Thursday, October 17, 2013

An Interview with Howard Storm - Part Two

Kliph Nesteroff: Lou Alexander went into the Marines and your comedy team Storm and Gale broke up. You continued as a single. Almost all of 1952 you were doing stand-up at the Dave Harris Club in Long Island...

Howard Storm: I worked it quite a few times. It was in Bayside, Long Island. A friend of mine was going into the army and a bunch of us came out to the club to celebrate. I was twenty-two at the time and getting thirty-five dollars for the night. Some guy heckled me. When the show was over a guy named Tony DeBona, who was one of our neighborhood tough guys, said, "What the hell's wrong with you? You let that guy do that to you? You shoulda hit him with the microphone!" I said, "Tony, I handled it."

He was upset that I didn't hit the guy. After the show we're sitting there and about fifteen minutes later Tony comes back from the bathroom and says, "Get the check. We gotta go." I said, "Why?" He said, "Get the check, we gotta go!" I said, "Tony, what happened?" He said, "I seen that guy who heckled you. I put his head in the toilet bowl. Get the check. We gotta go." So we got the check... and nobody had enough money! I had to put down the thirty-five dollars I'd just been paid to help cover the check. So, I got paid nothing and that was the Dave Harris Club.

Kliph Nesteroff: You worked it several times.

Howard Storm: Yes. The other place I worked several times was called the Shell House on Long Island. Two lawyers owned the club. One's last name was Karras. A tall, skinny guy. He was going with this woman and she broke off with him. He went and got acid and threw it in her face. She was blinded. Legally blind, lost her hair and her face was forever scarred. He went to jail for twelve years. I remember him as a tall, skinny guy and when he came out of jail he was buff. He lifted weights. And he wound up marrying her.

Kliph Nesteroff: Wow.

Howard Storm: I mean, so bizarre. In fact, they based a TV movie on the story of this guy.  If I was looking for a job on a Monday... we'd go uptown and hang around a place called Hanson's. It was a coffee shop and sort of a pharmacy. You could buy stuff over the counter and they sold make-up and all that kind of stuff. In those days everybody wore make-up onstage in the nightclubs.

And then you would go and make the rounds. You would go from agent to agent, "Got anything? Got anything?" The agent would say, "I've got Saturday. It pays fifty dollars." You'd try to find an agent who would give you two days or three days like a Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Then by Wednesday you would panic because you had no job at all and you'd run back to that agent who had offered you just the one day. By the time you got there someone had panicked before you and took it.

That's how we functioned. Unless you were someone making seven-fifty a week or a thousand a week, no agency would take you on. You were just on your own. There were these little agents that booked all over the five boroughs and Connecticut.

Kliph Nesteroff: Around Hanson's Drugstore did you encounter Jack Roy?

Howard Storm: Oh, sure. I knew him very well as Jack Roy. He changed his name to Rodney Dangerfield, but his father was a vaudevillian. Jack Roy's real name was Jacob Cohen. He sold siding for years. I knew him when he came around with Joe Ancis.

Joe was a tall, thin guy who lived with his mother in Brooklyn. He was very hip in those days. He'd throw one-liners. But he couldn't do it onstage. There were a lot of guys like that. There was a guy named Jackie Lord who was a very dear friend and two other guys I know supported Jackie until he died because he didn't have a dime. At any rate, Jack Roy I knew from around.

There was a club in the Village that I worked. It seated forty people. It was called the Duplex. It was a little club and it was always jammed because on any given night you could see Woody Allen, Dick Cavett, Joan Rivers, JoAnne Worley, a singer-comedienne named Claiborne Cary, me, and Jack Roy, who was then becoming Rodney. He would do the shows there.

When we were out here [in Hollywood], Rodney said to me, "Y'know, you were one of the only guys that encouraged me when I was doing it in the Village. All the other comics resented me, but you were cool. You were cool." But the reality was... I didn't like him. He wasn't a nice person. He was very talented, but not a nice man. He wanted Jack Rollins to manage him and Jack turned him down. I said, "Why'd you turn him down?" He said, "Because he's tasteless."

"No class." Rodney kept pushing Robert Klein. Buddy Morra was then working with Jack Rollins and they took on Robert Klein. The Duplex was a very important place at that time for all of us. That's where we were allowed to fail. We would try new material out. I'd write notes at home, I'd take the subway there, get onstage and put a tape recorder on the piano and just riff with some funny pieces.

At that point I was in therapy and I was doing a bunch of jokes in my act. I was like every other comic... only I wasn't as good. Every time I went to a party I would tell a story about working this club or that club. They would say, "That's very funny. Do you do that in your act?" I would say, "No." And it would annoy me. Through therapy I got to a point where I decided I was going to throw out my old act and start fresh and talk about myself. It was the kind of thing Jack Rollins always spoke to. He always said, "You have to have a point of view and we want to know who you are."

I would go down every night and break in the new material. The woman that ran it was a lovely woman. Jan Wallman. She was a big, heavyset woman and the sweetest person. She just loved performers. She offered me the job. It was forty dollars a week and you worked every night. I said, "I'm willing to work for nothing, if you understand I may have to leave on the weekend to make some money." So I did. I worked there for nothing whenever I was available. I was working on my material and I ran into Jack Rollins. He said, "I hear you're doing some interesting stuff. I'd love to come see it." I said, "It's not ready yet." I never trained thinking that I would be managed by him because I was never that intellectual.

To me Woody and Cavett were very bright guys. I told him it wasn't ready, but he said, "Well, maybe I could help you with it. I would like to see where you are."So he did. He came and then we went to the Stage Delicatessen for a bite. He told me he wanted to work with me. He started managing me and my career started to take off. I got the Merv Griffin show, the Johnny Carson show twice... this is probably around 1965, I guess.

Kliph Nesteroff: Going backward a bit... March 1953, Lowell, Massachusetts at the Blue Moon Starlight Room with singer Jeri Jordan, dancers Bobby Day and Babs...

Howard Storm: Oh, yes, yes, yes. Those were all clubs that were run by mobsters. There was always danger. I worked a club in Johnston, Rhode Island on the outskirts of Providence. The owners were brothers named Gino and... they were evil, mean guys.

They called the agent that booked me. This was three days after I was there and doing very well. They told the agent, "He's very good, but we have a local guy that brings in a lot of people and we want to have him come in here on Thursday." I told the agent that was fine.  I said, "Tell them to pay me and I'll leave." They didn't want to pay me the full week. There was a dispute and the guy, Gino, said to me, "Okay, you stay the week. But every night when you go out to your car in the parking lot - you better look over your shoulder."

Bobby Day and Babs were tapdancers and I drove them. I took Bobby's tap shoes and I put them in this bag and told them to wait so I would go to the wrong car first - so I could look around the parking lot. Then we'd get in the car and drive to the hotel. It wasn't a pleasant experience. There was a lot of work in those areas. 

Kliph Nesteroff: The Glorieta Manor...

Howard Storm: Yes, that was Bridgeport, Connecticut. That was interesting. It sounds very nice. It was a mother and daughter. She called it the Glorieta Manor. Her daughter was Gloria and her name was Yetta so it became Glorieta Manor... which sounds better than Gloria and Yetta Manor (laughs). 

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, the ad says, "Glorieta Manor... Your Broadway in the Woods."

Howard Storm: Ha! That's great. I worked there a few times. I worked it with a Black team called Moke and Poke. They were just bizarre. Two crazy guys. They never stopped fighting. They hated each other. And on the drive... I was driving because I had the car. It was cold. I think it was February. I got there at quarter to five and I was out there waiting. A cop came by on a horse and banged the top of my car with a billy club.

He told me to move. I told him, "I'm just waiting to pick up..." He said, "Move!" I drove around and around. I came back at five o'clock and parked. They still weren't there. Again, the cop came along and told me to move it. I drove around and around and at five-fifteen they were there. They got in, we start driving, and the guy in the front says... and they could never say Howie... I don't know why... they always called me Holly...

Howard Storm: "Say, Holly! You know what? You a drag. We standin' out there freezin' our ass off and you come fifteen minutes late and don't even apologize?" I said, "Wait a minute. I was here quarter to five. You weren't here. I came back at five. You weren't here." He says, "Well, sorry, man, I had to go to a funeral." Just out of left field! Then the other guy said, "What funeral?" And they got into this huge argument. "What difference does it make what funeral! A man died, didn't he?"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Howard Storm: (laughs) They kept doing this. One of them started to sing and the other one said, "Shut yo' off-key mouth!" 

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Howard Storm: They got into an argument about who is the better singer. They decided they were going to make me the judge. We're driving out to Bridgeport. One of them says he knows how to get to the place - so he's directing me. We're driving up and the one guy sings a song, the other guy sings a song, "Okay, Holly! Who's the better singer." So I cop out and I say, "Boy, you're both so good. You both have your own style." Their real names were Leon [James] and Fletcher [Rivers].

Fletcher is now asleep in the back and Leon is up front with me. Okay? We get lost. We get to the place an hour late for rehearsal. We do the show and now we're going to go back and Fletcher says, "I'll show you how to get back." I said, "No. Don't do me any favors. Your partner showed me and I was an hour late." He says, " I know that. I saw what was going on. You thought I was catching zzz's back there? I was just listening to everything that was happening."

"Well, why didn't you tell me we were going in the wrong direction?" "Let me explain something to you," he says. "You think I'm sleeping so it takes you an hour and a half to get to Bridgeport. We were an hour late so it took us two and a half hours. So for two and a half hours the only person you could talk to was Leon. Now, after talking to Leon for two and a half hours, don't you understand that anything I say gotta sound smart?" This is what went on all the way through!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Howard Storm: Fletcher asked me to drop him off in Harlem and I did. Leon said, "Can you drive me home?" I said, "Where do you live?" He said, "Philadelphia."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Howard Storm: I said, "Are you out of your mind?" He said, "No, no, you can stay over night. My old lady makes some nice breakfast for us." Fletcher said, "Leon! Get out the man's car!" 

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Howard Storm: Finally he got out and I drove away (laughs). It was ludicrous. The whole thing was nuts.