Saturday, October 26, 2013

An Interview with Pat Carroll - Part Two

Kliph Nesteroff: There was a prolific comic actor in countless Broadway revues named Davey Burns.

Pat Carroll: Oh, David Burns was one of the funny men of the theater. He was a naughty, naughty man. He would do dreadful things. If you were onstage with him he'd turn his face upstage and [flaps lips, makes horse sound]. Oh, he was a very bad and very funny man. Great to work with and marvelous to watch. He always made me laugh.

Kliph Nesteroff: One of the Max Liebman specials you were on featured Marcel Marceau and Maurice Chevalier.

Pat Carroll: Mr. Chevalier and Mr. Marceau. Well, I had seen Mr. Marceau in the theater when he first came to America. He blew me away. What a brilliant artist. At the end of that television special, Mr. Marceau came to every performing artist's door, tapped on it, and said, "Goodbye." Now, isn't that beautiful theatrical manners? Nobody else did that. I was so impressed. I would be at every rehearsal in a corner watching him. He was such an artist. God! What a brilliant man!

Kliph Nesteroff: March 1956 it was announced you would be replacing Nanette Fabray on Caesar's Hour. 

Pat Carroll: I don't remember that I was hired to replace Nanette. I have no reason for why she left, but I was Howie Morris' partner on the show. I was in the commuter sketches where all the guys had a wife. I was Howie Morris' wife. I was not hired to replace Nanette, I don't think. I think I was hired to play with Howie. I learned so much about comedy from watching those three work together - Howie, Carl, Sid - they were like Tinkers to Evers to Chance. It was unfailing.

They worked together for so long that they had that innate sense of each other's timing. It was impossible for them to fumble. We did two shows every Saturday night because one was for the West Coast and one was for the East Coast. If they totally abhorred a sketch they did, those three would sit in Sid's dressing room with the writers and write a brand new sketch. Yes, amazing. I learned so much from watching those three men work. And I enjoyed watching them work and learned from them.

They were professionals with innate editing abilities. I almost killed Sid Caesar in one sketch. I was playing a waitress in a restaurant who is scared of losing her job and I have a tray. I hit him in the back of the head with it. I did well in rehearsal, but at showtime I gave him such a clunk.

I thought, "Oh my God, I've killed Sid Caesar - how do I close this sketch?" Because he was under the table. I panicked. I almost said out loud, "What do I do now?" Then I saw his shoulder shaking and I knew he was alive, but not in what condition. He came up and whispered. "I'm going to kill you. I've got such a headache." I felt horrible. I almost killed Sid Caesar!

Kliph Nesteroff: Instead you ended up winning an Emmy for your work on that show.

Pat Carroll: Yes, that was because of the words that were given to me and the quality of the people I was working with. I remember I didn't even say thank you. I just went up and grabbed it as if someone were going to steal it from me. Wasn't that ungracious? I thought about it later, "I'm such an idiot."

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you have many encounters with Mel Brooks at the time?

Pat Carroll: Mel was one of the writers and he was a mad man. He was an absolute mad man! I met him earlier with the Simon brothers and I thought the same thing. The man is absolutely mad! Funny - but mad as a hatter. He always has been, but look how creative and how much he poured out over the years. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You were in a semi-legendary television bomb called You're In the Picture hosted by Jackie Gleason.

Pat Carroll: Oh my God, with Gleason. Oh was that a bomb. It was the Hiroshima of television! And Johnny Carson was supposed to be on it. But he did one rehearsal and we never saw him again. He knew better than we did. Ha! He was always a smart fella. I thought it was a very strange show, but I thought, "They know what they're doing. Jackie Gleason has always known what he is doing."

That night when we did it - I felt the audience go, "What? What is going on here?" There was another gal there, wonderful performer, Jan Sterling. And the next evening they had us both waiting to go on, holding chairs. Jackie had the only chair on the set... and he did a national apology.

When he ended his apology we were still standing in the wings holding our chairs (laughs). I don't know why they even had us there. But there we were. We're standing with our chairs waiting to go on while Jackie is apologizing to the world. He was very funny doing it, I might add. I don't remember who was responsible for that show but it... was... horrible.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, it made news, especially his on-air apology.

Pat Carroll: Oh, yes! Nobody had ever done that before! I thought, "See? He's a brilliant showman." A brilliant showman because he knew how to make something out of horror. Magnificent.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were the original voice of Jane Jetson on The Jetsons. Morey Amsterdam was the original voice of George Jetson. Of course, it never ended up featuring either of you. I read that you sued Hanna-Barbera.

Pat Carroll: Yes, we were cast as The Jetsons and then they pulled us. I don't know if we weren't any good or what. Nobody ever told us. As far as I was concerned, that was inappropriate. I don't care if it's the biggest agency in the world or the biggest producer. When it's wrong, it's wrong and if I have to spend the money to litigate, I will. I knew full well we wouldn't win, but I wanted my voice to be heard that this was wrong. Even my agents lied. So, you know. There you are. You're not going to win when you fight the big fellas, but at least you can put up a little yowling. 

Kliph Nesteroff: So you actually recorded some episodes?

Pat Carroll: We did one. If somebody had had the guts to say, "Listen. You two stink and we're going to let you go." If anybody had the guts to say that I would have said, "Fine." And no lawsuit. Because when people are honest you'll get much more fairplay... at least from this gal... than if you lie and fib and try to cover up. A waste of everybody's time. Just be honest and people can adjust to it.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did many episodes of I've Got a Secret. I want to get your thoughts on Henry Morgan.

Pat Carroll: Henry Morgan. What a sly-puss of a gentleman. Oh, he was a delightful humorist. I loved to see his eyes twinkle when he was tickled about something. I think the man was highly underrated. I think he was so much better than people thought he was. He was a very clever man, a very intelligent man, and he had a wildly inventive humor. I totally enjoyed anything and everything he did. A pleasure working with him.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Robert Q. Lewis?

Pat Carroll: He tickled me. He was like the head reporter from a college paper. He had so much energy and how he loved what he did. I just admire people that love what they do. I don't care if it's digging ditches. I don't care if it's pushing a pencil. If you love what you do, I'm on your side and Bob Q. Lewis loved what he did. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Danny Kaye.

Pat Carroll: Danny Kaye was a masterful showman. I don't think there was anybody else around at that time that had Danny's abilities or qualities. When I worked on a show with him I was pregnant. I remember he announced in the warm-up that I was expecting. To the audience he said, "Does daddy know?" I could have killed Danny Kaye, but the man was awfully good at what he did. Danny Kaye was an artist and that's all there was to it.

Kliph Nesteroff: Red Skelton.

Pat Carroll: One of God's great clowns. That man would perform on a street corner for three people. I never worked with anybody who enjoyed performing as much as that man did. The man just had a twinkle. He had a little devil in him. He loved to create a ruckus and the man would perform for just one person - with joy.

I always found him to be one of the funniest of the comics because he was so childlike. The man entertained me for years and years and years and I loved working with him. I never participated in any of those famous dress rehearsals, but one time I got in on part of one. You know, people would come from all over the building because they were filthy. Martha Raye was the only woman who could stand toe to toe with him and match him filth for filth.

They were both hysterically funny. I sat in for ten minutes on one of them and Red turned to me because I was laughing. "How come a Catholic girl like you is laughing at stuff like this?" Which got me hysterical. How did he know I was Catholic? He was a naughty, naughty man, but God was he funny! Those were legendary dress rehearsals and Red knew it and he played to it. The place was jammed! You couldn't find a seat if you came in late. People came in from the other side of town for those dress rehearsals! It was called The Dirty Hour (laughs). There was nothing too filthy!