Friday, April 27, 2007

Comics Gone Wild!

Professionalism is to be applauded, but there's real entertainment to be had when things go completely off the rails. I love to see the artifice of entertainment crumble because it affords me a glimpse of the often gritty reality behind the scenes, and professional comics, by dint of their nature, are endlessly more fascinating when the wheels come off. CASE IN POINT #1: Sealtest Variety Theater, 03/17/49, "Live from the Shamrock". Houston's Shamrock Hotel was the largest in the US at the time and this is a remote broadcast from its opening night. There were reported to be 150+ movie stars present at "Houston's biggest party", and they were outnumbered 10 to 1 by filthy rich Stetson-wearing drunks. The ballroom, seating 1000, was apparently overbooked by another 1000 and the ensuing chaos reduced the main attraction, NBC's Sealtest Variety Theater featuring Ed Gardner (Archie of Duffy's Tavern), Dorothy Lamour, and Van Heflin to a secondary (or thirdian.. or fourthish) attraction. Worse, the first half of the Sealtest broadcast was, from the sound of it, relayed from a intercom in the technician's booth, where you can hear the technicians yelling over the phone! It has been suggested that pranksters working for the hotel deliberately sabotaged NBC's hookup.
TECHNICIAN 1: All they're getting is swearing on the line!

TECHNICIAN 2: All they're getting is what??

TECHNICIAN 1: Swearing! (whistles)

TECHNICIAN 2: Well, it ain't coming through my system, I'll tell you that!
This particular transcription cuts to a an NBC apology and marching music after this exchange, but elsewhere the broadcast reportedly kept going, cutting only after the technicians started to swear and yell themselves. The second half is even more amazing as Ed Gardner, barely able to hear himself think over the chaos and realizing the broadcast is crashing and burning, absolutely refuses to stick to his script while his costars gamely try to reign him in.
ED: We've all been in radio a long time but who has ever seen anything like this?? Do you know that Paley is liable to withdraw the offer after this thing tonight? Well, let's play the piano, instead! Anyone want to play the piano?

VAN (trying to get back on script): Archie.. Uh, listen.. How.. how did this..

ED: You're never gonna get anywhere with this, Van.. How about we play the piano? I like to play the piano.. I'll play and you sing and I'll whistle or something...
It's an amazing train wreck of a show. You'll love it!!

CASE IN POINT #2: The Martin and Lewis Show, audition tape dated 12/22/48. Most of the scripted material heard here was recycled for the series' 4/3/49 premiere on NBC with Lucille Ball as guest. In the audition tape, Bob Hope is the guest, and the entire middle of the show disintegrates into an un-editable, un-airable ad-lib free-for-all between Bob, Dean, and Jerry. Bob and Dean spin out an endless number of gags about Jerry's haircut and then zero in on his age:
BOB: The other night he was on my show and after every joke he told, I had to throw him over my shoulder and burp him.
And better:
DEAN: Jerry..


DEAN: Your safety pin is unfastened again.

BOB: Yeah! You can see the inside of your head!
It just gets more and more beautiful. Dean grouses about his clunker straight-lines, Jerry flubs his lines and replaces them with increasingly wild and unusable reads, and Bob waltzes through it all with some of the most self-assured ad-libbing you'll ever hear. If you've ever wondered what it was that audiences saw in Martin and Lewis as a live act, everything past 29:00 should clear up the matter for you.
JERRY: Well, I hope you folks are enjoying our career...
CASE IN POINT #3: Another amazing un-broadcastable moment from The Martin and Lewis Show. Jerry flubs, Dean tells him (off-handedly) to shut up, and Jerry's insecurities come gushing out all over the stage.
JERRY: What do you mean by that? What is that "shut up"? In front of the people.. What is that embarrassment?

DEAN: I'm not embarrassing you!

JERRY: What was this thing, "shut up", like a dog, I am!

DEAN: Look..

JERRY: All of a sudden you became a master??? (makes barking sounds)
The audience eats it up, so Jerry plays it big, venting his anger and getting huge laughs all the way.
JERRY: I mean, it's the first time I ever heard it, otherwise I wouldn't make a goddamn stink about it! I don't mind, you know, when a guy says "hold it down", "lay off".. SHUT UP?? Why you no good grape squeezer, you!!
It's amazing they stayed together as long as they did!

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Blogger East Side said...

Jeez! That Sealtest show was a mess. I wonder what people at home thought -- if they got past the first two minutes of that squalor. Was anyone in the hotel audience even listening?

And as for the Martin & Lewis outtake -- as my friend said, imagine what they would've sounded like without an audience watching them.

Any chance of finding the legendary radio outtake with Groucho Marx and Bob Hope that eventually led to the creation of "You Bet Your Life"?

5:47 AM  

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