Friday, January 12, 2007

Setting the Record Straight

In a year sometime in the 60s-- I'm not sure exactly which one, but it had to have been when JFK was alive and well and Vaughn Meader, who did a perfect impression of that fine voice, put out an album called 'At Home with the First Family', a series of sketches, a sharp promoter named Lenny Gaines thought to do one with the Kruschevs at home. Jay Burton, a great comedy writer according to his reputation, was engaged to write the sketches, and I can't remember why, but Lenny asked me to help. I believe it was I who got George Segal, my hostile heart-throb from Haverford when I had been at Bryn Mawr, still very funny in those days except if you had a crush on him which brought out his Beast, to agree to play Nikita Kruschev on the album. Lenny was producing the album for Roulette, a company that made the Mafia seem the Vatican.
As we neared the date of the recording, disaster loomed. Jay had been unable to think of a thing, so I ended up writing the album with my friend Lois, who didn't want her name on it as a writer, so Lenny put in his. Also pulled into the recording session-- how young we were, and eager-- was Buck Henry, Joan Rivers, my not yet husband Don, and a passel of comics I can't call to mind, except one who was Charlie Hanna I think his name was, who had a mild heart attack in the middle of the session.
There were several near heart attacks as the recording started, as George, between his agreement to do the album, and the session itself, had signed with William Morris, and started to emerge as a movie star. So two heavyweight(they thought they were) agents from that organization came to the session and said George would be unable to participate, as his future was much too bright for him to be associated with such a record. Three of the musclemen from Roulette silently guided the agents into the men's room, coats bulging in the way they were in Film Noir when 'hoods' carried 'rods.' When the agents re-emerged, their faces were drained of all blood, skin grayish, and they announced that the album could proceed, that George would do the role.
As I recall the record did Splat, but it was cheerful to have made it in such good company, with me playing Mrs.Kruschev, Buck doing a series of small roles, among them a Cosmonaut, and Joan Rivers playing my maid. When she wrote her auto-biography she reversed that, saying she had played Nina Kruschev , so for a number of years I have dropped her teasing little notes suggesting she be a nicer person or I would tell All. Oh, how I wish I really had All to tell. I can say that the night her husband Edgar committed suicide she was in the hospital having liposuction, but that is probably a fact of which she would be proud.
But two days ago, finally, miraculously, Lenny gave me the last copy extant of the album, which I am having made into a CD at Wilder Bros. so I can hear how really awful it was. The album cover, though, is a hoot, with black and white photographic images of Nikita, Nina, their daughter and two bald little grandsons with baby Nikita faces superimposed, in front of the Kremlin, and all those interesting names on the back, playing parts.
What I remember best is after the devestation of Kennedy's assassination
some comic, I think it was George Carlin, saying "Poor Vaughn Meader," whose career as brilliant impressiont of JFK was shot down at the same time. Which gives rise in my soul to the heaviest question of all: Why is it that our deadest president is still alive?
CORRECTION from Hal Dresner, a witty friend. It was Lenny Bruce, who came out onstage some days after that tragic event, and ventured, to see if it was too soon for a joke, "Vaughn Meader is screwed."