Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Mr. Warmth

It’s hard to believe there was a time that Don Rickles wasn’t insulting someone while on stage in Las Vegas, on a late night talk show, or on one of those laugh-track-laden celebrity roasts. There was. It was in smaller venues. And it was an awful long time ago.

Rickles had already started making his name by 1957 when these newspaper stories were written. The first one is from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of May 14, 1957. The column makes him out to be one of the things he’s known for—an equal-opportunity heckler of his audience.
Young Comedian Has Two Objectives in Life
By STAN WYMAN, Staff Writer

For Don Rickles, there are two objectives in life for him to achieve. First, there is the job of making people laugh. Don is a comedian of considerable talent as attested to by the many new fans he is winning daily. Second, there is the job of teaching people to respect people as exemplified by his act which is probably the best object lesson in reverse psychology available in easy doses.
Don is the type of comic who looks around at the people watching him, and then proceeds to cut them down or tear them apart. He leaves no stone unturned in making his victim uncomfortable. Yet, despite this there is a lesson in brotherhood to be learned.
Taking him at his very own words, Don says there are two types of people who don't like his type of comedy. Both the bigots and the anti-semites are hurt because, despite the heavy laughs which follow him throughout the act, the barbs strike home. "The good people • and thank God they're in the majority • laugh because they know I'm only kidding, or maybe because they think I'm sick in the head," Don said. "I never intend making a speech about brotherhood or preaching about it when I start the night's work, but I can't help it. There is always someone who just refuses to believe that other people are entitled to the same respect that they get."
Don, who is now appearing at the Eelegante, Ave. K and Ocean Parkway, is just 28 years of age, having celebrated his birthday this week. Many who see him will claim he is closer to 40, what with his hair falling out and his gruffled voice.
His idol, he says, is Milton Berle and nothing gave him a bigger charge than when Milton made the journey to Brooklyn to see Rickles at the Eelegante. A former resident of the boro, Rickles, who is unmarried, lives with his family in Queens. "Those days," he says, "are coming to an end. We just bought a nice home in Long Beach and we'll be moving out there shortly.
Once on the stage, Don commands all the attention. He has been described as noisy, loud and very funny. There is, as a matter of fact, very little time for anything once Rickles takes over the microphone. Off stage, he is quiet and pleasant with his favorite topic being, exactly what he preaches, brotherhood or some allied thought.
It is a theme that permeates his act. And it is surprising that so many people are taking the big doses of medicine being peddled by the man. Off course, on second thought, there is good reason for his vast following, one that is growing each day: The medicine is so pleasant and Rickles so funny.
As the Eagle column intimated, Rickles headed west. And he attracted a huge throng of fans among the show biz world because of the other thing he’s known for—making fun of celebrities to their faces. Maybe it was the audacity they were laughing at. If you read some of his material in the Associated Press column below, it’s pretty lame. This was published November 12th.
Don Rickles Is Sensation Of Hollywood Night Clubs

Associated Press Writer
Hollywood—The biggest names in Hollywood are paying night club prices every night to get insulted—and loving every minute of it.
Sensation of the local night club beat is Don Rickles, who headlines the show at the new Slate Brothers night club. The Slates themselves once were show business headliners but bought out a small club here on La Cienega Boulevard and brought Rickles out from Miami and New York.
That was some weeks ago and the SRO sign has been out every night since. Most of the stars have come back five and six times as the show and the insults change every night with the crowd.
Even such top columnists as Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper get blasted—and they write up Rickles the next day.
To Hedda, Rickles said: "Get this idiot in the cheap hat" and to Louella: "I read your column, it's weak."
Frank Sinatra doubled up when Rickles said: "I saw you in 'The pride and the Passion,' Frank—the cannon was great."
When Groucho Marx heckled him, Rickles shot back: "How would you like a harpoon right in your nostril? Let's face it, Groucho, your brothers carried you for years and when you lose that duck, on your show, you're off the air."
And Dean Martin got this: "You're not relaxed on stage, Dean, you're boozed up."
Of Jerry Lewis: "A comic, maybe. A singer? Forget it."
Gary Cooper: "He's so old he can't climb on a horse."
Esther Williams: "Grease up your body and swim around the room."
Zsa Zsa Gabor: "There's a bus leaving in 10 minutes for Budapest. Get on it."
Harry James: "Your lip is gone. Why don't you hum for a change?"
Milton Berle: "Are you in show business, sir?"
As Laraine Day got convulsed in laughter, Rickles said: "Laugh it up now, Laraine. Leo's left you out of the will." And to her husband, Leo Durocher: "Hit a few fungos around the room, Leo, so the folks will know you haven't always been a bum."
Rickles offstage is a mild-mannered, shy fellow. He's a graduate of the Actor's Studio, the alma mater of Marlon Brando, the late James Dean and many another top star. During the daytime he emotes as a heavy in a movie with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster called "Run Silent, Run Deep." Tonight he has a TV date as a guest on the Eddie Fisher show.
His acting ability shines at the close of his act when he makes a speech that never fails to enthrall the audience. It goes something like this:
"Like Will Rogers, I can truthfully say I never picked on a little man. My humor is directed only at big people, and you are big people."
In about a minute, he has the audience believing that he is really serious and then he winds up:
"If you have any animosity toward anything I do on this stage, say to yourselves as you walk towards that door: 'This boy is sick!' And I am. I am sick of you and you and you. And in one minute, I will pull a cord out of my navel and blow this joint up like a Roman candle."
Looking through a bunch of newspaper stories about him in the late ‘50s, none of the columnists appears to have been offended by his material. Imagine if Don Rickles were starting out today. Would his act fly? And should it?

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