Saturday, February 14, 2009
Forgive my disappearing act, but I had one hell of a week. We (myself, James Gavin and Melissa Painter) interviewed on-camera the first half-dozen subjects for the documentary "Intimate Nights" (see previous post if you don't know what I'm talking about). I already wrote about Shelley Berman, our first fascinating find. But it only got more interesting as we went on. On Monday, we met the great Orson Bean, who I knew mostly from game shows when I was growing up but who had a wonderful and extensive career in cabaret in the 50's as well as a big-time Broadway career ("Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter", "Never Too Late" etc.) Oh, you don't believe that I really met Orson Bean? Well...
There. Desdemona's hankie isn't in the same class of proof.
Next up was the wonderful French actor/comic/singer Robert Clary, who most people know from "Hogan's Heroes". A truly gentle-man, Clary had a horrific background which he somehow emerged from and triumphed over--he grew up in a concentration camp during the second world war and lost all or most of his family. Clary is also someone I knew largely from the TV game show circuit, but who did so much more and had many fascinating stories to share with us about his time at "The Blue Angel", the premiere swank/chic/ritz/pisselegant cabaret nightclub of 1950's New York. Ahem...
Yes, yes, I know this is just a picture of Robert Clary staring off at some unknown person or thing. But the photos of me and
Mr. Clary simply aren't flattering enough for me to publish. Why did I wear that tight red sweater?
On Wednesday of this past week, we hopped in my SUV and drove to the desert--Rancho Mirage, to be precise--to meet one of the great treasures of the entertainment world, Kaye Ballard. I grew up watching her on TV--lots of Johnny Carson appearences of course, but also a wonderful show called "The Mothers-In-Law" in which she co-starred with Eve Arden. Her career began in New York in 1946 and broke some serious ground for all female comics--she was there even before Phyllis Diller--showing that women (attractive one's for that matter) could make audiences laugh. The young Kaye also seems to me to be a kind of spiritual godmother to Sandra Bernhard. Kaye gave us a great interview, then treated us to lunch at a superb local Indian restaurant. She paid with a hundred dollar bill that she proudly told us came from recent gambling winnings.
Kaye is not only a terrific comic but a wonderful singer who, it turns out, made the very first recordings of several hugely popular songs; "Fly Me To The Moon", "Lazy Afternoon" and "Maybe Next Time". The last, which of course shot to fame after Liza Minelli sang it in "Cabaret", was in fact written for Kaye several years earlier--and I can't say that she's all that pleased with the fact that Liza got the recognition for a song that should have "belonged" to her. Indeed, Kaye is somewhat ambivalent in general about how she's been treated by show-biz. On the one hand, she's a genuine fan--an enthusiast of the first order--of great performers; she never tires of praising to the skies those people she worked with who she admired. (That's not always the case with performers--many are too envious or self-regarding to admit to admiration of anyone). On the other hand, Kaye feels a little slighted--perhaps with reason--by the powers that be. She didn't get the hit TV show that Lucille Ball got and the fact is that she recorded a whole album of Fanny Brice material just a few years before Streisand shot to fame in "Funny Girl". "You know I never got nominated for anything?", she said to us at one point. "Not a Tony, not an Oscar, not an Emmy, not a Grammy!" I felt her pain. "Yes, but you've got something that almost nobody has". "What's that?" "You live on a street that they named after you."
And in fact her street in Rancho Mirage has been named "Kaye Ballard Lane". You can find it on google maps. Below is a very funny segment of a "Mothers-In-Law" episode. Why the hell isn't this popping up on Nick or Tvland? Or DVD for that matter?
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 5:46 PM