A short while ago, my daughter gave me a startling surprise. I told her a story. And she said she had never heard it before.
That is extremely rare. (And also gratifying. I have stories she hasn’t heard. I retain value on this planet.) I may have even mentioned this one to you. But the recollection puts a smile on my face and you can never have too many of those especially when you have reached an age where when you wake up you are encouraged to discover that only three things in your body are bothering you.
So here we go.
It was very early in my Hollywood experience; I had arrived here less than three months before. I was not exactly a show business novice; I had worked on nationally broadcast television (and radio) shows in Canada for five years. But this was different.
This was “The Big Time.”
A producer who had been running a variety/talk show in Toronto on which I had been writing and performing had invited me to provide those same services on a four-week 1974 CBS summer replacement series fronted by country singer Bobbie Gentry. I was to play her boyfriend on the show. (I was originally cast to play “Mama” Cass Elliot’s boyfriend on her summer replacement series, but she died. Undaunted by this misfortune, the producer inserted Bobbie Gentry for “Mama” Cass, and he made me her boyfriend.)
My duties on the show involved writing material for Bobbie Gentry and her weekly guests (among them, singer Robert Goulet and singer Wayne Newton, who had a bodyguard who looked exactly like the celebrity he had been contracted to protect, in an effort, I suppose, to momentarily confuse the assassin. “Oh my God, which one do I shoot? And now I’m in handcuffs.”)
I would also perform in some one-man comedy sketches that I had written for myself. I remember the “Peas” routine, where I did a “comparison shopping” report on “Peas in a Pod”, “Peas in a Bag” and “Peas in a Tin”…“and they give you a bag when you pay for them.” Hardly cutting edge material, unless you cut yourself opening the “Peas in a Tin.” Though it was a notch above my “Cooking tips for making a peanut-butter sandwich”, involving peanuts in a shell, a mouse – to frighten the elephant – and the aforementioned elephant – to go “Eek!” at the sight of the mouse, jump up in the air and come down heavily on the peanuts. After which you “scrape the peanut residue off the bottoms of the elephant’s feet, spread liberally on bread, and serve.” It seems redundant to report that I did not appear on American television again. Although the “Peas” routine was not entirely terrible.
We were rehearsing a sketch involving me and singer Robert Goulet. (Who accentuated every witticism that came out of his mouth by punching me repeatedly in the shoulder, until I punched the guy back and I insisted that he stop. Still, I was not being harassed by some “Tech Boy” from Bathurst Heights Collegiate and Vocational School. I was being abused by singer Robert Goulet)
Our rehearsals took place at Hollywood’s Falcon Studios, which I cannot find on Google, although there is a Falcon Studio listed in Qatar. It is unlikely, however, that this is the same place, relocated to Qatar.
Falcon Studios, situated on famed Hollywood Boulevard, although in seedier section, rather than the ritzier “Frederick’s of Hollywood” section, was owned by a man whose surname was Falcon.
The eponymous Mr. Falcon had apparently been a renowned fencing instructor for actors appearing in pirate pictures and as Musketeers. (Can you imagine a more appropriate moniker for a fencing instructor? “Who’s your fencing instructor?” “Marty Teplitzsky.” It just wouldn’t be the same.)
As I walked down the Falcon Studios hallway to our show’s rented rehearsal hall, I passed mounted, 8-by-10 “action shots” of the likes of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Tyrone Power and Error Flynn, crossing swords with their (perhaps taloned and) talented instructor.
I mean, was I in Hollywood, or what?
Okay, so here’s the story.
After rehearsing for a couple of hours, we were “broken” for lunch. Too shy to ask singer Robert Goulet – who, notwithstanding that he had punched me repeatedly in the shoulder was still the original “Lancelot” in Camelot – if he had any lunch plans, I went off to eat lunch by myself.
I found some mundane coffee shop a few blocks away, close to the mythical (except that it’s real) intersection of “Hollywood and Vine”, keeping careful watch on the time as I ate. Not that I was afraid that Robert Goulet might punch me in the shoulder for being late returning to work – I believe I had handled that situation satisfactorily – I am, by nature, an assiduously punctual kind of a person.
Emerging from the coffee shop on my way back to Falcon Studios – Falcon Studios; I cannot get over that name – I notice a growing crowd gathering at the south-east corner of Hollywood and Vine. With a few minutes to spare before I have to be back, I walk over to that gathering, inching my way gradually to the front.
There, I beheld this quintessentially “Hollywood” tableau.
Do you remember the TV series The Odd Couple, starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman? Well, there they were! Doing some location filming for The Odd Couple, whose locale was Manhattan, but they were clearly shooting a “Traveling
Episode” on the West Coast, during which they visited the mythical (except that it’s real) “Hollywood and Vine.”
Currently, there was nothing going on. They were apparently between “takes”, Randall and Klugman were sitting casually in “Director’s Chairs”, reading the paper and getting last-minute touch-ups to their make-up.
I could hardly believe my good fortune. Famous people, directly in front of me. And I was watching them do nothing!
I could not take my eyes off of them.
Late for rehearsal, I finally pull myself away from the excitement and I walk back to the studio. I am not certain about that. I may actually have skipped.
Bursting with exuberance, I race into the rehearsal hall, sputtering, “I’m sorry I’m late. But I just saw Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. Doing a television show!”
To which one of my co-workers dryly replied,
“You’re doing a television show.”
I had not thought of that. I was doing a television show. Still, I was genuinely excited by what I had seen. And I’ll tell you something you may find difficult to believe.
When I bump into location filmings today?
I feel exactly the same way.