Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Glory Years

Erna Besser remembers it well: "They were two boys full of energy. They were headed for the top. This was around the time my husband Joe was working with Bud and Lou on the TV series. Joe played the character of "Stinky," (a name I never quite liked for Joe) and Joe actually mentioned the team and suggested they appear as, will you believe this, Bud and Lou's nephews! Bud didn't mind, but Lou became very angry. Lou actually yelled on the set, in front of Joe and Sid Fields, "They're like Dean and Jerry! You want us to start a feud? Things are bad enough!" Bud and Lou took pains to be gentlemen about this new comedy team that were having so much better movie success and all that. Bud and Lou did not want to be rivals to them, and here was Joe suggesting Sammy and Duke appear on Bud and Lou's show, which would make it seem like Bud and Lou had their own Dean and Jerry working for them! I told Joe he should never have brought up such an idea, and should've been more concerned with getting the "Stinky" character on the show more often, perhaps with a "Stinky" girlfriend, played either by Joe himself, or by Joe Kirk, a close friend of Lou's, and a fine actor."

I asked Erna if she recalled seeing the team in a nightclub. "No, Joe and I were not much for the clubs, or nightclubs as we called them back then. We were stay-at-home types. What you'd call homebodies. We did see them on Spade Cooley's local television program. Joe hated that music something awful, and would go in the kitchen and drink a quart of milk while the singing was going on, but he liked the rest of it. I'm sure it was on the Spade Cooley show, where they did their Dean and Jerry thing. At first I thought it was Dean and Jerry. You know, Sammy would mug right in front of the camera and block the view, and Duke was trying to calm him down and sing a song with Spade, who looked like he wanted to kill them. Not that Spade was anything but a gentle man. But those crazy kids got him going, with their zany antics. Oh it was wild, it was just wild."

Soon the boys were in the movies. The film was done in 9 days, by William "One Shot" Beaudine, who had worked with the East Side Kids. Martin and Lewis's manager threatened a lawsuit, which was good publicity, and Variety even mentioned how Sammy and Duke were "cashing in on M&L's thunder." Little did anyone know, but Sammy was so hurt that Jerry would be so mean, he vowed to do the best impersonation of Jerry of all time. Did he ever! Dean was much nicer, saying, "Let the kids make a buck," and years later, he met Uncle Duke and smiled and said, "If you need anything, let me know." Duke appreciated the kind words but was too proud to ask for any favors.

The budget on the movie was low, so they wore their own clothes. Sammy liked flashy shoes. If you look closely, you'll notice Sammy's flashy boots and footwear, not in character with the person in the film. Uncle Duke was a better dresser. This was all a sore point with their co-star, Bela Lugosi, who was very dignified, and believed in dressing up properly. Mr. Lugosi was appalled at the lack of a strong wardrobe department, and it was perhaps for this reason that he kept to himself. He would smoke a cigar and wait patiently for his moments, and then retreat again.

The film was a huge success. To this day, it is talked about constantly. I got an e-mail from a guy who told me, "On Public Access, there is a guy who mentions that movie every week in one way or another. Either he references it, or talks about Sammy and asks if anyone can please contact Sammy to be a guest on the show. Sometimes he shows a treasured original still he bought on eBay and reminds people how expensive it was, because it is truly rare. Sammy is the uber-schlemiel, Jerry's evil twin, comedy's Dark Knight, the quintessential id run amok, and Duke? He is the Lounge Lizard King, God's martini olive, the Smoothie to which us mortals merely shake and stir, and gabba gabba hey!"

You just have to love fan enthusiasm. I truly believe the people who blog, and have Public Access shows, and are currently tracking down Sammy Petrillo, are laughing with Sammy and Duke, and not at them. They "get it." I know for sure, Sammy can't hide forever. If only he knew what it would be like to have a table at a SuperMega show, and see the outpouring on him.

People compared the new team to Martin and Lewis, and when you think about it, Sammy and Uncle Duke were far more daring because they were willing to work with Bela Lugosi, and with a chimp. That's two scene-stealers. But they were young and confident! PS, here is a bit of trivia. If you look very closely in certain scenes, you will notice that "Ramona" the chimp is not a girl at all, but a boy!

3 comments:

JM said...

Who are you.. why will you not even discuss who you are with my fathers immediate family !!! FRAUD !

Unknown said...

This story is not true from the start. I knew Joe and Ernie Besser. No one called her ERNA. She was always known as Ernie. Second the idea of Stinky having a girlfriend was never thought of. That would conflict with his character. They were hombodies but that's a known fact.

sim gershon said...

This story is not true from the start. I knew Joe and Ernie Besser. No one called her ERNA. She was always known as Ernie. Second the idea of Stinky having a girlfriend was never thought of. That would conflict with his character. They were hombodies but that's a known fact.