Stardust in My Eyes
~ True Stories ~
Column 2 By: Peter Michael Hefty 01-08-2019
Growing up in Wisconsin, not far from the Lake Geneva Playboy Club, I naturally wanted to go to this resort every chance I got to meet famous entertainers.
My mother had gone to a fashion show for Mr. Fred’s Beauty College in Lake Geneva, and I got the chance to do another show in front of this crowd. Afterwards, while the fashion show was on, I wandered off to explore the place.
I met a man named Carlo who was sitting in the Penthouse showroom. He was playing solitaire and told me to come sit down and join him. Once he found out I was trying to be an entertainer, he did a few amazing magic tricks for me with that deck of cards. Even more amazing was the friendship we started that lasted a lifetime.
He allowed me free access to any of the shows I wanted to see. And on more than one occasion, I got to meet some of the great performers who graced the stage of The Playboy Club during the 70s. I met John Byner and had lunch with him several times.
I met Fred Willard of Ace Trucking company, he always spent time with me off stage and was always so kind and cool. And of course Larry Storch, David Brenner, Willie Tyler and Lester, the Smothers Brothers, George Kirby, Frank Gorshin, Ruth Buzzi, Phyllis Diller, Hines, Hines and Dad—Gregory Hines was always cool and kind— and so many mind readers, magicians, and singers; and all thanks to Carlo for allowing me to see these shows. He’d let me sit in the back, watch them, and drink a coke. It was like VIP treatment without the fanfare.
Many times I’d drive my 10-speed bike to the back roads of the playboy club. I would park my bike in the bushes and climb the little fence, then walk up the hill to the main resort.
Once inside I’d go get ready—comb my hair, make sure I looked dressed up, then go sit and wait for Carlo to introduce the star performer that week. Afterwards, he would quickly open and close the door while motioning for me to come in. The moment I sat in the booth I knew I had to be cool—being 15 years old and all.
Speaking of cool, years later in 2012, I visited the old Playboy Club which is now called Grand Geneva. I was showing my good friend, Mike Aloia, around the property during a snowstorm. Mike grew up in nearby Chicago and on the phone that day, he spoke with his Dad who informed him that’s where he went on his honeymoon with Mike’s Mom. Wow, life sure can come full circle.
Back to the 70’s…
Later that year, it was really cool that my uncle Mike and Uncle Rick told me I was going on a trip with them to California. I had not been there since I was a small child with my brother Tim and my mom. We took the train out there to see my uncle Glen.
Now, as a teenager, I’d be driving out to the West Coast with my uncles. After arriving at my uncle’s house in Burbank, I asked for his phone book to look up Edger Bergen.
My uncles all laughed and tried to tell me, “You can’t meet whoever you want!” My grandmother had told me I had to meet Edger Bergen. So, turning the pages through the phone book, I found his name and called.
My uncles were betting that it was a different Edger Bergen and could not possibly be the real, famous, ventriloquist Edger Bergen. But, he answered the phone and said he would meet me the next day on Hollywood Blvd at his office close to the Brown Derby. The next morning I took a bus down to Hollywood Blvd, just me and my dummy in a suitcase.
When I arrived at the address, I saw a door between two buildings that led straight upstairs. I climbed the stairs and looked up to notice a giant poster framed on the wall. It was Edger Bergen and his sidekicks walking down the street– Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd, and Effie Klinker. They were standing next to Walt Disney and he was next to Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy! I could not stop staring at this giant poster. Then I had no idea Edger Bergen was best friends with Walt Disney and they lived next door to one another.
I walked inside the office, and Mr. Bergen shook my hand and showed me around. He had a lot of pictures and statuettes of showbiz memorabilia.
Being only 15, I had no clue to the richness of this man’s history or his friendship with Walt Disney. It would be years later when I would find out about that. His secretary was busy doing things when he asked me the town I was from. I told him Lyons, Wisconsin, between Burlington and Lake Geneva.
He told his secretary and she must have written it down—typing it out on a small piece of paper with a pin in it. He stuck the little paper and pin into a map with a cork board underneath, and put it right in the town I was from.
On that map there must have been over a hundred pins with little pieces of paper on it. Must have been all the other ventriloquists he had met, I thought.
Then he asked me to take my sidekick out of the suitcase and show him a little bit of what I could do, I was happy to. Afterwards, he gave me some ideas to help make it better and gave me some more advice.
We shook hands and I thanked him and went down the stairs to catch a city bus back to my uncles. I was loving the fact that I got to meet someone my grandmother thought I should meet. As I stood on Hollywood Boulevard, I felt the sun shining down. I wished right then and there I could stay in California.
I also knew I had plans to go to the new place that just opened for comedians, The Comedy Store. I knew I had to get there, somehow, on this trip to California. As for this day, I was headed back to Burbank, truly, with stardust in my eyes.
This show was recorded near the end of Edgar Bergen’s life. He was the grand master. Anyone that does vent today was influenced by someone that was influenced by Mr. Bergen. Charlie, Effie and Mortimer are featured. Visit my website for more Ventriloquist fun. www.ronspearsshow.com
Here’s a charming introduction to the complex logic of Mortimer Snerd, from the 1939 film “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man”. Also starring W.C. Field, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
An early Vitaphone performance of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. This show has the typical Bergen & McCarthy brand of humor, and resembles Edgar’s later radio shows a lot.
Description by Bill Griffiths posted on the Started By A Mouse website: “The live broadcast of Sunday, September 21, 1947, was built around the premiere of Fun and Fancy Free. Announcer Ken Carpenter opens the show by welcoming listeners to the Pasadena (California) Playhouse where everyone has “just seen a preview of Edgar and Charlie’s new picture, which will have its world premiere in New York City on September 27th.” Edgar and Charlie start off by discussing their thoughts on the movie: Please read the rest of the excellent essay here: http://www.startedbyamouse.com/archiv…
What is now today’s Grand Geneva Resort & Spa got its start as the first Playboy Club Hotel, complete with Playboy bunnies donning corsets, puffy tails and tall ears.
In August of 2011, prior to NBC launching the now-defunct “Playboy Club” series, WTMJ-4 in Milwaukee talked to us about Wisconsin’s Playboy connection, the Playboy Club-Hotel in Lake Geneva, WI.