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Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Telephone Hour. 2.

A fascinating thing, at least to me, happened as I was continuing my research for the second part of this article about Shelley Berman and Bob Newhart.
I went to Shelley Berman's Wikipedia page, and found this:

On his website, comedy writer Mark Rothman discussed the history of comic "telephone" monologists:
"As far back as the 1920's George Jessel was doing phone conversations with his mother in vaudeville, with the opening line "Hello Mama? This is Georgie." In the 30's and 40's there was this radio comedienne named Arlene "Chatterbox" Harris, who did telephone monologues to one of her "friends." ...She was featured doing one of them on an episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show that featured many old radio entertainers... In the 50's, a great comedienne, Betty Walker, made about a zillion appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, doing essentially the same kind of act as Arlene Harris, talking to her friend Ceil. Only it was intensively Yiddishified... Whereas Arlene Harris was white bread, Betty Walker was challah... All of this pre-dated Shelley Berman. Even Mike Nichols and Elaine May, who were contemporaries of Berman's at Second City, engaged in telephone dialogues, with very similar styled material. And who's more brilliant than them?"

I found myself being quoted.
The day after I posted the first article.
I didn't do it.
I wouldn't know how to do it.
Boy, things get around fast these days.
Anyway, Shelley Berman was never destined to have the kind of success that Bob Newhart has had on television.
He could never have carried a sitcom, the way Newhart carried three of them.
Newhart was always unflappable.
A cool performer in a cool medium.
Berman was and is an insecure, somewhat mean-spirited hothead.
Not the kind of performer you'd want to invite into your homes on a weekly basis.
There is evidence to back this up.
Evidence that I saw firsthand at the time.
Evidence that Marc Maron was too young to see, or maybe even know about.
Because he was either an infant, or still a gleam in his father's eye.
So he didn't ask Berman about it.
In March of 1963, there was a documentary run on NBC on a Sunday Night, as part of the Dupont Show of the Month series.
It was called "Comedian Backstage"
Shelley Berman allowed a camera crew to follow him around for 24 hours on a day when he was working in a nightclub in Florida.
Everything was going swimmingly until they showed him, in the middle of his act, doing one of his telephone monologues, when, of all things, a telephone rang offstage.
You could see the brutally pained look on Berman's face as he gallantly finished his monologue.
He left the stage to enthusiastic applause, and in the wings, threw the biggest hissy fit I have ever seen.
He took that cradle of the wall phone and nearly smashed it to bits.
He immediately started yelling at every member of the backstage crew mercilessly.
It was a better show than the one he put on stage.
He looked like the world's most awful human being.
As I, a fifteen year old, maybe Thirty Seconds Over Show Business, was watching, my first thought was "His career is over."
Apparently, he had total approval as to the documentary's content.
But he was so short-sighted that he didn't see any problem with airing that part of it.
Remember Vaughn Meader?
The comedian who had an act handed to him because of his uncanny resemblance to, and impression of John F. Kennedy?
When Kennedy was assassinated, his career was officially over.
This alone eliminated him from a long list of suspects.
This was only months after Berman's documentary aired
And Berman experienced an almost similar fate.
His career took a major hit.
One he never really recovered from.
Oh, he got work, but mainly as a straight actor on TV dramas.
Nothing major.
And he was still welcome as a panelist on game shows.
But he was no longer any kind of major comedy draw.
With some comedians, it's better to hide your personality.

The only consolation is that nobody could seriously consider him to have shot JFK.


My books ,"Show Runner" and it's sequel,"Show Runner Two", can be found at the Amazon Kindle Store.
Along with the newer ones, "The Man Is Dead", and "Report Cards".
You can search by typing in my name, Cindy Williams, Laverne & Shirley, The Odd Couple, or Happy Days.
Check them out.
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Just get the free app from Kindle, and they can be downloaded to an IPhone, IPad, or Blackberry.
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  1. This is your person, editing it in:

    View the history tab.

  2. I just came back from the weekend, and saw the Berman/Newhart posts for the first time.

    It's not generally known outside Chicago, but Bob Newhart's phone routines started out as actual phone calls, between him and a friend who was a local ad man.
    Newhart was still a CPA at the time; he and his friend would amuse each other by making these calls, which the friend would record and try to sell to DJs as "comedy routines". Newhart once called these calls "poor man's Bob & Ray." (so you know that he knew where he came from comedically.)
    One popular Chicago DJ, Dan Sorkin, liked the calls so much that he not only put them on his own show, but talked them up to other DJs around the country. Sorkin also help kickstart Newhart's stand-up career by putting him together with a manager, and subsequently with Warner Bros. Records, and the rest is history.
    Side note: Dan Sorkin was THE comedy DJ in Chicago at that time; his show was where I first heard Berman, Newhart, Lenny Bruce (the "clean" early LPs), and just about every other comic who put out a record in the late '50s/early '60s.
    He lost his Chicago position when he testified for Bruce at his local trial; the Chicago Federation of Labor (the owners of Sorkin's station) didn't care for that. Sorkin went to San Francisco, where as far as I know he remains to this day. Chicagoans my age still miss him.
    Just thought you'd like to know ...

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Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."