The first time I laid eyes on Murray Roman's late sixties comedy LP You Can't Beat People Up and Have Them Say I Love You I figured he was one of the many aging recording artists trying to cash in on the summer of love by "playing hippie." Phony groups like Imperial Records' The Love Generation* embarrassed kids with cover photos featuring people in beads and granny-glasses who resembled their parents and a summer of mid-life crisis.
Roman's kaleidoscopic image resembled the cigar chomping television producer Freddy De Cordova if the cigars had been turned into "blunts." His voice had the timber of a Lenny Bruce impression peppered with "mans," "far-outs" and many the reference to smoking bananas. The Lenny Bruce motif was no accident. Bob Einstein, who worked with Murray, remembers that Lenny Bruce "was his idol ... He lived as Lenny Bruce."
For many years I had wondered about this strange audio cut-up masquerading as a comedy album. It showcases a hippie stand-up comedy act combined with abrupt music interrupting routines that fade into reverberating psychedelic echo. Murray Roman continues to be a mystery for several reasons; He died early, most of his fans were on drugs when they heard or saw him, and his albums aren't just obscure today, but were on the peripheral even when they were released initially.
Time to change all that. Let's talk about the life of Murray Roman and to start, here is his first LP for your listening confusion.
Just like his contemporary George Carlin, Roman did not start out as the counterculture comedian or the comic who spoke to the drug scene. He was as clean cut an observational humorist as you could find. That is until, just like George Carlin, he started to indulge in marijuana and LSD in bountiful amounts.
Out of Control was the first Murray Roman record and his only release pre-dating his position as darling of the acid rockers. Released at a time when even the most failed comedy lounge act put out a wax version of their performance, Roman's initial record quickly drifted off into a vinyl no-mans-land. The album, unheard by this writer, is hard to come by, but likely resembles the non-drug related musings on ERA Records' At The Playboy Club Tonight [Jack] Burns and [George] Carlin. In both examples, no one could've guessed what was to come based on these vinyl debuts. Out of Control had Roman performing mostly jokes about skiing and other winter activities. It was later re-issued under the title Ski Humor. Following the release of the album, Roman made his first appearance on television, performing innocuous observational humor on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It would be his first and final appearance in front of a Tonight Show audience as the marijuana, LSD and insanity of Johnson and Nixon were about to permanently affect the Roman outlook. Roman's future employer, Tom Smothers, described what the early Murray Roman act was like. "I saw him perform ... nineteen... sixty-one... in Aspen, Colorado and he did ski jokes. Y'know, skiing jokes [and] snow jokes. And I met him there. Aspen became a little bit of a place you'd go and work for nothing ... and do comedy or music and work the season up there. I think he only worked one season up there and of course, when you're there you pick up on what's going on [around you]. So he did a ski album ... I don't remember hearing that one but I remember him doing a piece of that on our show one time ... It wasn't particularly great." Steve Martin recalls the subversive Roman doing the bit on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. "There was one [episode] called The Writers' Show and all the writers appeared... Mason Williams and me and Murray Roman. I remember Tommy kind of playfully kidded him because Murray was a real spokesman for being tough and saying the honest thing. Then on The Writers' Show, Murray elected to do a ski routine... and Tommy kind of berated him in a friendly way saying, 'You're the one who is always saying we should go out there [and push the envelope] and you did like the safest routine possible!"
Roman's live act would eventually find an audience with the same unwashed group who idolized The Fugs and the Flo and Eddie sideshow of Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan. All these acts combined hippie rock with outrageous and often surreal Yippie theatrics . Although stand-up comedians like Mort Sahl and Dick Gregory appealed to anti-war, left wing intellectuals, neither had introduced the morale of the burgeoning drug culture into their act. When Roman went on stage and talked shop about the heat and the heads, the Grammy winning long hair of Carlin was still a couple years away. No comedian had yet capitalized on the niche audience that the new rock bands were succeeding with. Roman spoke the musician lingo and was about to hit with the crowds that followed a similar philosophy.
Until that happened, Roman plugged away at television auditions. He landed a role on a 1966 episode of Batman (clean shaven George Carlin made his acting debut on an episode of the Marlo Thomas sitcom That Girl the same year). Unlike other television programs on the air at the time, most Batman storylines were two-parters. Hence, landing a role on Batman meant double the exposure of a guest shot on any other show. Roman appeared in the season two episodes Hizzonner the Penguin and Dizzoner the Penguin, in a story that revolved around The Penguin running for mayor of Gotham City. Roman played a Penguin minion named E.G. Trendek, but the real thrill of the episode had Paul Revere and The Raiders playing at a "Penguin for Mayor" rally!
Murray Roman enjoyed a steady stream of small television roles for about two years. Batman was followed by a part on ABC Stage 67 (broadcasting in the autumn of 1966). The Emmy Award winning series had a different format each week - sometimes as a variety show, sometimes a teleplay, occasionally a talk show. This particular episode featured a drama called On the Flip Side written by Robert Emmett, a former writer for the satirical That Was the Week That Was. It featured Roman as a hippie named Hairy Eddy Hopkin. He acted alongside Ricky Nelson and the program had a score by Burt Bacharach. The year finished up with Roman taping an episode of That Girl in which he played a bowling alley manager.
1968 was the busiest year of Murray Roman's life. His live act was a hit. With his material done in the vernacular of the hippies, he became a choice opening act for major bands like The Doors. The Los Angeles based group were a natural for Roman to attach himself to. Now that Roman was involved in television, he wasn't able to travel beyond Hollywood for long stretches of time. He performed at several one-night happenings up and down the West Coast. He was opening for Country Joe and the Fish at Eagles Auditorium in Seattle when his most successful album was released.
The weird Tetragrammaton label pressed You Can't Beat People Up and Have Them Say I Love You in the United States. Tetragrammaton was a subsidiary of the CSC Corporation. The initials belonged to three men: Bruce Post Campbell, Roy Silver and Bill Cosby. The group was initially formed to produce Bill Cosby television specials (including the original Fat Albert cartoon that served as the pilot for what became the long-running Filmation series). The company produced an animated anti-war short called The Door (1968) and the film version of Dalton Trumbo's legendary anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun (1971).
The vinyl aspect of CSC was left to Artie Mogul, today best remembered as the shyster who owned the publishing rights to Bob Dylan's music in the sixties. It is said that Mogul hopped from showbiz party to showbiz party successfully shmoozing huge stars like Duke Ellington into covering Blowin' in the Wind. Mogul went on to be a music industry giant at Columbia, Capitol and several other major players.
Long before Warner Brothers got hold of them, Deep Purple recorded for Tetragrammaton. They released four of their LPs, the second of which featured their rawk version of Kentucky Woman. The label also put out the John & Yoko LP Two Virgins in co-operation with Apple Records. The record label released sides by Biff Rose, Bobby Paris, Caroll Burnett, Tiny Tim, Quatrain and even Pat Boone(!). It is safe to assume that this record label connection is what landed a counterculture prince like Roman a spot performing on The Pat Boone Show the same year. Tetragrammaton also released two motion picture soundtracks. One for the movie Che! (1969) featuring music by Lalo Schifrin and the other for The Chairman (1969) with music by Jerry Goldsmith. Yes, both movies are about famous Communists.
Tommy Smothers contributed the glowing liner notes for You Can't Beat People Up and Have Them Say I Love You. This became somewhat ironic in subsequent years as Bill Cosby and Tommy Smothers would foster a longstanding hatred for each other (but that's another story - and conveniently you can read that story here). Smothers wrote:
Once in a while, somebody does something that is out of the mainstream, and this album is one of those things. It's an example of a unique, creative effort by an individual. Not to make a comparison, but... it's like Catcher in the Rye, Lenny Bruce, Sergeant Pepper and King Kong... all those other things that knock me out.
I've known Murray Roman for a long time... he blew my mind occasionally. He had some groovy ideas, but with this album, he suddenly just stepped out and became more than a comedian... He became an innovator of a new style of comedy, and this record will become a classic. These are some the reasons why I think so...
(1) The concept of combining the music of today with comedic social comment, results in an emotional impact that transcends either music or comedy individually. One serves the other to make a total marriage.
(3) Most of all, I think it will become a classic, because it's done well... it's beautiful and awkwardly naked... it's meaningful... it's funny.
Murray is my friend, and I am proud to be associated with him and what he's done here. I think it's wild, and I'm sure you will want to play it for a lot of your friends as I have.
I think what Tommy is trying to say is, the album is better if you're stoned. Recently, Smothers reflected on the album he wrote the liner notes for. "I've heard it a couple times, it seems a little dated, y'know, but it was a breakthrough, the concept. He was a guy who always said, and he was a pushy son-of-a-bitch, he was just in your face all the time ... always right up close to you and he'd say, 'I love your face! I love your face!' That was his famous greeting. He'd grab you with his hands on both sides of your head and say, 'I love your face,' and he just had a way of saying it that was really cool."
You Can't Beat People Up was simultaneously released on England's Track Records - a subsidiary of Polydor that Pete Townshend had a stake in. The Who were great fans of Roman. Here is a very short clip of Murray talking about humping with Keith Moon by his side. I have no idea what the clip is from. Some suggest that Roman's LP was pressed thanks solely to the influence of The Who. Track Records featured a huge roster of talent and sometimes re-issued albums in England that had already been released in America. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Parliaments, Marc Bolan of T Rex and John's Children were all Track artists (incidentally, the John's Children website describes the group as a "sixties mod/psychedelic/proto punk cult band," surely available in your local record store's sixties mod/psychedelic/proto punk cult section). Track Records lasted from 1967 to 1978. It has recently been revived with the purpose of re-issuing their entire catalogue. This means Murray Roman may make it onto CD.
You Can't Beat People Up was recorded at the studio of Wally Heider over the course of several months (and several doses). Wally was a well-known recording engineer with a crippling stutter who specialized in making hippie psychedelia sound great. Wally was responsible for sound at the famous Monterey Pop Festival. Tom Smothers was a master of ceremonies at that legendary rock concert. Smothers explained, "I was supposed to be ... the rodeo cowboy ... [go] out between the bands and talk to [the audience]. I did, I think, three breaks and then just wandered off. Everybody was so out of it ... I was so stoned."
David Briggs was responsible for piecing together the music that picks up seemingly at random throughout the record, adding the element that makes the LP memorable. It was one of the first recordings he ever worked on. Years later Briggs spoke proudly of his involvement with the album, claiming, "This was the first album ever released with the word 'fuck' on it." Later in the year Briggs picked up Neil Young hitchhiking(!) and struck a deal to be his producer, a relationship that lasted many years. He also went on to produce records for Alice Cooper who he once described as "psychedelic shit." Available in your local record store's "psychedelic shit" section.
THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR (1967-1970)
Tom Smothers started seeing Roman perform around Los Angeles more often in the late-sixties. The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour had been on the air for a season and had, up to that point, been written by a stable of veteran comedy and variety show scribes. Smothers was feeling restless with what he felt was the old fashioned style his show reflected. During the summer, while The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour had its timeslot filled with Glen Campbell's variety escapades, Tommy decided to hire new writers, ones that reflected the vocal youth culture he saw around him. Mason Williams remembers, "Tommy's whole thing was to hire ten new writers, and sort of break them in ... on that summer show ... to create writers, not bits, not pieces, not sketches ... somebody who is a source ... bring in all these guys for the Glen Campbell summer show and ... create a bunch of new writers." Bob Einstein recalled the heat the network gave Smothers for this experiment. "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." One of those hired was Murray Roman. His gig as a writer and performer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour will always be the cornerstone of his career. Over the course of three seasons, the staff featured a totally bizarre mix of old timey comedy writers who'd been around since the heyday of radio sitcoms and totally inexperienced pot smoking bohemians barely out of high school.
Murray Roman is remembered as a loud presence in the writer's room. "He wasn't really a writer," explains Steve Martin. "There's a Jewish expression called 'tummler,' and he just sort of stood up in the room and spoke. He didn't really write anything down. His ideas came from just being spontaneous in the room. And, uh, that kind of irritated us writers (laughs), cause we had to go off and write." Tommy Smothers concurs, "He didn't write so well - he talked his writing. I hired him as a writer on the show [because] good comedians were always pretty good writers ... and he was a pretty good writer. Most of his gift was sitting in the writer meetings and throwing one-liners out against the material. That's how he'd find his stuff ... but the reason I hired him was because of that album."
Bob Einstein had his first of many television jobs on The Summer Smothers Brothers Show starring Glen Campbell, followed by The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. He and Murray often teamed up to write sketches. "Great guy. Real character. Enjoyed the occasional toke of marijuana. I remember ... 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 ... He would come back up and say, 'Tommy loved the idea!' I'd say, 'What idea?' 'The one I just came up with!' I said, 'We haven't even flushed this out yet! Stay in your chair, please. 60 Minutes did a piece on The Smothers Brothers [Comedy Hour] because we had a lot of young writers. 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 ... we told him to shut up. Shut up and sit down and don't talk anymore."
In the years following the show's cancellation, Einstein found work in a Brian DePalma film and with the short-lived Smothers spin-offs Pat Paulsen's Half a Comedy Hour and Tom Smothers' Organic Prime Time Space Ride. Soon after, he became more prominent on a John Byner relic of Canadian television called Bizarre. Einstein sighs about what could have been had the network not punished Tom Smothers for his politics. "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 got the boot." Einstein is best known today for the enduring character Super Dave Osborne. In recent years, Einstein has become hip again with roles on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development. Find a photo of Einstein with Murray Roman and Mason Williams here.
Mason Williams was head writer of the show for a long spell. In the 2002 documentary Smothered, Tommy described the process he and Williams went through choosing what material to keep and what to throw out, "We just kept kind of molding it. Mason and I'd take the script home... next week's script... sometimes torch a joint and take look at this script and go... ah, this is bullshit, this is bullshit, ah that's bullshit, this is good." Mason remembered Murray's strengths and weaknesses. "Murray was great on his feet... as an actor and improviser and also coming up with lines in sketches ... Murray wasn't so strong at writing conceptual ideas as he was at the acting part. But he had a great sense of what worked and was good at coming up with lines." Mason believes that The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour helped introduce more satire to American television, "[It] showed that there was an audience for this kind of material. It just wasn't at nine o'clock at night. It was at eleven-thirty. The Smothers Brothers [Comedy Hour] is really what created Saturday Night Live. They showed the network that there were a lot of people who watched this kind of humor ... [if we] just showed it after all the church people went to bed." Williams himself was a writer on SNL a few years later. He, of course, had huge success with his instrumental guitar hit Classical Gas. Williams has recently coming out with his own line of Classical Gas guitars.
Stan Burns was hired at the start of the series to help oversee the writing. Burns was a truly hilarious writer, and at the age of forty-four, was one of the older people to work on the show. Burns had worked in two other incredible writing rooms, first on The Steve Allen Show (where writers included Leonard Stern, Herb Sargent and Bill Dana) and Get Smart (where writers included Buck Henry, Mel Brooks and Rocky & Bullwinkle's Chris Hayward). When the new kids joined The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and turned it on its ear, Burns left to produce the opposite of cutting-edge (but the penultimate of weird) with Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp.
Allan Blye joined the show fresh from providing jokey material for Elvis' Vegas act. Allan didn't just write, but also produced season three of the show. He had the role of dolling out different assignments to specific writers and deciding who would write what. He and Bob Einstein became collaborators for the rest of their lives. After The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour Blye went on to work for Van Dyke and Company, The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour, Bizarre, Super Dave and Saturday morning's Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show. Check out a great picture of Allan Blye with Bob Einstein and Steve Martin, a couple months after they were all hired on the show, here.
Mike Marmer was another writer who came from the fertile Get Smart camp. Marmer sold jokes to Bob Hope and Milton Berle before getting into television. He had written for one of the greatest pieces of 1950's TV, The Ernie Kovacs Show and eventually joined Stan Burns on The Steve Allen Show. After Marmer left the Smothers Brothers stable Burns said, "Hey why not come help me write lines for a secret agent chimpanzee?" And so he did.
Lorenzo Music was a thirty-year-old rookie when he was brought on as a writer for the third and final season. At the time he was still known as Jerry Music (he would change his name for religious reasons). Television fans are familiar with Music from the writing credits of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show and as the voice of Carlton the Doorman on Rhoda. Masochists know him from The Lorenzo and Henrietta Music Show, a short-lived variety program that attempted to cash-in(!) on Carlton the Doorman. Four years after that mistake, a rarely seen animated special was made called Carlton Your Doorman. In later years Music was the instantly recognizable voice of several cartoon characters. In the mid-eighties he was fired from his gig as Peter Venkman on The Real Ghostbusters cartoon after Bill Murray, who had played the character in the film, complained that Venkman sounded too much like Lorenzo's Garfield. Ironically, Bill Murray did the voice of Garfield in the recent computer generated embarrassments. Like so many of the writers on this staff, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was Music's first professional writing job.
Cy Howard was an ancient comedy writer and the only old man in the room during the new, political third season. I had always assumed he was in the room for his experience and knowledge of structure. That was definitely not the case according to Bob Einstein. He recalled, "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!" Howard's writing career, indeed, dated back to the old radio comedy. When Smothers recalled flipping through the scripts with Mason and saying, "Ah, this is shit, this is shit," there's a strong chance he was referring to Howard's submissions. After he had his name engraved on the Emmy, Howard's writing career slowed down substantially. Few in Tinseltown were as sympathetic to the old man as Tommy. Howard's last significant project came in 1976 when he re-teamed with many old comedians, writing them into the script of Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood. The cast included the wrinkles of Morey Amsterdam, Milton Berle, Jack Carter, Shecky Greene, George Jessel, Phil Silvers, Henny Youngman and The Ritz Brothers. Classic character actors Stepin Fetchit, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, Phil Leeds, Keye Luke, Mike Mazurki, Louis Nye and Regis Toomey also appeared in Howard's geriatric-studded bomb.
Carl Gottlieb was one of three recruited for the third season of the show from the counterculture improv comedy group The Committee. The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour owed a lot of its politicomedy approach to what was first laid down in the work of The Committee. Gottlieb went on to write the screenplay for Jaws (1976). He also directed the prehistoric Ringo Starr in Caveman (1981). He continued to be political years after The Committee and The Smothers Brothers, serving as a high-ranking officer in the Writers Guild of America.
Rob Reiner was another member of The Committee brought on board to work for The Smothers Brothers. When he was hired Reiner was a mere twenty years old, making him the youngest writer in network television. Carl Gottlieb and Rob would team-up again when Carl became one of the youngest writers on All in the Family.
Leigh French was the last member of The Committee to come on board. She contributed special material mostly based on a character she'd already perfected with the troupe. French had initially appeared on the Glen Campbell summer replacement show. She usually played a marijuana-obsessed hippie on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
John Hartford, like Mason Williams and The Smothers Brothers, came out of the folk music scene. He had written a song that Glen Campbell liked enough to record at the height of his fame, giving Hartford's career a huge boost. He was brought on board, initially, to write scripts. "John Hartford, we thought he would write funny sketches," recalled Williams, "but it turned out that he was the guy who was really good at playing with Glen Campbell and had good onscreen appearances ... He wrote little funny songs ... didn't translate into sketches." Find another great photo, this one featuring Einstein beating down on hippies Hartford and Williams, here.
Cecil Tuck was one of the staff writers most responsible for the material used by Pat Paulsen's hilarious character. Tuck was a Texas born writer who had previously worked in radio at KHJ, Los Angeles. He too joined the group during the Glen Campbell show and then went to work with Blye and Williams, scripting the legendary 1968 special Pat Paulsen for President. Mercury Records turned the special into an LP.
Hal Goldman and Al Gordon both regularly contributed lines for Pat Paulsen. The writing partners were akin to comedy writer royalty, having worked for Jack Benny for many, many years and providing material for the early Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. They worked on the first two seasons of The Smothers Brothers.
Sam Bobrick and Ron Clark were two other older writing partners who worked on the show during its inception. They collaborated on several sketches for Paulsen. They went on to write the play Norman... Is That You? - eventually turned into a movie starring Redd Foxx and Pearl Bailey. Clark wrote the Mel Brooks films Silent Movie (1976) and High Anxiety (1977). Bobrick had an interesting career that included writing material for Mad Magazine novelty records like Mad Twists Rock N' Roll and Folk Songs of MADison Avenue, episodes of The Flintstones and Get Smart, and his totally pathetic swan song Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas. It may be Bobrick's Mad Magazine connection that explains the appearance of cartoonist Sergio Aragonés playing a hotel desk clerk in the film version of Norman... Is That You? (1976).
John Barrett also helped with the 1968 Pat Paulsen special and went on to write occasionally on the other shows. A few years later, he wrote cheap Saturday morning fodder like Return to the Planet of the Apes and an animated special from 1973 called The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas featuring his former boss, Tom Smothers, as the voice of Ted Edward Bear.
Norman Sedawie was a veteran television honcho from Canada who worked as a producer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and is occasionally credited as a writer (although Tommy says this is not the case). He later produced Rich Little's Christmas Carol, a special that the whole family can ignore. Sedawie eventually abandoned Hollywood and returned to Canada as a high-paid consultant to right wing governments, teaching politicians how to convey non-threatening body language and generally improve their callous image when appearing on television.
Paul Wayne belonged on the veteran side of the table having worked on countless sitcoms throughout his career, good and bad. Wayne remained on while the new writers entered the scene. Wayne's resumé includes The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, The Flying Nun, Three's Company, Three's a Crowd and Benson. Wayne returned to his native Canada in the nineteen eighties where he wrote for a piece of junk that haunted my childhood called Check It Out!. Check It Out! was a Canadian sitcom that took place in a grocery store and starred Don Adams as its manager. Here is a Check It Out! script so you can act out this 1985 Canadian sitcom in the comfort of your own living room or at parties.
David Steinberg had his first handful of television appearances on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour but never had a position as a sketch writer on the program. He did, however, perform monologues that included material he had written himself. Two of these performances are often blamed for the show's cancellation. The monologues, rather tame by today's standards, dealt with Christianity in a satirical light. After CBS announced that they were firing The Smothers Brothers, Steinberg invited Tommy on as a guest/co-host for the ABC program Music Scene. Much of their comedic banter revolved around Tommy potentially saying something offensive at any moment. Of course I don't need to tell you what Steinberg went on to afterwards. You already know. He wrote All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989)**.
Steve Martin is certainly the most famous person to come out of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour writer's room. Martin was, essentially, discovered by Tom Smothers and Mason Williams while performing stand-up at The Ice House in Pasadena. The two found Martin highly original and brought him on board for the third season. "The reason I hired Steve," says Williams, "was because he wasn't just stringing a bunch of jokes together between songs, but he was really working on a comedic persona." It was Martin's first professional writing job and he technically didn't qualify. It was against union rules for the non-union kid to be put on staff. To avoid the potential heat, Martin was paid under the table - out of Mason Williams' own pocket. Martin didn't find out about this until after the show had been cancelled. Watch some footage of Steve Martin performing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour here.
Mason Williams fondly remembers a scam all the young writers came up with in order to make some extra cash. "The Dating Game ... had ... burned out of celebrities to invite on to the show. So they started casting about for different people and one of the thoughts they had was 'How about the writers on The Smothers Brothers [Comedy Hour]?' So, I remember we all got together and said, 'Y'know, they pay us a thousand bucks every time we go on the show, so let's make sure that we don't come across as being a good date or attractive.' So [that way] they'd keep having us back. I remember I was on three different times. So all us writers said, whatever you do, make yourself come across as being a nerd. And Murray was able to go seven times! And, that seventh woman, he ended up marrying her. So that is where they met." Roman's wife is remembered vividly by his co-workers. "He met a really beautiful blonde girl," says Smothers, "My wife and his wife, we all kinda hung out together at the time... smoked a lot of weed." Steve Martin remembers, "She was unbelievably beautiful and it seemed like a mismatch, but evidently they were very happy."
Paul Lynde stood on stage at the 1968-69 Emmy Awards and announced the winners. Murray Roman and the rest of the writers won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy, Variety or Music. Murray Roman does not seem to appear in the footage of those who took to the stage, but Einstein insists that he was in attendance. "Maybe he was dressed in a suit or something and you didn't recognize him. I guarantee you he had the yellow glasses on." There's also a good chance he was somewhere backstage hitting on Barbara Bain.
A Blind Man's Movie was Roman's second LP on Tetragrammaton and came out in late 1968. It picks up where the last album left off, continuing to fuse music with stand-up. Just as with You Can't Beat People the record features plenty of soul music. Blind Man had swell renditions of Otis Redding's Shake and The Chambers Brothers' Up Town to Harlem. Unlike You Can't Beat People Up, which may or may not have been the first LP to feature the word 'fuck,' Blind Man bleeped out swear words. The record is remembered today for its avant-garde design meant to demonstrate the look of "a blind man's movie." The front and back covers are completely blank - covered in black, as is the album's gatefold. Here's the whole album.
Before the year was up Murray Roman appeared, incongruously, on an episode of Rat Patrol and more fittingly on The Monkees. Michael Nesmith seemed to have his pulse on what was happening around town and was instrumental in landing some great guest stars for the show (like this classic Frank Zappa moment). Roman appeared in a surreal episode that takes place in a fairy tale world. By the way, Nesmith's mother is the inventor of "Liquid Paper." Catch a bit of Roman on The Monkees here and here.
Now that CBS had kicked The Smothers Brothers off the air, Roman was free to tour. He was on the bill in at the huge Seattle Pop Festival in July of 1969, sharing the stage with The Doors, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Bo Diddly, The Guess Who, The Byrds, Ike and Tina Turner, The Vanilla Fudge and several other giants. Roman also appeared in a zine published by The Doors' record label, Elektra, called OZ. It was their attempt to enter the popular field of mimeographed "hippie rags" like The Oracle. The May 1969 edition featured an interview with Murray Roman titled The Groovy Thing Is You're Not Alone. Roman was also cast in his first and only role in a Hollywood feature film.
2000 Years Later (1969) featured a solid cast of comedy actors and familiar faces. Terry Thomas starred along with Pat Harrington Jr, Edward Everett Horton, Buddy Lewis, Casey Kasem and The Reverend Monti Rock III. Thomas plays the host of a late night talk show two thousand years in the future. The movie is full of Hollywood hippies, gogo dancers and bikers with fast editing and erroneous explosions. It actually has a lot in common with the format of You Can't Beat People Up and Have Them Say I Love You. Roman plays Superdude, the leader of a biker gang. Appropriately, the film had the same costume designer that worked on Skidoo (1968). The film was written and directed by Bert Tenzer who dabbled in some interesting counterculture projects like the elusive documentary The Day the Music Died (1977). Tenzer hit the pinnacle of yuupiedom thirty years later with his gig as director of a business affairs show for the Goodlife Television Network called Keeping America Strong with William Shatner as host.
1970 saw a partial re-issue of You Can't Beat People Up re-named Backtrack 13. It included Murray's bit about his experiences touring with The Baja Marimba Band. The real-life anecdote had to do with the Marimba band's drummer and his penchant for bedding haggard waitresses in every town.
Roman has a cameo on the 1972 self-titled LP of a band named Geronimo Black. The LP featured former members of The Mothers like Jimmy Carl Black, Buzz and Bunk Gardner and Denny Walley. Murray Roman is credited on the album as having contributed some of the offbeat lyrics. Geronimo Black got back together in the early eighties, adding former Mother Don Preston, before deciding to fully cash-in on their former Zappa connections by re-naming the group The Grandmothers.
Roman's final album, Busted, also came out in 1972. It was pressed by Roman's largest record label to date, United Artists (once again due to the influence of The Who) and yet, received the smallest sales of all. The album had a new half hour set on side one and previously released cuts on side two. Details are murky, but shortly before the album was recorded, Roman was arrested on a dope rap, with some sources citing marijuana and others cocaine. Roman had an unconventional recording session for the album. He threw a huge party to celebrate the fact he was not sentenced to jail. He invited a large group of musicians and other show people to be a live audience. Party attendees included Eric Burdon, WAR, Noel Redding (who recounted the party in his autobiography) all of who played music in the background while Murray did his act. It gave Busted, what was by now, Roman's trademark mix of comedy and music. Years later DJ Shadow would sample from the Murray Roman routine "Freedom" off this album and use it in his track Stem/Long Stem.
There is another Murray Roman album that is rumored to exist called Volume 6 although it might be another re-issue of old tracks. Roman also spent time in the early seventies on Radio WPLJ, ranting and raving on the graveyard shift during the brief period when the New York station was trying out a "counterculture format," however, little is known about what the broadcasts were like specifically.
One of Roman's final projects was participating in an hour long theatrical take-off on Last Tango in Paris (1972) called Last Foxtrot in Burbank (1973). Roman contributed an opening song called "Stickball" about (male) sexual freedom. It was apparently released on vinyl as a single. In another cosmic connection, the film also featured Sally Marr, the mother of the man Roman is most often compared to: Lenny Bruce. Character actor Michael Pataki, who has found cult status as the voice of George Liquor on Ren & Stimpy, starred in the film. The satirical picture was also the directorial debut of a direct-to-video horror movie maven named Charles Band although he claims to have only "helped out" and not had anything to do with its creation.
In the fall of 1973 Murray Roman died tragically, in a car accident on the Pacific Coast Highway. He slipped into a coma before dying on November 6th, 1973, leaving his wife and young daughter behind. Tom Smothers remembers, "My brother and I were working at Harrah's in Lake Tahoe. When he got hurt he was in a coma I think for six months or a year ... I'd go down to see him and his eyes were open, but it was a Terri Schiavo type coma. He finally [passed away]." Bob Einstein reflected, "What I loved about him is he got regular funny and he knew what was funny without being so-called 'hip funny.' In a room he could be just funny." Mason Williams had a soft spot for Roman's eccentricities. "He was a very extroverted personality ... I thought Murray was great and certainly a different ingredient," Mason concluded, "That's what makes a good variety show." Steve Martin adds, "He was a very sweet guy."
Tom Smothers spoke at Roman's funeral. "Bill Harrah had a jet, they flew me down for the ceremony and I was one of the speakers. I said that you didn't decide if he was going to be your friend, he decided who was going to be his friend. It had nothing to do with you. Even if you didn't like him and he liked you, you had to. He would step into your space and you're his friend. 'Love your face,' no matter. Sometimes it was irritating but it was almost like a puppy. It was just so powerful, you didn't choose him, he chose you, and that was the whole thing about him that was really neat. And to be with him was [just] sitting around, laughing all the time."
*The Love Generation featured the wife of an original Mickey Mouse Club cast member and a man named Tom Bahler who provided much of the anonymous talent behind the equally phoney band The Partridge Family. Liberty Records (they ran Imperial) co-ordinated the design of the debut Love Generation album to capitalize on the psychedelic craze but record buyers must have been surprised to discover the audio sounding more like The Archies than The Seeds. Tom Bahler and his brother John were even one-time members of Richard Nixon's favorite choral ensemble, The Ray Coniff Singers - about as far from psychedelia as you can get (although members of RCS once unveiled a 'Get Out of Vietnam' banner during a performance for Nixon at the White House).
**To be fair, All Dogs Go To Heaven had eleven different writers. Eleven.
Tom Bahler of The Love Generation was a back-up singer and dancer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
Freddy De Cordova was the director of The Smothers Brothers' first television program, a failed half-hour sitcom called The Smothers Brothers Show in which Tommy played an angel sent to earth to help Dick in various situations.
While researching this piece I came across, several times, another man named Murray Roman who is widely known in his industry as "the father of telemarketing."