Thursday, May 21, 2015

An Interview with Maynard Sloate - Part Two

Kliph Nesteroff: You booked Lenny Bruce at Strip City in 1953 and he stayed for a couple years. You booked him again at the Crescendo on the Sunset Strip a few years later. By then he had more notoriety. 

Maynard Sloate:  We were close at one time, but we didn't stay that way. The drug addict was not particularly fun to be with. I was closing the Avant Garde [nightclub in Hollywood]. I went broke there. Acts were calling - the Four Freshman and Ruth Olay - to tell me that they'd be happy to work for nothing so I wouldn't have to close down. That sort of thing. Lenny told me that he would play it for only $750. That was my friend Lenny!

Kliph Nesteroff: Who were some of the other comedians you were booking?

Maynard Sloate: Well, there was Lord Buckley. When Buckley was working for me at Jazz City there was a musician named Red Rodney. Red had come to Los Angeles from New York and was looking for work. So I gave him a night at Jazz City.

He wanted to draw on his Monday night pay and I said no. Shortly after that Lord Buckley came to the office. He called me Prince Maynard the Fox. Buckley comes in and he says, "Prince, I have some bad news. Sir Red of Rodney is living in his car. He has sold the wheels and the car is up on jacks. He's got his kids with him and they're living in the car. He has no money. If you would advance him the money for his Monday night's pay, you will be doing a wonderful thing for humanity and for Sir Red." For some reason I said okay. That night I was driving home after work and I started to laugh. It occurred to me that I was the only person in the world that would advance Red Rodney's salary on Lord Buckley's say-so.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Buddy Hackett?

Maynard Sloate: He was always a good friend of Lenny's. He got Lenny work at Universal-International. Shecky was another one of Lenny's friends. When Lenny was sick or whatever, those guys would come in and work for him. I knew Buddy and always got along great with him, but he wasn't one of my close friends.

Kliph Nesteroff: Some other comedians associated with the Crescendo... Mort Sahl...

Maynard Sloate: He was playing the Crescendo before I got there. He was closer to Gene Norman.

Kliph Nesteroff: Shelley Berman played at the Avant Garde when you were running it.

Maynard Sloate: He certainly did. I had a bill of Shelley Berman, Ruth Olay and Matt Dennis. That was the only time I did good business at the Avant Garde. I played them for two or three months. They were just great. Shelley was impossible. I have learned to like him. But putting up with him? 

Kliph Nesteroff: That was very early in his career - before he even had a comedy record out.

Maynard Sloate: Yes. I told him, "Shelley, no matter how successful you get, you will never change. You're already the world's lowest, living human." Shelley was impossible and not easy to get along with. He was extremely temperamental. From the stage he'd yell, "Maynard! Maynard! What's that noise?" This goes on for his entire act. "Maynard! There it is again! Maynard! It's the refrigerator in the kitchen!" He was stopping his act to complain about the refrigerator. He was unbelievable. And then he worked for me in Las Vegas.  Putting up with him was very difficult and that temperament would cost him his career. You know the story about what happened with his career? A phone rang backstage while he was on. He flipped out. Went absolutely berserk when he came offstage. He was screaming and yelling at people. They told him, "Take that out. Don't use that in the special." He said no. He wanted them to see the suffering that comics have to go through. He decided  to leave it in. He said to me later, "You know, people have murdered and suffered less." It cost him his career.

Kliph Nesteroff: I've heard that many times, but it was just one television special. It's seems like a very exaggerated story, almost a scapegoat. Could it really have affected his entire career? 

Maynard Sloate: Yes. Yes. He blamed it and I agree it must have happened that way. He was soaring at that point, going like crazy - and that absolutely ended it! That was the end of it.

Kliph Nesteroff: Don Adams played the Avant Garde when he was a stand-up.

Maynard Sloate: Yes, I loved Don. Don was a true delight. Now, I've had people tell me that's not true. My relationship with him was wonderful. A typical day in Don Adams life when he was working for me... I think he was living at the Hollywood Roosevelt... He would get up in the morning and go to the races. Then he'd have dinner at work and do the show and then come to my house and play poker. A typical day was gambling from the time he got up until the moment he went to bed. Years later I would still run into him at the racetrack. We always had a wonderful time when we were together. He was just absolutely a doll and I have nothing bad to say about him. 

Kliph Nesteroff: How about the Vagabonds. I understand you managed them at one point.

Maynard Sloate: Yes, they're responsible for my being in Vegas. After I sold the Avant Garde I became a personal manager. They asked me to manage them. The Vagabonds were one of my acts. They were great. They were probably the first act to play a main room in Las Vegas and then eventually go to the lounges. They did it for good reason - and good money. That was steady work. They worked the lounges for big money.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were managing Jerry Colonna, Bob Hope's bug eyed sidekick, at the same time.

Maynard Sloate: He was doing a lounge act too so I managed it. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You managed Buddy Rich.

Maynard Sloate: Yes, he was phenomenal. We got along great.

Kliph Nesteroff: Some of the comedians who played the Tropicana under your reign - Jerry Lester...

Maynard Sloate: And later I got Jerry Lester hired as star of a show at the Plaza. He couldn't remember a line. Five days into rehearsal I had to go to him and say, "Jerry, we can't do this. You can't remember a line. Get a cane and we'll say you hurt your leg." Well, he decided to take me up on charges with the union for hurting his leg! Of course, that didn't work, but he thought it was a good idea.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were around for Shecky Greene's wild Vegas days.

Maynard Sloate: Yes, I but I have never seen Shecky drunk. When he gets drunk, apparently he turns. My good luck is I've never seen him in that shape. 

Kliph Nesteroff: How about a comedian who was booked in the Tropicana Blue Room once named Allan Drake.

Maynard Sloate: Yeah, Allan was a competent comedian. He got along well with everybody, I guess. He did fine.

Kliph Nesteroff: He had a tragic trajectory. His wife was killed by the mafia.

Maynard Sloate: Yeah, I know the story. He wasn't a brilliant comic, just an adequate comic. There was a comic here named Lenny Kent who was brilliant at one point. He wound up working as a host at Caesar's Palace. When something would happen to a comic, they'd put Lenny on. But he wasn't doing that well by then. Sometimes they lose it. It was just age. It can happen.

Kliph Nesteroff: You booked comedian Gene Baylos at the Tropicana with Vaughn Monroe.

Maynard Sloate: Ha! At the end of the engagement Vaughn Monroe gave me a set of gold cufflinks. I was kidding with Gene Baylos and said, "You see what a class act does? Look at these cuff links." They were expensive and beautiful. So the next night Gene Baylos hands me a wrapped gift. I open it up and it's cufflinks with a roulette wheel on them and a plastic top, which were available in the gift shop. I felt guilty. I felt terrible. It was awful. The next day, of course, I took them back. They said, "He didn't buy those here. He just asked us for the box." They were used cufflinks.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was the difference between when the Mob controlled Vegas and the shift that happened after Howard Hughes came to town?

Maynard Sloate: The Mob was here and then Howard Hughes came, but that's not the change that happened. The biggest change came after Howard Hughes left. The big, huge corporations took over. That's what happened to the city. The city changed a great deal. Howard Hughes didn't change the city that much other than getting rid of some of the Mob. Not all of the Mob, I don't think. They stuck around a little. He was quite influential, but he was running the same kind of casino as everybody else and the same kind of entertainment policy. He had Walter Kane and he just bought acts for huge periods of time. Wayne Newton. Juliet Prowse. Lengthy, lengthy contracts. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I had been under the impression that Howard Hughes was the first puncture in the Mob's stranglehold on Las Vegas.

Maynard Sloate: He probably was. He bought their casinos. Again, he didn't change the format that much. Fortunately, I worked at the Tropicana for the Houssels family. They had run El Cortez and the Showboat, then they took the Tropicana.

They weren't the Mob. When they sold it - they sold it to the Mob. I was replaced by a guy named Joe Agosto who became the producer of my show - the Follies Bergere. Frank Rosenthal was the entertainment director for the Stardust. They became entertainment directors because they didn't need licensing to be entertainment directors. So that was the job they took, but they ran the hotel. Joe Agosto ran the Tropicana and Frank Rosenthal ran the Desert Inn. There were hotels run by other people. Jackie Garn owned hotels. He was originally with the Mob at the Flamingo. Moe Dalitz was big at the Desert Inn. Those people did a pretty good job starting this town.

Kliph Nesteroff: Most comedians preferred the Mob years.

Maynard Sloate: Oh, yes, no question. The town was fine. You knew everybody in town and everybody knew you. Now you know nobody. I don't even know the names of the people buying entertainment. I have no idea. As far as this town is concerned, the gaming is no longer the source of income. It used to be that everything subsidized the gaming and they'd give away the rooms and food to get you to gamble. That's not true anymore. The biggest money makers are the nightclubs in the hotels - they're making millions of dollars with daytime clubs at the swimming pools.

Kliph Nesteroff: Why did that change? Less people gamble these days?

Maynard Sloate: The gaming of the old people - that has changed. The young people are what's here and they aren't gambling. Race horsing does nothing compared to what it used to. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned the Tropicana was sold in the seventies and it ended up being sold to a Mob entity. Who was it sold to?

Maynard Sloate: Originally they sold it to a guy name Carl Pohlad. The Housells sold out to Carl Pohlad. Carl Pohlad hired the Housells to run it. He was a banker from Minneapolis. Housells, the old man, got sick and he couldn't run the Trop anymore. Carl Pohlad owned the Minnesota Twins. For some reason, along with him came Deil O. Gustafson, a flunkie for Pohlad in Minneapolis. Gustafson became owner of the Tropicana, or ran it, and that brought the Mob guys. How all that happened, I have no idea. Then they found a poor woman named Mitzi Stauffer Briggs who was an heiress. She came to the Tropicana because she had the rights to the Ziegfeld Follies and wanted to sell it. Instead of buying the Ziegfeld Follies, they sold her a hunk of the Trop - and Joe Agosto ran her

Kliph Nesteroff: It was often very difficult to determine who owned what in the old Vegas. Who was legit and who was a front.

Maynard Sloate: I think it was well-known who they were. There was a lady they brought into the Stardust that they killed. The guy who was the owner of the Stardust, who apparently put in all the money, was a dentist from San Diego.

Kliph Nesteroff: You worked in Los Angeles in the late 1940s; corrupt and Mob controlled. Did you encounter Mickey Cohen?

Maynard Sloate: I knew people who knew him. All the bars and nightclubs, many of them, were owned by the Mob. The three of us who opened Strip City were an easy target. We were just kids. What did we know? I asked when I went to get a license, "Is there any objection to us calling the club Strip City?" The guy said, "Well, you'll probably get a lot of attention." We weren't doing anything against the law. Los Angeles in the 1950s was as corrupt as you could get. The cops used to give us cards with their name on it. On the back it would say something like, "This is our friend Maynard." If you got stopped for a driving infraction or something, you just showed them the card. That's how you took care of it. There was a catholic priest that we paid off.

Kliph Nesteroff: Do you remember anything about Billy Gray's Band Box?

Maynard Sloate: Absolutely. Billy Gray was great. He was a wonderful dialetician. He was an excellent comic and his partner was Sammy Lewis, who became the entertainment director at the Riviera. Sammy's wife was Patti Moore who did an act with a comic named Ben Lessy. They used to play the Band Box, but all the good comics played the Band Box. Buddy Hackett played it. That was the first place I ever saw him. Lenny Kent played it and everybody played it.

Kliph Nesteroff: It was almost like a comedy club before comedy clubs existed.

Maynard Sloate: Billy Gray and Sammy ran it and it had some great comics. It was the first place I ever saw Jackie Mason. Moore and Lessy were a popular act. Ben Lessy did The Danny Thomas Show.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Jack Sheldon...

Maynard Sloate: I managed him. I got him a comedy record on Capitol Records. He's an idiot. He used to yell at me while in Dave Pell's band at the Crescendo, "Maynard! Book me!" He's an idiot. And a wonderfully talented idiot. He had a dope problem. And is extremely talented. Great comedy and great trumpet playing and I was responsible for him. He had his own television show when I had him - Run, Buddy, Run. He also did something called The Nut House. We got Run, Buddy, Run and I managed him during his most successful period. 

Kliph Nesteroff: He and Lenny Bruce friends.

Maynard Sloate: Yes, and Sheldon worked for me at Strip City, worked for me at the Crescendo, worked for me with Dave Pell. He apologized for having mistreated me when he was on drugs. I never saw anybody as stoned as Jack.

Kliph Nesteroff: When was the last time you saw Lenny Bruce?

Maynard Sloate: I don't remember. I imagine it would have probably been at a club, but I stopped going to see him because there was nothing happening there.

He was two different people. He was the guy who was my friend and then he was a drug addict. That does change you. We were really close in the beginning. When he had an argument with his wife, he would stay at my place. They had a baby and shortly after that I had a son. They gave me their crib for my son. We were close. When Sally Marr, his mother, came to town Lenny was playing the club with another comic. We used two.

On Monday nights I had another comic working the strip-a-thon. Sometimes one of the comics that was working would say, "Can I work the Monday? I need the money." So, the other comic asked if he could work the Monday night. He goes up on Monday night and he was doing Lenny's act! Now, Sally Marr comes to town. Lenny gives her his old act and says, "You can use it." She was going to work as a comic, which she did. There was a club called the Bamboo Room in the Valley. It turns out that the other comic working with her was the comic who was working for me at Strip City. So they played the Bamboo Room together and they both did Lenny's act! 


Kevin K. said...

Race horsing?

Anonymous said...

Were The Vagabonds truly the "laffiest daffiest?" We may never know.

MontyAlban said...

Another informative interview. I read a Lenny Bruce bio by William Karl Thomas in which Thomas claims to have been a major influence on Lenny, including Lenny's growing a beard. He might make an interesting interview as he apparently is still around, living in Tucson AZ. If you talk to Frankie Ray again, you might ask him about Thomas. Thanks again for all your great interviews.