Friday, November 25, 2011

An Interview with Jack Carter - Part Seven

Kliph Nesteroff: You said that Vic Damone was in your neighborhood growing up.

Jack Carter: Yes, he was my age and later we worked together a lot. In fact, when I had my first television show it was Vic Damone and a girl named Jan Arlen. A talented girl with a beautiful voice and a homely face. Not very pretty. Vic was just coming up then and had a beautiful voice. No personality at all. Dead cold. Dead cold. He could hardly talk to an audience in between songs. He was frightened to death. His face had fear on it all the time.

Kliph Nesteroff: April 1946 you played the Chanticleer in Baltimore.

Jack Carter: Chanticleer, yeah. There were two big clubs in Baltimore. The Chanticleer and the Club Charles. Club Charles played Jan Murray a lot and Eddie Garr, Teri Garr's father. He was a comedian. The Chanticleer was a cute little club. Baltimore was a good town then. My first job in show business was the Hippodrome Theater, which was rat infested, but I worked it with Major Bowes. My first job was at the Hippodrome in Baltimore and I got something like forty dollars a week. Cost a dollar for the room. At night I went to a club to see comics. I went to see a comic named Lee Marvin. Nothing ever happened with him. He was a big guy. There was a club called the 21. Later on I played it. But the big club there was the Club Chanticleer and The Club Charles. The Club Charles was noisier, bigger and hepper. Chanticleer was very elegant. I remember working it with a singer named Carl Revazza. He was a big, big star then. He used to sing a song, "The Princess Papaya has lots of papoolie - she likes to give it away." (laughs) I remember that. He'd start from the back of the room and sing his way to the front, which was unusual. He was a classy guy and a gorgeous, handsome man. Carl Revazza; just disappeared completely. Never heard much from him again.

Kliph Nesteroff: That comic's name was Lee Marvin - same name as the actor?

Jack Carter: Lee Marvin, yeah. He was like an emcee comic. Not really a comic. I tell ya, there were so many of them around in those days that told a few jokes and introduced the acts.

Kliph Nesteroff: Like a Jackie Heller?

Jack Carter: Yeah, kind of, but even more like a host. I worked Heller's club too. Kitty Davis' Airliner, my first job in Florida, and also the Apollo Theater over in Miami.

Kliph Nesteroff: Wasn't it an old vaudeville house?

Jack Carter: Yes, an old vaudeville house and I worked it with Edith Fellows, I remember. She just died. She married Freddie Fields and there was an acrobatic team on the show too. South Street in Miami. Then I worked Kitty Davis' Airliner. Kitty Davis owned it and Jackie Heller was the host there. That's when I first met him.

Kliph Nesteroff: I told you I have the advertisement for you playing the Kitty Davis club with... not Freddie Fields... Benny Fields?

Jack Carter: Benny Fields, yes. He was a poor man's Harry Richman - with the top hat and the old style songs.  His wife was a big star - Blossom Seeley. She was a giant. Bigger than Sophie Tucker and almost bigger than Belle Baker. But Belle Baker was the big one. Belle Baker was huge. Her son became a great writer, Herb Baker. He was one of the top writers of comedy, books and plays. Early Miami was marvelous and then all the hotels started having shows and there were big gambling places way out past Miami toward Hollywood, Florida. There was Green Acres, The Colonial Inn and they would all play four people on one bill - like Sophie Tucker, Joe E. Lewis, Harry Richman - all one show. They'd play giant names and it was big, bigtime showbiz. And big gambling until they killed gambling in Florida and that killed everything. The Gold Coast, they called it.

Kliph Nesteroff: What Vegas became is what Miami was.

Jack Carter: Yes. They just took it all away, yeah. And Atlantic City cut into that, but it was so drab. In between hotels it's so disastrous, like a war zone. I hear there are a couple of new ones now, but they take a terrible beating with the weather. I was performing there when a jet crashed with everyone on it at the Atlantic City Airport.

Kliph Nesteroff: 1946 - you played at the Rio Cabana in Chicago.

Jack Carter: Yes, that was a good club.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were with Frances Faye.

Jack Carter: Yes, I worked with her a lot. I worked Boston with her too. I worked for Ralph Snider and there was a restaurant there - a club on the roof and there was a club in the bottom bar where Jack E. Leonard worked. Fat Jack fell off the stage there one night. He fell into the pit.

Kliph Nesteroff: What happened? Was he doing a dance?

Jack Carter: I guess so. Something and he didn't see the edge and down he went. He nearly killed himself. Ralph Snider's. He was a nice man. One of the few times that there was a boss who I actually associated with. I was always scared to death of them. When I worked Bill Miller's Riviera I associated with Bill. That was the most gorgeous club in the world.

Kliph Nesteroff: Retractable roof.

Jack Carter: Retractable roof, on a cliff, on the ocean on the Palisades side. It was Ben Marden's originally; a big showman who had thousands of showgirls and big shows. Bill Miller, a nice man, took it over. He lived a long time. He was living in Palm Springs up until recently.

Kliph Nesteroff: Bill Miller was in show business first, himself, right? He was a tap dancer or something?

Jack Carter: Yes, I think so. Then he went to Vegas and he ran the Flamingo for a while.

Kliph Nesteroff: He booked The Sahara first didn't he? This is what Stan Irwin told me...

Jack Carter: Oh, yes, Stan was close with him.

Kliph Nesteroff: He told me that they couldn't compete with Jack Entratter at The Sands because Entratter had all the connections. So they brought in Bill Miller as his connections were nearly equal - and asked him to help book the Sahara, so they could properly compete with The Sands.

Jack Carter: Absolutely. I love Stan. He's a cutie.

Kliph Nesteroff: Still alive.

Jack Carter: I can't believe it (laughs)! You said he's ninety-three?

Kliph Nesteroff: Ninety-three... and someone told me that he's working at Costco.

Jack Carter: Which Costco?

Kliph Nesteroff: I don't know.

Jack Carter: God, I'd love to see him and talk to him.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have his phone number here somewhere.

Jack Carter: Yeah? That'd be great. He got me a lot of jobs. He booked me at the Sahara, I think. Yes, he and Bill Miller were very close. Bill used to call up and call around Vegas and check and see [how full each show was at competing hotels]. All the hotels would check. Bill Miller would lie, "We were packed twice!" And he would talk at the top of his voice, "Are you kiddin? I'm sold out! I can't handle it!" And it would be empty.

Kliph Nesteroff: Grab a pen - I'll give you Stan Irwin's phone number right now.

Jack Carter: Let me call him right now.

[Jack dials number]

Jack Carter: It says it's a blocked line. [Tries again]. It says it's a blocked line. Why would he have a blocked line? He's not that important.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Carter: It says the number that you're requesting is not available. I guess that means he's dead.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Carter: He doesn't exist. You're crazy. You made him up.

Kliph Nesteroff: I got his number from a guy named Milt Moss.

Jack Carter: Uh huh.

Kliph Nesteroff: And Milt's number was handed to me by Will Jordan.

Jack Carter: (laughs) My arch enemy. Will Jordan hates everybody. He was one of the first mimics who did Sullivan and he hated anybody else who did Sullivan. He got crazy. He hates me... he hates everybody. He killed himself with that hatred. Will Jordan, such a comedy joke. He disappeared like George DeWitt and the rest of the unknown mimics. I gave someone a list of mimics the other day. Was it you?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes.

Jack Carter: Blake. Arthur Blake. He was the biggie. He did only women. He was a big, big fat gay guy. And Dean Muprhy was the king and Al Bernie was gigantic as a kid mimic. I forget who he even did. Then there was Frye... Frye...

Kliph Nesteroff: David Frye.

Jack Carter: Yeah.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have heard that Frye was... kind of nuts.

Jack Carter: Crazy. Completely insane. I had him on as a guest once on a TV show and we had to get rid of him. Everybody wondered why I hired comedians on my shows [when I was a comic myself]. Because they were great! I had everybody on. Jackie Miles. Phil Silvers. What did it matter? When it was over they'd say The Jack Carter Show was great. Milton Berle had everyone as a guest. The weeks I replaced Berle, he would never go away. He stood in the wings watching me. We had great stuff. My writer Ben Starr, I should call him, he wrote great stuff. He wrote departmental stuff. Like if we had Bob Crosby on. I would do Bing and we would do three scenes. When I had Chico on, I played Harpo and Groucho. Ben Starr would write these scenes that were so good. Milton would scream at his writers, "Why can't you write me that kind of stuff!?" "Because you wouldn't learn any of it, you idiot." He couldn't learn anything. 

He would abuse his guests and I would get them. I told you about that. I had Larry Klein and Ben Starr - brilliant writers. We'd sit and laugh. We couldn't write until the Sid Caesar show had sent in their stuff. That was another hold back. But we knew that on Monday night we would get a call from the William Morris office. "Would you like Rex Harrison? Would you like Bill Bendix? Would you like Basil Rathbone?" Like them? We'd love them! My guys would write, and I wrote too... we would treat our guests beautifully. They'd come in, they were comfortable and the sketches were perfect for them. They'd be happy. But the Liebman thing was something else and they ordered us not to write any comedy until they finished their show. I had Cesar Romero and we were doing Caesar and Cleopatra. They had Cedrick Hardwick on and they were doing Caesar - so we had to cut ours.

Kliph Nesteroff: Let's get the distinction defined between your early shows. Which were which. What was Dumont, what was NBC and what is the chronology. The Jack Carter Show on Dumont was - first?

Jack Carter: Cavalcade, yeah. Before that I had the minstrels. The ABC Minstrels. The real original... then I had The Dorsey Brothers Show. Jimmy and Tommy. That was on ABC. The Cavalcade was a big hit and then they brought me over to NBC.

Kliph Nesteroff: The Jack Carter Show and Cavalcade of Stars were two completely different shows on two different networks.

Jack Carter: Yes, The Jack Carter Show came later on NBC.

Kliph Nesteroff: The program on Dumont was never referred to as The Jack Carter Show.

Jack Carter: No, never. Cavalcade of Stars. I got them Gleason when I left. They tried Jerry Lester and he bombed. They tried Morey Amsterdam and they didn't like him. Finally I said, "There's a guy in New Jersey and he used to do films. He doesn't do any jokes, but he's a good sketch comic." They went out and saw him. He was working a joint called The Blue Mirror. A real dump. They hired him. I left them two good writers and they wrote sketches and they developed The Honeymooners. Although, The Honeymooners he stole from Phil Rapp. Great writer. He wrote the original Honeymooners with Don Ameche and Francis Langford called The Bickersons.

Kliph Nesteroff: Right, sure.

Jack Carter: That's what it was. The funniest show ever on radio. The bickering Bickersons was really the basis for The Honeymooners. Then he became lucky with Art Carney and the rest fell in line. Actually, who was the girl? Jayne Meadows' sister...

Kliph Nesteroff: Audrey.

Jack Carter: Audrey Meadows went into Top Banana with me when I replaced Phil Silvers on Broadway. I went in - and in four days I learned forty songs, dances, moves, comedy, everything. I never missed a beat and we ran for six weeks and then the air conditioning strike killed us and closed every Broadway show. My luck!

Kliph Nesteroff: The Jack Carter Show and Your Show of Shows was sold under one catchall title - The Saturday Night Revue.

Jack Carter: Saturday Night Revue and I broadcast out of Chicago, so for me it was tougher. We had to fly acts in and we had to fly sets in! There was only one costumer in Chicago. In New York you would have acts all over so it was easy. Luckily, in Chicago I had the Chez Paree to pick from. Tony Martin, Martin and Lewis - they were great on my show. On our very first show we were eight minutes short. We had a drunken director named Paul Arnold. He just drank and (growls), "Hey baby! Hey sweetheart!"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Carter: We were short eight minutes and I had to ad-lib! Luckily I had a monologue from my act that was around that length. On our first show we had George Raft who was scared shitless when he found out it was live, but we had cards in the wings for him to read and I had Cass Daley, a girl comedienne. She was funny. I put together a show and the band was atrocious; a real nothing NBC house band. My producer was a real... he looked like oatmeal...

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Jack Carter: With a tweed suit, I forget hit name now. We got rid of him immediately and then they sent me another bad producer and another one! They finally sent me the guy that Martin and Lewis used to kick around and played jokes on - Ernie Glucksman. He was from the Catskills. He was a poor man's Max Liebman and he was a sweet man. He was always with Martin and Lewis. They took him on the road and they took him everywhere. They loved him as a patsy. In those days all the comedians had a stooge. Jack Benny and George Burns had Irving Fein; they all had one. Killer Mac Grey - and Harry Crane was a big stooge for comics. He hung out with Gleason and he couldn't write shit! But he was funny talking. He was hysterical. Harry's recall on things old and Jewish humor was funny, but he couldn't put a word down! Yet he kept getting jobs as head writer. The writers would have to bring him stuff and he'd take it to Gleason.

Kliph Nesteroff: He was a legend in those comedy circles.

Jack Carter: Yes and he was a sweet man. Harry loved me. Harry adored me. He loved that I could sing and dance. I, alone, knew that Harry was a fraud and that he couldn't write. If somebody said, "Hello," he'd claim he wrote that. "I wrote 'Goodbye.' 'Good Morning.' I wrote that." Those are the jokes we'd crack about Harry. And he married an insane woman. His daughter married Warren Cowan - and she was kind of a slut. Her sister is a real whore. She got lucky marrying Cowan and she got into showbiz sort of. Morey Amsterdam got Harry Crane his first jobs. Morey took him under his wing and got him into Metro and got him an office out there to write for the stars when they went out on USO tours. But it didn't pan out and he lost that job.

Kliph Nesteroff: There was a comedy writer from that era that a couple of guys have told me was a fraud. A writer named Mort Greene.

Jack Carter: Mort Greene? Yes, they were a team - Foster and Greene. Yeah, Mort Greene was nothing much. The other guy was better - Foster.

Kliph Nesteroff: Bill Persky was telling me that...

Jack Carter: Ah, Persky and Denoff they were very good. Sam Denoff just died. He was a sweet man. He loved wine, he loved drinking, he loved parties... the greatest hate in their life was Marlo Thomas. Everybody hated her. She was the nastiest bitch that ever lived! When her show ended they did a roast of her and they tore her to shreds like you would to a man. A guy who wrote for me was there with Persky and Denoff when they tore her to shreds. She thought they were going to honor her and instead they wiped the floor with her. She was the meanest, nastiest woman who ever lived.

Kliph Nesteroff: Why? Because she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth?

Jack Carter: Yes, from Danny Thomas. Marlo Thomas. I get her name confused with Marlo Lewis, who produced Ed Sullivan. Who was the sister of Marlo Lewis? What was her name? She was a big singer back then. A little blonde. A pretty big name. I had a big affair with her, a big running affair with her. Marlo Lewis produced the show I did in Sun Valley Idaho with Louis Armstrong's band, and Sheila MacRae and Gordon. Marlo was the producer who took us all there. Somebody was up there recently and saw pictures of me on the wall.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, my friend Andy was there and said he saw them.

Jack Carter: I told you I fell off the lift up there? I got on the lift and it swung and dropped me into the creek!

Kliph Nesteroff: It was a TV special?

Jack Carter: Yes, it was a big special. It was an Ed Sullivan special. Marlo was the producer of The Ed Sullivan Show and they decided to do it in Sun Valley and you couldn't get Ed out of the room! He was freezing. He looked like he was frozen to death anyway, but we went to the top of the mountain. Louis couldn't play. "I can't get my chops open!" He couldn't get any air out because of the altitude. The air up there was so thin he couldn't blow.

Kliph Nesteroff: Speaking of comedy writers - that roast that you hosted - the first roast ever broadcast on television... Nat Hiken wrote and produced it.

Jack Carter: Yes, I knew him from around New York and The Phil Silvers Show. I knew him as a genius of a writer. He wrote a sketch I did where there was a woman that was this filthy, frumpy girl. Carol Burnett did it and then Nancy Walker did it on Broadway. Nat Hiken wrote the whole show on Broadway. There was [a Broadway trilogy]' One for the Money, Two For the Show and Three to Get  Ready. He wrote one of those. Davey Burns, a great comedian, was in it too. 

The man in the sketch is married to the filthiest, sloppiest woman that ever lived, but he thought he was gorgeous. (In gravely voice) "You're cheating on me! Yes you are! I know you are! I've seen you out there!" And she's sitting there with these frumpy bloomers hanging down, "Whaddaya talking about?" "Ah, you're a liar!" And he'd pull the shades down throughout the sketch in anger so that nobody could see her 'great beauty,' and she's so homely (laughs). And Nancy Walker did a great job. Nat Hiken wrote the sketch - and I forget the name of it. It was one word. "Surrender" or something. Later I tried it with Edie Adams, but she wasn't any good. I did it on my TV special. I did an HBO special called Top Banana based on the Broadway show for Michael Brandman. I had the Top Banana outfit and I did the songs. And I had a stripper that I was nuts about. She was so gorgeous. Birds would come and undress her. Birds would fly out and undo the straps - and her figure was incredible. And she was a virgin! Later on I saw her in Vegas and she had become somewhat of a bum. But I am digressing! I digress.