Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Greatest Comedians of All Time visit Vancouver 1960-1968

An Interview with Will Jordan - Part Five

Will Jordan: Well, Helloooo Dolly! John Candy is on right now. Do you want to watch it?

Kliph Nesteroff: Uh... do I?

Will Jordan: Oh, I'm sorry! I thought my lady friend was calling me! I didn't realize it was you! I was expecting her!

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, this must be a crushing disappointment.

Will Jordan: Oh, yes, Kliph, I'm sorry! She'll probably call in a bit. She might want to watch this John Candy thing. Speaking of Canadian stuff, you know, I was in Vancouver years ago.

Kliph Nesteroff: The Cave supperclub?

Will Jordan: No, I wanted to play The Cave. No, I worked at a place called Marco Polo. When I was there - everyone was Scottish. Everything was Scottish. The disc jockeys and everything was Harry Lauder. Then when I worked with Alan Young, I think he was from Vancouver.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, he was. He moved from Canada to New York to become the summer replacement for Eddie Cantor on radio.

Will Jordan: Was he born in Scotland or born in Vancouver?

Kliph Nesteroff: He was born in Scotland, but came to Canada when he was five years old.

Will Jordan: A very nice man. I saw him five or six years ago when he was signing autographs and he was dating a girl that I used to date. They showed a clip of him playing Uncle Dave in that Eddie Murphy movie. It was take-off on Walt Disney. In the nineteen fifties there were several of these Saturday night shows. One of them was with Eddie Albert and one was with Alan Young.

I appeared with them. I can't remember all of that stuff we did, but that's going back. When I spoke to him he really didn't remember, but we were at a radio convention. More and more over the years, the old timers have disappeared. Fred Foy, the old Lone Ranger announcer, I think he just passed and the woman who played Wilma on Buck Rogers on radio - she was still alive - she's gone. And Elliot Reid who did a lot of stuff. He's gone. He was in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

He kept telling me, "I do the greatest JFK!" I said to him, "Why are you telling me this?" But all of those people are gone. One of the last guys who played The Shadow; John Archer. As a kid I remember that John Archer was on a radio series called Jesse Lasky's Talent Search. Do you know anything about that? It was a show that would come on every week... anyway, it was very nice talking with Archer [before he passed away]. I thought he was very good. I don't really think he had the exact right voice for The Shadow, but so many people played The Shadow and so many played The Lone Ranger. On and on and on with all these different Lone Rangers!

Kliph Nesteroff: I found the Orson Welles episodes of The Shadow to be the best due to his voice. Every fucking episode of The Shadow script-wise - was exactly the same.

Will Jordan: I don't think he was the one that... they kept re-using a recording of the laugh. I don't think he was the one who was recorded doing the laugh. I can't remember who that was. That recording they kept playing - even though The Shadow changed. Also, I knew the last Shadow, Bret Morrison, who was a little gay - although he certainly didn't act it. He was married to a great singer. She worked this club that I worked at called the Bon Soir. I worked there and I followed Streisand there in '62. The story was that he played The Blue Angel, Bret Morrison. Of course, he had this voice, but he wanted a different kind of intro. I didn't see this, but I heard about it because it was so unusual.

They'd [announce] Bret Morrison - but nobody knew who that was. He would start by singing offstage, "There's no tomorrow..." or something like that and then just before he'd appear he'd change [his voice] and say, "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit..." or something. Must have been great. Of course, there were so many jokes about their marriage. A fat woman, but a very good voice. Here was this guy with a great voice, bald with this strange red hairpiece. He was kind of weird. He wore whites socks and everything. But the joke goes that when he took his clothes off she looked at him and said, "Do me a favor. Cloud my mind."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Will Jordan: A pretty good line (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: That's a great joke. You mentioned the Bon Soir. That's where Larry Storch recorded his one and only comedy album.

Will Jordan: That's right, but he didn't record his impressions... even though he did that act all the time - there aren't that many recordings of the impressions. When he did Cavalcade of Stars, which Gleason also did, I don't think he did many impressions there.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, it was mostly sketches.  

Will Jordan: He did great characterizations and he was, of course, a great dialectician. He once told me that he could do twenty different Spanish accents. The little girl I am dating now is married to a Puerto Rican and she said, "Oh, it's quite possible. You can tell when a Spanish person talks, which region he is from." I had no idea that shades of a Spanish accent could be that different.

Kliph Nesteroff: Since we're talking a bit about radio here, I wanted to ask you a little bit more about... well, we never really did get into it... your appearance on The Fred Allen Show in 1949.

Will Jordan: Okay. Well, I had just won the Godfrey show. I didn't know at that time that they disliked each other. Arthur Godfrey said these egotistical things about Fred Allen and so much is known about Fred Allen being the nicest guy in the world. [Godfrey] mentioned an incident in which Fred Allen wouldn't let anyone in the studio who wouldn't laugh at his jokes.

Well, Fred Allen would never say that, but Arthur Godfrey said it. Now if Fred Allen did say it - then it must have been part of a comedy routine because he was extremely modest. He was the nicest guy in the world and he was so good to me. When we were rehearsing I was so nervous. He took the patience to show me how to remove the staple [from the script] so I could shift the pages around. Just a tremendously generous man.

He said to me after rehearsal, if I didn't like any jokes - as if I wouldn't - that I should tell him. They were very corny, but they were very much in keeping with what mimics were doing. I think all mimics did puns. One of the jokes was, "Grant took Richmond," meaning Cary Grant and Harry Richmond. That kind of a thing. Another joke was about John Garfield who was on Broadway doing The Big Knife. They later made that into a film with... oh...

Kliph Nesteroff: Ida Lupino?

Will Jordan: I can't think of the guy's name...

Kliph Nesteroff: Jack Palance?

Will Jordan: Jack Palance did it in the film. On Broadway Garfield did it. The joke Fred Allen wrote for me was that Garfield comes home and says, "Ma, I got a great break on Broadway in The Big Knife! Aren't you proud of me?" "No, not at all. Now you're in show business and you're still carrying a spear."

That's a real classic Fred Allen type of joke. They were all puns. It was a wonderful experience. I don't remember meeting any of those people; I wish I had. I really wanted to talk to Kenny Delmar very much. I wanted to ask Kenny Delmar about the Southern character, "It's a joke son."

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, Senator Claghorn.

Will Jordan: And then Mel Blanc steals it from him and calls it Foghorn Leghorn. It was the most obvious theft in the world, but nothing seemed to have been said about it. I really thought... Kenny Delmar was an extremely nice man - as was Mel Blanc. When I spoke with the guy who... oh, I want to get these names right... the guy who replaced The Great Gildersleeve...

Kliph Nesteroff: Willard Waterman.

Will Jordan: Willard Waterman. The original was Harold Peary and Waterman sounded just like him.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes.

Will Jordan: I asked him about that because I'm so interested in mimicry. He said, "We both did a character called Sergeant Joe [in the thirties]." Or something. They both did that character - doesn't explain why he did the exact same voice. He did mention there was one difference. When he played Gildersleeve he didn't do the [trademark laugh]. He didn't do that.

Harold Peary was a different kind of person. Harold Peary was originally a singer. Willard Waterman was especially nice to me; very gracious. They looked kind of different. Waterman was about six foot two and Harold Peary was a short guy, however on the air they sounded much the like.

Most of the time on these shows when they replaced someone, they tried to get as close as possible. I was talking with Chuck McCann about that. A lot of these imitators were not that good. They could never find a guy who sounded like Walt Disney to do Mickey Mouse. All of these Mickey Mouse voices sounded unlike Walt Disney. That seems strange to me - that they couldn't find a mimic that could do that. The guy who did Donald Duck - what was his name?

Kliph Nesteroff: Clarence Nash.

Will Jordan: Clarence Nash. Johnny Byner could do that very well. The greatest replacement, completely undetectable, was the guy who replaced Alan Reed on The Flintstones.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes.

Will Jordan: A Canadian boy. A wonderful guy. That was the perfect impression. I asked him a trivia question. I said, "You're a Canadian. How many Canadian actors played American presidents?" He came up with three that I knew of. Famous actors. Walter Huston, Raymond Massey and Alexander Knox. They were Canadians. Then, of course, you had Christopher Plummer who played FDR on a show recently. They couldn't find an American who could play an American president.

Kliph Nesteroff: They talk a lot about how Canadian newscasters become prominent broadcasters in America; Morley Safer, Linden Soles, Peter Jennings, Kevin Newman, John Roberts... They say it's because they have a neutral accent that can't be associated with any one American region.

Will Jordan: There's a guy here on our Channel One - I won't say he's not talented, but he looks like he's sixteen. That's the casting these days. All men look like they're sixteen and all the women are ugly; I'm very much against that. That's not to imply that I am against young men or ugly women. I just think they're miscast. What I'm thinking about, not that I'm so much a humanitarian, but I think of all the truly great people that are out of work. That's what comes to mind. We have a guy here on New York Channel One and he's a boy from Edmonton.

He's very good. I just don't like the fact he looks like a boy. Like the James Bond films. They started to cast Pierce Brosnan - I don't like those guys that look sixteen. It's very flattering when you're older to look younger, but to me it's like they're against men. I think it's the [fault of] the gays. But I can't prove that. I just don't like it. I'm not against gays. I think they're the most talented people in the world. I just don't think they should be given the ultimate power of casting.

Kliph Nesteroff: There used to be an element in news where your anchor was always an elder statesman. It was rare that your main newsman didn't have a mop of white hair and was seen as the news authority.

Will Jordan: All of Murrow's boys had great voices too. Cronkite was, of course, good, but the other guys were good too. They all had British clothes. Wonderful. That dignity there. None of those people sounded like little boys, whether it was Lowell Thomas or whatever. Those people had tremendous voices.

Kliph Nesteroff: And then people like John Charles Daily had such great mastery of language.

Will Jordan: That's right. He was African like my favorite actor Basil Rathbone, who was from South Africa. Very talented people! My niece is married to a fellow from Johannesburg; very British and Yiddish at the same time. Rathbone was just wonderful. You'd never believe that he wasn't English. Of course, Raymond Massey... my buddy got to know him late. I was not a fan of Massey in all roles - I thought he could look very artificial. My friend Eddie Ryder, you wouldn't know the name, a bit player in many of the Dr. Kildares, he got to know Massey very well. He took Massey to see Don Rickles.

He was the most good-natured guy. Rickles kept insulting Massey and Massey laughed. He would go by after a scene and knock on Massey's trailer and yell, "It's time for acting lessons, Raymond!" You could hear Raymond laughing. He was certainly a great stage actor. He also did a great play - Ethan Frome. You know, no recordings were made of these things. That was supposed to be tremendous. I liked him in The Scarlet Pimpernel and in a film I like much more which I think is one of the greatest films - Prisoner of Zenda. I thought [Ronald] Colman was just absolutely at his best. Doug Fairbanks was at his best. Just a great movie. C. Aubrey Smith!

Kliph Nesteroff: And a great era of dapper actors. Those men you have just mentioned - Ronald Colman, Basil Rathbone, Douglas Fairbanks Jr... perhaps it is my rose-colored concept at play - but there seemed to be such great class during that time period.

Will Jordan: Yes and people today just can't quite define class. They just don't know quite what it means. I mentioned the soundalikes. They would hire actors that looked like their stars if the star was temperamental - as a sort of threat. I'll  just mention a few, but there were many. At MGM they had several [Clark] Gable back-ups. The main Gable back-up was James Craig. At Paramount there was Gable soundalike Robert Preston.

Then there was Dale Robertson. When I used to do my act on The Merv Griffin Show I would do a bit about it. It was one of my many routines that was stolen from me. They all sounded like Gable. That was a bit I did - actors that soundalike. Sometimes they did and sometimes they actually didn't. I had Vincent Price and Liberace as soundalikes - they really weren't that much alike, but it made for the routine. The Andrews Sisters admitted they copied the Boswell Sisters and The McGuire Sisters admitted they copied The Andrews Sisters... to me privately.

Donald O'Connor admitted that he copied Buddy Clark and so did Ed Ames of the Ames Brothers. Don Cornell, big hit with Sammy Kaye, he always sounded like Russ Columbo as did Alan Dale. Everyone, of course, wanted to sound like Bing. Dean Martin copied Bing, Perry Como copied Bing and there was a big singer, a Canadian boy, who was really the Canadian Crosby - Dick Todd.

You really couldn't tell him from Bing, but you could with Dean and Como. Now, Sinatra said he copied Bing, but that's not apparent at all. They say Dick Haymes did too, but Sinatra and Haymes sounded nothing like Bing. Bing said he was influenced by Louis Armstrong and Al Jolson. Well, you can't hear any of that in Bing's singing. When I talked to Dean Martin backstage in 1948 when they were this huge success at The Copacabana... they were the supporting act. The main act was Vivian Blaine, but she couldn't follow them. After the first night she became the opener.

Kliph Nesteroff: A famous story, sure.

Will Jordan: I spoke with Dean and he was very nice. I asked him who were his favorites. I remember (laughs) the three that were my favorites - were who he picked! He said, "[Clark] Gable, Bing and Cary Grant." Cary Grant influenced the way he dressed. No question about that and the way he cut his sideburns. Later he said he copied one of The Mills Brothers. That could be true, but what he meant was the phrasing.

Later Dean made a record called If I Could Sing Like Bing. The funny part is when he did an impression of Bing he didn't sound like him. The Rat Pack. What is it they said? None of them ever finished high school. I didn't know that. I knew that Sammy Davis hadn't, but I didn't know that Joey Bishop never finished high school. I didn't know that Peter Lawford hadn't. Anyway, Dean was very nice. Many times - if and when Dean would do an indiscretion he seemed to be immune. Certain people seemed to be immune.

Elizabeth Taylor seemed to be immune. When she took Eddie Fisher away from Debbie [Reynolds], people were not angry at her. Yet when Ingrid Bergman dumped her husband - everyone came down on her. So, apparently people had different degrees... Arthur Godfrey fired Julius LaRosa on the air, which I thought was nothing! He didn't insult him.

Jack Paar did something infinitely worse on his morning show. This was on CBS before he and Steve Allen went to NBC. They had morning shows. I appeared on both of them. Paar? Not a nice man. Steve Allen? An absolute, wonderful guy. Anyway, when I got to do the show I met Betty Clooney. I met her sister Rosemary who was very nice too. Betty married Pupi Campo a sort of well-known Cuban bandleader. They were regulars everyday on Jack Paar's daytime show.

I think it was called The Morning Show on CBS. They got married and didn't tell him. On the air he said, "You guys married and didn't tell me? You're fired." He said it on the air! Not a single word was ever said about it! To me that's a hundred times worse than what Godfrey did! Yet, Godfrey went through all this terrible [publicity].

Kliph Nesteroff: The difference was that Godfrey was a huge, huge star at the time with incredible ratings and Jack Paar was still pretty much a nobody.

Will Jordan: Betty Clooney was an exact Rosemary lookalike. Betty was younger, but you couldn't tell. Many people became blondes that were not blondes. As you know, Penny Singleton had very black hair. Doris Day had very dark hair. Rosemary Clooney had dark hair. The story goes, this may not be right, but the rumor was that Rosemary dyed her hair blonde so she wouldn't like Betty.

If you heard Betty sing - it would be impossible to tell them apart. It was the exact same voice. Rosemary was great and a very nice person. She married a man who was not a nice man, but that's something else. Pupi was very funny. I said, "Pupi, have you ever done anything you regretted?" He said (in Cuban accent), "Yes. I do make one mistake." "What's that?" "I don't marry Lucille Ball." I thought that was very funny.

Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned Jack Paar's morning show. You played, in May 1950, The Casino in Toronto with Marion Hutton, Duke Alden and his Marionettes...

Will Jordan: What a great experience that was...

Kliph Nesteroff: The Three Winter Sisters...

Will Jordan: That was one of the clippings I was trying to find. I couldn't find that. I became friends during that run with an extremely nice man named Jack Douglas...

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, well that's why I was asking. Jack Douglas was one of Jack Paar's chief comedy writers...

Will Jordan: Yes. Later on I worked with him when I followed Jerry Lester at Slate Brothers. He did an act with Marion Hutton. She was very quiet. She was Betty's sister and she was nothing like her. You did four shows a day and I heard them arguing. The two nicest people in the world, but they didn't get along. I think they had both been married previously and both had had unhappy relationships. Douglas was a fascinating guy. He went up with his wife to live in Labrador or something... he left all of this stuff to go up there. He was a brilliant writer.

Kliph Nesteroff: Jack Douglas wrote for Henry Morgan as well. Henry Morgan, a great satirist, and a man who fascinates me...

Will Jordan: A horrible man! A nasty man... but... so good. That whole business with Steve Allen and Johnny Carson - the question man, the answer man... that's all Henry Morgan! Give you an example. Say, like, 1947, Henry Morgan. This is a Henry Morgan joke. He would say, "Dear, Mr. Question Man. What is proper etiquette? Should you use the fingers when you eat olives? (beat) No. The fingers should be eaten separately."

That is a typical Henry Morgan joke. Now that is the same thing, too close to be a coincidence, that Steve Allen did. When all of this stealing was starting... the great guy was Earle Doud. He was a writer for Steve Allen and he wrote The First Family.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes.

Will Jordan: Kind of strange, kind of effeminate. Certainly not gay. He was an effeminate guy that liked women. Chuck McCann told me that. He married a gorgeous girl from Playboy and he was kind of a wild guy. He really was a good writer. There were jokes that would appear on Jack Paar's show that were from Steve Allen. Then there was... oh, God. The great Hungarian guy that was married to Edie Adams.

Kliph Nesteroff: Ernie Kovacs.

Will Jordan: Ernie Kovacs. Ernie Kovacs would say, "Can't you even wait two days before you steal my stuff?" Now this is what I think happened. I don't think anybody wrote for Ernie Kovacs but himself. Steve Allen, although he did write a lot, and Jack Paar ad-libbed a lot. But they did have writers. I mean, if you have Jack Douglas you've definitely got a writer.

Kliph Nesteroff: You said Henry Morgan was a terrible person. Did you encounter him yourself?

Will Jordan: I did, but I didn't experience it as much as other people. I knew a gal that went with him who was one of these sweet people that would put up with that. The stories about him were very similar to those about Paul Lynde - the Jekyll and Hyde. The transference of personality when he got drunk. In the case of Henry Morgan and the case of Paul Lynde the change was much greater from a very nice guy. Although Henry Morgan wasn't nice to begin with and Paul Lynde was, so when Paul Lynde got nasty it was a big surprise. 

A complete contrast. Of course, Henry Morgan wasn't gay... not that I think that had anything to do with it. But all of these people changed. You never heard about Dick Van Dyke... he was a big drinker, but I don't think you ever heard stories of any indiscretions when he was drunk.

Kliph Nesteroff: He was a closet drunk who got hammered at home after the taping. Henry Morgan...

Will Jordan: Mary Tyler Moore said in her biography that on set he never drank, but by the end of the day he was drawing pictures of martinis (laughs). That could be true. Of course, it doesn't affect me.

Kliph Nesteroff: You said that Henry Morgan...

Will Jordan: I liked Dick Van Dyke. I made a social mistake there. I was the recorded voice of Ed Sullivan in Bye, Bye Birdie. They invited me in 1960 to the cast party. In a rare moment of modesty I didn't go because I didn't feel I belonged. In the play Chita Rivera - she's Spanish, but in the movie they gave it to Janet Leigh. Talk about miscasting! Then again you had Natalie Wood in West Side Story - also pretty insane!

Kliph Nesteroff: What did Henry Morgan...

Will Jordan: Anyway, getting back to Chita Rivera... she was a big fan of mine. She said, "Why didn't you come to the party?" I said, "I didn't feel that I should." She said, "Are you kidding? They did the play and they never see the guy! They hear his voice every single show. If you walked in you would have been the hit of the party!"

Kliph Nesteroff: The great Irving Brecher wrote the screenplay for the film version of Bye, Bye Birdie - also wrote for The Marx Brothers and created The Life of Riley. Anyway, you implied that you had a bad experience with Henry Morgan. What was the...

Will Jordan: They always said that everything Jackie Gleason did was good, but when Gleason did The Life of Riley it was not good. He just wasn't right for it. He lost weight and he was too good looking. Some of these people just aren't funny when they're thin. 

Jack E. Leonard lost weight at one point. Some of them were told to get fat again because they weren't funny. Gleason's stand-up... he was never as good. I think he did something with a trumpet. The minute someone else came onstage he would have byplay and he was great. Art Carney... Art Carney was a great mimic. That's what he was primarily. His stand-up was not in the traditional way. He was part of Horace Heidt. He had something like Godfrey's Talent Scouts. In the original version of Pot of Gold, Art Carney was supposed to have done his stand-up impressions. I went to see it and he's in it, but the impressions were cut out. On radio, in rare things, you can hear Art Carney and he is just magnificent!

Kliph Nesteroff: He's in...

Will Jordan: He did voices in March of Time. The first time I saw Art Carney he was doing a character that was the absolute opposite of Norton. It was Newton the Bellboy on Morey Amsterdam. And that guy - the difference in characterization. He was the biggest, wiseass know-it-all and Morey Amsterdam was the one being put on. A typical joke was... Morey Amsterdam would say, "Tell me, Newton, is that a cigarette you're smoking?" Art Carney would say, "No, it's a pogo stick for a midget!" That nastiness. I never saw Carney do anything like that. Not that he couldn't - he was just never cast as that.

Kliph Nesteroff: Just for a moment I wanted to go back to Henry...

Will Jordan: But that's the way he was cast. Now, none of those things that he did were impersonations, but when he did impressions he was very good. He was very good at Al Smith. He would do the voices on March of Time on radio and in films. He was excellent in everything he did. Once I met Joyce Randolph and I mentioned Art Carney. 

She said, "Why don't you phone him? He's all alone." Art Carney is all alone? Give you an idea of how nice he was... when I would walk into the room he would stand up. He was almost too gracious. He gave me one of the greatest compliments I ever had. When I did the Sullivan show, Gleason followed me. 

This was June of 1954, which was my big night. When I turned around I had not spoken yet. The world had not yet heard, "Really big shoe." It hadn't been said yet. I turned around and I made the face and Gleason said to Carney in the dressing room, "He better quit right now. He's never going to top that."