Friday, October 17, 2014

An Interview with Frankie Ray - Part Two

Frankie Ray: I was probably the best friend Lenny Bruce had. I see these shows and they interview these guys, "Well, when I was with Lenny Bruce..." Half of them didn't even know him! Lenny was doing a nightclub by the airport with a couple strippers. I went out there and it made me realize how much balls he had. He was working with this girl. She danced on a rug and then gets off the stage. Lenny comes out and says, "Dig this. See that rug? It's down there because the dancer asked the bartender to lay it down for her. This broad wanted me to do it. I'm a bigger star than she is and she wants me to be a stagehand."

He did a whole routine about this. "She asked me if I would at least have the courtesy to take the rug off the stage when she's through. Yeah, I got that courtesy." He picked it up, rolled it, and sent it sailing across the room. It knocked a guy's toupee off. He said, "I'm not gonna pick up her fucking rug!" These are the kinds of things he did. Then he'd take off on the bosses. "These two guys, man. There's a girl singer on the show and the one boss is in love with her. Dig? She can't get a job and this asshole bought her a nightclub so he could get laid." We'd hang out and he'd hold court at Canter's.

Kliph Nesteroff: I heard that you guys were together the night Lenny was attacked by some racist...

Frankie Ray: Okay. We decided one night not to go to Canter's because there were too many people around. Whenever Lenny came in - that booth would just be packed. People came in just to listen to him. He was that kind of a performer. So I said, "Well, where do you want to go?" He said, "Well, let's go to that other place - Googie's." We went there and we're waiting for a table. We were sitting by the window on a little seat or something and this guy comes in. He yells at the top of his lungs, "I wanna kill me a Jew tonight!" And Lenny... can't mind his own business. He stands up and sings, "Let my people goooooo!" 

My boss who ran a nightclub for Mickey Cohen was also there and he comes over. My boss said to the guy, "Look, schmuck, get out of here." "What you call me?" And the guy punches my boss. Flattened him with one punch. Lenny says, "Oh, you wanna fight, hey?" And Lenny couldn't fight. Lenny punches the guy in the chest and his fist bounces off of the chest. He picks up Lenny and he throws him through a big plate glass window! I thought that was the end of Lenny. The boss says to me, "Come on, Frank, we got to get out of here! I know a way." Because we couldn't get out the front.

He took me to the room where the waitresses dress.  I said, "Hey, I can't leave Lenny! What the fuck is the matter with you?" He says, "Frank, I can't take a chance. I only got one suit and I have an appointment at Paramount tomorrow." The fuckin' people you meet! Anyway, I go back and Lenny is gone. They used to have these little clinics on the street like Santa Monica Boulevard. I go there and he was okay. Lenny whispered to me, "Frank. I called the press. They're going to be here and take pictures. Now whatever you do - make sure they don't take my Semitic side." "What!" And then the guy who hit him came into the hospital. He said, "I want to apologize." Nope. Lenny started the fight with him again (laughs). Ah, shit. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Were you there the famous night he played Slate Brothers? The booking was a big deal - the crowd was full of celebrities - and they cut the microphone and fired him right then and there...

Frankie Ray: Oh, God, yes, I was there. A lot of people don't know that the Slate Brothers wanted him back. They were going to forgive him and everything. He said, "No, it's not for me." I remember this because we lived together. Opening night there was the Ritz Brothers, the Marx Brothers, all the brothers at the Slate Brothers! 

And all these hookers with George Raft. Buddy Hackett gave him the joke. He said, "Hey Lenny, I got a good joke for you since you're working dirty. 'The kid says to the father. 'Daddy, what's a blowjob?' The father says, 'Shut up and keep sucking.' Lenny went onstage angry because the audience wouldn't be quiet. He told the joke. And he said, "Hey, if you guys are interested in these girls - they are all in George Raft's little black book over there."

Then we ran because they said the Slate Brothers wanted to beat the shit out of him. He had insulted everybody and swore and everything else. We ran to Canter's. The Mad Russian - the guy from The Eddie Cantor Show - came in. He said, "Lennnn-eeee Broooss! What did you doooo?"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Frankie Ray: Everybody was wondering what the hell was going to happen. But because of it - if he had not done that - there would be no Don Rickles. The publicity guy from the Slate Brothers said, "We can't find anybody [to replace him]. Tell Lenny if he behaves, he can come back." He didn't want to go back. Then this other guy said, "There's this kid working in Hollywood named Don Rickles. Tomorrow he leaves for Florida." So they grabbed him. He was doing pretty good in a small way, but once the movie stars came in to see him at the Slate Brothers, you couldn't get a seat in the joint. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Did Lenny do an entire show that evening at Slate Brothers? The story I heard was that he did the shut up and keep sucking...

Frankie Ray: Yeah, that's what everyone was screaming about...

Kliph Nesteroff: He did that at the start of the show - and it ended the show at the same time?

Frankie Ray: Well, it was too noisy. That's why. They wouldn't stop talking. Lenny could adjust to anything as far as rooms. Sometimes he'd get a job way out in Riverside for a corn blow audience. He would do his old act, the one he did on Arthur Godfrey with the impressions. Then finally he got lucky and he was really making a lot of money. I tried to get him on Ed Sullivan. Sullivan said, "How do I know he won't do something speck-tack-yoo-lurrrr to interrupt my show?" I couldn't get him on because Ed was already mad at me because I got him Shecky Greene - and Shecky screwed up. 

Sally Marr told me not to travel with Lenny. She said, "Don't go with him. You don't know junkies. They change their mind real fast." But I got on a plane with him and we went to St. Louis. He was with me nine weeks and never got loaded. He said, "When I'm with you I don't think about it." It's association. When the people you're with get loaded, that's why you get loaded. Finally we went to Chicago and some asshole gave him a pill. Lenny comes into the hotel and he sees me. He says, "Frank! What are you doing in Chicago?" I said, "I'm packin' my bags to back to Los Angeles!"

Kliph Nesteroff: Just to clarify the details of that notorious Slate Brothers engagement... It's kind of legendary...

Franke Ray: Right.

Kliph Nesteroff: There seem to be a lot of muddled details about what happened. Someone told me that it all happened the same night... Lenny Bruce did the father - son joke, the Slate Brothers fired him during the first of two shows... they went and grabbed Rickles from Zardi's at Hollywood and Vine and Rickles came in and performed that same night...

Frankie Ray: No, Rickles came in the next night because Rickles was already working that night. Somebody might have told you that's the way it was, but it wasn't.

Kliph Nesteroff: This person told me that the reason Rickles became such a sensation was because he had this ready-made audience of celebrities to make fun of... they were all there because they wanted to see Lenny bruce.

Frankie Ray: No, Rickles would have bombed too because you couldn't get anyone's attention that night. When Lenny came back to town he was getting a little screwy. He would say to me, "Go down to the Crescendo and tell the owners we don't want anyone over 45 sitting ringside. And I want my money up here now." He lived on top of the hill. He lived like Dracula with big iron gates and shit. There are other things and most are in that book Albert Goldman wrote. Goldman, they found out, was very jealous of Lenny. He was going to do Lenny Bruce's life story so they threw a party and Lenny was invited, but nobody talked to Goldman. They all talked to Lenny and wouldn't go near Goldman.

Kliph Nesteroff: Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce by Albert Goldman.

Frankie Ray: I never read it all the way through. He did say... he said some things about me and about Sue Horowitz... that she was the greatest cocksucker in Hollywood... I said to her, "Both of us should sue. He can't say that. You'll get twenty-five and I get twenty-five. He can't say that !" But it didn't happen.

Kliph Nesteroff: There is another story about the first time Lenny Bruce was busted. It apparently happened after he had offended a prominent guest at a private party in Philadelphia...

Frankie Ray: Ah, well, Philadelphia was always a religion thing. Maybe it was a priest or something. And the other guy that got arrested with him in Chicago... he was his biggest fan. He loved him. I can't think of his name... he died a couple years ago...

Kliph Nesteroff: George Carlin.

Frankie Ray: Yeah, George Carlin. You know, Carlin got thrown in the patrol wagon with Lenny. Lenny said, "What did you do?" He said, "I was sticking up for you!" Lenny said, "You schmuck." We all went to San Francisco, me and Shecky and everybody, to see Lenny do a concert date. He had just gotten off some charge in San Francisco and the judge said, "You better never let me hear you say anything bad." So, Lenny said to the audience, "If you want your money back you can have it back. Cause tonight I'm not gonna work like Lenny Bruce." But they stayed. We're sitting there and then all of sudden he goes, "Ah, fuck it. Fuck that judge!"

There's another guy you should talk to...  ah, no... nevermind... he's dead. You see, certain people are funny whether they're on stage or not. Jackie Gayle was one of them. He was with us. Lenny always needed money and he'd trick Jackie. He'd say, "What do you pay at the hotel, Jackie? Tell you what I'm gonna do. I have a spare bedroom. Just give me $700 and you'll never have to pay me any rent again." Well, it was a room with a big hot water heater in it and he had to sleep standing up it was so small.  Jackie said, "That motherfucking Lenny, I'll kill him!"

Kliph Nesteroff: Did Jackie Gayle have a relationship with Lenny's mother at some point?

Frankie Ray: No, they did an act together.

Kliph Nesteroff: Sally Marr and Her Escorts?

Frankie Ray: Yeah, and she was very good to him. She married wrong. She married the guy they think really killed Lenny. He didn't tell Lenny that whatever it was - wasn't cut. They blame him. That guy was always high too. A couple writers came to me once, they wanted to do a whole thing about Lenny Bruce's "murder." I said, "Ah, get the fuck outta here."

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Jack Roy, who eventually became Rodney Dangerfield. Did you know him back then?

Frankie Ray: Yeah. A lot of those guys were afraid of Lenny. I liked Rodney. He was good to everybody but...  Pat Morita was a guy who sort of denied Lenny when he was getting arrested for dope and everything. They started to shy away from him. The only person Lenny Bruce didn't like too much was Lenny Gaines. Everybody liked him, but in order to get a laugh a lot of times Lenny Gaines would do shtick that Lenny Bruce did. Will Jordan has the most reason to be mad at Lenny Bruce because he took Will's bit with Hitler painting the walls and MCA signing him and all of that. That is true. But he never cared about that. And I never cared about that. It was like Buddy and Jerry Lester. Jerry Lester was hilarious, but when Buddy did Jerry's material he was better!

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Buddy Hackett? He and Lenny Bruce had been pot smoking buddies way back...

Frankie Ray: They got un-friendly. When I was collecting money to bury Lenny I thought that Buddy would give us a lot. He didn't even answer the telegram. The people that Lenny used to make fun of like Milton Berle, Jack Benny, George Burns - they are the ones that gave money for the funeral. They all sent money. Buddy, I don't know, I never did find out... I think maybe when Lenny was loaded Buddy couldn't get him on the phone and maybe he took it more personally or something. I don't know.

The worst prick of them all was the producer who made the picture Lenny. What the fuck's his name? Marvin? Real stingy guy. He was part of a team that wrote for the late night shows and Buddy was friendly with this guy too. He swindled me out of some money. I didn't want trouble so I just let it slide. Because the guys I would have put on him... guys from Chicago... they don't settle for a punch in the gut, they'd throw him in the river. 


mackdaddyg said...

"There's another guy you should talk to... ah, no... nevermind... he's dead"

The perfect summary as to the importance of these interviews. Thanks for all of your hard work.

I wonder what Shecky did to get Sullivan mad.

Kevin K. said...

That might be a reference to the night Shecky did a routine about a mine cave-in, not knowing a real cave-in had happened earlier in the evening in Canada, I believe. Ed thought Shecky was making fun of the real thing.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that was the reason. Shecky talks about it on one of the several SULLIVAN retrospective compilations. Keith Scott

Anonymous said...

Shecky was in trouble with Sullivan for something that he wasn't directly referring to yet Bob Hope did an overt joke about the 1967 Silver Bridge collapse on one of his NBC special monologues just days after the event. Referring to surplus steel, Hope mentioned he knew where he could get some "Since that bridge in Ohio isn't using it anymore." Boffo yocks ensued from the sweetened studio audience.

Anonymous said...

yet Bob Hope did an overt joke about the 1967 Silver Bridge collapse on one of his NBC special monologues just days after the event. Referring to surplus steel, Hope mentioned he knew where he could get some "Since that bridge in Ohio isn't using it anymore." Boffo yocks ensued from the sweetened studio audience.

Steve Allen was onstage joking about the Andrea Doria. An old man actually jumped onstage from the audience and scolded him: "People actually died!" Allen, in his arrogance, just didn't get it. He thought he could get away with joking about anything, because... comedy!

Lenny was not as offensive as the so-called straight comics, because he saved his mockery for those in power. He usually punched up, not down.