Bob Einstein comes from a phenomenal showbiz family. His father Harry Einstein changed his name to Harry Parke and had great success with a comedy character named Parkyarkarkus in the thirties and forties. Harry passed away tragically and remarkably at a Friar's Club Roast of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Harry had three sons and two would work in comedy. Those two were Bob Einstein and Albert Einstein. The latter became famous under the name Albert Brooks and the former under the name Super Dave Osborne. This is a discussion I had recently with Bob Einstein about his co-worker Murray Roman.
Kliph Nesteroff: Hello?
Bob Einstein: Is this Kliph?
BE: Bob Einstein.
KN: Hey, Bob Einstein. So, I guess Steve talked to you?
BE: Yeah, I'm not sure what I can remember about Murray, but you'll ask the questions and if I have an answer I'll give it to you.
KN: Okay, that sounds good.
BE: First of all, why are you doing a story about Murray Roman? That's the key.
KN: Yes, well, we like to unearth strange records and recordings that don't really have much explanation or information about them... in books or online or wherever. So one of the records that I decided to explore was a Murray Roman comedy record called You Can't Beat People Up and Have Them Say I Love You. It's been really hard to find information about Murray for a long time, so he's sort of the topic for this week. I've written about some other comedians... I actually wrote a little bit about your father, in passing, because I did an article about Bert Gordon, The Mad Russian.
KN: And since they were sort of connected I talked about...
BE: They really weren't, if you want to know the truth.
BE: Not in any way.
KN: They just appeared in films together... every now and then?
BE: Uhhhh... I don't remember that... but it's possible. Some people at times thought The Mad Russian was my dad and that my dad was The Mad Russian. But my dad was a lot funnier, a hundred times funnier than The Mad Russian. The Mad Russian I think was basically a Mad Russian.
KN: Right. Well, I've seen a couple movies that they appear in together*. Bert Gordon and Parkyarkarkus both seemed to be regulars on both The Eddie Cantor Show and then...
BE: Noooo. My dad was. The Mad Russian was not.
KN: I found a couple radio shows where they...
BE: Not a regular.
KN: Okay, not a regular.
BE: Ohhhhh, don't use that word regular! Okay, let's get off that and on to Murray Roman and how the hell we remember anything about Murray. I tell you who would remember something about Murray Roman. Tom Smothers.
KN: I did talk to him last week.
KN: His recollections were very helpful.
KN: Did you ever see Murray Roman perform stand-up or did you just know him through the writer's room?
BE: I think I knew him through the writer's room. I might have seen him do stand-up once in a while, but his stand-up was kind of a combination of Lenny Bruce without really being Lenny Bruce, but trying to be Lenny Bruce and then some shtick mixed in.
BE: Great guy. Real character. Enjoyed the occasional toke of marijuana. And just a character. Tommy brought him in. Tommy knows everything about him. Tommy brought him in, but I worked with him. And I remember, about Murray, what I loved is, if I would come up with a good idea in the room, he'd excuse himself for a minute, and go down and tell Tommy that he had a great idea. That's what I loved about him. He would come back up and say, 'Tommy loved the idea!' I'd say, 'What idea?' He said the one I just came up with. I said, 'We haven't even flushed this out yet!' He said, 'Well, I just thought I'd try it on him.' I said, 'Stay in your chair, please.' Real good guy. Always up, always fun. He had two different kinds of humor. He would be very Lenny Bruce, I'm saying it again, but that's who he would be and he would be anything you wanted. He could adapt to the room. I remember one great incident. (Laughs). 60 Minutes did a piece on The Smothers Brothers because we had a lot of young writers. Steve Martin, myself... Murray was not a young writer but he was one of the writers.
KN: Right, and it was his first writing gig.
BE: Yeah, it was, and I believe his last. I'm not sure. 60 Minutes would ask a question to the writers and Murray would answer every single question - and he would do it for about twenty minutes! Finally, one of us said, I'm not sure if it was me, but we told him to shut up. Shut up and sit down and don't talk anymore.
KN: Well, Tommy and Steve both mentioned that he wasn't a writer that wrote - that he was a writer who just spoke out loud.
BE: Yeah, he had ideas. He did know how to sit down and really put it to paper. But he had a lot of funny ideas and great thoughts.
KN: Can you think of any specific contributions that would have made it on to the show that had Murray's stamp on it?
BE: Y'know, unfortunately, no. I can't. Um, I wrote an awful lot with Steve and I wrote some with Murray. But I can't remember what we wrote. It was just, unfortunately, it's so long ago. I hate to say that, because it's like I'm an old Friar's member, but I can't really pinpoint this was Murray's - this is what me and Murray did - I can't remember that. But I can't remember what anybody did, really. There were a couple of pieces that we know - okay we did that or they did that. But we wrote so much and so long ago that I can't really remember.
KN: I just wanted to pick up on what you said about how there were two different Murray Roman characters - or he was doing sort of the Lenny Bruce thing. And when you listen to the comedy record I have it's very apparent that it's heavily influenced by Lenny Bruce.
BE: Oh, no question. That was his idol.
KN: And, apparently, I just discovered this doing my research for the article - I haven't heard this album - but he put out another record years earlier - that I'm sure had nowhere near the same amount of success - even the success he had with the later one was marginal, but it was more successful - but he was not doing a Lenny Bruce kind of character but a very straight ...
KN: Yeah. It was earlier in the sixties, right, so the counterculture thing hadn't hit yet.
BE: Oh, no, no. It was comedy. The same exact thing with George Carlin. When I first met George and he was on the show he was the hippy dippy weatherman. And I did a physical comedy bit with George so ... Look at Willie Nelson before he became Willie.
KN: I find those precursors fascinating because people forget about them.
BE: They are. They definitely are.
KN: There's a George Carlin LP from when he was still in a comedy team with... Jack Burns?
BE: Uh huh, I don't know.
KN: It's the guy who replaced Don Knotts as the sherriff when Knotts left The Andy Griffith Show. Anyway, he and George Carlin were in a comedy team in the early sixties and they released a comedy LP. And when people today talk about Carlin's first record... it's never that record.
KN: Forgotten about, it's the exact opposite... well, not exact...
BE: No, but you probably couldn't guess it was him, though!
BE: If you played that on a show and said, "Who is this?" No one would guess.
KN: Well, Murray Roman kind of had the same thing. He put out this LP called Ski Humor and it's him on the cover in a pair of skis, he has clean cut hair, different set of glasses.
BE: Oh, yeah. He was absolutely wild looking, y'know, with the hair and the yellow glasses and the way he dressed. But he was a Yidlock from New York. What I loved about him is he got regular funny and he knew what was funny without being so-called "hip funny," and he would do his thing. He lived as Lenny Bruce. He lived in that world. The way he looked, the way he talked, but if you got him in a room he could be just funny.
KN: After the show went off the air did you ever see him again?
BE: Y'know, I am sad that I didn't. I am sad that I didn't. I don't know what happened to him. I know that he eventually passed away.
KN: It was interesting talking to the other guys, everybody knew him from the show, but outside of the show he seemed to be walking in different circles...
BE: I think he may have even been actually walking in circles.
KN: He was so immersed in the counterculture and the drug culture, he was hanging out with a lot of the rock bands of the time...
BE: He was. Absolutely.
KN: He died in 1973. He was in a car accident.
BE: Oh, I didn't know that. I didn't know that.
KN: Tommy said that he visited him in the hospital and that he had fallen into a coma for six months before he died. But he had been doing stand-up right up until that point, so between The Smothers Brothers [Comedy Hour] going off the air and his passing, he was touring with The Who... Keith Moon was a huge fan of his.
BE: Oh, really!? I'm just kicking myself, cause I would have loved to have seen him doing that. That would have been great. But I didn't know. There was no way to keep track of Murray. Good guy. Real character.
KN: One of the anecdotes Tommy told me was that he used to go up to people and put his hands on both sides of their head and scream, "I love your face! I love your face!" if he liked you.
BE: (laughs) Imagine doing that today. You'd get kicked in the balls. Shot. Beaten up.
KN: It was a different time.
BE: It really was.
KN: I asked both Steve and Tommy this... what was the dynamic in the writer's room between all the young guys who were doing their first writing gigs... like yourself, Steve, Murray Roman, Mason Williams, Carl Gottlieb... versus the other writers that may have been more experienced, a little bit older... Hal Goldman, Al Gordon, Cecil Tuck...
BE: Cecil Tuck, I don't think he ever really wrote his name. He may have written Cecil down but I don't remember anything he wrote. Al Gordon and Hal Goldman were gone when we took over. We all started on The Glen Campbell Summer Brothers Show and then we moved en masse to the Smothers.
KN: So that was around the second season of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour?
BE: Yeah, it was the last.
KN: Oh, third season then.
BE:Yeah, it was the best season but it was the last.
BE: And we wrote the show. I mean, Steve and I, really acted as head writers, and we wrote the show. It was a young staff. The real crime of the whole thing is, we were so popular, especially with young people. Laugh-in was very popular but not with young people as much as Smothers Brothers. We wound up beating Bonanza. I think we could have gone on another four years, five years. Tommy owned that show, Tommy owned the Campbell show, he owned our replacements for both. So he could have had quite a television dynasty if we hadn't gotten the boot.
KN: I just find the amount of people involved in that show, just the talent in that writing room, incredible. All the new guys that hadn't written anything before have since become huge. Yourself, Steve, Lorenzo Music, Mason Williams... I don't know a lot about the other names like John Barrett or Paul Wayne.
BE: John Barrett didn't... Paul Wayne was a great guy, an older writer, a Canadian, and he was brought in.
KN: Sam Bobrick is another name...
BE: Sam Bobrick was not there when we were there. Sam was on the other staff. Sam Bobrick and Ron Clark. They were more traditional.
KN: So the young guys were never really writing with the older guys. It was two separate...
BE: Right. We all started on The Glen Campbell Summer Show. The head of West Coast CBS sent a letter to Tommy after he saw the first show and just blasted Tommy for hiring young kids who didn't know what the hell they were doing and he should be ashamed, all this stuff, amateur. And then the reviews came out and the ratings came out and he wrote a great letter back calling himself an asshole.
KN: What about Cy Howard? Was he one of the older guys?
BE: Cy Howard was one of the oldest people in the world.
BE: Cy Howard had [deleted]. I don't want you to put that in the story.
BE: The way Cy was hired, Tommy went to his house to buy it. Cy said, "What do you do? I wrote My Friend Irma!" [Tommy asked] "Do you want a job?" "Sure I want a job! C'mere, shticky, c'mere!" And he would sit there and smoke a pipe and [deleted]. He would [deleted].
KN: Ah, man, I beg you to let me use that in the article!
BE: No, no, you can't. You can't. But the funniest part, which you also can't put, was [deleted] [deleted].
BE: We won the Emmy for best show - writing - but we got cancelled. And the Academy had taken our clip out of the [Emmy] show. They censored that! And we still won the Emmy and we all went up in Hollywood and we were elated and in New York, unbenknownst to anyone, Cy Howard is [deleted].
KN: (laughs). But he got his name engraved on the Emmy.
BE: Oh, [deleted]!
KN: (laughs hysterically).
KN: (laughs). That's hysterical.
BE: Cy Howard.
KN: Well, that's one of the reasons I wanted to ask about that dynamic. I didn't realize that most of the older guys had worked on a totally different season than you guys.
BE: Their season was very traditional and that's why Tommy wanted to make a change.
KN: I wondered with all these old comedy writers and all these young comedy writers and suddenly the show becomes quite political, I thought there may be some conflict...
BE: No, they were all gone. They were all gone.
KN: Got ya. Did Murray Roman attend the Emmys?
BE: Oh, yeah, sure.
KN: Because I've seen the footage of you guys on stage but I didn't see him on stage, so I wasn't sure if he was even there.
BE: Oh, yeah, he was there. Maybe he was dressed in a suit or something and you didn't recognize him. I guarantee you he had the yellow glasses on.
KN: Have you ever heard any of his comedy LPs?
BE: You know what? I haven't. I'm sure I did in the old days, but I haven't since then.
KN: If you have access to a computer that can play audio, I can send you the link. I don't know if you have an e-mail address that I can...
BE: I don't really use it, but I'll call you.
BE: When are you gonna have [the article] done?
KN: It'll be up in a couple of days.
BE: Have you lived in Vancouver all of your life?
KN: Uh, basically, I have lived in Vancouver and Toronto.
BE: I lived in Toronto for twelve years. I did Bizarre and Super Dave.
KN: I know. They still re-run them as part of the Canadian content...
BE: I know. I wish I got paid for them. I'm waiting. I did one show in Vancouver, too. A kids show.
KN: What was the show in Vancouver?
BE: It was a Super Dave show.
KN: Oh, okay. I grew up watching re-runs of Bizarre and Super Dave for - most of my life. I always wondered why John Byner and Bob Einstein were in Canada!
BE: Yeah, I was too! No, the reason was my partner Allan Blye was a Canadian.
KN: Right, and he wrote for The Smothers Brothers [Comedy Hour] as well.
BE: Correct. And he produced it the year we were all writers. And, um, there was no way that we could afford to do Bizarre and Super Dave for the money that Showtime was giving us. They were very expensive shows to do. So, we made a deal with a Canadian network to do the shows, the clean versions, and then the off-color went to Showtime. So they were different shows only with language and nudity. But they were the same exact shows comedically. And also the Canadian dollar at that time was twelve cents so it was very very fortunate. I love Toronto. I just loved it. To me it was like a safe New York. And I'll never forget the first Super Dave I did there. No one really knew the character and I accidentally fell off the CN Tower.
KN: I remember it.
BE: And what we did was we threw a couple of dummies off, one landed head first into a woman's convertible and I think she died or something.
BE: No, she didn't, but she panicked and another [dummy] went through a glass horticulture place.
KN: Ah, man, if only you guys had a camera at street level.
BE: I know! We couldn't follow 'em. The great thing is they didn't know about Super Dave. They didn't know what the hell was going on.
KN: You know what, I actually used to work in a movie theater in Toronto, an old rep cinema, and I don't know what it was before. It might have been a porn theater... but it was an old run down theater, not like a multiplex, y'know. And I was in the basement after a shift with fellow employees maybe or maybe not smoking cigarettes of some kind...
BE: I understand what you are saying.
KN: And there was a room down there, with a red door, and I asked my manager, what's in that room? He said, "Y'know what, I have no idea. I've never been in that room before." So, we pulled open this door and the room was full of junk and dirt and boards and one of the things that was in there covered in cobwebs and grime was this old, big, white piece of plywood, with red lettering all over it and it said, "Super Dave Osborne Senior Citizen Movie Theater Price List."
KN: And it said, "80 Years old - One Dollar. 90 Years Old - Fifty Cents. 95 and Up - Free." It was a prop from your show...
KN: ...sitting in the basement covered in grime.
BE: That's hysterical. I hope you took it!
KN: Oh, we hauled it out. I cleaned it off. It took a very long time to clean. We put it on display in the basement so that every time we went downstairs to smoke pot we could admire it.
KN: If we brought anybody new downstairs we could relay the story of how we found this sign.
BE: Well, we used to use senior citizens all the time. Real senior citizens. I had a senior citizens football team and baseball team and basketball. And I used to scream at them because they couldn't run the fast break and they couldn't do anything I asked. So yeah, it was fun.
KN: Do you remember filming a segment in that movie theater?
KN: I don't remember actually seeing...
BE: I don't remember, but we had shit stolen like you can't believe. Just shit stolen and once in a while you'll see it on Ebay and it's like, wait a minute, how did you get that?
KN: I rescued that sign because that movie theater has since gone out of business.
BE: Oh, do you have it!?
KN: I have it...
BE: Oh, that's great.
KN: But thing is, I live in Vancouver now. So when I found out they were shutting down the theater I wasn't going to let them throw away the Super Dave sign.
KN: One of the other things I found there... I found a lithographed - board - with the poster for Meatballs III mounted on it.
BE: Oh, great.
KN: Had to take that. And also a a blue sign with silver lettering that said, "The Ultimate in Adult Entertainment." So I resurrected all these things and I have friends that work at the CBC in Toronto and I asked them to hold onto this stuff for me because I don't want to see it disapear or get thrown out. So it's hanging up in their office at the CBC in Toronto, safe and sound.
BE: Well, what I'll do, I'll send you like some kind of autographed thing saying that it's official.
KN: (laughs). That'd be awesome. That'd be fantastic.
BE: I tell you what, give me your address.
KN: I'll have to contact you again sometime down the line to set the record straight about your father and The Mad Russian trying to steal his wind.
BE: The Mad Russian... another guy named George Gibbett went on the air one night, we're watching a telethon, locally, I'm watching with my father, and the guy says, "And now ladies and gentleman... PARKYARKARKUS!" And George Gibbett came out. He just used my dad's act and name.
KN: Oh my god. That's horrible.
BE: I know. I felt it was.
KN: But it wasn't George Gibbett who passed away at The Friar's Roast, though.
BE: That was my dad.
KN: That to me is the greatest...
BE: No it's not.
KN: No, horrible for you, but in terms of show business lore...
BE: No. Show business lore? It isn't great in any way, I gotta tell ya. No. I was at a show once and someone said to me, "Well, at least your Dad died doing what he loved." My dad was fifty-four. I said, "What does your mother do?" He said, "Oh, she's a housewife." I said, "Let's go over to her house... while she's doing the laundry and I'll blow her fucking head off. At least she will have died doing what she loved." You know what? If he had been eighty, eighty-five, it would have been a movie - a joy - a great thing. But this was not too good. But it was weird.
BE: Killed the audience, sat down, bingo.
BE: Yeah, it is. Okay, I'll send you a poster and you'll write about Murray Roman. Don't make anything I say seem bad.
KN: No, I won't. But I wish I could talk about Cy Howard.
BE: So do I, but you can't. Believe me, I got stories, my friend, that would fill up your life.
*New Faces of 1937 was the only movie that Harry "Parkyarkarkus" Einstein and Bert "The Mad Russian" Gordon appeared in together.
The Andy Griffith Show etch-a-sketch rendering is by artist George Vlosich III.