Friday, October 5, 2012

An Interview with Peter Marshall - Part Two

Kliph Nesteroff: December 1950, Noonan and Marshall at the Club Boheme in Miami Beach.

Peter Marshall: It was actually in Hollywood, Florida. That was with Gigi Durston. She was a society girl who became a singing star for about three hours. She was very pretty. Abby Greshler booked us there. The Club Boheme was very classy and a small club. It was a money club, very expensive and we did a classy act.

Kliph Nesteroff: January 1951 - Noonan and Marshall played the Chez Paree.

Peter Marshall: Chez Paree, Chicago, yes, with Luba Melina and the Degatanos - a wonderful dance act. I worked with them a lot. That was a Mob club. Dingy Halper and Don Jo. Dingy Halper wound up at the Riviera. They ran the joint and there was a thing called the Gold Key Club in the Chez Paree. You needed a gold key to get in and it was a back room with gambling and broads and all of that (laughs). There was a radio show out of there in those days. It was called Mike and Buffy. It was Mike Wallace and Buff Cobb. They had a radio show out of there when we played there.

Kliph Nesteroff: That was common in those days, right? Supperclubs would have a radio talk show broadcast from the club. 

Peter Marshall: Yes, they were late midnight type shows.

Kliph Nesteroff: Guys like Barry Gray or Jack Eigen...

Peter Marshall: Right, yes.

Kliph Nesteroff: February 1951 - the Olympia Theater in Miami with Barr and Estes.

Peter Marshall: You know who Leonard Barr was?

Kliph Nesteroff: Sure, Dean Martin's uncle, but I didn't realize he was Barr and Estes...

Peter Marshall: Yes, that's Leonard Barr. He always had the most beautiful women - and he was the ugliest guy you ever saw! Actually, Dean looked like that too before he got his nose done. Sonny King - you ever hear of him?

Kliph Nesteroff: He was a sidekick of Jimmy Durante.

Peter Marshall: Yeah, Sonny was my favorite. He and Dean were roommates for many years in New York. Sonny came up with the money from a guy named Lou Perry, an agent, to fix Dean's nose. A lot of what you saw in Dean Martin was really Sonny King. He took Sonny's persona. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I was just thinking about how many stars are colored by influences whom most have never heard of. Jerry Lewis' father speaks about how much Jerry was influenced by Harry Ritz.

Peter Marshall: Everybody stole from Harry Ritz. Of all the guys Harry Ritz was the funniest and he was the original. Everyone stole from Harry Ritz.

Kliph Nesteroff: He lived a long time, but he never had cross over success from nightclubs. He was never big in any other medium.

Peter Marshall: Well, he did some movies with his brothers and all of that, but his problem was he wouldn't leave his brothers Jimmy and Al. Jimmy and Al didn't do shit. They would tap dance a little. It was all Harry. There's a joke about an agent. "I just made the greatest breakthrough in the world!" "What is it?" "I'm handling the Ritz Brothers!" "You're handling the Ritz Brothers?" "Yes! Not Harry. Just Jimmy and Al." It became a new joke years later with Tony Orlando and Dawn. "No, not Tony Orlando - just Dawn." So, the joke updated itself, but the original was "Not Harry. Just Jimmy and Al."

Kliph Nesteroff: What was the act that Leonard Barr did as Barr and Estes?

Peter Marshall: It was a comedy dance act. He always had the most beautiful women and how he got these beautiful women I'll never know. He was always screwing them. You'd look at them and go, "Oh my God!" Always gorgeous and he was the strangest looking man. But that was Dean's uncle, yeah.

Kliph Nesteroff: 1951 - Noonan and Marshall were cast in a motion picture called FBI Girl.

Peter Marshall: Right. We were on television in the movie. The scene had Cesar Romero or one of the stars watching us on television in FBI Girl.

Kliph Nesteroff: A real low-budget film, but with a pretty impressive cast. Raymond Burr. George Brent.

Peter Marshall: George Brent had been huge.

Kliph Nesteroff: December 1951, Peter Marshall and Tommy Noonan do The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time.

Peter Marshall: We did it several times.

Kliph Nesteroff: Your first appearance you were on with Sophie Tucker.

Peter Marshall: We worked with Sophie Tucker at the Latin Quarter. The meanest woman I ever met. Great story about her and a true story. Latin Quarter had a great chorus of girl dancers and boy dancers. It was a big production put on by Barbara Walters' father - Lou Walters. Tucker berated one of the gay gypsies. Just screamed at him and blah blah blah. I was there. I saw this.

He came in the next day and he had had a little doll made. He said, "This is Sophie Tucker. I'm gonna put a needle in her left leg!" He put a needle in this doll and... I'm not talking a week later, I'm not talking a day later. Fifteen minutes later she came down the stairs and fell and broke her left leg. I said, "Never fuck with a gypsy!" True story, man (laughs)! I was there.

Kliph Nesteroff: March 1952 - Noonan and Marshall at the Roxy.

Peter Marshall: Oh, we were a big hit at the Roxy. That was it. That wasn't the Capitol, that wasn't the Strand, that was The Roxy! The creme de la creme. Like I say, we did a middle of the road act. The people that went to the Music Hall went to the Roxy; Middle America and the upper echelon. They loved us. We went in for four weeks. We were kids and life was just so much fun.

You were talking about Jack Carter. A lot of people don't like Jack Carter. I adore Jack Carter. He is just one of the sweetest guys in the entire world. He has been at this house many times. He loves my chicken. He calls me, "When am I coming over for that goddamn fucking chicken?"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Peter Marshall: He's the best. He has done more things for people... I know people that he has helped and he never talks about it. I'm a big Jack Carter fan. I'm really fond of Jack Carter and he is maybe the funniest guy you will ever meet in your life. I admired all of these people and, of course, I worked with all of them. People like Jack Albertson. People don't remember Jack Albertson, but in vaudeville Jack was the greatest straight man I ever saw. Phil Silvers also may have been the greatest straight man. In my era - there was work everywhere, the music was wonderful and the comics were great. It was a great time.

Kliph Nesteroff: June 1952 - you played Eddy's in Kansas City.

Peter Marshall: We used to work Eddy's every year. The bandleader from there is still alive, Tony DiPardo. If you ever watch football there is a band on Chiefs football and it is Tony DiPardo. He must be ninety-seven now. There were three Eddy brothers. They weren't Italian - maybe Armenian, but they were the three toughest little guys you ever saw. They were robbed once by a couple guys that came in late and they shot him. But one of the Eddy brothers - he captured them both even though he had been shot! These were the toughest guys you ever met. The Eddy Brothers.

Kliph Nesteroff: By January 1954 you were no longer teamed with Tommy Noonan. You were in a new comedy team with Tommy Farrell. You two appeared in an episode of This is Show Business moderated by Clifton Fadiman. Tommy's mother, famed actress Glenda Farrell was on the same episode.

Peter Marshall: Glenda, yes. I'd love to have a clip of that because George S. Kaufman was on the show too. I forget who else, but I sure remember George S. Kaufman. Tommy Farrell just passed about three years ago at the Motion Picture Home. He was a wonderful, wonderful guy. Tommy Noonan died very, very young.

Kliph Nesteroff: Marshall and Farrell did an episode of the Colgate Comedy Hour with Martin and Lewis and Buddy Lester.

Peter Marshall: Buddy was a close friend. Have you ever seen The Rookie - the Noonan and Marshall movie?

Kliph Nesteroff: I watched it on Friday.

Peter Marshall: Did you? What did you think of it?

Kliph Nesteroff: Uh, well... it was... y'know... pretty ridiculous...

Peter Marshall: It is ridiculous. It made a fortune for Fox. It was their biggest hit of the year and it kept the studio open. The picture cost $160,000 to produce and it grossed several million for Buddy Adler, the head of Fox. This was after the Cleopatra debacle. Our little picture kept the studio alive for a year.

Kliph Nesteroff: Also in the film, latter day Stooge, Joe Besser.

Peter Marshall: Joe Besser. Do you know the story of Joe Besser? Joe Besser was the original Lou Costello. Lou Costello stole everything from Joe Besser.

Kliph Nesteroff: Really?

Peter Marshall: Oh, yes. He put Joe Besser under contract so he couldn't work anywhere else. This is all true. I mean, Lou stole so many things from Joe Besser. Joe Besser was so cute and you saw him in the movie. How did you get a copy of The Rookie?

Kliph Nesteroff: I managed to dig it up on the internet. Took a while. I haven't seen the other Noonan and Marshall film.

Peter Marshall: Oh, it's real lousy. That one didn't do very well at all. I just saw it for the first time. Barbara Eden was at the house for dinner the other week and I gave her my copy. I said, "Take a look, but you're going to hate it. I didn't even get through it." When they released it I went off to England to do a play with Chita Rivera, so I didn't even see it. It was in theaters for maybe two days and it wasn't very good. They spent a lot of money on that picture.

Kliph Nesteroff: Wasn't it just a revamped Martin and Lewis script?

Peter Marshall: Yes, they just took an old Martin and Lewis script and it was a lousy script to begin with. We tried to get out of it. We didn't want to do it at all, but they made us do it. We brought The Rookie to them, to Bob Lippert. We owned fifteen percent and we never saw a penny. Anyway, The Rookie is a cult movie. There are screenings of it in New York once a year.

Kliph Nesteroff: It's a surreal film.

Peter Marshall: Yes, we capture ourselves and all of that. Some of it is pretty funny, actually.

Kliph Nesteroff: It contains snippets from the Noonan and Marshall nightclub act - the Noonan and Marshall cooking routine.

Peter Marshall: Yeah, it wasn't done very well. If you want to see a good copy of that get a picture called Starlift. It was a film from Warner Brothers. You might want to watch it because Dick Wesson is in it. Remember the Wesson Brothers? Dick is the star and he is very cute in it. When we started we were doing the chef bit and we were hired to go to San Francisco and entertain army troops. They hired us because they needed stock footage of soldiers laughing.

Jack Warner saw the footage and asked, "What the hell were they laughing at?" They said, "This nightclub act Noonan and Marshall." He said, "Well, let's use them in the movie!" We were working Lake Tahoe at the time. Tommy said, "We want ten thousand dollars." In 1950 that was a ton of money. I said, "We'll never get that." We got it. Time magazine said, "This is maybe the worst movie of the year, but it's worth the price of admission to see two young comics named Tommy Noonan and Pete Marshall." We do the chef bit and it's done really well.

Kliph Nesteroff: The only thing of your nightclub act that I've really seen was in a television program produced by Jackie Gleason called Cafe Mardi Gras.

Peter Marshall: Yes. Gleason loved the way I sang and he used to come to Billy Gray's Band Box when he was doing The Life of Reily. He just loved the way I sang. So, now I was working the Latin Quarter and he said, "Kid, I want to make a pilot with you. I want to make a star out of you and your partner." I was working with Tommy Farrell. Tommy got very excited. He said to me, "Ah, he's a drunk." Gleason would come in and sit ringside and he'd fall asleep in his food.

He'd be with Jack Hurdle and all the guys. By God, we did this pilot. They previewed it at Toots Shor's on a big screen and it was beautiful. Gleason came up to me and said, "Hey, kid. Go out and buy yourself a Jaguar." I said, "Give me two bucks to get to the East Side, that's all I want." The next day at William Morris they were looking at it on this little screen and you couldn't see anything! It was just awful. I said to Tommy, "We're dead. This will never sell. It looks like an old MGM movie. There's too much going on."

And I was right. At the time Gleason was real hot on it and so was CBS, but nothing ever happened with it. It had the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. I have a copy of it somewhere, but I never watch anything I do. I guess I should.

Kliph Nesteroff: There were so many great nightclub acts of that era and we have so little evidence of it. Even if we do have the odd film clip - it doesn't really translate.

Peter Marshall: That's true. That was Marshall and Farrell and we did a hillbilly bit. We wrote all that stuff.

Kliph Nesteroff: January 1957 you two were playing the Crescendo in Los Angeles. Now that is precisely the same time that Lenny Bruce came into the Crescendo and became real hot. That was the breakthrough year for Lenny Bruce.

Peter Marshall: Let me tell you the story. These are all true stories by the way. Whether you believe them or not. Why would I lie? I'm eighty-six years old, for goodness sake. Chuck Landis owned the Crescendo and he also owned the Largo at the same time. He said, "I'm looking for a house comic who will introduce the acts."

I said, "Well, there's a guy working down on Western Avenue at a strip joint with his wife. He would be a wonderful house comic. You're gonna go see him, Chuck, and you're gonna come back and say, 'Are you crazy?' But this guy is brilliant." It was Lenny Bruce. Lenny and I were dating a pair of roommates at the time and that's how I knew him. Yet, he was still married - and so was I - which shows you what kind of people we were.

Anyway, Chuck phoned me and said, "Are you crazy?" I said, "I told you." But he hired him. I was there opening night. He was brilliant. You know what he would do? So clever. He said, "I'm going to make an obscene phone call." He had the whole room wired. He said, "You guys can't laugh! You've got to be got to be quiet. Okay, give me a prefix."

"213!" "Okay, give me a number." "294!" It's midnight. And he makes an obscene phone call. Some guy or girl answers and shit, was it ever funny. It was funny. Then they built a room upstairs. I forget what they called the room upstairs at the Crescendo.

Kliph Nesteroff: The Interlude.

Peter Marshall: Yeah, there you go! The Interlude. He put him in there and Lenny was there for ages. That was the beginning, I swear to God. That's a true story.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, that's where he really took off and then he was booked shortly thereafter at the Slate Brothers club. Do you remember much about Slate Brothers?

Peter Marshall: Yeah, the Slate Brothers were a vaudeville act like the Rio Brothers. A dance comedy act. They were very clever, very good and it was Henry Slate that opened the joint. That's where Rickles got his start out here. I was in London when they opened the club and when I came back Tommy Noonan was working it as a solo. That was the first time I ever saw the club. I was in the audience and I got up and we did maybe twenty minutes together, but I rarely went out to nightclubs. I'm trying to remember what street it was on...

Kliph Nesteroff: La Cienega.

Peter Marshall: La Cienega, right. I didn't spend much time at Slate Brothers because I was working or I couldn't afford it or whatever.

Kliph Nesteroff: In your book you mention that you did not care for Dan Rowan...

Peter Marshall: No, he was an asshole.

Kliph Nesteroff: What's the story there?

Peter Marshall: Well... you know, we put them together. We were responsible for Rowan and Martin. Dan Rowan was selling used cars and Dick Martin was a bartender at a place here in the Valley and they didn't even know each other. They both wanted to be in show business and they were friends of Tommy Noonan. I knew Dick because his father and my mother worked together at Hughes Aircraft.

As much as I disliked Dan that was how much I liked Dick. He was just an angel. They wanted to be in show business so we wrote them an act. Tommy did most of it because I didn't think they were going to work at all.

We got them an agent, Joe Rollo. We would book ourselves into the Chi Chi in Palm Springs and then cancel. We'd say, "Hey, we got a great act for you," and put them in. Eddy's in Kansas City, we got them that gig.

They struggled for a few years and then Walter Winchell got on their bandwagon. Winchell could put you right on the map. They were about to break up. Much later... I said to Dick, "Did you know Dan was up for Hollywood Squares?" He said, "No." I said, "He was. That's why I did it. To fuck him." He was a terrible guy. He was a snobby shit. When Tommy Noonan was dying at the Motion Picture Home I went to everybody. I said, "Go out and see my friend. Spend an hour or two with him. Be positive and just talk."

Dan never did. He was out there almost a year. I never forgave him for that. He wouldn't have had a career without Tommy. I have a note from Dick before he died. It says, "I just want to thank you for my career."

I loved Dick, he was a wonderful guy. But - that's the story. I didn't want to do Squares. I wanted to go back to Broadway. They said, "Well, if you don't do it, Dan Rowan is going to do it." I said, "Then I'll do it." To screw him I figured I'd do it for thirteen weeks.

Kliph Nesteroff: Another guy that ended up hosting game shows instead of continuing on Broadway... is the other person you mentioned in your book as not liking... although you never elaborate why... Bert Convy.

Peter Marshall: Another ass. The only two people I ever disliked in my whole life. Bert Convy I knew quite well. He came after me to do a pilot called Third Degree. I didn't like it. He wanted me to do the original thing he wound up doing - Win, Lose or Draw. I said, "It's a kid's show. It will only last two or three years at the most." I was right.

It only lasted a couple seasons. Third Degree, Warner Brothers came after me and I knew the head of the television department. He said, "Come on, Pete, do it." So I did the pilot. It was the only game show pilot sold all year. Convy got fired from his own show Win, Lose or Draw. They wanted a younger guy. So he wound up hosting Third Degree - without telling me. I had a meeting with TelePictures. They came here to my house and said, "We're not going to use you."

I said, "What are you talking about? I have a contract." They said, "Bert wants to do it." I said, "Well, where's Bert?" They said, "Uh, well, he didn't want to come." All he had to do was say, "Pete, I tell you what. If you don't mind, I want to do the show. I'll pay you off." I would have said, "Hey, Bert. Go ahead. Do the show. I didn't even like the show to begin with." And I didn't. It was a phony show.

But that little prick never came to my house and he never even called me. So, I sued them. I had a contract. I would have won a lot of money... but... he died. I dropped the suit because he had kids. He had some really nice kids and I knew his daughter well. She was a darling little girl, so I dropped the lawsuit.

So that was my experience with that little... and I said to TelePictures, "The show won't work with Bert Convy. He's not a 7:30 performer. He's too slick. He's like a fop." Guys control the 7:30 timeslot. They come home, they grab a beer, they'll hate Bert Convy. He's too pretty, too slick. I was right. They canceled it during the first season.

Kliph Nesteroff: I want to ask you about one of the greatest comedians with one of the worst reputations. Buddy Hackett.

Peter Marshall: I was very close to Buddy. I worked with him, I opened for him in Vegas many times, and I see his widow all the time. He was tough. Buddy was tough. He was a hard friend to have, but I was very fond of Buddy. He started out here at Billy Gray's Band Box.

Kliph Nesteroff: Shecky Greene has told me many Buddy Hackett stories.

Peter Marshall: I was at the Chase Hotel in St. Louis in the main room and they had a little side room called the Jade. They had this comic making a hundred fifty a week. His name was Shecky Greene. I walked in and saw this guy... other than Jimmy Ames... he was the funniest guy I ever saw. You ever heard of Jimmy Ames?

Kliph Nesteroff: No, never.

Peter Marshall: The best! The best that ever lived, for me. Jimmy Ames. I worked with him at Charlie Foy's. I couldn't watch him! I couldn't talk! I would have to stay in the dressing room. I would be hoarse - screaming - laughing at Jimmy Ames. I was with Buddy Hackett one night. I said, "Who's your favorite comic, Buddy?" He said, "Jimmy Ames." 

I said, "Jimmy Ames! You're the only guy that remembers Jimmy Ames!" Let me tell you Jimmy Ames' act. He was a big tall guy. He came out with a rusty saw and he would start screaming at everybody. He'd take the saw. He'd find a woman, make her stand up, take her chair and he'd saw the leg off!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) That sounds awesome!

Peter Marshall: He would tummle for an hour. I don't even know what the act was!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Peter Marshall: At the end he would play the saw. He would hit it and the saw would go clunk and then he would go, "Wooo wooo woooo!" I mean, the act... the best act I ever saw! And that was also Buddy Hackett's favorite act. Jimmy Ames. I was staying at the Croydon Hotel in Chicago while I was working the Chicago Theater.

There was a place across the street called the Black Orchid and he was appearing there. After my last show I ran over there to see him. I walked in and he had everyone standing on tables because he was going to "fly around the room." Ah, shit. Now, you ever hear of Lord Buckley?

Kliph Nesteroff: Sure, yes.

Peter Marshall: There was a great place in Palm Springs called the Chi Chi. Everyone played the Chi Chi and we were big there. Anyway, we were following Lord Buckley. What you'd do is drive down the night before and as a gesture you'd see the last show of the preceding act. Lord Buckley was there - and there were not many in crowd.

He was always dressed immaculately and he was always stoned. He said, "I need some volunteers! Eleven men!" He got eleven guys onstage. He had five guys bend down, then three guys get on top of them. He had a ladder. Then he had two get on top of them. And then one more guy right on the top. Like a pyramid. Then he went to the band, grabbed his music and he left! The emcee says, "He'll be right back, folks." I said, "Are you fucking crazy? He's gone." He got in his car and left! He never came back (laughs).

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Peter Marshall: True story. My other favorite story. Abby Greshler talked like this. You'd go to his office and he'd say, "You see that lamp? I paid $422 for that lamp. You see this chair? This nice chair? I paid $1600 for this chair." That's the only kind of thing he talked about and he mumbled. He was, without a doubt, if you were going to cast an agent in a movie - you would cast Abby Greshler.

He was the personification of what we think an agent is. Anyway, he handled Martin and Lewis, as you know. He went to Bill Miller's Riviera before the Copa and Martin and Lewis are a smash. Now, Bill Miller happened to be one of the nicest people in show business. He owned this wonderful club, Bill Miller's Riviera. You ever hear of it?

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, the nightclub with the retractable roof.

Peter Marshall: Now they're going to Ciro's where Martin and Lewis are a huge hit. Bill Miller says, "Now, Abby, you've got to promise me this. I did you the biggest favor in the world. You begged me to book this act and I did. Now they're going to go to Ciro's and be a huge hit and then they're coming back to New York. For Chrissake, get them to work here.

Don't put them in the Copa or anything. That would break my heart." He says, "Jesus Christ, Bill, what the hell kind of a person do you think I am? I mean, Jesus, Bill, without you there's no Martin and Lewis! I mean, shit, you're the one! Why would I do that to you, Bill? My God, you're the most wonderful man in the world and I thank you, Bill." So they go to Ciro's and, of course, right from there he puts them in the Copa.

Bill Miller goes balastic! He's saying, "I'm gonna kill this son of a bitch. I'm going to kill this man." Joey Bishop was working Bill Miller's Riviera and Abby Greshler goes to see him. And Bill Miller sees Abby. He screams, "Get him out of here! I'll kill him! Get the man out of here! I'll murder! You son of a bitch, you get out of my goddamn club! You never come in here for the rest of your life, you son of a bitch! You're dead! Do you hear me Abby Greshler!? You're dead!" He goes up to him and Greshler says, "Listen, Bill, I'm sorry." Bill Miller spits in Abby's face! Abby takes his handkerchief out and as he wipes his face he says, "Uh, Bill. Violet and I are having a little party next week..."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Peter Marshall: (laughs) Ah, shit. Vi and I are having a little party next week! And the man just spit in his face? (laughs) Isn't that perfect? That's my all-time favorite show business story.