Friday, December 4, 2015

An Interview with Dick Gautier - Part Four

Kliph Nesteroff: December 1962 - you did the television pilot Butterball Brown with Mickey Shaughnessy.

Dick Gautier: Mickey Shaughnessy, I did two pilots with him, both written by Arne Sultan and Marvin Worth. Neither worked. Jim Nabors was in one of them. I don't know why, but the premise didn't work. It was about a football team and Mickey was the coach. I met my wife there. She was on the show and we got married and were married for twenty years.

Kliph Nesteroff: I always enjoyed Mickey Shaughnessy in movies. He had a great, grizzled face.

Dick Gautier: He was great, although I never saw his stand-up act.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yeah, me either. I heard about his nightclub act from Will Jordan.

Dick Gautier: I am a fan of all those character men. You love them and when they come on screen you go, "Oh, good! I'm going to have a good time." You know? Like Franklin Pangborn.

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, a couple months ago I did a big long interview with William Schallert and I don't know if anybody can actually calculate this definitively, but he may be the single most prolific actor. Certainly of anyone still alive. He goes back to 1947 and was one of the most prolific guys even when all the other character guys were still around.

Dick Gautier: I think you're probably right. And there isn't a nicer guy around. A very sweet guy. I haven't thought about that, but I think you're right. There was another who died who would have come close - Kevin McCarthy. He lived to be 92 or something and did a lot of that stuff.

Kliph Nesteroff: Those kind of actors - when they come on the screen - I can't help but shout their name. "Kevin McCarthy!"

Dick Gautier: That's right. I'm like you are - I know all their names. "Edward Brophy!"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) I love Ed Brophy.

Dick Gautier: I know all those guys from the 1930s and 1940s. They had like a stock company in all the Thin Man movies. A great piece of trivia - who played The Thin Man?

Kliph Nesteroff: I don't know.

Dick Gautier: A guy named Edward Ellis. He was the guy who was the thin man that Nick Charles was looking for. Everyone says, "I know about that movie. Yes, of course, the Thin Man was... uh..." "Edward Ellis." "Who?" 

Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned Arne Sultan and Marvin Worth. I think that other pilot was called The Jones Boys.

Dick Gautier: That's right. That's what it was. Sultan and Worth were great guys. I loved them. They were really, really terrific fellows. They became fans and put me in a couple things that didn't go, but they kept plugging away. They have a pretty distinguished writing career between them. They said, "Let's try again." I said, "You're going to use me again? I think I'm a jinx!"

Kliph Nesteroff: Speaking of things that were jinxed - you costarred in a 1960s sitcom called Mister Terrific. 

Dick Gautier: Ohhhhh. It wasn't terrific. That was a piece of crap! I didn't even audition or read or do anything. They had seen me on The Patty Duke Show where I played a musician. Kind of a good part that was very showy and I was fast-talking and glib and stuff. They saw it at Universal and said, "Man, he'd be great for the other guy in Mr. Terrific." Bill Schifrin, my agent called and said, "You wanna do it?" I said, "I don't know, it's about a guy who takes a pill and becomes a superhero... It sounds like shit."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Dick Gautier: He said, "Yeah, it's a piece of shit, but we're guaranteed thirteen episodes. Could you use the money?" I said, "Yeah." We did thirteen and that was it. Goodbye.

Kliph Nesteroff: And speaking of character actors - it co-starred John McGiver. 

Dick Gautier: Oh, he was great. God, he was so good. I loved John, yeah. The guy who starred in it, Stephen Strimpell, had delusions of grandeur. He thought he was doing the Cherry Lane Theater. I mean, really. He went into a producer's office and said, "I won't say this crap!" And he threw the script in his face. I said to him, "Jesus, man, this is a kiddie show! What are you doing? Get your money, button your lip and go home." God, that's all that was, a kiddie show. I don't know what he wanted, but he was very hard to get along with. But John was as sweet as could be - and realistic. He said, "I know it's a piece of crap. So what?"

Kliph Nesteroff: A job is a job.

Dick Gautier: A job is a job, exactly.

Kliph Nesteroff: John McGiver, another of these guys like William Schallert - just so prolific and professional.

Dick Gautier: (doing John McGiver voice) Yes, I remember him so well.

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Dick Gautier: He had that voice. I remember him in Breakfast at Tiffany's. He was a terrific man. Did you know that he bought a town? He bought a town and gave each of his children - eight or nine children - a house. I'm not kidding. In Connecticut somewhere.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did an episode on another failed show called The Baileys of Balboa.

Dick Gautier: I remember that show so well and I'll tell you why. I was born in Culver City, spent some time in Montreal, came back. But I was never taken to the beach, I was never taken to a pool, and I couldn't swim. In The Baileys of Balboa I had to play a Hawaiian champion swimmer and I had to dive in the water and all kinds of stuff. You know what I did? I went up to Peter Marshall's pool and I practiced diving, Saturday and Sunday, all day so I could do the show.

Kliph Nesteroff: And nobody caught on that you were a novice...

Dick Gautier: No, nobody caught on.

Kliph Nesteroff: You mention Peter Marshall. You guys collaborated on a couple screenplays. Maryjane and...

Dick Gautier: Yeah, you know, we were together and said, "Let's not just kill time - let's write a screenplay." We were in Acapulco. It's all very fuzzy... 

Kliph Nesteroff: Maryjane turned into a campy, low-budget drive-in movie.

Dick Gautier: It was awful. They said, "Here's what we want. We want a movie about marijuana." We said, "Okay." We started researching marijuana. We weren't smokers, but we started researching and discovered that the worst thing about it was that it was illegal. So we wrote a beginning, before the titles, where you see it being harvested and grown and cut into packages and sent to America. Then when the movie starts we follow the five packages.

One goes to a house wife in Encino, another goes to a bank president, another here and another there - and it tells you what happens to these people. It was interesting because we had five interesting actors. They didn't like it. They said, "No, this is too literate and too boring." So they had Fabian under contract. They wanted him to play a high school teacher who starts selling it to kids. They almost dictated the thing to us. We wrote it in eleven days. A piece of shit. The only scene in Maryjane that I like, I happen to be in it. When Fabian is thrown in jail - I am in the cell as a hippie. I come in with a beard and all kinds of shit. I don't know if you remember it.

Kliph Nesteroff: I'll have to watch it again.

Dick Gautier: Jesus, no, don't! I come up to Fabian, "You want to get out of here? I got a plan. You got a gun?" He says, "No." I say, "Well, there goes my plan." We just threw that line in just for fun, but the movie was awful. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I've seen Maryjane, but I've never seen the other one you guys did, which goes under a couple different titles - Wild in the Sky and...

Dick Gautier: Yeah, the original title was God Bless You, Uncle Sam.

Kliph Nesteroff: You hosted a game show remake of Can You Top This.

Dick Gautier: No, Wink Martindale was the host. I was the joke-teller. That's my forte. I tell stories very well and can embellish with shtick and dialects. That is my strength, so that's why I was on the show. They had seen me do that on The Merv Griffin Show. It was very lucrative and was going very well when my niece gave me the mumps. I couldn't go on with the show. Richard Dawson took over and replaced me. I took polaroids of myself because I looked like George Hamilton had fucked a chipmunk. 

Kliph Nesteroff: I saw George Hamilton on Craig Ferguson and he was pretty funny.

Dick Gautier: Yeah, he is. I'm used to really funny guys. Bob Ridgley was one of the funniest guys in the world. You know him?

Kliph Nesteroff: I've only seen him do that homoerotic John Wayne impression...

Dick Gautier: Oh yeah. One day we were all sitting in a room, waiting to audition for a voice over. There was a woman sitting there and when they called her and she left, he went and sniffed her chair and said: "Capricorn." He was really one of the weirdest, funniest men. He and Pat McCormick. I don't know if you know about Pat, but he lived around the corner from me in Toluca Lake. He had a baby. Pat went in and took a giant dump. Now Pat is six foot seven and a half. When he takes a dump, it's a dumpHe took one of those things you put on a toilet for a kid and said, "Honey, come here! Look what your child did." And he pointed to this incredibly large shit and she called the doctor! He was filthy, but priceless.

Kliph Nesteroff: Now I must ask you about Get Smart. I've heard different things from different people, but for you - how was Don Adams to work with?

Dick Gautier: Is this going to be in the article?

Kliph Nesteroff: That's up to you.

Dick Gautier: I'd rather the rest of our conversation be off the record.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

An Interview with Dick Gautier - Part Three

Dick Gautier: I don't know if you know the name of this comedy team: Gordon Connell and Jane Connell. They were super hip in the 1950s. God, they were funny. He played piano and she sang. They were married and did a lot of stuff on Broadway later on. They worked with Sid Caesar on As Caesar Sees It. They were a comedy team at the hungry i and the Purple Onion. I loved their act. 

Kliph Nesteroff: There are a lot of forgotten comedy teams from that era. There was the very successful sister act of Betty and Jane Kean, pioneering female comedians.

Dick Gautier: Betty and Jane Kean were pretty funny. They were the first sort of vulgar ladies. She'd take out a cigar and light it and then the other would say, "What is that - a substitute?" That kind of shit.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about beatnik comedian Lord Buckley?

Dick Gautier: Ah, I loved Lord Buckley. I thought he was brilliant. He killed me. Oh, Jesus, such a mind, but he was crazy. He was demented. His family had to address him, "Yes, Lord. No, Lord." They had to bow to him when he came in the room. I mean, he took it to those lengths. I wasn't there, but that was the word. Who was the other crazy guy comedian... Jimmy something? I don't know if this translates, but he would get hostile and say to the audience, "What do you want! What do you want from me? Okay, okay, stay right there, don't move." And he'd pick up a chair. "You want me to eat this chair? Is that what it is? Okay! Okay, well, I'm going to eat this fucking chair!" I mean, he was such a wild man.

Kliph Nesteroff: Maybe that was Jimmy Ames.

Dick Gautier: Yes, it was Jimmy Ames! God, he was great. He didn't go anywhere with it because he couldn't do it on television.

Kliph Nesteroff: The only reason I know his name is because he was mentioned to me by your old pal Peter Marshall.

Dick Gautier: Well, you know, Peter Marshall and I were really, really good friends. We were really tight. We did movies together. We did an act together for a short time.

Kliph Nesteroff: I didn't know that.

Dick Gautier: Yeah, we worked together for a short time and we just did it for fun. We did it for friends and then we did it on some television shows. They wanted us to roast Walter Matthau on television and we did. He liked us and we liked him. Peter and I wrote a couple movies together. Yeah, Pete and I were really close. We haven't seen each other in years.

Kliph Nesteroff: So, did something happen?

Dick Gautier: Yeah... actually. Something happened. And I don't even remember what it was. I pissed him off or he pissed me off or who knows. After a while you don't even remember what it was about.

Kliph Nesteroff: I interviewed Peter Marshall and he doesn't remember what the tiff was about either.

Dick Gautier: Yes, like fighting with your wife. "What the hell were we arguing about?"

Kliph Nesteroff: You opened for the Kingston Trio in, of all places, the Cocoanut Grove.

Dick Gautier: Yeah, I felt comfortable doing that because the Kingston Trio brought in a folkie kind of audience that would like my act. We did a tour afterward. I did okay except for one terrible night. I couldn't get into my dressing room because for some reason it was locked. I couldn't change my clothes and I was in terrible, smelly clothes I had been in all day. Performers, we need a certain kind of preparation time. I lost that preparation time and I went on and it went terrible. So, it happens. But that tour was mostly pretty good.

Kliph Nesteroff: Two routines you used... out-of-context this is meaningless, but you did a bit called A Day at Cape Canaveral and another called She Got Stabbed at the Prom.

Dick Gautier: It was a a take-off on all the silly teenage songs at the time. A Day at Cape Canaveral I wrote with Gary Belkin. He wrote for Sid Caesar and various other people. I never just bought material from people - I had to be in on it. When I was acting in a Las Vegas show in the 1970s, I got to know everybody in town pretty good and someone said, "Why don't you do stand-up here?" I said, "I don't know, I haven't done it in so many years."

I got a call from some agent, "They're talking about having you open in Vegas with your act." I said, "Really? Jesus, my material is too dated. It's too old and I don't know what people are doing in stand-up these days." So I went to all the comedy clubs to look for guys to bounce stuff off of. I must have seen two hundred guys. You know who I ended up with? I paid them a hundred dollars an hour to work with me. This is absolutely true: Jay Leno and David Letterman. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Another interesting comic among those Uptown rooms was the Professor Irwin Corey.

Dick Gautier: The Professor Irwin Corey is incredibly brilliant and I knew him pretty well, but he is a terrible human being. Honestly. He's the lowest kind of prick you would ever want to meet. God, is he awful. I was working there and he came in. All he did was say bad things about me, my act and my talent. Just dreadful. But I found out that it was kind of a Napoleonic thing. He was very small and I was probably a foot taller than him.

Enrico Banducci called me and my collaborator Larry Tucker. He said, "Hey guys, I'm here in New York and I'm looking for some new acts. Would you guys come over and tell me what you think about the new crop?" So we said sure and we're sitting at a big table. Irwin Corey walks in with his manager. His first words were, "What the fuck are these guys doing here! Goddamn leeches who come in here and eat your fucking food! What the fuck!"

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Dick Gautier: I mean, that's how we were greeted. I tell you, I had had it. I used to be very strong in those days. I grabbed him by the lapel and I picked him up off the floor. I said, "You are such a cocksucker, Irwin. Keep this up and I will throw you out the window - and I can do it." There was an open window and I carried him over to it. From then on he'd say, "Hi Dick, how are you?" It's funny how you have to push some people, but that's what a bastard he was. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Well, on this topic then, let me ask you about some other comedians who have reputations. Jack Carter.

Dick Gautier: Yeah, I've worked with Jack a lot. He played my father in a television show. The first fifteen minutes of every day we'd sit and wait for him to finish complaining. "God, Jesus Christ, my coffee was cold, for fuck's sake. I had to send it back and the cream was sour." All he did was complain for fifteen minutes and then he would finally settle down and we would get to work. Jack is kind of manic.

I love him, but I hate him. He's really hard to take and it's too bad, but I have known him forever. Do you have the comedian Thom Sharp down? Thom Sharp was one of the funniest guys. He opened for me at the Playboy Club in Phoenix, Arizona when I was breaking in some material. You ever hear what he said about comedian Ronnie Schell? Ronnie Schell is one of the cheapest men in the world. Thom Sharp's line: "Ronnie Schell is so cheap that when he eats alone he asks for separate checks."

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Dick Gautier: Thom Sharp is so quick, wonderful and dry. He is a gem.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did The Joey Bishop Show and some game shows with Joey...

Dick Gautier: My ex-wife, an actress who has since passed on, Barbara Stewart, played his wife in a series. She wasn't crazy about working with him. She didn't knock him, but she said, "He's kind of hard to work with." My meetings with Joey were fine. I never had a problem.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about Buddy Hackett?

Dick Gautier: Buddy Hackett was mean from the ground up. I did his show when I was flailing around in New York trying to get something going, when I was working clubs. He was never nice. He was just never nice. But when I got his television show I had very little to do. I was almost like an extra. Carol Burnett was in it.

Kliph Nesteroff: The show was called Stanley.

Dick Gautier: That's right. Max Liebman produced it and it was live. I tell you, he was just impossible to work with, even for Carol. Carol Burnett never knocks anybody but, boy, she does not like Buddy Hackett. When I was in Philadelphia trying out Bye Bye Birdie, Buddy was doing a show called [Viva] Madison Avenue. And it was getting killed. Just gettin' killed. When he found it was me who had been like an extra on his show and I was now playing the lead in Bye Bye Birdie and getting great reviews, it really pissed him off. So much so that one night when he was eating at Harvey House, I walked by and said hello and he took his keys and he threw them at me. He said, "Hey, Dick, bring my car around, would ya!" I said, "Certainly, Mr. Hackett." I took the keys and went back to my theater and dressing room and back to rehearsal (laughs). He looked around everywhere for his keys and couldn't find them. Four hours later he comes storming in, "Where are my fucking keys!" That's the kind of guy he was. He was... just... awful. Mean. Always an angry man.

Kliph Nesteroff: Jackie Mason.

Dick Gautier: Jackie Mason I don't know too well. Merv Griffin got a group together that he called the best story tellers in the business. I was considered one of them along with Orson Bean and Jackie Mason. Pat O'Brien, believe it or not, was another. We'd go on and we'd tell jokes and I got to know him a little. He didn't feel like we should be there in his company. He felt like he should be by himself. Other than that he was okay.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were, of course, in Get Smart as Hymie the Robot. You were also in a sitcom called When Things Were Rotten. Both of these were Mel Brooks sitcoms. Was that the connection there? Is that why you were in When Things Were Rotten?

Dick Gautier: Well, Mel, yeah. I didn't see Mel when I auditioned for the part as Hymie in Get Smart, but I got that. Mel said he loved my timing. He was quoted saying I had exquisite timing. I think that is why I got the part of Robin Hood in When Things Were Rotten. I heard that he wanted to fire me. This has never been told before in public. He thought that I was difficult on When Things Were Rotten - and I was. They wrote me a little vain and egotistical in the pilot, but they didn't know how to write me so that it was funny. Everyone else was funny and my character wasn't. So they kept going back and forth, "Do it this way. Do it that way." I was in the middle and I just didn't know what the hell to do. I guess I was being problematic. "Guys, who am I? What am I? What direction am I going in?" I've never been able to talk to Mel about it and defend myself about that accusation. I have never been difficult on any other show. Ugh. Anyway...