Friday, June 22, 2012

An Interview with Marty Ingels - Part One

Marty Ingels: What are we gonna talk about? The War in Afghanistan?

Kliph Nesteroff: You worked briefly as a bartender at the Stork Club...

Marty Ingels: That was interesting because I don't drink and I don't make drinks, but I managed to get a job there. They all told me that Sherman Billingsley was very anti-Semitic. My name was Ingerman. But they told me that if I added two n's - you become gentile. One day he staggered over to me. He lived right up above. The elevator would open up and you'd see him come in. "How you doing, kid?" "Okay." "What's your name?" I said, "Marty Ingerman. I-N-G-E-R-M-A-N-N-N-N-N." I wanted to make sure he thought I was German or something like that! 

But, wow, that was an interesting job. I didn't even realize what legendary people were sitting there in those days. I remember Mary Healy being there. So that was an interesting job. I also worked as a Planter's Peanut on Broadway. I was all dressed up as the peanut, but I got fired because I'd get all wrapped up with people I was talking to and wander off. I ended up on Wall Street and was wandering all over the place dressed as a giant peanut. I also had a job at a famous place called The University Club in Manhattan and all the old Henry Kissinger types belonged to it. I got a job as a bookkeeper there. I realized after three days that there was no way I was going to work without being around people. 

I went and got another job driving people to the airport for some public relations place. I needed attention and I liked people. I was Arthur's brother forever and my brother Arthur could do everything. Everything. Phi Beta Kappa, football hero, handsome as a devil - and I just couldn't live up to all those things. I didn't play sports, I didn't like school... but my brother had no sense of humor! Bingo! There was my place. That is what happens to comics - and anybody with a creative edge. 

I always say creativity comes out of pain. They say the beauty of your character is developed over the ashes of your adversity. Shirley [Jones] doesn't believe that because she has had no pain. No anxiety. I live with it. It's my life. My dream is for my wife Shirley to have an anxiety attack and pass out! 

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Marty Ingels: Comics are all sad, lonely people - and not very pleasant. There are very few comedians that have reputations for being nice people. Miserable people. Red Buttons was a tough guy. Milton Berle was hard to get along with. Nobody could live with Johnny Carson. He was a recluse who'd never meet with his guests before or after. They're tough with sadness. But I'm trying to be nice in my old age. The stories that come up about what a putz I was in the early days... God! I'm constantly saying to people, "I did that!? I actually said that to you!? Oh my God." 

I was an angry guy. All comics have that. Had I known that I was as good as I was then... as I watch these I'm Dickens, He's Fenster things now... had I known I was that good I would have been a happier guy. It didn't happen for me. John Astin and I moved on and everyone was saying, "Ingels is the [next big thing]." I did a beautiful pilot and John did a fifteen minute presentation for a never-gonna-happen thing called The Addams Family - and bingo, John is a legend and I'm out here living at the Betty Ford Clinic in the Jewish and Depressed Room.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Marty Ingels: But I went on to marry Shirley Jones - so that ain't bad! Still married thirty-five years later.

Kliph Nesteroff: Before you truly got into show business you were on an episode of Name That Tune. How did that come about?

Marty Ingels: Well, I began to pick up on comedy and I looked like Red Skelton. An architect will walk into a room and they'll tell you exactly where the beams are and a decorator will come and tell you about color. A comic walks into the room and he sees the ridiculous things. The cat is too fat! The host didn't shave! So comics do that.  I was in the army. Private Ingerman. The first advice I got was, "Try to be as inconspicuous as possible. The last thing you want is for the sergeant to know your name." 

I was there three minutes and the sergeant says, "Hey, you with the scratchy voice! Come here! I'm gonna call you Bendix!" He said I was like William Bendix. "Come here, Bendix. Drop down give me thirty-five. Give me seventy." I was constantly dropping to the floor doing push-ups and (laughs) I had the best body because I was always doing push-ups! Then one day I was in the lunch room with a thousand men and we hadn't seen a woman in fourteen weeks. This woman walks in and she sits next to me. She says, "What's your name?" I said, "Please, no, lady. Please leave me alone. I don't want to get in trouble." She said, "I'm from Name That Tune." 

Next thing you know - bingo. Talk about having a destiny! To be picked out from a thousand guys to be on the air? They dragged me down to the [army] office before we went to the studio where they did the show. "You better represent a good image of the army or else when you come back we will clearly beat the crap out of you." Well, it was so phony. They gave me a hundred tests of what songs I knew. They had a clear list of what you knew and what you didn't. As long as you were getting ratings and people were sending letters they would keep you on the program. Just before you went on a guy came up behind you and whispered in your ear, "What's the name of this song? [hums Turkey in the Straw]?" "That's Turkey in Straw." "Okay, just wondering if you knew." 

When I went on they said, "For six thousand dollars! [hums Turkey in the Straw]." I knew I wasn't going to be on the show anymore when a couple weeks later nobody came up to me before hand and whispered anything. Son of a bitch! I wanted to yell into the camera, "It's a fix and a fraud!" Sure enough they played Beethoven's Twelfth and I didn't know shit. But that got me started in showbiz as the funny soldier. They hated me in my barracks. I became a bit of a celebrity, so I didn't have to do any detail. 

It meant I didn't have to make my bed, don't have to shine my boots...  they assigned some poor putz - he had to make his bed... and mine too! I sat there looking at my nails. They said, "Ingels. One day we're going to get you." They were gonna tar and feather me! I was transferred to Governor's Island, right off Manhattan. I spent most of my army years on Governor's Island taking the ferry, doing the rounds with my brief case looking for work, "Look, I'm a comic." I should have ended up like a Dick Van Dyke or a Billy Crystal, but it didn't happen. People are asking me to do a one man show now - at my age! People my age don't do stuff like that. People this age are curled up like Jack Carter and they're waiting to die! My body is gone, but my brain is still funny. 

Kliph Nesteroff: May 1959 - you had your first appearance on The Steve Allen Show.

Marty Ingels: Yes. My big mistake in life was that I didn't pursue stand-up. I was a funny guy and I went right to Hollywood. I sat with agents and I said, "I got a funny face and I'm a comic actor." Every comic I bump into goes, "Hey! Remember you and me in the old days? When we did the Catskills and we did this theater and that theater?" No! I never did stand-up! 

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Marty Ingels: I had a few appearances and one was on The Steve Allen Show - and the other was on The Hollywood Palace. Me and an agent sat down and wrote this sensational thing. It was about a husband and wife who are out and they decide to call and see how everything is with the babysitter. They get the babysitter on the phone and she's misplaced the baby as she is obviously having a party. The parent is describing the baby. "He's thirty inches and has black hair. Look in the crib. Would you please look in the crib? Don't worry, honey, it's okay. Judy is going to look in the crib. Yes, Judy. Is she in the crib? No? Who? Bill and Rhoda are in the crib! Would you please find that baby!" 

It was perfect for me. I had a funny, expressive face. I should have continued in that vein, but I knew Hollywood would be the place. Leonard Stern happened to be the director on The Steve Allen Show and he kept me in mind. "This is a funny kid. Some day. Some day." So he had a pilot called The Workers he was going to do. I think he already had John Astin lined up. He bumped into me in the street and said, "Let's go have a sandwich." To sell a television show... you went to a big hotel and sat with the executives. John and I did a little improvisation right there and that was the show I'm Dickens, He's Fenster

The truth is it never should have been canceled. I heard that the head of ABC was a real bozo at that time. Before he was head of ABC he was a funeral parlor person. He sold plots or I don't know what. Our competition were two giant hits. Sing Along with Mitch, which was big, and Route 66 with Marty Milner. And then us. The ratings hadn't come out for some reason. They were delayed. And Tom Moore, that was his name, canceled the show. 

Two weeks later the ratings came out and we, little Dickens and Fenster, had beat the competition. But it was too late. We were history. I have a fan letter somewhere in my house from Stan Laurel. What a treasure that was. Desliu-Cahuenga was where we shot the show. What an ego trip that was! There were four shows where we shot. The Joey Bishop Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Lucy and Desi and Andy Griffith. There was a commissary where we all used to eat. All the stars and co-stars had sandwiches named after them. 

You could get a Danny Thomas, which was a big meal. Or a Mary Tyler Moore, with smoked salmon. There was also a John Astin and I think the Marty Ingels was tuna or something. It was a small tuna sandwich... with nothing on it (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Marty Ingels: Well, believe it or not. This sounds like a joke. I went in one day and looked at their sign on the wall... and there was a line through my sandwich!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Marty Ingels: The cook came out from the back wearing his hat. I said, "What happened!?" He said, "Mr. Ingels, I sorry, I sorry, but they tell me take sandwich off wall. Is no good no more!" I said, "What!?" What a schmuck I was. I didn't care that we'd been canceled! I was upset because I couldn't order a tuna fish sandwich! They canceled my sandwich!