Sunday, April 5, 2015

An Interview with Dick Gautier - Part Two

Kliph Nesteroff: You did the Blue Angel with a guy named Joey Carter.

Dick Gautier: Yeah, he was a comedian who worked with lots of props and stuff. He was a strange guy and he was hard to be friends with. He was super pushy. Weird and pushy and not very nice. He did a good act, but it was heavy with props. He always had a big suitcase or traveling bag with him and he would pull stuff out.

Kliph Nesteroff: He was almost a Catskill act or a burlesque act, right? Seems like an unusual person to be booked at the Blue Angel where they usually booked classy acts.

Dick Gautier: He was unusual to be there! I don't know why or how he got there. Unless someone just booked him and said, "We want to do something different." I don't think I was that cerebral, but he was not cerebral.

Kliph Nesteroff: I heard about Joey Carter from Maynard Sloate, the club owner who used to book him at a strip club in Los Angeles called Strip City. Strip City was where Lenny Bruce worked early on. 

Dick Gautier: I knew Lenny Bruce. One time I was going back to the hungry i and he was at one of the other San Francisco clubs and I got to know him a little. I remember we sat and talked about our beginnings. Before I was of age I worked at a place called the Brown Bear in San Diego. It was a strip joint. I was seventeen and I had to draw a little moustache on myself to look older. Lenny and I talked. I said, "I worked some strip clubs. You ever work with Jeneanne France?" He looked at me and said, "Remember her introduction?" I said, "Yeah, let's do it together!" "Here she is ladies and gentleman - six foot two, eyes of blue - The Eifel Eyeful!" We both remembered it word for word. She drummed it into our heads. 

Kliph Nesteroff: He often played the San Francisco club Ann's 440 and the hungry i.

Dick Gautier: When I was in the navy I wrote shows and I booked shows. I booked Johnny Mathis and he was not known then. He was a kid and a good little singer who hadn't found out what his sexuality was. He was sort of in limbo in everything in his life. I booked him a show. He worked for the sailors, came in and did some songs. Everybody liked him and it was great. Fade out, fade in, later on I'm at the hungry i and George Avakian from Columbia Records comes to town. He has signed Johnny to the label and they're going to put out Chances Are. He was at Ann's 440, but they did not want him to have the stigma of homosexuality because Ann's 440 was a lesbian place - which was very well-known in San Francisco. George put him on the bill with me for the weekend so he could be in the papers and it said, "Johnny Mathis was signed out of the hungry i." But actually it was Ann's 440! They thought it would look better for the press.

Kliph Nesteroff: Here's a venue I'm not familiar with. December 1959 you played the Chesterfield in Chicago.

Dick Gautier: Oh, yeah! I did. That was after I did the meeting with Gower Champion for Bye, Bye Birdie. I went to the Chesterfield in Chicago and it was okay, but it was not a great engagement for me. The people didn't - I don't know - they weren't really with me. I don't know what they expected me to be or whatever, but it just wasn't my favorite.

Kliph Nesteroff: Were you managed by Irvin Arthur during this period?

Dick Gautier: Yes, I was with Irvin Arthur. Irvin said, "Come up the rehearsal studio. I'm looking at a bunch of young comics and I want your input." I'm sitting in the back and Joan Rivers walks in. She does my act. Really, my act - word for word. She said to him, "Well, what do you think?" Irvin said, "It's funnier when Dick does it," and pointed at me. She went, "Ah, shit."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Dick Gautier: That's how I met Joan.

Kliph Nesteroff: 1960 - you did the Jack Paar Tonight Show.

Dick Gautier: That's right, yeah. You know, I don't have much memory of it. Most of the time I did those kind of things they were pretty good and I enjoyed them. I don't remember meeting him and I think there was a guest host.

Kliph Nesteroff: The guest host, I think, was Mike Wallace.

Dick Gautier: Yeah, maybe it was. Yeah, maybe it was, I'm not really sure.

Kliph Nesteroff: March 1960 - it was officially announced you got the role in Bye, Bye Birdie. May 1960 - you were still playing a nightclub - the Bon Soir. You were on the bill with Cindy and Lindy, Jimmy Daniel and the Three Flames.

Dick Gautier: Yes, that's right, I remember. The Three Flames were like the house band. His name was Tiger something and he was just great. You ever see the Bob Fosse movie All That Jazz? When he wanders around the hospital in his PJs and he finds this Black guy in the basement and they sing together - that was Tiger. He was great.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was the Bon Soir like?

Dick Gautier: Oh, it was great. It was a very hip room. It was wonderful. They treated you well. I worked it with Barbra Streisand. We doubled. As soon as our other curtain came down we both rushed to the Bon Soir, whether it was subway or cab or whatever. That was great. She was terrific and it was very exciting because she was the new, hot thing. Everyone came to see her. All the people from all the Broadway shows. They didn't come to see me, they came to see her and I had the benefit of being able to perform for them.

Kliph Nesteroff: She was already drawing a crowd.

Dick Gautier: Oh, God, yes. I remember Helen Hayes came in and all these big shot actors from Broadway. Word had gotten around. There was an actor named Phil Leeds, a very funny guy. Phil said, "What are you doing tonight?" I said, "Nothing." He said, "Come on down to the Bon Soir. You have got to see this girl, the greatest singer in the world, but she's going nowhere because she is as ugly as your foot." So I went to see her, and who knew I would be working with her. I loved working with her. She was just sensational.

Kliph Nesteroff: There were two types of hip comedy venues in New York at that time. You had the Village nightclubs and then you had these Uptown nightclubs. The Blue Angel, I guess, is what you would call one of the effete Uptown nightclubs...

Dick Gautier: Yes. Yes, it was. It was a little staid. It was run by a guy named Herbert Jacobi. He thought he was British so he talked like he was introducing the queen. He booked John Carradine to recite poetry. So John Carradine comes onstage and wouldn't use a microphone. "Not with my projection! I don't need that!" So they argued and argued and finally John Carradine won. So you know what Herbert Jacobi did? He walked around the room yelling, "Louder!" He did what he considered different voices - but it was always with his same fucking accent! 

Kliph Nesteroff: Don Adams was playing nightclubs at that time, years before you worked together on TV.

Dick Gautier: I didn't know him. I knew Bill Dana wrote his act, but I never met Don then. I remember I met Jonathan Winters. I was walking down Broadway with Will Jordan and he said, "Quick! Into this doorway!" I said, "What's the matter?" He said, "Here comes Jonathan Winters." I said, "Are you kidding? I would love to meet him." He said, "No, no, no, no, we'll be here forty-five minutes. He'll do shtick forever. I have to go somewhere." Jonathan had seen us anyway and forty-five minutes later we got to go, but it was just hysterical.

Kliph Nesteroff: Whenever I think of Will Jordan, I think of Hanson's Drugstore...

Dick Gautier: Hanson's was great. Everybody came there and hung out and told stories about the shows they did and told jokes and shit. Milton Berle would be sitting in the window. He would come with Henny Youngman and all those guys. The creme dela creme would come in and take over. They would hold court and all the young people would come around. It was a great place. We all went there because we could hang out and know everybody would understand us. There were a couple of young comedians that were doing an act and they were very funny - except that the comic had an anger management problem.

He'd be onstage and somebody would say something and he would yell, "Shut up, you cocksucker!" He would run into the audience! He was a head buster. He'd kill you. This became very well known. So one day he's in Hanson's and I happened to be in there. Milton saw him and he said, "Hey! Hey! Come over here." He said, "Why?" He said, "We want to talk to you." He went over and they said, "Listen. You're a funny kid. But man, you've got to keep things under control. What you need are heckler stoppers. We're going to write you some things, so anything a guy says, you've got a line for." So they assembled on a piece of paper, a bunch of heckler-stoppers, maybe twenty-five of them. "Now go home and memorize these. Now anybody gives you any shit, you have a line for it." This is true. So they [the comedy team] go out and they try again - and nobody heckles them. He wants to try out the lines! So all of a sudden he goes, "Last time I saw a head like that there was a jockey bending over it." Everyone goes, "What?" He keeps doing it and his partner says, "No, don't! You have to wait until someone says something." So, okay, they're working and one night a guy goes, "Hey, you guys stink!" He goes, "Oh yeah, you cocksucker!" He ran right into the audience and beat the shit out of him!

Kliph Nesteroff: Hilarious.

Dick Gautier: It was funny, but it was sad.

Kliph Nesteroff: Who was that comic?

Dick Gautier: You know, I can't remember. I've been trying for years to remember. They were a comic duo. God. I don't remember, but he was such a nice guy otherwise.


Anonymous said...

Interesting bit with Joan Rivers!

Your Pal Doug said...

I love the Henny Youngman story.
Great interview! Nice to hear Dick Gautier speak.
Thanks for sharing this

Anonymous said...

Such a beautiful creature when he was young ... really, some guys just shouldn't be allowed to age because of the sheer loss to humanity.