Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An Interview with Connie Sawyer - Part Two

Kliph Nesteroff: You were a regular on The Jack Carter Show, which was the lead-in on Saturday nights to Your Show of Shows. You were sort of the Imogene Coca to Jack Carter's Sid Caesar. Jack says that Imogene got all the press and that you were overshadowed.

Connie Sawyer: (sighs) Well, you know... I did ten pilots. None of them got picked up. You have to be lucky. I never got to be a star... although I never wanted to. I never would have been in show business had my mother not made me. She was born in Europe. She always said that if she had been born in America she would have been in show business. They were kosher Jews from Romania. Mama gave me dancing lessons and as a child she told me, "Get out of the kitchen. Go practice! Go practice!" 

Because I won that amateur contest and was making $250 a week in the era of the Depression - who the hell would quit? My brother got a job on a boat and went around the world playing the saxophone and the violin. He had a good ear and he could play anything. We both got in the biz - and stayed in it. Anyway, I was in Tamiment just after the Your Show of Shows crowd. I wasn't there with Max Liebman so, for me, it was bad timing. But what's the difference? Imogene Coca and I were friends. 

She came to my wedding. Jane Dulo was another girl comedienne and she was in a quite a lot of things. There was another act - Louise Howard and then there was Jean Carroll. As far as comediennes - that was it. To be a comedienne was tough in those days. Now look at it. My God, they write books and they come out of the closet and they're big headliners! I'm not saying that to be bitter. It's all timing. I really wanted to have children. Imogene Coca never had a child. 

Jane Dulo never had a child. They missed the whole meaning of what life is about. Here I am. I am ninety-nine years old. Almost one hundred. My daughter drove me into Hollywood this morning and I had an audition for a commercial. Last year I auditioned for one day's worth of work on the movie Due Date. These days you get a day. 

You work one day on a movie and that's it. I did the film The Way West in 1961 and we went to Oregon for sixteen weeks. The business is different today. I don't care if I don't get the part... well, maybe for ten minutes I'm upset. Maybe they know how old I am - and they get scared.

Kliph Nesteroff: I don't know much about Jane Dulo...

Connie Sawyer: She worked a lot. She was on McHale's Navy. She was in a lot of shows, but she's been dead for a long time. Smoking. Always smoking. We had a group of girls that would get together out here. We called ourselves the Show Buddies. 

It was The Kean Sisters, Jane and Betty, Giselle McKenzie, Betty Garrett... there were fourteen of us, but there are only five of us left. We would meet at somebody's house and laugh. It was sort of like Yarmy's Army - only those guys would go out and do shows. I couldn't get Jane Kean or Giselle or Betty Garrett to put on a show. They were too competitive with each other. We didn't do any shows. They were into their own thing and they were very hot in their own thing. We were just social. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I'm sure I've seen Jane Dulo thousands of times...

Connie Sawyer: But you didn't know who she was. Of course. Loads of people have seen me, you know, but they didn't know who I was. When I quit doing a single it was in London in 1956. I came back to New York and had two children. I didn't want to go on the road anymore and I just worked around New York in Come As You Are, Time of the Cuckoo and A Hole in the Head. I was covering Kay Medford and Lee Grant [as an understudy] and playing at the Blue Angel. 

Frank Sinatra's manager, Lillian Small, came to New York and saw the property [A Hole in the Head]. She called Frankie and said, "There's a play I think you should turn into a movie." He said, "Buy it." The guy that was the lead in the play was an anchorman who became an actor. It had a sad ending where the guy loses his son.

The brother and the sister-in-law come and take custody of the child. Anyway, Frankie bought it. Arnold Schulman said to Lillian Small when they were negotiating for the movie, "The girl that plays the drunk, Connie Sawyer, that's a shtick she created [at the try-outs] in Philadelphia. I didn't write that." Lillian Small called Frank Sinatra and told him. He said, "Bring the drunk." 

I told them I had two little children. I couldn't leave them in New York. Lillian called Sinatra. He said, "Bring the kids." I said, "Well, I'll have to bring the maid! Who's going to take care of the kids while I'm working!" Sinatra said, "Bring the maid." When I got on the set at the Goldwyn Studios, Sinatra announced, "This is Connie Sawyer! She plays the lady that gets drunk and screams, 'Geronimo.' You don't know what this broad did to me!" 

I loved Sinatra from that moment on. Whenever people would say to me, "I hear he's this, I hear he's that," I'd tell them, "Oh, he's great. He is what he is and he's marvelous. A wonderful, natural actor." So that was fun working with him. And then I did a film out here called Ada with Dean Martin and Susan Hayward. That's when I was getting good parts. Today I'm lucky if I get four lines.

Kliph Nesteroff: You said you did your final stand-up gig in London. It was a place called The Colony Club. What was that experience like?

Connie Sawyer: Oh, it was a beautiful club. Very chi-chi. They all came in tuxes and evening gowns. It was for the upper crust. I thought I would bomb there, but I didn't. I was the only act on the show and there was one show a night at midnight. They saw me at the Blue Angel and bought me. I didn't go right away.

 I got married and the booker saw my friend Louise play the Number One bar. I said, "Can she take my place?" He said, "Thank God I saw her act. Yes. But you know you'll never play anywhere in London until you play the Colony Club." I got married, got pregnant - then I got pregnant again. And he'd keep saying, "You'll never play London until you play my club." Finally I said, "I'm ready!" And I brought my two kids to London and played The Colony Club. That's when I said, "No more of this [going] on the road." We lived in Irvington on the Hudson. We had a red barn house.

I would play places like the Versailles and stuff like that, but I never went on the road again with the bands and all of that. Then the movies got me. I'm the only one left of that era. They're all dead! 

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Connie Sawyer: (laughs)   


Anonymous said...

So great having these memories collected!!

Bobby Wall said...

She's 99 years old and still going out on auditions!! I love her!!

Phil In Phoenix said...

She's still getting parts too!

A fun interview, Kliph!