Sunday, July 21, 2019

An Interview with Paul Krassner - Part Five

Kliph Nesteroff: April 1964 - George Foster and Bob Booker, the guys who produced the First Family comedy record with Vaughn Meader, were going to make a movie starring Peter Sellers. It was called Pardon Me, Sir, but is My Arm Hurting Your Elbow. Arthur Hiller was slated to direct. They commissioned a series of scripts written by you, Terry Southern, Godfrey Cambridge, Jean Shephard, Peter Cook, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. Wow. 

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 it was a take-off on 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 it was ever made, though.

Kliph Nesteroff: Bob Booker and George Foster made a ton of comedy records. When You're in Love the Whole World is Jewish was probably their second most famous project after the First Family. They seem like old fashioned show business guys. Here they are enlisting every major counterculture celebrity.

Paul Krassner: Yes, there was a lot of co-opting 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 aware of. So they weren't really underground...

Kliph Nesteroff: They were all celebrities in their field.

Paul Krassner: They were celebrities in their field and had leaked into mainstream awareness. That's why the whole "sick comic" thing happened. It was started by Time Magazine. They included Lenny and Bob Newhart and Shelley Berman and Nichols and May and Jonathan Winters. Lenny very much resented being called sick. 

Lenny talked about it. He said he was satirizing a society that was sick. The others didn't really belong in that. When I did the thing for Playboy, the Playboy Panel, we called them "hip humorists" rather than sick.

Kliph Nesteroff: Bob Newhart refused to participate in your panel.

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 Gerry Mulligan and he said, "Oh? Are they going to show my nipples?" He didn't want to participate either.

Kliph Nesteroff: One of the first pot smoking comedians was the Professor Irwin Corey.

Paul Krassner: Yes, when I moved to San Francisco I opened for him at the Julia Morgan Theater in Berkeley. We were sitting in a dressing room. He kind of looked like my father. We smoked a joint together and it was strange because I felt like I was smoking a joint with my dad. He said that sometimes he would look at Nazi material in order to get real angry before he went on stage. He went to Cuba and brought medicine on a humanitarian thing and there was a photo I published of him with Fidel Castro.

Kliph Nesteroff: Another elder statesmen whom you published in The Realist - 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 because my parents were, that's making religion a race and that's what Hitler did." Something like that. Les Crane pushed the panic button, it was on a delay. He said, "Paul, that's actionable!" There was always fear of libel suits and that was a common practice. Things would be bleeped out.

Kliph Nesteroff: Sandy Baron told you that Lenny Bruce once ratted on his drug dealer?

Paul Krassner: That's what he said. Lenny never mentioned it in his act and he never admitted to having snitched, if it was true. It was Sandy Baron who told me that. He played Lenny on Broadway. I worked with Sandy on one of his albums. It was called How I Found God, Zen, and Yoga and My Life Still Sucks. I helped write it. He kept putting off paying me the five hundred dollars that he promised.

He and his wife were very much into EST and the Human Potential Movement. He used EST language a lot. The thing I remember - at his home he had a book called the Physiology of Psychology. 

I was reading it and it said itching is the highest form of pain or the lowest form of pain or something. I quoted that when I wrote about the first laugh I got from an audience. I was six years old playing violin at Carnegie Hall. I had an itch in my leg. I stood on my left leg and scratched it with my right foot without missing a note and the audience laughed. I wasn't trying to get a laugh, I was just trying to deal with my own personal little problem, but I learned in my guts what made people laugh. 

It was a very gratifying thing to have that power. If you could make people laugh, then they weren't mad at you. It woke me up. The buzz it gave you - I refer to it as a spiritual orgasm. It was an epiphany that I didn't quite understand. It was instinct. Rather than stop and put down my bow, I scratched with my leg. In the book Sandy Baron had in his home, there was a scientific explanation for it: The God of Absurdity. 

Kliph Nesteroff: How about a guy a generation earlier than you who had a counterculture vibe before anyone else - Lord Buckley.

Paul Krassner: I was familiar with him and was aware he influenced Lenny on some level. I never saw him perform in person. I had a radio job in San Francisco in 1971 at this 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 morning and four hours on Sunday evening. I opened my Easter Sunday show with The Nazz by Lord Buckley. Lenny talked about Lord Buckley in terms of hip comedians 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: December 1961. You were in Signs Along the Cynic Route, a revue at the Actor's Playhouse with Will Holton, Dolly Jonah, Barbara Siegel...

Paul Krassner: Oh, yes. Here's the backstory on that. In The Realist I had a section called Signs Along the Cynic Route. It was a simple play on words. I didn't consider myself a cynic, but I put the facts aside for a good pun. Will and Dolly. I have to describe them. Will was like prep student graduate with a wild mind. Dolly was a blustery, Broadway type, an obviously face-lifted blonde. They contacted me because they wanted to use the title for their play. They asked me to translate to stage what I did in print. If I did an editorial it could be a good monologue with a few changes. I agreed to do it. 

Nelson Algren was staying with Will and Dolly at their home. They would go out and Algren would stay home. The phone rang and he took the messages. They told me they found five versions of the phone message crumpled up in the garbage (laughs). He was a novelist, so he chose words very carefully. 

I felt very self-conscious with the two of them on this stage. I felt so awkward. They decided to do it without me and that was fine with me. Opening night they got awful, awful reviews. I remember hearing Dolly backstage going, "Those fucking cocksuckers!" It was a negative review.

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 underground press. You said that Spiro Agnew's name could be rearranged to spell Grow a Penis. You could publish it in your paper, but 60 Minutes would edit it out. You also appeared on Mike Wallace's previous show PM East.

Paul Krassner: I told him about the Spiro Agnew anagram and he laughed. But I was right. It was deleted. He was very friendly. He called me a rascal. The producer of PM East was Jerry Hopkins who became the talent scout for Steve Allen's show. He got me on PM EastDuring the 60 Minutes interview, he asked me why I used these 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, there is this notorious story of yours about doing LSD with Groucho Marx 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 1970s. He was a young college-aged guy and sympathetic to the youth movement, but also got to know Groucho in his twilight years. He says, "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 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 skeptical of its veracity."

Paul Krassner: Well, that was the reason Groucho asked me. He read The Realist and read about my taking trips. He asked me if I could get him some. He was aware of it. I have a letter in my garage from Lionel Olay, a very popular magazine writer. He had interviewed Groucho and Groucho had said that he was very curious about LSD. When Groucho spoke to me he didn't use the word "guide," he asked if I could "accompany" him.

I can appreciate Steve's take. He's being very fair. Groucho was not going to go around boasting about this. It was to prepare for the movie Skidoo, which was essentially a pro-acid movie directed by Otto Preminger. He 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. Groucho wasn't the first choice to play the part of God in Skidoo. They wanted George Raft for the part and I forget why he didn't do it. I met Bill Marx, Harpo's son, and we talked about how Chico carried a little pouch around...

Kliph Nesteroff: Marijuana.

Paul Krassner: Yes and they called it the 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 a story about Haight-Ashbury when they had tour busses. All the passengers in the tour had cameras and they were taking pictures of hippies. So the hippies got cameras and started taking pictures of them. 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 was interested in sex.

Kliph Nesteroff: When Groucho did LSD, you babysat him - but you didn't actually do it with him.

Paul Krassner: No, no, 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: It was the home of an actress. I forget her name, but it was in Beverly Hills. I don't even know if I knew her name. Phil Ochs drove me there. She had a collection of records from Broadway shows. Phil told me she was in some musical revues, but I don't remember if he told me her name or not. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Had you met Groucho previously?

Paul Krassner: My publisher was Putnam and Bill Targ was my editor. He was friends with Groucho. Later he sent him my book and Groucho gave it a blurb. He said I would be the last living Lenny Bruce. When I was in Los Angeles the writer of Skidoo, Bill Cannon, invited me to his house. We started to write a movie together, but it never worked out. He was the one who introduced me to Groucho. Groucho and I had lunch and 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 acid trip.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you stay in contact afterward?

Paul Krassner: No, but I would send him The Realist. David Hilliard from the Black Panthers said he wanted to kill Richard Nixon. 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 Panthers. They sent me a reply! 

James Browning, then the Attorney General of California, wrote to me saying he consulted his colleagues and they agreed that the Black Panthers wanted to destroy the government, but Groucho was "an alleged comedian." Those are the exact words he used. He said there was no file on Groucho and then I found out there was indeed a file on Groucho. He was on their shit list. 

I wrote Groucho and told him about it. He said, "I deny it and I deny that I deny it!" Something like that. I saw him again at a book festival at the Ambassador Hotel before they started doing it at USC. He did a Q&A, but he was frail and responding with just one or two words. That was the last time I saw him.

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