Thursday, January 24, 2008

CLOWN ALLEY: Sawing a Woman In Half, Ringling 1969



From Michael Karp...


The "Sawing the Woman in Half" gag was written and produced by Prince Paul Alpert (you spell his name "Albert" on the blog, but I remember it as "Alpert"--at this distance in time, I can easily stand corrected, however) for the Red Unit's 1969 season...

The cast included Billy Ward and Scott Bryan (and later, Chuck Sateja, replacing Billy) as the Magician's assistants, Dalton Dearborn (clown school grad) as the Woman, Paul and Mike Padilla as the Woman after Sawing, and me as the Magician.

The prop box and mammoth saw were rented to Ringling for the gag by Paul Jung's widow, Elsie Jung, who had warehoused all of Paul's props, costumes and gag paraphernalia and made it available--for a fee--to clowns in need of sure-fire material...And I will say, she kept the old props in terrific condition, even though they were not always easy to use...

For example, the saw was supposed to hook a latch in the box which held the two halves together. At the appropriate moment, one assistant would hook the latch on his side, the other would quickly hook the latch on HIS side and the two halves would be released, letting the two halves of the now sawed Woman run out and around the ring...

I suppose it COULD have worked that way, but it never did. The assistants had to pop the latch with their fingers, which often caught them in the mechanism and pinched them hard. Billy complained so much that Paul later had Chuck do the First Assistant part in his place.

Prince Paul and Elsie were long-time friends and Prince was one of Paul Jung's friends and favorites, so he got first dibs on :Paul's old props...

And Paul was among the few of the veteran clowns that Irvin Feld liked and/or respected (the Kings of the Alley comprised the rest: Lou, Mark, Bobby, Otto and, of course, the younger ones--Dougie and Lazlo). Prince's warm relationship with Duane and Harold Ronk also guaranteed him good parts in spec and production numbers since they, in turn, were tight with Richard Barstow...

Which is not to say that Prince was not an excellent performer in his own right and probably the best, among the little people, that the show had by that time in its history! But his political skills didn't hurt, either.

(And, of course, Irvin needed the gag, since we all had heard he was disappointed by that first class to graduate from Clown School, for reasons that were not really the fault of those initial clown grads..Most of that first class had great potential and were certainly willing to learn, but were ill served by the very loose structure and informal nature of the training the first organizers gave us--although I will say that Danny Chapman worked very hard and had a great deal to offer! We all thought Irvin's dismay was the real reason that the Firehouse gag never made it to the Garden (aside from its bulk--it included a pretty sizable fire-engine, after all--that made it difficult to transport) and why he brought in the Brizios as comedy insurance!))

As for Prince...Bright, swaggering and tough with a low threshold for annoyances great or petty, he was easily the most well-spoken of the little people (and many of the big ones, too) with a ready laugh and good, albeit sarcastic and often raunchy, sense of humor.

He and I got along well, after the first months in which I "took the water" severely! And I was really flattered that he cast me in the gag!

But he got mad at me for "overreacting" when he and Mike came running out of the box and he fired me!!! He replaced me with Scott Bryan and shifted around the others to cover for Scott...

The firing only lasted a few weeks: Scott decided to go back to school, so Prince put me back in, with the warning to play it with less animation!

As far as "overreactions" go, Dalton ad-libbed that first pratfall when he entered the scene! So there! (Petty old resentments die a hard death, don't they???? Keeping them going is one of the comforts of middle age!)

I was surprised that Dougie and/or Latzie didn't pitch a fit when the gag got chosen for TV; but they were pros, understood the nature of the biz, and, in those bygone days, not everyone felt that an appearance on television was the sole standard by which their worth as performers could be judged! Dougie was much more interested in getting into movies, I think...and was very proud of his appearance (as part of his family's risley act, "The Seven Flying Ashtons") in Red Skelton's movie "Public Pigeon Number 1."

As far as Arthur Godfrey was concerned, I enjoyed working with him immensely! I did an Axion Detergent commercial with him as part of the special (and I wish I could find a video of that commercial now!). After rehearsal, he walked over to the agency reps from Procter & Gamble's ad agency and invited me to join them in the impromptu meeting.

"Well, Arthur," one of the reps asked deferentially..."How did you like the copy?" Godfrey paused. "I think it stinks!" he said, with a sneering emphasis on the word "stinks." Each one of the reps raised their cigarettes robotically to their lips and, as one, took a loooooong, deeeeeeep drag....

Godfrey had "the suits" on the run and it was great!

He analysed what was wrong with the script and told them, "I know what to do...Just leave it to me..."

During the actual taping of the commercial, he ad-libbed the copy in his inimitable, folksy, cornpone style...The spot came out on time to the second! And he got in every cue for my bits of business!

Say what one will...and there's a lot to say...about Godfrey's arrogance and nastiness...the man was a real pro!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

A great story, Michael. Thanks for sharing.

Lane Talburt

Clownron said...

I worked this prop/gag for the 3 years that I was on the show. For 2 years it opened the 2nd act. Frosty/Toby Ballentine appeared as the Magicians, Mark Buthman and I played the bumbling assistants, the LOVELY Jim Howel appeared as the woman and Frankie Saluto and MikePadilla/Mike King were the 2 halves.

Poor Frankie was such a screw-up that he often crawled into the gag facing the wrong way. Mark and I would stand their horrified when the 2 halves would drop and Padilla would run out and Frankie would land on his head, performing an unintended, slo-mo, toothpick!

I once took a nap in the box on a 3show Saturday and woke up when I heard 'Come-in' music... I climed out of the box to find that it had been pushed into the center ring. I was wearing full make-up, a wife beater, and boxers... The audience responed with a collective wahhh!?!

Anonymous said...

You are welcome, Lane Talburt...

And, clownron, I can't IMAGINE Frankie doing the gag! (Or many gags at all, really; he was wonderful, but such a flake.) And the stories of your version of the gag are hysterical! I'd love to have seen Frankie in his boxers getting out of the box. With his grapefruit hernia in full, unavoidable display! One would have heard more than a collective "wahhhhh!"

--Michael

E.Padilla said...

Hello, my name is Esteban Padilla writing from Argentina. Mike Padilla was my uncle, a great man lived with my family until 1991. Mike died at 71 years of age. He was a great man and I have very nice memories of Mike.

Greetings from Argentina.

Esteban Padilla