Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Dances Better Than Sabu

This is a post about Morey Amsterdam. To the right, you see a picture of Sabu. There’s a reason. Morey will explain why below.

Amsterdam’s big fame came The Dick Van Dyke Show, which began airing in 1961. He’d been the star of his own show, one of the first variety stars of early modern network TV. Nobody remembers it because it was on the CBS and then the Du Mont network almost 70 years ago. And it didn’t have the advantage of being rerun over and over like Van Dyke because any versions of the show that existed would be on kinescopes and not considered airable.

Here’s Amsterdam in an unbylined story in the Salamanca Republican-Press published July 14, 1962 when the Van Dyke show was building an audience thanks to reruns. The reference to Bobby Kennedy deals with the president’s brother when he was U.S. Attorney General and conducting all kinds of investigations.

Morey Amsterdam of 'Dick Van Dyke Show' is Talented Fellow
It's quite possible someday that Morey Amsterdam will settle down long enough so that when asked to list his occupation on an official form he doesn't have to scratch his head in wonder or ask the clerk for a second piece of paper.
The extra sheet of stationery is a must for the dapper wavy-haired show business veteran because he can describe himself as a comedian, movie actor, television actor, radio performer, cellist, songwriter, nightclub impressario, gag writer, restaurant proprietor, movie, radio and television director, night club star, full-time father, part-time golfer, photographer and stock market watcher.
Ar the present time, Morey's numerous talents are confined to CBS' “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” where he teams up with the amiable Dick and versatile Rose Marie as a trio of gag writers for a mythical TV comedian named “Allan Brady.”
Viewers watching the summer re-runs of the half-hour comedy show every Thursday on CBS-TV at 9:30 p.m. discover more often than enough that Dick, Morey and Rose Marie produce more laughs for themselves than they do for their invisible boss.
“It's a funny thing," Morey was saying-over lunch, “but I've been talking to people who have made it a deliberate point to see the show a second time around to catch up on the laughs they missed - the first time because they were laughing so hard.”
Morey quickly adds that he is one of these time-tested faithful viewers.
“I watch to see Rose and Dick," he adds. “Me? I can see any time in the bathroom mirror.”
Morey's descriptive eyebrows fly up at this point. “And it's a good thing I watch that pair. They've stolen so many laughs from me that I think it's a case for Bobby Kennedy.”
But ask Morey who is the funniest comedian and comedienne and he gives full marks to the scene stealers mentioned above.
“We all have a good arrangement,” the effervescent Mr. Amsterdam claims. “We've got a great deal of respect for each other as entertainers and people. On some comedy shows the people, who give the public the impression they are buddy buddy, are about as friendly towards each other as Joe Lewis and Max Schmelling. But not on our show. We get along.”
Morey's eyebrows flashed again. “Actually, we get such a kick out of working together we'd probably do it for nothing but the laughs. If the sponsor reads this: remember I'm under psychiatric care, sir.”
A native of Chicago, Morey grew up in San Francisco. “But I stopped growing when I reached three feet” he adds, “because I liked the view from here.”
The elder Amsterdam was first violinist with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and thought young Morey should get a classical education. Morey took up the cello and today is so proficient on it he plays to relax and also uses it as a comedy gimmick on occasions.
Morey recalls that he was always interested in show business. “I started my vaudeville career at sixteen in Chicago and ended at sixteen in that same city,” he states. But he was determined to stay in show business.
“I got a job as an usher,” he adds. “It was sort of a show business. Besides the uniform matched the color of my eyes which were yellow at the time.”
A few far sighted vaudeville house owners saw the comedy potential in young Morey, and the years that followed saw him steadily employed in clubs and cabarets.
About this time other comedians discovered the nimble-witted Amsterdam, and he was soon writing special material for them. The illustrious list of clients included Fanny Brice, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Joe E. Brown, Eddie Cantor and Frank Morgan.
Morey felt that the greatest thing to happen to him in show business was his friendship with the late Will Rogers. The cowboy humorist took Morey under his wing and gave him some advice the comedian has never forgotten—never be cruel to anyone even in jest.
“Mr. Rogers used to write to me a lot,” Morey adds. “Mostly postcards. I've got about a hundred of them in my home. I was the only guy-in show business lucky enough to get a million dollars worth of comic material by mail.”
The year 1930 found Morey in radio. Since then, he has been in and out of that medium.
After the war he appeared on so many radio and TV programs as guest star, Fred Allen quipped: “the only thing we can turn on in our house without getting Morey Amsterdam is the water tap.”
A few years ago, former movie hard guy Sheldon Leonard and comedian Carl Reiner had an idea for a show about a trio of gag writers. They both thought Dick Van Dyke, who was then appearing on Broadway in “Bye, Bye Birdie,” would be a natural for the part of “Rob Petrie,” the safe and sane head comedy writer. Rose Marie, they agreed, would be excellent in the role of “Sally,” the wisecracking female of the trio. But who was to be the third party?
Both Leonard and Reiner concluded that they would need a man who could act, dance, sing, charm viewers out of their chairs and, above all, rattle off funny jokes like a Gatling gun.
“Sabu couldn't dance," Morey flips, “so they wound up with me.”
“The Dick Van Dyke Show" was the comic hit of last season — one of the few shows to be renewed this year.
While not working twenty hours a day, Morey spends some time with his wife, Kay, and son Gregory, eighteen, and daughter, Cathy, ten. He plays golf and takes pictures, and he adds, “stare at myself in the mirror and wonder how lucky a guy can be.”


  1. Is it me or is the couple known as the Petries a bit like the Jetsons except for being set in the present and future respectively?

    1. Interesting question, Anon. I think George was put upon more than Rob Petrie, who didn't have technology around him fail constantly.

      The husband-wife-kid-jerk boss idea applies to both, but it wasn't original or restricted to either.

  2. The human joke machine. You could rattle off just about any subject, and Morey had a joke to match up with it. He did it all. While he didn't write the original tune, he did write some additional lyrics for The Andrew Sister's version of " Rum and Coca Cola ". I believe there was a legal battle on that one. Also penned " True Man, True ", sung by Mary Tyler Moore in an episode of " The Dick Van Dyke Show ".