Staying in tonight, we’re going to see Chuck Manning at the York tomorrow. Been listening to ancient radio comedies all week. Amazing how weird and conceptual and hysterically funny this stuff was, TV comedy has rarely come close, and never gotten beyond it. The mind’s eye can visualize so much more than our meager real eyes, so radio was a canvas limited only by the reaches of the imagination. This Fred Allen stuff is particularly nuts. It was hugely popular in its day, millions listened regularly. Probably more people listened to this than watch any television show today, and that in a country with a population a third of today’s. Listening now, it’s hard to believe this is from the thirties—1933, ‘34, ‘35. Radio was scarcely a decade old. I’m sitting here in a living room where nearly ninety years ago the original occupants once sat in front of a large radio listening to this very program, laughing and laughing.
I’m sitting here staring at a pair of Robert Benchley’s shorts.
“How To Start The Day” and “How to Raise a Baby”, both one reelers and both really funny.
But to be honest I only posted this because I wanted to write that I was sitting here staring at a pair of Robert Benchley’s shorts.
I met Jack Riley a couple times, some cool little chats, once at Charlie O’s, and once after a Jack Sheldon set at the old Catalina’s on Cahuenga. Last time was at Chuck Niles’ funeral. I didn’t know where the men’s room was. He’d asked. Maybe over there, I said. Over there? Yeah, that looks like the kind of spot a men’s room would be. Yeah, it does, he said, and wandered off. Some time later he walked by again. You find the men’s room? Yeah, it was over there, he said. Was it nice? He gave a Mr. Carlin shrug. I’ve seen better, he said.
Never ran into him again.
Fyl decided her husband is still too sick to be life of the party on a wet, cold night and so we’re sitting home on New Year’s Eve. I didn’t argue. Besides, there’s a Jack Benny marathon on Antenna TV. When the pizza came It was guest star Frankie Avalon singing, so I joined Fyl in front of her TV watching old Sid Caesar shows and munching on a Palermo’s special, thin crust, crispy, anchovies on half. Taking my empty plate into the kitchen later the Benny marathon was still on in the living room and I could hear Robert Goulet. Even an hour apart the difference in timbre, phrasing, range–hell, in sheer quality of everything–with Frankie Avalon was beyond glaring. Plus Goulet was much, much funnier in the follow up bit, a natural. Funniest of all, though, was Joan Marshall, the woman in the sketch and one of the great undiscovered comic talents of the sixties. Alas, she was gorgeous, and in that decade gorgeous and funny were not allowed to mix. In the thirties she might have been a screwball superstar, another Carole Lombard; in the fifties she could have been the female lead in a sophisticated comedy. But in the sixties only Jack Benny recognized how funny she was and let her run riot in a couple sketches. They said it really bothered Joan that she never got choice comedy roles, and she never seemed happy in her career being beautiful. Hollywood is full of beautiful women. It’s not full of naturally funny people. But sometimes what you are really good at and the times you live in don’t coincide. If only you’d been born twenty years earlier.
Man, Edie Adam’s did a devastating Marilyn Monroe parody. If Marilyn hadn’t been so fucked up she might have sued. It surpassed even SCTV’s Catherine O’Hara and Andrea Martin at their cruelest. I saw it on the Edie Adam’s box set, I imagine some one has put it on YouTube as well. Also, among the many long buried treasures revealed in this collection is a solid dozen minutes of the Woody Herman Big Band c.1963, and what a blazing aggregation that was. You could hear that music in a club now and it would still sound state of the art. Were I Scott Yanow I could rattle off the soloists, but alas I ain’t. A smoking young bunch they were however. And in that very same program the daring Edie gave Jack Sheldon six or seven minutes to go a surreal monologue about falconry that was as hysterical as it was weird. Clean, though. She must have warned him.
I met Edie Adam’s several times. Had a few extended conversations. Wonderful stories, wonderful lady.