Sunday, January 1, 2012

An Interview with Will Jordan - Part Seven

Will Jordan: Unlike yourself - a lot of researchers are not that accurate.

Kliph Nesteroff: You never finished your story... you went up on stage at a party that Henry Morgan attended.

Will Jordan: Yes. He was nice to me for a moment and then he said, "I could write you an act and make you a star... but I won't." Completely uncalled for. Senseless little bit of arrogance. It was unpleasant and unnecessary, but I still found him very, very talented. If I ever had a chance to appear with him, which I didn't, I would have jumped at it. 

Kliph Nesteroff: And we were also talking about Robert Q. Lewis.

Will Jordan: Yes, getting back to Robert Q. Lewis. Robert Q. Lewis was gay, but it wasn't that simple. Like Tony Randall, they were two very un-Jewish looking guys who were both very Jewish in real life. One was Rosenberg and the other was Goldberg and they both came from successful families. Both had tremendous voices. I mention that because it's not something you usually associate with a gay - a great deep voice. 

Robert Q. Lewis loved Broadway shows and later on when his career disappeared he was a gypsy, which is the slang term for gay guys that are in the chorus of Broadway shows. He became one of those. You can see him, literally, as a bit player in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. He's one of the little guys there doing nothing. Robert had not been as big as Steve Allen, but he was pretty big. He had some big shows and several different shows of his own. He would get up and say things like, "Sun-shine, Sun-shine - Ooh-la-la!" 

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Will Jordan: Now that's not something Tony Randall would do, although he was rumored to be gay as well - beyond his manner of speech. Tony was a very physical guy. He went to the gym and everything else. The rumor was that his kids weren't his kids. He had a great speaking voice. He was kind of nasty too. I remember I spoke to him about doing impressions and he bragged that he could do an impression of Robert Montgomery. I did too, but neither of us did it too well. I knew him for years, but he never gave me a nice hello. I never met Jack Klugman, although I imagine I would have got along better with him. 

Klugman was one of those Philadelphia guys and they all knew each other. Norman Fell, Eddie Fisher, Joey Forman, Guy Marks - it was sort of a Philadelphia clique. But all of a sudden, one day, Tony Randall gave me a big hello. We used to work out at a popular gym here in New York called Gotham. You'd go there and probably see Sid Caesar or Lee J. Cobb working out. Tony Randall had always been nasty and insulting. I was there once and they said, "Telephone for Mr. Jordan!" And Tony Randall said, "It must be Ed Sullivan. You're canceled!" And you know what? It was Ed Sullivan... and I was canceled!

Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, man!

Will Jordan: (laughs) I told him about it. He said, "Tell this on The Merv Griffin Show!" But I never had a chance to tell anyone about it... until you... just now. Anyway, one day, years later, he was nice to me for the strangest of reasons. Years ago when I worked with Tommy Sands at The Roxy Theater... before Tommy married... what's her name...

Kliph Nesteroff: Nancy Sinatra?

Will Jordan: Yeah, Sinatra's daughter. Very nice boy and everything. A tiny little guy from Texas. Tommy Sands was very nice. The kids packed it to see him and there were groupies that were there trying to get to him... and some of the groupies would jump on me - hoping that I could introduce them. So there were these two girls - exquisite - one of them had the most gorgeous looking body I had ever seen. I took a picture of her actually. She wouldn't let me score with her, but I came close. This is circa 1958. I kept trying to make out with her, but no. She wanted to make it with Tommy Sands.

Now - all these years go by and there's Tony Randall and he's suddenly nice to me. You'll never believe why! Strangest reason in the world! It was because Donna, this little girl, had become the live-in girlfriend of Jack Klugman - and had been for many years.

Somehow in conversation she let it slip that she liked me. For some reason that made Tony Randall feel I was acceptable - just because I might have had an affair with Klugman's girlfriend. I mean, I didn't, and it doesn't mean anything, but it was such a strange...  Randall was nice to me after that.

Kliph Nesteroff: Tony Randall was a great comic actor, but he didn't seem to be too funny as himself...

Will Jordan: He hated the fact that he was a big hit on radio. He would go out of his way to say radio was crap. He was on I Love a Mystery and I don't know what else. He was a great radio actor - and if not great then at least competent. But he kept putting down radio. I wondered for what possible reason. When Elliot Reid [set me up to do an] interview with Peter Lind Hayes, which I wanted to use in a book, he was not that nice. He was nice enough because Elliot Reid had connected me with him.

It was over the phone and he just kept saying, "Mimicry is crap. Mimicry is crap!" I said, "Peter, I'm doing a book on mimicry. You can have your opinion, but that's not really what I'm talking about. What's the point of telling me this?" Many mimics will do an extraordinary impersonation, but you'll never see it or hear it because it's too inside. According to Larry Storch, Mickey Rooney does the greatest impression of Jean Arthur. I worked with Mickey Rooney on a pilot for a show that never aired. I never thought to ask him, but that is something obscure.

I bet it's better than the bad Clark Gable and the bad Lionel Barrymore he did in so many of his movies. The same with Peter Lind Hayes. He was supposedly famous for imitating Ethel Waters. These are the things they are known for offstage. Peter Lind Hayes was just... well, a very talented man - no question about it... but not too friendly to me. There were certain people that just didn't like me. Ed Asner - I don't know why. These things happen before I even open my mouth. I guess it's just chemistry or there's something about me. On the other hand, Art Carney was literally in awe of me! At least that was how he acted and I have no idea why.

Kliph Nesteroff: It's seldom that I am surprised when someone like yourself tells me that "so-and-so was a nasty person." Usually it's someone that I would have assumed as much.

Will Jordan: Buddy Hackett was the nastiest person in the world. When he was on What's My Line he was so cute. These obnoxious people could be charming when they were onscreen.

Kliph Nesteroff: I am surprised to hear you say Arnold Stang was not nice, however.

Will Jordan: Well, they just considered me beneath them. "You're not gonna ad-lib better than me." Neither Stang nor I were known for being great ad-libbers. They also kept trying to create confrontation between me and John Byner. They said that Ed Sullivan's son-in-law preferred John Byner. Bob Precht didn't like me that much, but Sullivan did. But by then Sullivan was prematurely senile and everything.

When the production was bought by Andrew Solt of Sofa Productions and they did these Best of Ed Sullivan specials - I wasn't on it. One of the guys that did one of the three or four biographies of Ed Sullivan just happened to live right across the street from me. He's the nicest guy in the world. I forget his name now.

Kliph Nesteroff: Gerald Nachman?

Will Jordan: No. Way before Gerald. I forget his name, but he has one full chapter called The Mimic - about me.

Kliph Nesteroff: Jerry Bowles?

Will Jordan: Yes! Yes. A very, very nice man and I owe him a lot for doing that.

Kliph Nesteroff: It's a good book.

Will Jordan: He lived right across the street, but I think he's dead now. Then, of course, Nachman and there's a book by the guy who was Ed Sullivan's press agent. A nice, little guy - very creepy looking - but nice.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Will Jordan: Solt would not let me say that I invented "Really Big Shoo" and they were going to use that all over the package. They just refused to let me tell that story and explain that Sullivan never said that.

Kliph Nesteroff: SOFA Productions is the worst. Naturally, they guard the content of the show like a hawk, which is fine, but they don't let anybody see the program. They own over a thousand full episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show and in all these years of owning that library, they've only ever released four episodes. The four episodes with The Beatles are the only full episodes they've ever made commercially available. It seems like lunacy to me, but they'd rather chop them up - give you two minutes of a comedian's seven minute act or package them as Ed Sullivan Presents Rock n' Roll in these truncated versions with a nineteen eighties synthesizer dubbed over the credits - I mean, it's just garbage. SOFA Productions is run by the worst possible people...

Will Jordan: They did some stuff with PBS here in New York, but they would make it a half-hour of disassociated clips. I couldn't get jobs in the Catskills after a while because Jackie Mason would come in before me and do his Sullivan. I said, "But I'm the originator!" Then I got Bob Hope on my side. Jack Carter had done an appearance on the Como show. At different times different shows were more important than others. At one time the Paar show was the most important one. The show that probably made more stars than any other, and this is just my opinion, was the Steve Allen Sunday night show. He didn't have the ratings that Sullivan had, but it made more stars.

The truth is the amount of people that became famous from The Ed Sullivan Show were very few. You can't really mention more than two or three. But those that became famous from Steve Allen? Steve and Eydie, Don Knotts, Andy Williams, Tom Post - quite a big list. The difference was that they were regulars. I turned it down because my manager advised me wrong. He said, "Don't do the Steve Allen Show." Steve wanted me to open one of his shows as if it were the Sullivan show. If you had turned to ABC that night then the first minute would have looked just like the Sullivan show - but I turned it down and that was a mistake. My manager was very good, but he told me several things. He told me not to walk out on The Palmer House in Chicago, where I was doing an Ed Sullivan revue, in order to do Judy Garland's first television show. It was, granted, a flop.

Judy Garland had seen our revue open in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton. She went crazy for it. She stayed and watched the show again and stayed all night with me plotting out a complete show. The show was to be ninety minutes for ABC. This was sometime around November 1955. We sat there and Sid Luft had written a script. It worked good for me because we were going to do a take-off on Country Girl where I would be Bing and she would be Grace Kelly. Then we were going to do a take-off of On the Waterfront where I would be Brando and she would be Eva Marie Saint. The topper was going to be A Star is Born and I was going to do James Mason.

She thought my James Mason was just great. On top of that she and Sidney liked me so much that they said, "You're going to be the emcee." But I couldn't get out of my contract with the Hilton and Statler Hotels. I said, "You've got to let me out. It's only three days. I will give you my salary three times over!" "No, no we can't do that." "I'll just walk out on you!" "Then we'll sue you!" I didn't call their bluff and the truth is they could have sued me and I could have lost a lot of money - and it's true that Judy Garland's first show did bomb. But! But to have emceed a ninety minute Judy Garland show and three sketches? Later on William Morris dropped the ball. She did her show on CBS and who did they get to accompany her? Rich Little instead of me! These are bad breaks. I didn't dislike Rich Little. It was insulting in this particular circumstance and I'm visual and he's not.

Kliph Nesteroff: I saw you do your Sullivan impression on a latter day Ed Sullivan Show - by then everyone had seen your version and several others... but when you turn your back to the audience and then face the camera again without saying anything... the audience audibly gasps at the uncanny resemblance...

Will Jordan: I was into that almost from the beginning, but I was more interested in the voices. Larry Storch was interesting, but he wasn't a strong with physical resemblance. The best physical resemblances were done by Marilyn Michaels when she did women and Frank Gorshin when he did Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster. Rich Little looked a bit like Nixon when he wore a prosthetic and he could look a little like Jack Lemmon. He could get away with not looking like people too much because his voices were so strong.

Kliph Nesteroff: I watched Rich Little do what looked like a steal of Gorshin's Lancaster on a Dean Martin roast a little while back.

Will Jordan: Gorshin, even if he didn't look like the person, could make an interesting face. He was also not particularly nice. He was when I first met him at The Horn in Santa Monica. He was great. The first thing he said to me was, "I'm not really a mimic." I said, "Boy, you could have fooled me." Chuck McCann tells the story of how he got Frank his first break on Steve Allen. McCann says that Gorshin auditioned as a singer. 

He wanted to sing because he thought he sounded like Sinatra. Steve Lawrence and Vic Damone were both unquestionably Sinatra copies, both excellent voices. Gorshin's singing voice wasn't as good. Gorshin looked like a little skeleton - very odd looking little creature. Story goes that he auditioned and the entire cast would really help you on that show - laugh it up and applaud.

Chuck said that as Frank was leaving... and of course, this is Chuck's version so Chuck McCann is the hero (laughs) and it's probably not true... he said, "What's the hat on the piano for?" Frank said, "Oh, I do some impressions." Stan Burns told him to do some. They all sat back down and the first thing Gorshin did was Kirk Douglas' face. That scored heavy and he got the show. Bill Dana was there too and he says that's not the way it happened. I like them both. I'm a close personal friend of Chuck. His first wife had been my girlfriend. Bill, I think, is probably more accurate. Bill Dana along with a few others did an act where... they were intellectual Martin and Lewises. There was an act called Igor and H - and then there was Dana and Wood.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, Gene Wood.

Will Jordan: Oh, you know about that? They were quite good. I saw them both at the Village Vanguard in the early fifties. They were quite good, but they didn't make it. Bill Dana became friendly with Don Adams. When Don Adams auditioned for The Steve Allen Show he did his famous bit with the William Powell character. "Look at those arms! Look at those thighs! Are those the thighs of a homicidal maniac?" That was pure, one hundred percent Bill Dana. "Would you believe?" is Bill Dana. The little expressions are important in that characterization and that was all created by Bill Dana. Don Adams' act with Larry Storch's brother was nothing but old jokes.

Kliph Nesteroff: Don Adams was getting a hundred thousand dollars to appear at The Sands Hotel when he had his Get Smart fame, but apparently detested doing stand-up.

Will Jordan: He told a funny story, a true story, funnier than anything in his act. There was a club in Boston called The Latin Quarter owned by the same people that owned the actual Latin Quarter. It was the father of Barbara Walters - Lou Walters. No one ever mentions it, but he had the identical lisp! Same side of the face and everything. No one ever mentions that. Boston's Latin Quarter - the comedians always bombed. Yet the Latin Quarter in New York was wonderful. You knew that when you played the Latin Quarter in Boston it would be a bomb, yet you played it because it was the Latin Quarter. 

Anyway, story goes - Don Adams, who wasn't doing that well and was an unknown somehow got the gig. He really wasn't big enough to get that. He was booked to open for Mae West. A very strange booking. Why would you put a comedian on in front? It should have been a singer. So Don has an act that isn't too good in a room where comedians never go over. On top of that they only gave him eight minutes. That's not enough in a nightclub. Maybe it is in a comedy club or on TV, but in a nightclub it's just not. He decided to do it anyway. 

Mae West said, "Son, I want to hear your act." What more could happen? Mae West says, "Son, you've got to take out this joke and that joke..." By now it's impossible. In those days he needed the money and the Latin Quarter in Boston was prestige, so he went through with it. He went out and, of course, he bombed. But he bombed so badly that Mae West got nervous and broke out it in a sweat! Normally she wouldn't give a shit what happens to an unknown comedian. So he walked over to her and she was shaking like she was going to vomit. Don says to her, "Well, I warmed them up for you!" 

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Will Jordan: Now, why couldn't he be that funny in his act?

Kliph Nesteroff: One person who is much funnier to me offstage than on is Jack Carter. In person - my God, he is just the funniest guy of all time.

Will Jordan: He was the biggest comedian in Montreal. Jack Carter was the king of that city!

Kliph Nesteroff: He was also the king of Vancouver in the sixties. He was here all the time.

Will Jordan: Yes, well, he had a great nightclub act! He was a prodigy of Morey Amsterdam and a little bit of Milton Berle. Before Morey Amsterdam he was just a mimic and he wasn't that funny. Morey got him going and later on Jack Carter became such a rapid joke teller that he became almost better than Morey. He was very good onstage and he had several things going for him. He was a very good mimic. 

Still to this day - with all the Al Jolson impressions - Jack Carter is still the best! That's the best one and it was never known. There were two or three people... one very famous was from Canada - Norman Brooks. Not a great performer, but still successful because he did this great Jolson voice. The other guy was from Scotland, believe it or not, named Clive Baldwin. Not a great performer either. Jack Carter, not only did he have the Jolson voice, but he had the mannerisms. The other two guys, not that I didn't like them, did An Evening with Jolson and everything else. 

Jack Carter was so nervous he couldn't stay in an impression for more than thirty seconds. He would put his fingers in his mouth, spread it open and stick his tongue out and make a funny Jolson out of it. One of the reasons that Jack Carter was so good at it, apart from the fact he was a great mimic, is that he was the only mimic, with the possible exception of Guy Marks, who was a bass. He wasn't a baritone, he was a bass. Jack Carter's voice is so deep and so powerful that he could do Jolson without trying! Anyone else who did Jolson would have to strain. I could never get that deep. I can do him in speech. The audience thinks speech is everything, but to me it was voice. Of course, the public doesn't give a shit. But Jolson. Carter had the voice and he's the one who should have done it as a one-man show... although he probably would have tried to make it funny. Then again Jolson never stopped trying to be funny and it was pathetic sometimes. 

When Jolson was at his peak people would laugh because it was Jolson. Mark Leddy, who later went from being the right hand man of Fred Allen to being the right hand man of Ed Sullivan, would tell me stories about Jolson at the Wintergarden. Jolson was a horrible man. He would see a comedian do a good joke and then he would say, "Send my lawyer to this guy and tell him. 'Stop doing that joke. It belongs to Al Jolson and you're stealing it from him!"

Kliph Nesteroff: Whoa.

Will Jordan: A horrible man, yet very charismatic. He would open up at the Wintergarden - packed - he had this enormous following. He'd open with these jokes that were stolen and they wouldn't go over. Then he would sing a few songs and that magic must have come through because he was unbelievable when he sang. Mark Leddy said that an hour later Jolson would tell the same jokes - but get laughs this time! That's extremely interesting. Although he was big in films, we can't really see that [Jolson greatness].

Kliph Nesteroff: No, I've never understood it. People say Al Jolson was the greatest performer that ever lived - and everything I've ever seen or heard of his indicates the contrary. I've consumed a lot of great show business from that era, but have never found anything of Al Jolson's enjoyable.

Will Jordan: Yeah, it was the kind of thing where you can't see it unless you're there. It doesn't come across. There will always be such contradictions. The highest paid mimic in the world doesn't look like anybody he imitates - Danny Gans. Al Jolson, supposedly the greatest entertainer in the world, was short, ugly, imitated blacks and was practically illiterate. 

The guy who played Schlepperman with Jack Benny was a writer. He got up at a college and lectured about comedy... God, I wish I had the tape of it... and he talked about Jolson. Some of the things he said were fascinating. He said that when you went to Jolson's home or office... his bed was on a throne.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Will Jordan: He would look at the script and he would make corrections. Then the writers would look at the corrections. One of the corrections said, "MAKE BETTER." The story Schlepperman told about Eddie Cantor was absolutely priceless. He said that Eddie Cantor was the most egotistical guy in the world. 

This story was partially recreated in the movie Thank Your Lucky Stars, a very nice little musical. In that movie he reads the fan mail and all of his cast and assistants sit around and laugh and applaud - and apparently some of that was true in real life. The story goes that the writers were really sick of this tremendous ego and this perception that he was a great family man. Everyone knew that he was having a big affair with Joan Davis and surely many more than that. He would read the mail, write the script and do everything at once. 

He was a mad egomaniac, but he was talented and he managed to put on a better radio show than Jolson. Anyway, the writers could no longer take this bullshit from Cantor. They decided they would compose a letter and tell Cantor what they really thought of him - without his being able to tell it was from them. So they put it in some sort of envelope that they could spot, because he had huge piles of fan mail. He was going through all of it and he would say, "Send a picture to this person!" and "Do that for this one!" and so on. Constant motion. 

Cantor was a very hyper guy. Finally it comes to their envelope. The letter says, "You degenerate bastard. You're probably screwing Deanna Durbin and Dinah Shore and God knows what you're doing to poor little Bobby Breen!" It goes on and on and of course nobody hears this - Cantor is just reading it to himself. And the writers are just dying to see Cantor's reaction to this endless stream of insults. Not a single muscle moves on his face. Finally he folds it up. They say, "Eddie? You were so quiet! What did the letter say?" Cantor says, "Oh. Someone wants me to sing Margie."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) Eddie Cantor once called you the greatest mimic he had ever seen.

Will Jordan: I think he said, "The greatest mimic this town has ever seen." Although that was very complimentary - Groucho said to Jack Carter and me that we were the best he had ever seen. But you know, I think they just wanted to make these grandiose statements. Because when you find out that this great compliment - somebody else got that compliment too? Then you don't really know if it's true. My friend Eddie was very lucky. He played pool and Fred Astaire became a pool aficionado. 

He went to Fred Astaire's house and I got invited. I couldn't even tell you which end of a pool stick was which, but I got the chance to talk with Astaire. Everything he said was complimentary. He was just one of those people. I asked Astaire, "Who was your favorite dancer?" He would say, "Eleanor Powell." And then the next moment, "Oh, no, no - Rita Hayworth." And then, "Oh, but Ginger Rogers..." And he just would not want to negate anybody. He was very critical of his own work, but he was an exact gentleman in real life - just as he was in the movies. A bit of a nervous old lady in him, but very nice. 

Kliph Nesteroff: 1954 - you played The Last Frontier with Marilyn Maxwell, Will Jordan and Garwood Van's Orchestra. Do you remember anything about that gig?

Will Jordan: It was a bomb for me. I made a mistake. When I played my opening night with Eddie Fisher - it was a big triumph for me. I was offered either two weeks starring at The Mocambo or as the supporting act at Ciro's. 

I took the two weeks starring at The Mocambo. It didn't mean as much as it sounds. The deal was for that and two weeks in Vegas with Marilyn Maxwell. I didn't get the reaction I wanted so I started to do more time... and that's deadly. You can't do more than your time in Vegas because they want to get the crowd out of there and into the casino to gamble. If you do too long in Vegas you were in a lot of trouble. I don't know if it says it in the review that you have there, but one said, "Will Jordan started to do his whole act over again," which was true. 

I started to do another sequence of my act that was too long. It wasn't a good night for me. However, some good things started to happen. I got a great break from Joey Bishop. I was hired to replace Joey Bishop for his last two shows at La Vien Rose. It was with a girl who was hot at the time, Lillian Roth. A nice woman, but she didn't do any business. I went in for the last two days and it was just deadly. 

However, my agent at MCA said, "If you do good enough we can put you with Eartha Kitt." Monte Proser was running it and he had been running The Copacabana and was then replaced by Jules Podell. Proser was much nicer than Podell and a different kind of guy. We did three shows. Me, a dance team and Lillian Roth - to virtually no audience. For the last show about two hundred prom kids came in to see the show. I really can't imagine why they would come to see Lillian Roth, who you would think would appeal to older people. I guess they came just because it was a nightclub. Anyway, they made it for me. They screamed. 

Proser came back and said, "I don't have time to use you in the Eartha Kitt show and I don't have the money to pay you to do the Eartha Kitt show, but I gotta use you." They squeezed me into a very overbooked show. It was with a group called The Lancers. They opened, I was the lead-in and Eartha Kitt would close. Eartha Kitt had something like twenty hit records when we did La Vien Rose. 

Stan Freberg came in to see the show one of those nights and he was very snotty to me. David Frye told me he was a real nice guy, but he was not nice to me - and I really loved him. He came in and he said in a snide voice, "You know, I do Ed Sullivan too."

Kliph Nesteroff: I was trying to get in contact with him the other day, but I was told that if you want to interview Stan Freberg - he charges you five hundred dollars for the privilege.

Will Jordan: Oh, God. Yet, David Frye said he was great. The bit that he did of Sullivan was great, but his impression wasn't. The bit was hilarious. When he imitated Harry Belafonte on his records it was funny, but it didn't really sound like him. It was close enough.

Kliph Nesteroff: His voices were funny. He wasn't really doing impressions...

Will Jordan: Right and a great, great writer.

Kliph Nesteroff: And you put out some comedy records - your first was on Jubilee - Roast of the Town.

Will Jordan: Right. We didn't have much script there. That was just a favor that was done me. Kermit Schaeffer had done the LP of...

Kliph Nesteroff: Bloopers.

Will Jordan: Yeah, bloopers. So what happened was that many of the bloopers were not available... so we did them as if they were the real tapes... but they weren't!

Kliph Nesteroff: Ah.

Will Jordan: I did Winston Churchill and I did Louis Armstrong. And, of course, it included the famous line [of a children's host saying], "That'll hold the little bastards." Everyone connected with it says that line was never said. The other famous one that people know of, that apparently was never actually said, involved either Bob Hope or Red Skelton. "If women's dresses get any shorter we'll have more cheeks to powder and more hair to curl." These were popular rumors, but there's no evidence that these things were actually ever said.

Kliph Nesteroff: So if we go back and listen to some of those Kermit Schaeffer blooper records... some of the voices we will hear are Will Jordan posing as real people - and we're none the wiser.

Will Jordan: Yes - and definitely as Winston Churchill and Louis Armstrong. There were also many other people involved. As a favor for having done that they put together a [comedy] record for me. It was all done quite cheaply and the music was public domain. It was on Jubilee. Years later I made a record for Jubilee in which they cut out my Adolph Hitler bit because they felt people would think that I stole it from Lenny Bruce. My record came out after Lenny's. 

It was a long session and there were things that made it on that I didn't want on there. Old jokes. I did my Frankenstein bit on there and you can hear a bit of where Mel Brooks got his Young Frankenstein stuff. Not all of it, most of that was Mel, but the incongruity of Harry Richman being the Frankenstein monster is what I did. When you see the monster singing Puttin' on the Ritz - you might think of Fred Astaire, but that song was written for Harry Richman. Harry Richman was a larger than life character and, for me, thinking of the Frankenstein monster being like that is much funnier. Mel took that. 

People told me at parties that Mel would sometimes steal statements that people would say in real life! Years before Mel was anything - in 1947 - I said to him, "The gays love Frankenstein." "Yeah? Why?" I said, "Because life is created without a woman." Well, Mel picked up on that and he would tell it at parties. It's not even that funny, it's just an observation. But it was my observation. He really stole everything, in spite of the fact that he is a genius. And I think Lenny Bruce was [a genius] and Jackie Mason was [a genius] and I think Jack Carter was [a genius]! That's why it hurt so much when they stole from me.

Kliph Nesteroff: Now throughout all of that - did you remain friends with them? Did you cut off contact with them? Did you confront them about it?

Will Jordan: I remained... I stayed sort of friendly with Mel because one of my best friends was Ron Clark who wrote High Anxiety and Silent Movie and created The Kopycats. When I confronted Jackie Mason... he not only stole Sullivan from me, but he stole another bit which I thought was pretty good. He had got into that confrontation with Ed Sullivan with the fingers - so he was going to be doing an appearance on The Hollywood Palace

I told him, "I have a great bit for you." His friend was there too and both Jackie and his friend deny that I said this. I said, "I've got the bit for you to do. Let's pretend that I'm Ed Sullivan the comedian trying to get on the Jackie Mason TV show!" I started to do the Sullivan gestures and Jackie said, "You can't do gestures like that on my show." And it was hilarious - a scream. He said, "Great." He never called me back, did The Hollywood Palace and did that bit. This was a friend and it was very painful. These things weren't necessary for these guys. Maybe the Hitler bit meant something to Mel, but Lenny Bruce didn't need to take my Sabu. I don't own Sabu, but I owned the funny way to do it. I did it in my comedy way. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Jackie Mason is notorious for not being the nicest guy...

Will Jordan: Ron Clark wrote Jackie Mason's opening for his Broadway show and Jackie didn't want to pay him. Jackie was making a lot of money. He had five Broadway shows all sold out. He flopped in movies. He did one movie called The Stoolie and it was quite interesting, but still Jackie was not a success there or on TV. Even though I don't like him I do think he should have been a success on television. I could never befriend Jack Carter, but he was friendly with Steve Allen - who was my old friend. Mel didn't write Silent Movie or High Anxiety. It was definitely Ron Clark.

Kliph Nesteroff: Why could you never befriend Jack Carter?

Will Jordan: His thievery was the most devastating. He literally took it away from me. People say, "Oh, people steal all the time." I say, "They didn't steal a joke. They stole my livelihood!" Suppose someone had stolen Frank Fontaine's character? His character would be the easiest in the world to steal. Anybody could do that! It didn't happen, but if Jerry Lewis had thought to do it or someone else like that - there'd be no Frank Fontaine. That's the only way I can give you a range of comparison to the harm it did me. 

One interviewer said to me - referring to it - "Oh, that Jack Carter bit?" How about that for a piece of pain? I never really recovered from Jack Carter. He was my friend. On top of being a bastard - he was cheap! He asked me to get him into The Mocambo for free - and he had a lot more money than I did in 1954. A lot more money. You know he did an hour show before Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca?

Kliph Nesteroff: Of course, yeah.

Will Jordan: He was very cheap and very rich. I hung around with him because I thought he was a genius, but I thought he was the last person in the world who would do that to me. It was almost as if he was saying, "Well, I've spent all this time hanging out with Will Jordan - I better get something out of it. I can't have wasted my time hanging around with this loser." One day I said to him, "How can you do this?" And he said - I remember this vividly - he said it backstage at a benefit - "You're small time... and you always will be."


Anonymous said...

Tony Randall's other big secret was that he was as bald as a cue ball and wore the finest toupee in the business. He made a big deal about MGM makeup wizard William Tuttle shaving his head for "7 Faces of Dr. Lao" when all he really had to do was take off the rug.

Michael Powers said...

God, I think this is the most interesting interview that Kliph Nesteroff has done, ever.

Anonymous said...

Lillian Roth!

I remember her from Animal Crackers (1930) and then one New Year's Eve in the 1970s she was on Joe Franklin's show. Didn't they make a movie about her "I'll Cry Tomorrow" or something like that?

I feel sorry for Will Jordan. Some people get no respect. It sounds like he took alot of crap from alot of egomaniacs in the business, and it's eating him still.

Kevin Segura said...

Not to be pedantic, but actually, SOFA has in fact released more than just the Beatles' Sullivan shows-- they recently released six shows featuring the Rolling Stones, and in 2006 released the three (relatively) complete Ed Sullivan Shows featuring Elvis Presley.

I mention this because grafted into the 3rd Presley show is a June 1955 performance from Will Jordan, doing his usual **amazing** Sullivan impersonation!

Kevin Segura said...

With all due respect, I think you may have seen the revised version of the Sullivan/Presley DVD set from SOFA, which came out in 2009/2010. The original 2006 issue of that release is a 3-disc set which generally represents the three complete hour-long programs from 9/9/56, 10/28/56 and 1/6/57. (I say "generally", because there were some substitutions of acts made, due to clearance issues. The addition of Will's routine from June of 1955 to the 1/6/57 show is one of those substitutions.)

Anonymous said...

SOFA released a compilation of rock & roll acts on Sullivan. I bought the DVD because it had Buddy Holly singing "Oh Boy!"

The assholes edited out his guitar solo. It's barely a two minute performance to begin with, and they cut out his guitar solo. They'll never get my money again.

Keith Scott said...

SOFA's recent release of SULLIVAN six shows featuring The Rolling Stones is also slightly altered - if it's for legal rights reasons, that's understandable, but the set is misleadingly sold to us "dummies out there" as being the original uncut broadcasts, and that is simply false advertising. That said, the quality is excellent. Will Jordan was finally used as an interview particpant on the first and best of the SULLIVAN retrospectives (the 90 minute one hosted by Carol Burnett). I have three of the four Jackie Mason HOLLYWOOD PALACE appearances, but the Sullivan comedy routine mentioned by Will Jordan is not included - if Will is accurate (and he mostly is highly accurate) it must be on the one I don't have a copy of from March of '66.

Keith Scott said...

Bobby Wall, it's possibly true the comedians may be "a bunch of shits," but really what they are is a collection of highly driven but insecure people in a very insecure business. I speak from 35years of experience here. True, some of the people Kliph has interviewed are somewhat embittered, but the fact is that the vagaries and hard knocks, and the artistic compromises of a freelance life can be personality-altering. Especially in the early career where they have to work a lot of "toilets." Much of their arrogant behaviour stems from a hard-bitten protective shell that many comics build around themselves. Anyone who works in an often disappointing world of shark-like managers, poor business decisions and a lot of indifferent, rude and callous audiences can find that it warps their creative and personal self-worth. In many ways show biz is a hard, crappy profession, and yet most of the comics also LOVE performing beyond all else (it's hard-wired into their psyche from an early age). Some of Kliph's subjects like Bobby Ramsen and Norm Crosby come across as highly likeable in print. I know Will Jordan personally, and he is a very nice guy. Yet he is also aware that he has been his own worst enemy; when you're incredibly intelligent like Will, and you have to deal with dummies a lot, you tend to come across as angry in your senior years for the missed opportunities and a sense of "what might have been."

stephen melinger said...

I would like to hear the other side of the comics mentioned. I have met Jackie Mason and I know him to be an honorable man.

Anonymous said...

I love these interviews!

I find it most interesting that though Mr. Jordon has worked his entire career with gay individuals, he still holds the belief that you can just "look" at someone and tell he is gay; or better yet, how they speak.

His blatant bigotry is so intertwined in his personality, that is almost endearing.

Now if only we could uncover the great Hollywood gay conspiracy..

Steve Warren said...

I didn't realize I was getting a bargain when I interviewed Stan Freberg for free. I just knew I was in awe because he's one of my heroes. I still have the business card he gave me.

Steve Warren said...

I didn't realize I was getting a bargain when I interviewed Stan Freberg for free. I just knew I was in awe because he's one of my heroes. I still have the business card he gave me.

Anonymous said...

" I mention that because it's not something you usually associate with a gay - a great deep voice."

Seriously? FFS.