I would deal with it would be to say, “What the network did was wrong and whether what I did was wrong or not is up to other people to decide.” It didn’t change the fact that live sports television should not be done that way. Nothing was going to change my mind on that. So, yeah, I said to Shannon, “Clearly we’ll talk as the days go on. Let’s see how this thing plays out.” I went back to Vancouver and was told that I would not be working the next weekend. I said, “What does that mean? Am I suspended? Am I fired?” “Well, no, you’re just not working.” I think that was the case for maybe another week after that. Then I finally said, “If I’m not suspended and I’m not fired and I’m not working, then I think I have to move on.” “How about coming back to Toronto and meeting with CBC executives and offering an apology?” I said, “No. I’m not about to do that.” I never got a call saying I was fired and I never phoned anybody and said I was resigning. I just sort of showed up on another network.