Thursday, October 31, 2013

An Interview with Howard Storm - Part Three

Howard Storm: When I started working for Jack Rollins, I got booked at Mister Kelly's in Chicago and the Hungry i in San Francisco - where I stayed seven weeks. I went in for three and wound up staying seven or eight weeks. I loved the owner and the owner loved me, Enrico Banducci. He was great. I worked the Hungry i about three times.

Kliph Nesteroff: Was Jack Rollins responsible for getting you on The Untouchables?

Howard Storm: No, I didn't know him then. The Untouchables came when I was under contract to Desilu. Lucille Ball had that group. Oddly enough, the director of that show was a guy named John Peyser. He came in to see somebody else that they had recommended. I guess he saw me do something. I got a call an hour later from his office saying he'd like me to do this role. I had never been on television as an actor. It was great. I loved it.

Kliph Nesteroff: They placed an ad in Variety for it. "Storm Warning. Be on the look out for Howie Storm on the Untouchables tonight at 9:30."

Howard Storm: Really? I don't remember that. I wonder who planted that. I didn't do it.

Kliph Nesteroff: It says at the bottom - representation Idabelle Levine.

Howie Storm: Idabelle Levine? I don't even know who... oh... yes. Yes, yes, yes. There was a woman, a very nice woman, who lived in Panorama City... she was a nice woman and she worked very hard, but couldn't do much. After that thing I couldn't get anything. It was very exciting because I was working with Leslie Nielsen and Robert Stack.

Kliph Nesteroff: May 1956, you were playing Andre's Tic-Toc Club

Howard Storm: In Syracuse, New York. Yes. There were two of them. One of them was in town and one of them was out on the road. I worked both of them. The one in town was run by the DeJohn brothers. They were kind of "connected." Mike DeJohn was a heavyweight fighter who had fought in the days of Floyd Patterson. The other brother was the best fighter of all of them, Joey DeJohn, but he was a hoodlum and wound up in jail. He was a middleweight. The third one was Ralph, who was a light heavyweight. He was retired and was the bartender at the club. He and I got friendly. He would teach me little moves because I loved boxing. We'd go backstage after the shows were over and he'd show me some moves. Andre's Tic-Toc.

Kliph Nesteroff: November 1956, you were playing John M's Safari Club

Howard Storm: Oh, yes. The Safari Club was in a little area, College Point, Long Island. It had zebra booths. I don't know where they came up with it. It was a little joint. The guy didn't even know where Africa was let alone anything do with a safari...

Kliph Nesteroff: It was you and a singer named Bob Manning...

Howard Storm: I also worked the Rustic Cabin with Bob Manning. He was a guy about six foot five with a beautiful voice. He had a recording at the time that was a hit. It was a song that Jackie Gleason wrote. Manning came from Philadelphia and he sounded somewhat like Dick Haymes.

Kliph Nesteroff: We talked about how you played the Paddock Club in Miami Beach, but September 1958 you played a place called the Club Paddock in Yonkers.

Howard Storm: That was in the Bronx. That was actually a club in the Bronx. All those clubs were just all over the place. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You were enlisted in the Desilu Revue. Were you under contract as part of a kinda company of players that Lucille Ball was training?

Howard Storm: Yes and I did nothing. Lucy didn't like me. She kept using the other actors in comedy sketches. I kept saying, "Lucy! I'm a comedian! Why aren't you putting me in any of the comedy sketches?" She said, "Don't be an ingrate." She was very strange. I loved Desi, but Lucy I found difficult. She would come up to direct you and she would want you to be like Lucy. I said to her, "Lucy, that's what you do. I don't do that." Anyway, that was Desilu.

Kliph Nesteroff: And there was a television special that featured this whole Desilu stock company that she created...

Howard Storm: Yeah, but I just walk through it in something. There's nothing that I do on the special, really. My ex-wife sang on it. Her name was Marilyn Lovell. She had a beautiful voice.

Kliph Nesteroff: One of the other people that was part of this Desilu Revue crew was Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies fame.

Howard Storm: That's right. Yes. Robert Osborne was an actor at that time and his lover was a guy named Dick Kallman who was the most evil human being I ever met. Obnoxious and mean. He always had Lucy's ear. He and Osborne were always together. For instance, we'd be rehearsing and something wouldn't work. You'd say, "I don't know if this stuff is going to work." And within two minutes Lucy was walking in through the back saying, "What do you mean it doesn't work!"

Kallman would get on the phone and call her and tell her that I was complaining about the material. What we were doing was going through the regular rehearsal process. But it was bizarre. Dick Kallman was killed in his apartment in New York. They never found the killer. He was shot. When I said to Roger Perry, who had been one of the Desilu Players... I ran into him years later... I said, "Did you hear about Dick Kallman? He was killed." Roger said, "Yeah!" With a big smile.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Howard Storm: And then Paul Kent. He was in the Desilu Players too. I mentioned it to Paul and he gave me a big smile and said, "Yeah, I heard he was shot to death!" I mean it was just... he was obnoxious.

Kliph Nesteroff: Dick Kallman was briefly popular. He had his own sitcom for a season.

Howard Storm: Yes. He was talented, but he was also a pain in the ass. He was mean spirited and he had Lucy's ear for a while. "He said that, she said this." Anything that was said he would report back to her. Finally, he made the mistake of telling somebody that he was screwing Lucy... which would never have happened because he was gay. It got back to Lucy and he was banned from the lot! So that was nice. I liked that.

Kliph Nesteroff: 1960 - you were attacked outside the Whalen's Drugstore at 50th and 7th Street and beat up by two men.

Howard Storm: Yeah! How do you know that?

Kliph Nesteroff: Came across it when I was running a search on your name.

Howard Storm: Really? Isn't that weird? No kidding. Wow. Yeah, two guys... it was weird. The guy said, "What are you looking at?" I said, "Nothing." And he said, "Yeah?" Out of left field he threw a punch at me and the other guy threw a punch. One of them had keys in his hands so I got cut above the eyebrow. I don't even know why that happened or what it was all about.

Kliph Nesteroff: That would have been right near Hanson's Drugstore too, right?

Howard Storm: About four blocks from there.

Kliph Nesteroff: The Hanson's Drugstore world... Joe Ancis and Jack Roy... did you ever see Rodney Dangerfield's act when he was still known as Jack Roy?

Howard Storm: No, he stopped doing that act in his twenties, I think. He went to work selling siding and made a lot of money at it. He then decided to try a comeback and he was forty-two at the time.

Kliph Nesteroff: I'm working on a section of my manuscript right now about the whole Rodney Dangerfield siding business... It was actually a big scam and he didn't do the work he was contracted to...

Howard Storm: Well, it's not that they didn't do any work. They did the work. As far as I know the work was done, but they were charging three or four times what it was worth. They would always go into poor neighborhoods. Middle class or upper class neighborhoods wouldn't buy it. But they would go into the neighborhoods where people were really struggling. The interesting thing... I did that for about a week or two because I was broke and I needed the money.

I remember stopping at a gas station and I had no money. I said to the guy, "I'll leave my wallet here. Can you give me two dollars worth of gas? I'll come back and pay, but I'll leave my wallet here." He said, "Leave your wallet and your jacket." I did and I got two dollars of gas to get home and borrow some money. It was a very rough time. So, I remember I made nine hundred and seventy dollars in one week [doing home repair] in 1958. I hated it because the people you were selling to were so gullible and wanting so much.

In those days they had what was called a jacuzzi but the tub wasn't a jacuzzi - it was a machine you put into the tub. Every house we went into had one, a barker lounge and a color TV. They would buy everything. If you asked, "Is this paid for?" They would say yes. When you checked the records, you found it wasn't paid for. They were still paying for it, but they wanted to buy the siding.

Kliph Nesteroff: So were you aware about this story about Rodney scamming people?

Howard Storm: Well, we were all scamming people. Everybody was doing it. Including me at the time. I hated doing it and I quit after the first week. They kept calling me to come back. I said, "No, if I need money I'll come back. But once I make my sale I want my money immediately. I don't want to do it on a regular basis." But I never had to. Things turned around a little bit.

Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned Joe Ancis and he was of course associated with Lenny Bruce. Did you know Lenny?

Howard Storm: Yes. Yes, I did know Lenny. As a matter of fact, I knew his mother, Sally Marr, very well. Sally was a lovely lady and she managed different performers. She would call me when I was successful. She would call me and ask if I could help one of these kids that needed his rent money.

So I would send her a hundred, two hundred. She would never call herself. She would call Shecky. "Shecky? Sally." And he would say, "How much?" So, when Sally was broke - I don't know if you know this story - Sam Kinison was a big fan of Lenny's, so he wanted to do something for Sally. He was at Carnegie Hall for a few nights and he gave her the entire proceeds of the Saturday night show, which was a hundred thousand dollars. She pissed it away in four months. 

There was a woman living with her named Drenda, an actress. They shared the apartment. When Sally was getting sick, Drenda took care of her. I asked her, "Sally, what happened to the money? What did you do with it?" She said, "I don't know. Everybody I knew needed a new transmission." She gave it away. Dennis Klein, a successful writer, was sending her a thousand dollars a month. Jackie Gayle was giving her money every month. But she was broke. Drenda said to me, "She doesn't have any money." So I did a benefit for her. Budd Friedman gave us the Improv. We did a benefit for her, me and a guy named Bob Weide, who directed the Woody Allen documentary. Bob also directed some Larry David shows.

So, we put on a show and collected twenty-two thousand dollars - but we didn't give it to her. We had Drenda call us when she needed to have her hair done, groceries, a new dress and we would write a check for that. When she died there was about twelve thousand left. The granddaughter wanted a big funeral, so that cost nine thousand and there was a couple thousand left I gave to Drenda. But I knew Lenny Bruce from the business. I met him in 1958 when I was with Desilu. He had a little apartment, like a cottage, on Gower across from Desilu and Paramount. So, I'd go by there.

Kliph Nesteroff: When did you first meet Shecky Greene?

Howard Storm: I met Shecky in New York in 1954. He was drinking then and he was getting into trouble. You know, every once in a while we would run into each other.

Kliph Nesteroff: And what was his act like back then?

Howard Storm: Oh, it was great because you never knew what he was going to do. He would just talk about his day and what had happened that day. He was the best lounge act ever. He was getting a hundred thousand dollars a week! One of the hotels, I think it was the Sands, they gave him two points. He basically saved Las Vegas at that time.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Buddy Hackett... 

Howard Storm: I knew Buddy quite well. I never liked Buddy because he could be very mean. I was working a club with Rusty Draper. It was a club out in Jersey near Cherry Hill. I was onstage. Buddy came in because he was friendly with Rusty Draper. Instead of just going to sit down he wound through all the tables and said hello to every customer while I was working and just destroyed my act. A year later he came into the Duplex. He came up to me and said, "You know something? You got better." I said, "Yeah, well, you didn't," and walked away.

I got friendly with him later because we would have lunch at Hamburger Hamlet in Brentwood. It would be me, Harvey Korman, Pat Harrington, Sam Denoff and Louis Nye who always brought Buddy. We would tell jokes at the table and all of a sudden Buddy had a new found respect for me because I was good at telling these jokes. He also called me and asked if I could help his daughter who wanted to be in television. I saw him every two months or so at a lunch. By then I gave up being angry with him.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Jack Carter?

Howard Storm: I didn't know Jack until I came out here to Hollywood. We also did a television show called Touched By an Angel. It was a bunch of comics and I played his agent. I got to know Jack there. I'd see him often through Jan Murray, who I liked very much. Jan was a lovely man. I like Jack. He's crazy, but I like him.

Kliph Nesteroff: March 1962 - you were playing Bill Castle's in Bridgeport.

Howard Storm: Oh yeah, that was great. The owner was a gay guy and a lovely man who loved performers. Barbra Streisand worked it, Cavett worked it, Woody worked it. He would give you a cake after the show to take home with you. He was great and it was a great place to work. He would come out and introduce the show and tell everyone they weren't allowed to go to the bathroom while the show was on. While I was working a woman in the crowd fainted. She didn't tell anybody. Afterward someone said, "Why didn't you tell us?" She said, "I was afraid Bill would yell at me."

Kliph Nesteroff: You worked it with a guy named Skippy Cunningham.

Howard Storm: Skip Cunningham, yeah. He was a dancer. A tap dancer and singer like a Sammy Davis sorta thing and a lovely guy. We remained friends for a while out here. He called me cause he was broke and he needed his rent. I wrote a check to him. For the longest time I didn't hear from him. A year and a half went by and I called him. He said, "I'm embarrassed, I don't have the money." I said, "Yeah, but it's a friendship. All you gotta do is say I don't have it and whatever." He finally paid it back but somehow or other we drifted apart. My brother always said, "Don't lend a friend money. Give it to him." I think he's right. My lending the money kind of ended the friendship.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did a show called On Broadway Tonight. Sorta like a Talent Scouts type show.

Howard Storm: It was for people doing their first TV appearance. I think Hugh Downs introduced me. I went out and I did very well. I was coming off and Jackie Vernon was going to go on. He said, "You pulled all the laughs out." I said, "Nah, I just warmed them up for you." And I did. Because he went out and he killed 'em. He got the Sullivan show out of that. And I got nothing!

Jackie was a friend. He was a very sweet guy. Very soft-spoken, sweet man and a very talented guy. His problem, I believe, was that he always played the character of a boring guy. That was great for five or six minutes on a TV spot. When he did the Tonight Show or any of those shows - he hit big. When he got out onstage in Vegas... and you're doing forty-five minutes of the boring guy - it is boring. I think that was his problem, in my opinion.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did several episodes of The Merv Griffin Show, but one had Phil Spector on the panel, May 1965.

Howard Storm: Yes and I remember Merv gave us all longhair wigs. We put them on and then they introduced Phil Spector and he came out and, of course, had the same hair. He didn't think it was funny (laughs). I'm glad he didn't have his gun with him! But he did not think it was funny. He was annoyed (laughs). I thought it was very funny. I also did the show with Liberace. My wife was opening for Liberace on the road at the time and he was just the nicest man. A lovely man. He would always invite us for dinner at a restaurant called Villa Capri, which was Frank Sinatra's favorite.

Kliph Nesteroff: I watched an outtake reel from the sitcom that you directed starring Don Rickles and Richard Lewis.

Howard Storm: Yes, Daddy Dearest.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was your relationship like with Don Rickles? Did you know him back when you were doing stand-up?

Howard Storm: I did. I knew him way back, but during the show it was great fun. Richard was the executive producer. We would be rehearsing and Don would be getting laughs that Richard didn't realize. Richard kept saying, "I'm Bud Abbott! I've become Bud Abbott!" The show didn't last, but we laughed a lot.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, I watched the outtake reel and it's over an hour long.

Howard Storm: Yes and it's hilarious, isn't it? Don, on Halloween, we were doing a Halloween show. Don always wore those running suits with the zip up jacket and the pants. So he's standing there and the whole crew is there. He says, "Richard! Come over here! I want you to say hello to Eddie!" And he pulls his pants down. "Come say hello to Eddie. I dressed him up for Halloween!" And Richard wouldn't go near him. Wouldn't move. Blinking his eyes and getting nervous. Now Don's gotta find somebody. "Howie! Howie! Come take a look at Eddie. I dressed him up for Halloween!" He pulls his pants down, the whole crew is standing there. And I said, "Don! How'd you find such a small hat?" He says, "Okay! That's it!" From then on he called me the little dwarf Jew director.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Howard Storm: "Where's that dwarf Jew director!?"