Saturday, July 23, 2016

An Interview with Paul Krassner - Part Four

Kliph Nesteroff: You flew to Milwaukee to interview Lenny Bruce. You were in his dressing room when the police came in...

Paul Krassner: Yes, they came in but didn't arrest him. I forget the name of the club. We were both staying at the YMCA. He did a routine - Religions Inc. A couple of cops came to the dressing room and told him if he used that material again they would bust him. It was a threat. They didn't arrest him, but it was disturbing. He was a little scared and tried to tone down his second performance that night. It shook him up. The first actual arrest occurred in Pennsylvania.

It was actually on the border, right between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. A lawyer told Lenny that he could pay the judge ten thousand dollars and they'd let him off. Lenny held a press conference saying, "I only have fifty dollars." That got around to prosecutors in other cities - not to mention judges - and he broke the silence surrounding that kind of corruption. So [to teach him a lesson] he was busted on obscenity charges.

Kliph Nesteroff: I heard that when it was revealed that the Pennsylvania judge was on the take, he committed suicide.

Paul Krassner: Oh, wow, I did not know that. His reputation was ruined, so I could understand that, but I did not know that.

Kliph Nesteroff: Were you at the Gate of Horn the night Lenny was busted in Chicago?

Paul Krassner: No, I wasn't there, but I came in the next night and he told me about it and I heard the details from other people. George Carlin was in the audience that night and they asked everyone for their I.D. They were looking for people who were underage. Carlin refused and they dragged him by the pants and threw him in the same paddy wagon as Lenny. Lenny said, "What are you doing here?" Carlin said, "Well, I refused to show them my I.D." Lenny said, "You schmuck." And they rode together.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you know Carlin then?

Paul Krassner: At that point - no. He was a big fan of The Realist, but I didn't know it. I found out about that years later.

Kliph Nesteroff: 1961 - you were performing at the Village Gate on the same night that Lenny Bruce was busted somewhere else.

Paul Krassner: I think he might have been in San Francisco, I'm not sure. He wasn't in New York. I was talking about contraception at the Village Gate. There were seventeen or eighteen states where contraception was against the law. Abortion was against the law. I was doing stuff about that and I was doing subversive pranks. Back then you could send your utility bills without a stamp and they would have to pay it when they got it. I talked about that and ways to screw the system. I wrote about that in The Realist. I don't know how much that influenced the utilities if at all, but eventually they wouldn't accept any envelopes that didn't have postage. I don't know whether to take credit for that.

Kliph Nesteroff: Will Jordan and Lenny Bruce were in the same circle in the late forties when they were both impressionists in New York. Will Jordan claims that Lenny Bruce stole the bit about Hitler being signed by MCA from him.

Paul Krassner: I did not know about that, but it's possible. Robert Schimmel talked about how there was a line he used when Joan Rivers was in the audience. She asked Schimmel if she could buy the joke for seventy-five dollars. He said no. Later on he saw her on Johnny Carson's show and she used it anyway. Jokes are stolen and the first person who does it on TV gets the credit. 

Kliph Nesteroff: You traveled to Atlantic City to start a collaboration with Lenny on his autobiography. I understand he got paranoid and you two got into a fight.

Paul Krassner: Yes. He got [dope] sick. He sent a telegram to one of his sources that he needed Dilaudid. The telegram said something like, "De Lawd is in de Sky." I said something to him like, "Your lifestyle and your performance - it's freeform and yet you're a..." I didn't quite say a slave, but I mentioned how he had to stop everything to have a fix and he said, "Oh, you're going to write an article about how I'm in the gutter vomiting and you helped me? You're gonna tell the story at cocktail parties?"

There was an unspoken agreement between us that I would not write about his drug use. So we had this argument and we were in Wildwood near Atlantic City. He said, "I want you to take a lie detector test." I said, "If you can't trust me, then there's no point." I went back to New York and he sent a telegram, "We're divorced." 

Later we made up and I continued with him in Chicago. When I got to Chicago I went to the Gate of Horn. I arrived a few minutes after he got onstage and he was telling the whole audience to take a lie detector test! I laughed and he recognized my laugh and we reconciled. The thing was - it was understandable that he thought I was just another journalist. Like when I met Bob Dylan. I had just come from my young daughter and she had been calling her toes her fingers and her fingers her toes. Dylan said, "Oh, yeah, my son wants me to call him daddy and for him to call me son!" We laughed about that and he suddenly said, "This isn't the interview is it?" Among celebrities there is a feeling that they can be betrayed.

Kliph Nesteroff: How long did that rift between you and Lenny last?

Paul Krassner: It ended with a telegram he sent saying he didn't want to be divorced. I might still have it. I have a lot of unmarked cartons in the garage here.

Kliph Nesteroff: I have this telegram Lenny sent Lawrence Ferlinghetti, asking him to remove a Lenny Bruce pamphlet from the shelves of City Lights. He published a pamphlet in 1963 that shows him holding a marijuana bud. Stamp Help Out...

Paul Krassner: Yes and it is very lawyerly - maybe done on the advice of one. That was his publication, so I don't understand why he would write such a telegram - except out of fear of a lawsuit.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were scheduled to do a show the night of President Kennedy's assassination.

Paul Krassner: It was the night after. He was killed on a Friday and my performance was on Saturday. The flyers they put out were from the Young Socialist Party. I wasn't a socialist at the time, but I was hungry for attention. At that point, one of the papers showed a photo of Lee Harvey Oswald with a rifle in one hand and a copy of The Militant in the other, which was the Young Socialist Party's paper.  At that point nobody had gotten into the conspiracy aspect of things. I did the show, but the flyer said, "Laugh with Paul Krassner." I thought, "That's a fucking challenge!" There was so much tension in the air. 

Kliph Nesteroff: April 1964 - George Foster and Bob Booker, the producers of Vaughn Meader's First Family LP, planned on producing a film called Pardon Me, Sir, But is My Arm Hurting Your Elbow? They commissioned a series of scripts from yourself, Terry Southern, Godfrey Cambridge, Jean Shephard, Peter Cook, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. 

Paul Krassner: Yeah, huh. I don't think they all agreed to do it, but they were all invited. I remember I did a script and I think the point was a take-off of the seven deadly sins. It was about the Book of Job and I applied it to hippies somehow. Bob Booker liked it, but I remember he said to me, "What were you smoking when you wrote that?" It was really offbeat. I don't think that movie was ever produced, though.

Kliph Nesteroff: I don't know much about Bob Booker and George Foster other than just their names on many of those comedy records - but they seem like they would be old fashioned show business guys. Here they are enlisting every major celebrity of the counterculture...

Paul Krassner: Yes, there was a lot of co-option going on. A lot of magazines or TV shows tried to get the youth vote and a lot of the youth vote was stoned hippies. They were getting a lot of publicity. All the ones you just mentioned - mainstream circles were well aware of them so they weren't really underground...

Kliph Nesteroff: They were all celebrities in their field.

Paul Krassner: They were celebrities in their field, but had leaked into mainstream awareness. Just like the whole "Sick Comic" thing that happened - it was started by Time Magazine. They included Lenny Bruce and Bob Newhart and Shelley Berman and Nichols and May and Jonathan Winters. Lenny very much resented being called sick. He talked about it. He said he was just being satirical of a society that was sick. The others didn't really belong in that category. When I did this thing for Playboy about it, the title was "The Hip Humorists," rather than sick.

Kliph Nesteroff: Bob Newhart refused to participate.

Paul Krassner: Because he was a practicing Catholic and he was offended by Playboy. For one of the previous panels the topic was jazz and narcotics. I contacted [horn player] Gerry Mulligan for it and he said, "Oh? Are they going to show my nipples?" He didn't want to participate.

Kliph Nesteroff: You published a piece in The Realist by a guy I always admired, although he was from a completely different world than your own - the satirist Henry Morgan.

Paul Krassner: Yes, Henry Morgan was an early subscriber. He had written some kind of letter to me that said, "Your publication makes me vomit."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Paul Krassner: "But I can't stop reading it." Something like that. I heard him on Jack Paar once and he was praising socialized medicine. Paar didn't pursue it, so I invited Morgan to do an article for The Realist on socialized medicine - and he did. Then I asked him for an interview and he said, "I'll do the interview as long as I don't have to see anybody." So, I just sent him questions by mail and he answered them. That was a feather in The Realist cap. I kept sending him issues. He had a caricature of himself on the stationary and I used that rather than a photograph.

Kliph Nesteroff: You appeared on an episode of The Les Crane Show.

Paul Krassner: Oh, sure. I remember he was very handsome and had I been gay I would have gone for him. He loved The Realist and he had me on more than once. I was on his show with Jules Feiffer. Somebody called the show and said, "How come you have so many Jews on the show?" Les Crane said, "Well, that's anti-Semitic." I said, "I resent it even though I don't consider myself Jewish." He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Well, I don't believe in God. To say I'm Jewish just because my parents were - that's making a religion a race and that's what Hitler did." Something like that. Les Crane pushed the panic button and put us on a delay. He said, "Paul, that's actionable!" There was always fear of libel suits and that was a common practice. Things would get bleeped out.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did the comedian Sandy Baron tell you that Lenny Bruce once ratted on his drug dealer?

Paul Krassner: That's what he said. Lenny never mentioned it in his act. He never admitted to having snitched. It was Sandy Baron who told me when he was playing Lenny on Broadway. I worked with Sandy on one of his albums. It was called How I Found God, Zen, Yoga, est... I helped him write it. Apparently he was broke and he kept putting off paying me the five hundred dollars that he promised. Later on he got gigs on sitcoms. He and his wife were very much into est. He used est language a lot in terms of how they related. 

Kliph Nesteroff: How about a guy who came a generation earlier than you, but who had a counterculture dynamic - Lord Buckley.

Paul Krassner: I was familiar with him and was aware that he influenced Lenny on some level. I had heard him, but I never saw him perform in person. I had a radio job in San Francisco in 1971. It was kind of an experimental station and it was one of the reasons I moved from New York to San Francisco. I was going to bracket the weekend with four hours on Saturday mornings and four hours Sunday nights. I opened my Easter Sunday show with The Nazz by Lord Buckley. Lenny would talk about Lord Buckley in regard to his being a hip comedian who played to a jazz audience. He wasn't in the mainstream and he preceded Lenny in that department - and Lenny was well aware of that.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were interviewed on 60 Minutes for a piece about the underground press. Mike Wallace asked you what's the difference between the mainstream press and the underground press. You said that Spiro Agnew's name could be rearranged to spell Grow a Penis - which you would publish in your paper, but 60 Minutes would edit it out. That was the second time he'd interviewed you, right? I have down that back in 1962 you had done Mike Wallace's show PM East.

Paul Krassner: When I told him that thing about the Spiro Agnew anagram - he laughed. But I was right. It was deleted from the broadcast. But he was very friendly. He called me a rascal. The producer of PM East was Jerry Hopkins who later worked as a talent scout for Steve Allen's show. When I did 60 Minutes Mike Wallace asked me why I used four letter words. I said, "Which words are those, Mike?" He liked fencing. There was a playful relationship and he was not hostile at all.

Kliph Nesteroff: Now, you tell this notorious story about doing LSD with Groucho Marx or at least supplying him with acid and acting as his guide. I want to read a message to you from a fella named Steve Stoliar, who worked as a secretary in Groucho's house in the seventies. He was sympathetic to the youth movement and got to know Groucho in his twilight years. I asked him about your Groucho-LSD story and he responded: "Here is my opinion, which is all that it is. I have read Paul Krassner's story and I have no reason to believe Paul Krassner is a liar. Nevertheless, I find it extremely difficult to believe. Groucho had a contempt for the recreational drug culture of the sixties. He rarely drank and was adverse to taking anything that would impact his control over himself. The only meds he took were those his doctor told him he had to take. Couple that with the terrible reputation LSD had with the older generation... it's hard for me to believe Groucho would say, 'What the hell, let's try the stuff and see what happens.' I can not confirm the story. I can not refute the story. But I am extremely skeptical of its veracity."

Paul Krassner: Well, that was the reason Groucho asked me. He read The Realist and about my taking trips. I have a letter in my garage from Lionel Olay, a popular magazine writer. He had interviewed Groucho and Groucho told him he was very curious about LSD.

When Groucho spoke to me he didn't use the word 'guide.' He just said, 'accompany.' I can appreciate Steve's take. He's being very fair. Groucho was not going to go around boasting about this. It was just to prepare for the movie Skidoo, which was essentially a pro-acid movie directed by Otto Preminger. Preminger had been given LSD by Timothy Leary. Leary loved to turn celebrities on with acid.

That was before the movie. Leary said, "I'm disappointed. Preminger is more hip than I am." So, Groucho's motivation was because of the negative reputation and the Art Linkletter thing. There was a lot of negative things and that's one of the reasons Leary turned on celebrities like Henry Luce and Claire Booth Luce, the publishers of Time magazine. They did a cover story on the positive nature of LSD. 

Groucho wasn't the first choice to star in the movie. They went to George Raft for the part of God, this mafia-type character. I forget why George Raft didn't accept the role, but Groucho got the part. I met Bill Marx, Harpo's son, and we talked about it. Harpo or Chico said that they would carry a little pouch around...

Kliph Nesteroff: Of marijuana.

Paul Krassner: Yes, yes, and they called it a "grouch bag." Groucho liked it when counterculture people said they trusted their friends more than the government. So there were aspects of the counterculture that he liked. He was curious about it. I told him about Haight-Ashbury, about when they had tour busses. All the passengers in the tour had cameras taking pictures of hippies - and all the hippies had cameras to take pictures of them. So when the tourists got home all they had was a photo of someone taking a photo. I told Groucho that story and he loved it. He also wanted to know if I ever had a threesome. He wasn't interested in rock and roll, but he did like sex as a subject matter.

Kliph Nesteroff: And yet you'd hear Groucho on Dick Cavett complaining about things like the musical Hair. When Groucho did LSD - did you do a dose with him?

Paul Krassner: We both did it. I accompanied him on his trip. It was Owsley acid. Little white pills. Three hundred micrograms. We were very brand name conscious in those days.

Kliph Nesteroff: Where did you guys do it?

Paul Krassner: We used the home of an actress in Beverly Hills. Phil Ochs drove me there. I don't even know if I knew her name. He may have said this is so and so's home. She had records of Broadway shows. I was used to taking acid and listening to rock and roll. You've read this story in my memoir. We listened to that song about coming home and the Bach Cantata No. 7. Whoever that actress was, she had been in some musical revues.

Kliph Nesteroff: And you had met Groucho previously?

Paul Krassner: My publisher was Putnam. Bill Targ, my editor at Putnam, was a friend of Groucho. Later he sent him my book. Groucho gave it a blurb where he said I would be the last living Lenny Bruce. The writer of the movie Skidoo, Bill Cannon, introduced me to him. He also wrote Brewster McCloud. Bill and I started to write a movie together, but it never worked out. Groucho and I had lunch. He asked me if I could get him some LSD. That was the first time I met him. That's when we first discussed it. The second time was when I met him for the trip.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you stay in contact afterward?

Paul Krassner: Not really, but I would send him The Realist. A Black Panther named David Hilliard had said he wanted to kill Richard Nixon and he was charged with threatening the president. There was an interview with Groucho in Flash magazine where he said something like, "The only thing that will help this country is the assassination of Richard Nixon." I wrote to the attorney general and asked why he wasn't citing Groucho for the same thing as the Black Panther. They sent me a reply!

James Browning, then the Attorney General of California, the guy who later prosecuted Patty Hearst, wrote back. He said he had consulted with another Attorney General and agreed that the Black Panthers wanted to destroy the government and Groucho was "an alleged comedian." The exact words he used! He said there was no file on Groucho. Then I found out there was indeed a file on Groucho. He was on their shit list. I told him. Groucho said something like, "I deny it and I deny that I deny it!" Something like that. I saw him again in the 1970s at a book festival at the Ambassador Hotel. I called out a question from the audience. He was responding to questions with only one or two lines. He was frail. That was the last time I saw him.


Bob said...

A clip has survived on youtube of Lord Buckley on Groucho's "You Bet Your Life" gameshow.

I sort of never believed the Groucho LSD story. Chico's the one who made a joke about carrying marijuana in a grouch bag. Weird that he was taken seriously...

old man taylor said...

of course he was a piano player....