Monday, June 25, 2012

An Interview with Marty Ingels - Part Two

Kliph Nesteroff: I heard that you planned on quitting show business, but Tony Curtis told you not to.

Marty Ingels: You know, when I was in high school everybody wanted to be Tony Curtis. Oh, if only I could look like him and comb my hair like him - everybody loved Tony. He was a very good guy. Tony Curtis got screwed. He was heart broken to his dying day because the Academy never really gave him a shot. He did a million things and he got a little nod when he did The Defiant Ones, but other than that - nothing. 

My God, he did the movie with Burt Lancaster where he played the press agent - he was sensational! So many movies. Anyway, I met him when I wasn't working as a comic at all. I was a real loudmouth and agents used to hate me. I'd call them and go upstairs and yell at them because I wasn't working. I'd bring charts and pointers showing how I wasn't working. I was a real nightmare. I got my agent on the phone and I said, "Listen! I've done two jobs all last year! No, I oughta..." He said, "Ingels, listen, I'm gonna put you on the speaker. You mind?" 

I'm on his speaker phone and I'm going on and on and on about what kind of agents they are and how I have more talent than that and I didn't come out here to be pushed around. All of a sudden someone says, "Hello? Hello?" "Yeah? What?" "This is Tony Curtis. I love your chutzpah! You got it! You told him, boy. I'm doing a film called Wild and Wonderful. You got it." He was such a terrific guy. He loved Larry Storch and he was in all his movies, so me and Larry Storch played in a band with him in the film. Tony Curtis was so underrated. Tony was brokenhearted because the Hollywood that he loved didn't give him a break. He was never sure when he had to make a speech - which speech he should make. 

The one about his being grateful for going from the Bronx to Bel-Air from the minute he did the dance with Yvonne DeCarlo... that's the speech he was supposed to make. But he almost always made the other one about how when he needed to be thought of as an actor they were too busy giving all the awards to Jack Nicholson and Jack Lemmon. These guys - anytime they did anything the Academy gave them an award. But not Tony. When he did The Strangler, I mean...

Kliph Nesteroff: Sure, should have won an Oscar for that.

Marty Ingels: People made fun of his Brooklyn accent, but he really worked very hard. He did take a liking to me, but I have an insane reputation. If you ask people about Marty Ingels they're going to either say "difficult" or "insane" or "unpredictable." But I tell you, I don't drink, I don't smoke, I'm not a drug person, I don't grope four year olds and I don't have girls stashed in hotel rooms. I'm a solid guy. But - I went through a period... I had a guest starring role on ER. The scene is in a hospital and I'm sitting on this gurney waiting for them to come to me. They're shooting about six rooms away and I'm telling jokes to the extras. 

Shirley and I wrote a book and we handed out thirty-five copies to the extras and then they came in and we did my scene. My step children, who get disgruntled about this all the time, Shaun Cassidy, David Cassidy, Patrick Cassidy - the clan that never met a Jew til me - they said, "We talked to the people at ER. They'll never hire you again." I said, "What the fuck did I do?" "You were too boisterous!" I don't understand that! I just don't understand that. 

I said, "Even rapists get a second chance!" Anytime anything came on television I would call my agent and ask, "Get me on it! Get me on it!" There was a time when they were doing all these lawyers shows. There were all these lawyer shows and a big one came out on CBS and Buddy Hackett played the limo driver. I said, "Buddy Hackett? I know he's funny, but I can out act Buddy Hackett." I called my agent and asked, "Why wasn't I up for that?" He said, "I'll find out why you didn't get a reading." 

He calls back and he says, "You ready?" I said, "Yes, I'm ready." "You sure?" "Will you stop it! I didn't get it. What could be worse?" He said, "When your name came up at the table there was a big sigh and somebody said, 'Here's the deal with Marty Ingels. He'll come in and give a great reading... and then we'll be stuck with him every day on the set!"Wait a minute, what is that? What is it? Do I have fucking malaria? I didn't understand it. It wasn't fair. Some guys come out of drug rehab forty times and they're still working. But there are guys with reputations. Shelley Berman has a reputation for being difficult. 

But if the box office is good enough they'll take anything. They took all kinds of shit from Marlon Brando. When people say, "Marty Ingels is like such and such," people that know me say, "Have you ever met him?" "No." Well, excuse me? So, I have that problem. People think I'm bananas. But people that know me say [the opposite]. Some people would probably say, "Uh, Marty, let me prescribe some medication." But, hey (laughs), here we are talking and I'm not giving you a hard time and Shirley and I have it made. When you have a great partner - things are good, things are good. Carl Reiner had the great quote about us. He said, "I can't imagine what he sees in her."

Kliph Nesteroff: Let me ask you about some other comedians who have a reputation. Buddy Hackett was considered difficult.

Marty Ingels: It comes down to how difficult you can afford to be. Comics... they're all mean people. Bob Hope used to go to a balcony at his house. His writers would be down below. Bob Hope would have a little basket and he would throw down their salary cheques over the balcony. Buddy Hackett... was a prick. A real prick! But he was funny. He did his dirty stuff, he wasn't a good actor and he was a prick. He wasn't nice to the people who helped him in the old days and wasn't easy to get along with. Jack Carter has the worst reputation in the world! But when I worked with Jack Carter on a couple of movies... I lived in the era when Jack Carter did a hundred and fifty Ed Sullivan shows.

I admire Jack Carter. I don't give a fuck. He would tell me, "Marty, why don't you try it this way? Try doing it that way." Normally an actor doesn't want to hear that from another guy, but I had a lot of respect for him and what he did. He has the worst reputation because he's a grouchy guy. The point is... whether or not that's part of it... there are some comics that got past that. Then again, maybe you could say they didn't become big because of that.

Kliph Nesteroff: In 1964 you were on the panel for an episode of What's My Line.

Marty Ingels: Jesus, you're good. You're picking out some neat things. Yes, I was. I can't remember if I was on the panel or if I was a mystery guest.

Kliph Nesteroff: I think you were on the panel there with Dorothy Kilgallen and Bennett Cerf...

Marty Ingels: Yeah, that was quite a thing to sit with all those people. That's right. Now I remember. I remember taking a cab with Arlene Francis to the place. She was one of my favorites. She was a real terrific gal. Dorothy Kilgallen still has that strange mysterious death and they think it was government people or something. She made some enemies.

Kliph Nesteroff: When I'm Dickens, He's Fenster went off the air - it sounds like Leonard Stern was looking for another vehicle for you. There were a slew of pilots. You did one called the Park Ranger.

Marty Ingels: Yeah. No. Right. It became a thing called Duncan, Be Careful. It was when I was at my height in show business. We shot it right next to The Danny Thomas Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Lucy Show. It was the perfect vehicle for a Red Skelton type of guy. I looked like him and Danny Kaye was always my favorite in terms of movies. I was sort of like that and I played a sweet, lovable forest ranger who wanted to go out and catch the poachers - but because he wasn't a tough guy they just made him a tour guide. 

He'd always be saluting everyone when he wasn't supposed to. It was funny and sweet. And the character had a beautiful girlfriend. It all took place in the huge national forest right in Beverly Hills. Who even knows that? Behind the Beverly Hills Hotel up there in Bel Air there's a fence you go through and there's miles and miles of national forest and a lake. You couldn't believe it. It's still there and it's kind of hidden away. Anyway, we shot it there and I thought, boy, this is going to be great. I dreamed about it and thought, "This career is going to be perfect." John [Astin] went in another direction. 

He did only a fifteen minute presentation because they didn't have enough money to do a pilot for some silly thing - The Addams Family. I thought, "Crazy ghosts? Ugh. Now, I'm going to be Red Skelton!" Well, they didn't buy my thing and his thing took off. But Lenny [Stern] was very disappointed that it didn't go. You get a certain amount of shots in Hollywood and then they say, "Nah." And they're off to the three other guys in the bullpen. It's too bad. But I think I have that pilot somewhere.

Kliph Nesteroff: I also read you did a television pilot - or you were going to - I don't know if it was ever made - a pilot based on the Andy Hardy films.

Marty Ingels: I don't remember that one! Maybe I was one of the characters and the star was someone else.

Kliph Nesteroff: And there was another pilot called Give it to Gibbly...

Marty Ingels: Ah, get outta here! You got me mixed up with some guy who does porn films.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Marty Ingels: Give it to Gibbly (laughs) I remember... was a definite porn film.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Marty Ingels: It was in Tijuana and it was awful! Terrible (laughs). No, I don't remember that one.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did an episode of The Joey Bishop Show.

Marty Ingels: Yes, not his sitcom, but when he had Regis as his partner. I did all the talk shows. I did Johnny Carson and there was a guy by the name of Les Crane, who had a wonderful show.

Kliph Nesteroff: Right and you became a semi-regular on Les Crane.

Marty Ingels: Oh, boy. I picked all the wrong shows to be on.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Marty Ingels: I had to choose between Johnny Carson and Les Crane. You know, If you did anybody else but Johnny... Johnny wanted you to be exclusive. Les loved my stories. He had a microphone that was hidden in a rifle and he would point it at people and press the button and they spoke. He had me on and he loved my stories. "Tell the story about your mother when she made the cake and it fell on the floor." It was perfect because my stories were valuable comedy, much better than jokes. 

I had real stories. Les was a handsome, talented guy who did very well with his own show for a while. Then he conceived some kind of internet system and sold the company for forty or fifty million. He developed, at a young age, osteoporosis. He spent the last twelve years of his life in bed. It was real terrible. But I did that show. Another show that I picked and didn't work - or they picked me - was The Phyllis Diller Show. I was a regular on that. That was Phyllis and Billy DeWolfe. He was wonderful. But that didn't work. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I wanted to ask you something else about the Les Crane Show. Do you remember a counterculture comedian named Murray Roman?

Marty Ingels: Boy, that goes back. Do I ever. Yes, very well. Murray... well... at one point I had a manger named Roy Silver. Roy was famous for having gone to Harlem one day, found a Black comic who he felt was funny but whose material was "too Black." He said, "Listen, Bill, you gotta cool that." Cosby became his client. He honed him and brought him to Hollywood. He brought him to Sheldon Leonard and he became the first Black regular with I Spy

Roy used to have a clique that would meet at his house every Sunday. Joan Rivers was there all the time and the Smothers Brothers were always at his pool. And he loved me. I always felt like I let him down. He was one of my mentors and thought I was funny. Murray Roman was always at his house. Murray was a boisterous type of comic and very funny. He was a loud, loud comic like a Sam Kinison. He did an album that was very funny and we all listened to it. Murray died very early in his years. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I read a blurb about the Les Crane Show. You and Murray Roman were on the same episode and you guys got into a fight. There was a debate about whether Murray Roman's act was obscene and you took the position that it was.

Marty Ingels: Sounds like me. I'm very old fashioned. I remember watching the three comics that did Comic Relief. Billy and Whoopi and Robin Williams. They were cursing and I called Billy Crystal on the phone. I said, "Billy, you don't need to curse!" He said, "I'm not the one cursing." I said, "Yeah, but you're part of it!" Cosby used to make those calls too. He'd call Eddie Murphy and say, "You don't have to curse. Knock it off." But yes, Murray used profanity big time. 

I never knew Red Skelton personally, but Shirley did. She talks about how profane he was the minute the camera turned off. If you met him he was so dirty. But the minute he was on air he was pure clown, real pure clown. She says, boy, if you went to dinner with him, every word was, "Fuck this, fuck that."
Kliph Nesteroff: Something happened with you on the Tonight Show and, I think, it resulted in your never being invited back. You were blacklisted?

Marty Ingels: You know, I don't know what it was that caused it, but yes, that is what happened. I think I had a nervous breakdown the night I was on. I was doing a stand-up thing and all of a sudden my knees started to buckle. I actually passed out. I went home and spent several months in my house and became a very serious recluse. I became agoraphobic for a long time. Anxiety. The years of anxiety. It was before they had prozac and before they could diagnose anxiety. 

They would give you a valium, but I didn't want to do that. It would put me to sleep. I was absolutely shaking and quivering and I was afraid I couldn't get to my car. It was fear and anxiety. I couldn't wait to get home and I couldn't go anywhere. The room was spinning. I really had a chemical balance. Now they have all sorts of mood conditioners and that type of stuff. But in those days there was nothing. I went through many years of terrible anxiety and really not being able to enjoy my success. If you ever watch some segments of I'm Dickens, He's Fenster, you'll see I'm walking around holding onto couches and chairs (laughs). 

I had what you might call bi-polar or hyperkinetic - there's so many cockamamie words now. But when prozac came out! I'm still on prozac and I've been on prozac for fifteen years. It did the trick for me. The ultimate oxymoron - I was once invited (laughs) to an agoraphobic convention! What? How can that be? I pictured that it would be a giant stadium - with nobody there. Then they'd send out a newsletter about my speech that would say, "You shoulda been there!" You know (laughs). 

That was an interesting time, but my attack happened on The Tonight Show. But all you hear is Marty Ingels did something crazy. I have a reputation for being crazy- like Shecky Greene. Shecky used to turn over gambling tables in Las Vegas. Comics are crazy people. They're very sad, you know? Comedy comes from a gap in your soul.


mackdaddyg said...

Again, another gentleman I have never heard of with some interesting stories to tell.

Thanks for posting these.

Kevin K. said...

Anyone who gets a fan letter from Stan Laurel has gotta be special!

George in NY said...

I hope Marty reads these - How strange for me to see people commenting without having seen his comedy. He's right, I'm Dickens, HE's Fenster (fenster = window, btw) was a really funny show. I didn't remember that John A. was HIS co-star. I'm glad Ms. Jones found a good guy after losing Jack C. in that fire so long ago.
The real reason for my comment is that people like Marty didn't show tha audience their angst or pain, they just gave people good CLEAN (totally with you and Cosby on that) fun. The humor transcended who you are, where you came from, whether you had a good day or a bad day - like Skelton, you tune in and see that familiar face and you're ready to smile too, and to laugh. Kind of like Stewart's George Baily character, you don't realize how many lives you touch in a positive way as an entertainer. It was great to "see" him again! Thanks for the memories :)

Michael Powers said...

God, what a fascinating interview! Ingels used to be on television all the time during the early 60s and was a household word all over America.

Michael Powers said...

Another thing, it's so bizarre that the older comics make such a point of working without profanity. As George Carlin said, it's a condiment for language (and comedy's much more interesting with it than without it).

susan said...

The other day I received a copy of the part one of the DVD of "I'm Dickens, He's Fenster," and I have to say it is one of the funniest sitcoms EVER made. A laugh-until-you-ache classic. Ingles and Astin were perfect in their roles. Astin was never as good again as he was in this show; he was a superb physical comic. The series should have lasted longer than one season; if it had it would certain rank as one of the greatest sitcoms.

Robert B. Brumfield said...

I hated to read that about Red Skelton... I always thought he was a good and kind soul but that really taints my opinion of him. Somethings should best left out of the public's view. There really was NO point in him bringing that up. I am certain Shirley's sons had every reason to despise him....he was a loudmouth and obnoxious bore.