Stardust in My Eyes: Column 6

I was loving Chicago, but unable to get to the windy city as much as I wanted.

Sometimes I would hitchhike, and sometimes I took the train there to see my friends at the Pickle Barrel whenever I could.

Now living at my uncle Mike’s on Milwaukee’s East Side, he ran the apartment building for Town Realty, I was able to stay rent free—just vacuum the hallways daily, wash windows in front entrance, throw the garbage down the shoot every day, and also walk his Great Dane, Keiley. I loved that Brindle Great Dane, he got me over the fear of dogs I had when I was younger.

ron-kurtusI hooked up with Ron Kurtus, a comedian writer who would get together with me whenever he could. He was 10 years older, but together we started doing gigs around Brew Town.

We finally found a perfect spot for our comedy night and called it, simply, The Comedy Showcase. We had regulars like Will Duerst, a comic who always seemed a bit like Lenny Bruce to me, Magician Bob Rath, and AJ (one of the original Ronald McDonalds from the Midwest–he would appear without makeup on our stage). Who knew he was such a talented comedian?


Even my uncle Bill, who always pushed me into showbiz, would show up doing his great impressions. He did all the standards like John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and also the offbeat like Mr. Haney from Green Acres TV show.

He would always entertain the crowd—all the great comedians that performed would deliver the humor. It seemed like something magical was in the air.

dean-jensenBack in 1974 in that Rusty Nail Pub with a real all-brick atmosphere in that basement comedy room, we got recognized by Dean Jenson of the Milwaukee Sentinel. He wrote a full two-page story on our showcase and we appeared on the cover of the entertainment section called Let’s Go. We also had local TV coverage when we brought in out-of-town comedy team Bohanon and Sanders from Chicago.

When I wasn’t at the comedy club I’d be at “Sardinos” on the East Side watching Penny Goodwin and the Ray Tabs Trio; great Jazz music.



I felt as Ron did, that we had found the perfect spot for comics starting out. After 8 months of this weekly showcase, Ron and I got the bug to go to California. Comedian Will Duerst took over the comedy showcase and before you know it, Ron and I were in a car with two people we had met by placing an ad in the paper, sharing a ride to California. They were going to a hippie commune in Southern California and I headed for The Comedy Store again. 

I’d watch some of the best talent including Gary Muledeer and sometimes get to sit with Franklyn Ajaye in the back of the room with his walking stick. Franklyn had an album out then with a can of laughter on it. Later he appeared in cult comedy classic Car Wash, as well as Convoy with Kris Kristofferson. He truly was one of the best.




Jimmie  Walker would do sets on stage many times, and I saw Freddie Prinze perform one night. He walked right up to me and asked which bathroom was open, back then unisex bathrooms were part of The Comedy Store. He was super funny and his hit TV show, Chico and the Man, was a big deal then.


I met Billy Braver and his manager Kenny, they would let me hang out at their place sometimes. They lived right across from The Comedy Store. Billy was one of my favorites, he would walk on stage with bib overalls and act so low-key. He even brought his lunchbox with him, his humor brought the house down.


Sometimes after street performing and making a few bucks, I’d go to a pizza place with Shirley Hemphill for lunch then we would head out for The Comedy Store on the bus. She was always kind and nice to me. Years later in the 80s, she got famous from TV’s What’sHappening, and I got the chance to open up for her at Zanies nightclub in Nashville. We went out for dinner and she wouldn’t let me pay. She said, “Do not  be ridiculous, I make much more than you and besides, your being nice all the time is why you are where you are in showbiz. You’re too nice for this business.”


Anyway, back at The Comedy Store I would do time on Monday nights and during the week get to hang out. I would street perform during the week for a few hours in front of the Chinese theater on Hollywood Boulevard.

steven-of-barney-millerOne day, Mitzi was walking down Hollywood Boulevard with Steve Landesberg, famous for the Barney Miller show. I quickly put away my wooden dummy Justin that I had been street performing with. I just did not want Steve or Mitzi to see me and know that was how I was getting by in Hollywood. I was not proud of it, but tried to use the experience to practice my talent as much as I could.

Another sunny day, I walked into a bar down Hollywood Boulevard and sat next to the actor John Carradine. So strange to meet him in a dive. We talked for quite a while and he had me show him my wooden sidekick Justin. Afterwards he told me, “You’re better than most ventriloquists I have seen!” Now hearing this compliment, I felt enough courage to ask him if he would autograph a baseball.

I used to juggle three baseballs for attention on the street, then as the crowds came in closer I’d pull my wooden counterpart out and my hippie burnout dude Justin would do the rest.

I learned on the street that performing had to be fast paced and quick, because no one has time on the street to watch a long show.

After meeting a great actor like John Carradine, I felt I had met part of “Hollywood Royalty”.

Weeks went by, and one day I was street performing in front of an office building on Hollywood Boulevard. A man stood over me casting a big shadow, I was crouched down and when I looked up it was David Carradine. I couldn’t believe it! I really had stardust in my eyes. I’d seen him in Kung Fu the TV series many times. He was working on a movie about Woody Guthrie and waiting for his daughter. She was at a dentist appointment, I told him how I met his father and that I wondered if he would autograph my baseball? He held it up in the air, gazed at it, turning it around as if to examine it and said, “Yeah, you’re right, it is the old man’s signature.” Then he autographed it for me.


Yes, on the streets of Hollywood back then, I’d meet and see some real colorful characters.

I would see Billy Barty, a famous actor, walking around during the day a lot. I also saw the popular dog trainer of Benji the dog. He would wear a captain’s hat and walk the streets of Hollywood with his well-trained little friend.


I had to be careful back then not to perform whenever the police were walking their beat. One officer had warned me not to perform on the street, so I was always watching. One day he saw me, I had my Bob Dylan songbook in one hand and my wooden dude in the other. The officer took me behind a building and yelled at me, I handed him my dummy. By now I was really feeling butterflies in my stomach. He took the head stick out and within a split second smashed my dummy’s head on the parking lot cement behind this building. He said, “I do not want to see you out here again!” He walked away and I picked up my dummy. His head was cracked all the way down to his jaw, and part of his head was laying a few feet from me.

Most wooden dummy heads open up in the back so the one part falling off was not so bothersome. The crack was quite wide, I kept my cool and didn’t get mad. I just took it all in stride and figured it was time to go fix Justin. I went back over to my little one-room rental above the liquor store across from the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard and ran up the stairs and down the hall, and started repairing my wooden friend. Within a day I had him fixed and working again—the eyes would roll and the mouth would open up and down. I touched him up with a little paint and he was as good as new.

A few days later I was back hanging out at The Comedy Store; one of my favorite comedians to watch was Jay Leno. Jay pulled a big joke on me there one night in front of some other comics.


Some girl that liked me was there, and I was trying to avoid her. Jay said, “What, you going to pass that up?” I told him I did not have the money to go out on a date with her. Jay, without missing a beat, pulled out several one hundred dollar bills, he took one and handed it to me saying, “Go on, take it.” I said, “No, I can’t.” He said it again and I said, “No, I can’t.” He said, “I said take it, you will pay me back.” I figured he was sincere and thought, “Oh well, he said I could pay him back so it would be like a loan.” As I reached out to take the money, he pulled it back quicker than a magician performing a sleight of hand. He said, “What do you think, I am stupid!!!!” with that, Jay let out a laugh and so did a few of the comics witnessing all this. I must have turned beat red and just walked away. I wasn’t mad though, because I grew up with three uncles who were always teasing me.

I guess I already had thick skin. It was to me, I thought, a guy bonding thing. And besides, I love comedy in all its forms, and practical jokes are good comedy too. If you cant take a joke, then maybe this business isn’t for you.

Years later I got to open for Jay Leno on more than one occasion.

Fred Willard was back in town one night and invited me to hang out with him and his wife. We all watched The John Byner Comedy Hour together.


Fred told me to go over on Sunday nights to Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills, It was Joan Rivers’ place for comics starting out.


My friend Ron and I went there one night and got some stage time. In the audience was Danny Bonaduce from The Partridge Family.


When it was my turn on stage, I did my bit about a California earthquake where Fred Sanford’s house would smash into Ed Brown’s garage. Yes, the joke was a new spin off of Red Foxx and Jack Albertson meeting for the first time—Chico and the Man and Sanford and son without the Chico and without the son.


I did my impression of Red Foxx, then Jack Albertson. It got some laughs but the biggest laugh that night was my impression of Clint Eastwood. I learned most of my impressions from my uncle Bill but Clint was one that I had come up with on my own.

My ventriloquist act did well in that room also, I was being offered a job by the manager of the place after the showcase. I was excited he wanted to talk to me, but like a lot of things in showbiz, things can change just like that! Some comedian interrupted him and walked him away talking to him. He did not return, so he and I never got to talk again.

In LA back then, you had to learn quickly that not everyone you meet wants you to do well, sad but so true. 

leonard-barrOne night I had coffee with comedian legend Leonard Barr, we had a great talk at the hotel next to The Comedy Store. Many people knew him as Dean Martin’s uncle. It wasn’t just a showbiz gimmick, he really was Dean Martin’s mother’s brother.

I would hang out there whenever I could, I even met David Bowie once. He walked right up to me and stood by me for a while. It was strange because we didn’t speak to each other we just stood there for about 5 minutes. I did not say anything to him and he just kept looking around at this group of people who were following him. Maybe he was working on a song in his head, it still was cool to stand by him like that.


Later that same night, Tom Dreeson met with a few of us comics for coffee and talked about show business. When Tom spoke everyone listened. He was not just a great performer but also a guide to many of us, a teacher, and a friend!


arthur_treacher_merv_griffin_merv_griffin_late_night_show_1969One afternoon, a friend who was giving out tickets at the Merv Griffen show told me to go. I came up with an idea to hide my puppet Justin under my jacket. I can’t believe I did it, but It worked, and soon I was sitting in the studio in about the middle row. When the show started you could hear Arthur Treacher say, ”Now here’s the dear boy himself, MERV!” Out walked Merv, and he talked to the audience.

I quickly pulled my dummy Justin out and sat him on my knee.

Merv started to talk to me, the huge cameras were up above the audience on a giant robotic arm device and were pointing right towards me. At the same time Merv said, “What do we have in our audience today? Have you ever auditioned for the show? You ought to, your little friend looks like a small version of fiddler on the roof!” Yes, my dummy Justin had a beard and a tossle cap on so I understood what Merv was saying.


When he said I ought to audition, the entire audience burst into applause. So now Merv starts with the rest of his conversation and brings on several guests. Truman Capote was one of them.

At the end of the show I was getting ready to leave, thinking I had made a break for myself, like my friend who gave me the tickets would say. It then happened that an assistant to the producer walked up to me and started shouting at me about putting Merv on the spot! He told me how I have to learn the right channels to go through etc., etc., but for some reason I just blocked him out and walked out the back door. I bumped into Truman Capote and he gave me an autograph.


The next night at The Comedy Store a lot of the comics came up to me and said, “Man that took a lot of chutzpah to do what you did!” Many even made me feel really good about it, feeling like I was doing it! Yes, making my dreams come true right there smack dab in Hollywood.

Living in Hollywood, people would talk about all the smog back then, but that was nothing compared to the mighty thick Ziggy Stardust in my eyes.

Life of Ron Kurtus

This is the Amazing Bob Rath at one of the shows that he has done.

Dean Jensen’s new book is the story of the life and loves of one of the greatest circus performers ever.

Franklyn Ajaye is an American stand-up comedian and actor. His nickname is “The Jazz Comedian” for his distinctive jazz inflected style of delivery, great timing, and astute use of silence. His name is sometimes wrongly spelled Franklin Ajaye. Soul Train is an American musical variety television program, which aired in syndication from 1971…

No infringement of copyright is intended in any way under DMCA, under the terms of fair use for education. The Midnight Special 1976 – 25 – (Bonus) Stand Up Comedy – Franklyn Ajaye

Car Wash movie clips: BUY THE MOVIE: Don’t miss the HOTTEST NEW TRAILERS: CLIP DESCRIPTION: T.C. (Franklyn Ajaye) tells an unimpressed Lloyd (Otis Day) his dreams of being a black superhero called “The Fly.” FILM DESCRIPTION: Michael Schultz directed this kinetic, hyperventilating …

Convoy – Drama – 1978 – trailer – Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Young, Madge Sinclair, Franklyn Ajaye, Seymour Cassel, Sam Peckinpah, Patrice Martinez, John Bryson, Walter Kelley, Herb Robins, Spec O’Donnell, Jorge Russek, Cassie Yates, Anne Lockhart, Daniel D. Halleck

Dick Clark interviews Jimmie Walker on American Bandstand

Good Times – JJ double clutching


BoOgie’s Rockin’ Retros “Chico And Da Man”

Dick Clark interviews Billy Braver on American Bandstand

A great bit from The Richard Pryor Special? (original airdate May 5, 1977) which predated the NBC series(which premiered in September) and established the template for the groundbreaking and controversial show. Shared for historical purposes. I do not own the rights.

Click here for full episodes on Amazon: America’s longest running comedy television series and the originator of the stand up comedy television genre. An Evening at the Improv is a season ticket to see the brightest and funniest entertainers before they were famous, from the club that introduced a generation of new stars to stage, screen and television. Click here to learn more about The Improv: Recorded in 1981.

What’s Happening!!: S03E05 – Shirley’s Cookies

Steve Landesberg on the Tonite Show 6 21 1978

Barney Miller Voice Analyser S 5 Ep13

This interview took place in los angeles after a screening of “Around The World In 80 Days’.

This clip from the 1970s TV series “Kung Fu” is taken from the episode called “Dark Angel” in Series One. Starring David Carradine as Caine, John Carradine as Serenity, Robert Carradine as Sonny Jim and Keye Luke as Master Po.

The Bay City Rollers Show – Billy Barty (November 25, 1978)

An extended clip from a 1978 episode of “The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour” featuring Foxx as the leader of Dr. Sauage and His Pork Chops. Among those appearing in the sketch are Bill Saluga (as Raymond J. Johnson), Billy Barty, Slappy White, John Twomey, and The Unknown Comic (aka Murray Langston).

HR PUFNSTUF e10 You Cant Have Your Cake h264 tvv

Jay Leno makes his first stand-up comedy appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in 1977.

A piece of history here! Bizarre was a half hour sketch comedy show that is not politically correct (it was made in the early 1980’s). It’s not uncommon to see women in their underwear doing whatever is necessary to get a laugh. It showcased the talents of veteran performers John Byner (the host) and Bob Einstein as Super Dave Osbourne.

Another great sketch from John Byner’s award winning SHOWTIME CABLE smash hit BIZARRE

Rockin’ The Palace. June 02, 1973. Performed at The Hollywood Palace on Vine St. just above Hollywood Boulevard.

Here’s a commercial for Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips. This aired on local Chicago TV on Monday, February 21st 1977. About The Museum of Classic Chicago Television: The Museum of Classic Chicago Television’s primary mission is the preservation and display of off-air, early home videotape recordings (70s and early 80s, primarily) recorded off of any and all Chicago TV channels; footage which would likely be lost if not sought out and preserved digitally. Even though (mostly) short clips are displayed here, we preserve the entire broadcasts in our archives – the complete programs with breaks (or however much is present on the tape), for historical purposes. For information on how to help in our mission, to donate or lend tapes to be converted to DVD, and to view more of the 3,800+ (and counting) video clips available for viewing in our online archive, please visit us at:…

Leonard Barr was Dean’s uncle.

 Tom Dreesen Does Stand-Up and Tells Stories of His Time With Frank Sinatra | Huckabee

Johnny Carson 1975 05 20 Joan Rivers and Truman Capote

 David Bowie–Ziggy Stardust – live 1972 (rare footage/2016 edit)