Audio Stories


THE CHECKERED LIFE BACKSTAGE

June Cross: If you were going to make on a scale of one to ten, where would Jimmy have been on the scale of good comedians in those days?

Larry Storch: Jimmy was right up with nine. There was very little wrong with Jimmy Cross he could sing, he could dance, and he was funny. Actually, why nine, why not ten? Sure, ten. Jimmy was the best, I thought.

JC: So what happened? Why didn't he do it?

LS: Well, the times, and Jimmy had a drinking problem. We all did. Let me tell you something. I'm a dried-out alcoholic. But at the times made people drink and smoke. Guys two packs a day. Now, with everybody - if you light a cigarette, ha, ha, ha, ha - you're a pariah. But drinking was very prevalent right after the war, and even before the war. So drinking got to him. And then time slowed you down. So that was Jimmy's, part of his downfall.

JC: Sammy Davis makes it within the next ten years. Is it just that Jimmy was ten years too early, or had the drinking overcome?

LS: Jimmy was early, yeah, and he - (simultaneous conversation)

JC: And the drinking.

LS: And the abusing - yeah, he abused the alcohol. Now Sammy, can I tell you a story? Well, Sammy and I were both working Las Vegas in 1946, that's how far back we went. And it was a small town and it was a swinging town, cowboys, and very none really well-known. And Sammy and I were talking one day, he said, "I'd like to do some impersonations." Which was what I did. I said "Sure, Sammy, who would you like to do?" To my astonishment, he says, "Ronald Coleman and things like that. If I were King, the world would be before your fingering, ho, ho, ho." And I thought, "Well. Ronald Coleman coming out of this black guy?" "Who else, Sammy?" "Jimmy Cagney." I said alright, "You dirty rat, I'm going to get rid of you just like you gave it to my brother."

JC: So you were teaching him.

LS: I was teaching him these voices. And Cary Grant, he wanted to learn to do Cary Grant. And I stayed with him for about three or four days, and he did them over and over again, and finally I said, "Sammy, that's fine. You sound like it to me." One night, and I was across the street in the hotel, Patti Page the star in my show, Sammy's working across the street, and I come across, my act is through, and Sammy sees me walk in. "Here, baby. Hey baby, shall I let go?" "Sure, Sammy. Let's see what happens." I thought it was going to be a disaster.

JC: Why?

LS: I couldn't picture a black guy doing these roma - you know, Ronald Coleman for the white audiences.

JC: Why was that such a big deal?

LS: I don't know.

JC: No black comic had?

LS: No black comic had ever done it. And I was just apprehensive. How would it go? More like a producer, how's it going to go? To my amazement, it went right through the roof and to my delight, right through the roof. The people were mad - when he said, and Franny had the great talent, he pulled himself up, just like Cagney, "You dirty rat", and coming out of Sammy, it killed the people. So he gave me that at the end of the performance. I was delighted. After the show he told me, "You know who's mad?" His father. Sammy hadn't alerted Dad.

JC: Will Maston.

LS: Will Maston, yeah, that he was going to do that, and Will said, "You had the disrespect for me not to tell me that you were going to - ?" And he cuffed Sammy across the head. But that didn't stop Sammy. He did it the next night. And he got better and better at it until it became an important part of his act. And I was very proud that he asked me to help him out.

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