A few years back in this column I wrote about the trombone case telephone that a stagehand rigged up for Merv Gold. It was in the days before cell phones. Merv had a button under his case handle that would ring a telephone bell hidden inside the case. Merv would ring the bell, open the case, pull out a telephone handset, and would do shtick with it.
Carl Rigoli, a former 802 member now in Los Angeles, recently sent me a story about Merv’s phone bit. Carl used to be the house band drummer at the Waldorf Astoria. Whenever Merv came in to play a show at the Waldorf, he would pull his phone stunt in the elevator. He would ring the bell, take out the phone, say “hello,” and then hand the phone to a perfect stranger, saying, “It’s for you.” It always got a laugh.
On one occasion, Merv handed the phone to a man standing next to him, saying, “It’s for you…it’s your wife.” The man turned out to be with a woman who was not his wife, and he turned pale and dashed off the elevator at the next floor.
Carl also gave me the other side of a story Leo Ball once told me, which I ran in this column a while back. A trumpet player Leo knew drew suspicion from his wife because he was leaving home so many nights a week, claiming he was being called for club dates and subs. He would leave home dressed in a tux, carrying his instrument, but often was just on his way to visit a paramour. One night his wife followed him to the city. He saw her, and popped into the Waldorf, where he sat in with the band long enough to convince his wife that he was on a gig there. When she left, he packed up his horn and went on to visit his lady friend.
Carl was in the band that night, and says, “Just as we began playing dinner music before the show, a musician dressed in a tux took out his instrument, sat in the band and played for the first set.
The band leader and the rest of the musicians were trying to figure out who he was, because no one knew him. When we took a break, he left quickly, and no one could figure out who he was or why he was sitting in.
Many years later Carl heard some of the musicians at a record date in Los Angeles talking about close calls, and this one guy told of sitting in at the Waldorf in order to allay his wife’s suspicions. He was amazed when Carl told him he had been the drummer that night, and was glad to finally know what had been going on.
From Pete Hyde: I got an e-mail from my young friend Anne Erickson about a student announcer she heard on WKCR, who was playing an old Artie Shaw record. She announced it as “Begin… um… er… the Begin.” Later, with a little confidence restored, she called it “Begin the Beginning.” And she added, “I can’t even begin to tell you what he did with Artie Shaw’s ‘Karaoke.’”
Pertinent to a newsgroup discussion of the song “My Old Flame,” John Altman posted the following:
I got to know composer/lyricist Sam Coslow in London in the 1970’s, and he told me that the studio requested an extra song overnight for the Mae West movie “Belle of the Nineties.” Sam drove over to composer Arthur Johnston’s house to find him drunk. No amount of coaxing and cajoling could revive him, and eventually Sam retired to the piano in disgust and wrote the song “My Old Flame” while Arthur snored in his armchair. He presented the song as a Coslow/Johnston collaboration, and that’s how it has been known ever since. The fact is that Johnston contributed nothing to his best known song! Sam also said he loathed the Spike Jones version, but seemed more put out by the fact that Johnston got half of the royalties from it.
My friend in England, Steve Voce, got this story from a musician pal, John Altman, who, when he was a small boy, knew Peter Sellers. (He says Sellers was originally a jazz drummer.) Altman told Steve that the actor was heavily influenced in his decision making by the clairvoyant Maurice Woodruff. When Sellers’ agent wanted him to have lunch with Blake Edwards, hoping he would accept the role of Inspector Clouseau in the first Pink Panther movie, he got the clairvoyant to suggest to Sellers that he would meet someone with the initials B.E. in London who would play an important role in his life.
Sellers then saw in the daily paper a photo of actress Britt Eklund, who had arrived that day at Heathrow airport. Sure that this was the B.E. Woodruff had predicted he would meet, Sellers avidly pursued her, wooed her and married her. Fortunately for the rest of us, he also agreed to play Clouseau.