The early nineteen sixties experienced a comedy record boom unlike anything ever seen before. Every comedian that had ever worked a nightclub pressed an album. Some had high production values and were released on major labels like Capitol, Decca and Warner. Others were recorded in one-take, capturing mediocre comics bombing before an unsympathetic crowd. This was of no concern. If it were in the comedy section, people would buy it. For six solid years comedy albums were among the highest selling LPs on the Billboard charts, often outselling pop groups like The Beatles. Comedians Shelley Berman and Bob Newhart were responsible for some of the highest selling vinyl ever made. Vaughn Meader and Allan Sherman had the fastest selling records of all time - in any genre.1 All four men were regulars on the big television revues from Steve Allen to Ed Sullivan. They were showcased in every conceivable medium. Their records sold hundreds of thousands of copies and they deservedly became big stars.
Now imagine if their records had been barred from radio play. What if Bob Newhart had been blacklisted from network television? How far would Allan Sherman's novelty pressings have gone if they were relegated to the surreptitious "adults only" section of the local record store? With such obstacles stacked against them would they have become astronomic celebrities? Would they smash attendance records at every club they appeared? Without one national television appearance to their name would they have achieved seven straight gold records?
That's exactly what happened to a woman named Rusty Warren. Against insurmountable odds, she went from tiny midwestern cocktail lounges to well-known Vegas showrooms and ascended to the heights of stardom without the help of radio, television or film. During a time when many women were content to embrace the role of submissive homemaker, Rusty was in nightclubs making fun of male hang-ups and advocating that women shed their shackles and embrace an appetite for sex. Warren has often been described as the "Mother of the Sexual Revolution." Some scholars have gone so far as to suggest that her song Bounce Your Boobies was what eventually convinced women to burn their brassieres en masse.
She invested in bull semen with Barbra Streisand and Charlton Heston. Her record label was embroiled in the Alan Freed payola scandals. Johnny Carson hated her. Jackie Mason held a grudge. At a given performance she would shatter attendance records, be confronted by outraged churchgoers and maybe even witness an attempted murder. Soon she became the highest selling performer in the history of comedy records.
Please welcome to the stage, Ms. Rusty Warren.
In 1954 Ilene Goldman was a recent graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music. She spent her first free summer entertaining in small lounges. A rare exception was her participation in a salient twenty-one piano tribute to Chopin directed by future PBS favorite Arthur Fiedler. Plunking ivories at hotel barrooms, she bantered with her audience between renderings of Cocktails For Two and other standards. Slowly, her banter won more attention than the songs she played. She was in Missouri working the Midwest lounge circuit when someone recommended she get a manager. "I heard about [Stan Zucker] and wrote him ... I was scared the night he was going to come in ... I was on a big stage with a big piano ... shouting over that. He was a little guy, very dapper. He sat [and watched it] and thought it was great. He said maybe he could do something for me the next time I came to the West Coast." Zucker had been pairing performers with appropriate venues for years. He harked back to the days of nineteen thirties big band music. A former associate was a singing bandleader on the Bluebird label named Jerry Blaine. Members of Jerry Blaine and his Streamlined Rhythm, as they were known, included nobodies like Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and an arranger named Glenn Miller. By the late forties Blaine had traded his bandstand for a life behind the scenes. He entered the recording industry and used his moxie to guide innovative Black vocal groups to prominence. Stan Zucker thought it might be a good idea to send a tape of Rusty's act to Blaine. "I was in Phoenix, Arizona. The Pomp Room. Corner of 16th and Camelback," recalls Warren. "Piano bar. In fact, the bar was a piano [with] seats around it. People would come in the door and I built an act around it." The act itself was a combination of crowd work and novelty ditties. It contained references to "knockers" and "getting lucky." Tame by today's standards, such phrases were considered television taboos. As the racy nature of the act expanded, Ilene Goldman would adopt the stage name Rusty Warren. "Songs For Sinners was the [name of the 1959 album] we did at The Pomp Room. We went into the liquor room and plugged in to the sound system with an AmPex tape machine. We took those tapes and sent them to Jerry."
Jubilee Records, Jerry Blaine's label, was responsible for the earliest doo-wop hits. It's Too Soon to Know and Crying in the Chapel by The Orioles were among the earliest sounds of the new genre and helped put the junior label on solid financial footing. As the fifties wore on, much of those finances were used to butter up disc jockeys, with the understanding they would play the latest Jubilee release. In 1956 Blaine had delivered what he called an eleven thousand dollar "interest free loan" to Alan Freed. The details became known three years later when Blaine, anticipating the rumblings of a federal payola investigation, came clean before they came knocking. "I didn't know much about it," says Rusty Warren. "Those were the times. They all did it. Anyone who had some viable thing that they wanted to push, that's what they had to do." Rusty Warren's act was pressed by Jubilee amid the controversy. Songs for Sinners entered the market in January of 1959. The album's promotion started quietly with short blurbs in the back of Billboard that advertised "a comedy album for a specialized audience." As it would turn out, after sixteen months on the market, that specialized audience would include over one million record buyers. Rusty speculates that a form of payola may have been doled out to record dealers so her risqué party albums would be prominently displayed in stores. Belle Barth, another party record staple of the era, had seen some of her blue LPs pulled from shelves, placed behind the counter, and sold only when a customer asked. Rusty says she rarely encountered this problem with her own work. "I'm sure they [paid record dealers]. I had sales you wouldn't believe. Where did they find [risqué records]? They went in the store and I was in the comedy section. It wasn't under the counter." It's one piece of twentieth century history never explored: Comedy Payola.
As the Alan Freed trials blew over2 and the success of Songs for Sinners became evident, Jerry Blaine focused on promoting Rusty's second album. It featured a novelty song that would spawn T-shirts, buttons, a fan club and a catchphrase. "I was just starting with [the routine] 'Knockers Up.' Just talking about it, but I didn't have the song written yet. It took about a year or so. We went on a Midwest tour and I came up with the [Knockers Up] march in Dayton, Ohio. I had a great Italian boss who loved to march. So I [played] a march and [encouraged] these women to get up off their butts and get their boobies up and that was how it was born ... Jerry decided to name the second album Knockers Up. And they said, 'You wouldn't dare! How are you going to sell it? Where you going to put it? No one is going to take it!' Jerry says, 'Watch me.' It was hysterical. He did it and it blew me out of the world [into superstardom]. Knockers Up was on the charts for a full year in the top ten spot." Indeed, Knockers Up spent a year in the top ten, one hundred and eighty-one consecutive weeks on the charts and, by the end of 1962, 1.5 million copies sold. Rusty Warren was famous.
The comedienne's sales are remarkable in light of her rare air exposure on her disks. Her material is not for children, though she eschews the four and five-letter goodies, and stays away from salacious material. Yet in spite of the air blackout her records sell strong, her club dates are usually sellouts and her "Knockers Up Club" has nearly 70,000 members. "The Knockers Up Club" is a gimmick that was started by the record label. For 25 cents and a coupon from one of her albums you can join the club and get a membership scroll. The people joined, according to Blaine, are from all walks of life, including judges and doctors as well as more common folk ... She is now getting, according to Blaine, more than $7,500 for a week's club work. But her record money should keep her in furs even without the club loot. She is getting 10 per cent royalty per LP. That means 10 per cent of the list on a lot of records, close to 4,000,000 in fact.
- Billboard, December 15, 1962
Blaine wasn't about to renege on a good thing. Two more albums were cranked out. Sin-Sational was released in March of 1961 and by the end of 1962 had sold six hundred thousand copies. Rusty Warren Bounces Back followed suit. Rusty's nightclub fee was substantial. However, just because the gigs paid well, it didn't mean they were easy. To the contrary, Rusty Warren encountered harrowing circumstances at many shows. "There actually was a brawl that broke out at the Golden Falcon in Fort Lauderdale in the sixties," she says. "It was late, almost closing time, when a big hulk of a guy came over to me while I was playing. He grabbed both of my boobs and said, 'Are these the things you've been talking about?' After a second of being stunned by this guy ... I managed to break his hold on my knockers and pushed him into a row of bar tables. Once he was down, I rammed the heel of my pump into his balls hard enough that he'd remember it ... After that happened, I couldn't get a date in that town." Playing nightly to drunks in the ubiquitous cocktail lounges of America, such shenanigans were bound to occur. "One night when I was playing in a New Jersey club, I took a break and a gentleman asked if he could buy me a drink. While I was sitting at the bar, enjoying his company and the drink, I felt someone come up from behind me and in a split second this guy's wife had her arm around my neck choking me. Then I felt a knife touch my side. She pressed close to my ear and said, 'Back off or meet God, Bitch!"
January 11, 1963, Rusty Warren got a major write-up in Time magazine. The profile of America's bawdy favorite was supposed to be a boon to her career or so it was hoped. "One day I was told by my press people that they had arranged a telephone interview with a writer from Time magazine! Time had a huge readership during the sixties and it was a big deal when they asked me for an interview ... I was so excited ... a phone interview was set up which I thought went very well. I was thrilled. A month or so went by and then the article broke."
Comedians often specialize. Some toy with national politics, others with the race problem. Rusty Warren's field is sexual intercourse.
A squarely constructed redheaded woman in her middle 30s, with the hoarse voice and hearty manner of a call-house madam, she talks about sex in clear, unsubtle terms. Her joke vocabulary is full of colons and ova. She discusses sexual failures, makes fun of women with abnormally small chest development, and moves from person to person in her audiences making clever references to the probable size of their genitalia. Some of her words are pretty old Collegiate Gothic, like horny and poontang. And she is billed as The Knockers Up Girl.
In short, she is just another dirty comedian who deprives sex of all its grace and sophistication, while she claims to be helping inhibited females to enjoy themselves. Maybe she is. For the incredible thing about Rusty Warren is the crowds she draws. She has just left Mr. Kelly's in Chicago, where Greyhound buses arrived every day from assorted plains cities full of jolly, plump, graying matrons dying to see their goddess. Car pools came in from Iowa and Missouri. "The women are usually 40 to 50 or more, and hefty," she says.
Many women regularly bring their husbands to hear her, blue-suit and brown-shoe types that have never seen a nightclub. Like Rusty, they all seem at home in a barnyard. They sit there and roar happily as Rusty expresses her desire to become the first woman to make love to an astronaut in outer space. The women fans wear Knockers Up buttons. They know her five albums by heart (more than 3,000,000 sold so far). They made her a $5,000-a-week nightclub star, outdrawing Mort Sahl and Shelley Berman. After all, Rusty comes of a fine background. She is from Milton, Mass. She has a degree from the New England Conservatory of Music, and she once played piano under the direction of Arthur Fiedler. - Time Magazine, January 11, 1963
Rusty was sucker punched. "I was shocked and I could hardly believe it! The article said things about my show I couldn't believe. It implied that my audience was stupid. After reading the article I was in shock and cried for days. I yelled at my press agent and fired my public relations firm. I was so young, so shocked and so unprepared for an attack like this by the press, especially in light of the way my career was soaring to new heights." The publicity taught her a hardened lesson of show business. "A woman doing material that was breaking down barriers and talking about sex was fair game for every reporter who had a typewriter. Some of my press was obviously good thus leading to my successful career, but some was hard to take and I learned a valuable lesson when the Time article broke: Toughen up and learn to tune it out or get out of the business."
Rusty had no choice but to indurate. Talking frankly about sex onstage often invited sexual harassment offstage. "Omaha. I was in the back room and [the owner's] wife was at the register ... It was a family thing. For some reason I had to be in his office and without hello - goodbye, it was 'zip!' I said, 'What are you doing!?' [As if] I am so stupid! I'm clever with the repartee on stage and I [am expected] to be idiot broad in the backroom with the guy exposing himself? I said, 'What? You gonna do something with that? It's ridiculous looking.' His whole thing went flat again. It was over. I said, 'Christ, are you crazy? You Italians don't know what to do with it, you gotta put it everywhere.' And I started being Rusty and tried to get him with the jokes. I said, 'Am I going to get out of here or am I going to have to fight my way out?' He said, 'Ah, you're not worth it.' I said, 'Really, I'm not."
She had a grueling, prolific schedule. What she couldn't get in television exposure, she more than made up for with nightclubs. The pace was frantic and much of it remains a blur. However, certain gigs remain unforgettable. "The gun. A theater in Anaheim," she remembers starkly. "The Circle Star. I was doing one of my routines about a wife; one of my routines about women and men that I did so much of. [The audience member] was a divorced man and obviously the wife was a bitch and had given him a hard time. He came out of his seat and somebody noticed and yelled, 'GUN!' I didn't hear what they were saying ... later I found out he had had a gun. I would have shit my pants by that time. I didn't know until afterward ... Someone mentioned to me [he was mad at the wife routine]. I never knew who he was, there were no apologies, I have no idea what happened." Rusty's entourage of touring musicians were clandestinely armed as they traveled the road, aware of the potential for random violence. "It sort of shook Pooch [my band member] up, because he carried a gun ... on the road in his car and whatever. I don't ask... they carried a gun, my guys. The other one - he carried a knife. Because they stop at rest stops and they're [men] and they've got a big car full of women's clothes, for God's sake!"
For many years Rusty toured with a drummer named Dick Odette. "All we did was travel. From Boston to Florida to Hollywood to North Dakota to Canada to Hawaii to Nebraska and everything in between," he says speaking from his Arizona home. Jubilee attached a gimmick to the sixth Rusty Warren album. It played up the controversy that came with sexually themed material. In bright red letters, the album's caption exclaimed: Banned in Boston. The moniker was a ruse. Her live performances were far too profitable to be banned anywhere. "I had a couple of those church [people] saying, 'Please come. We'll help you.' [Trying to save] my little Jewish soul," but that was the extent of it. The front cover of Banned in Boston depicts a nightclub Warren remembers well. "Italians ran the place. You saw the picture on the cover? That was the nightclub. I was on stage and all of a sudden I heard two shots." Dick Odette picks up the story. "Pete DeCarlo [the owner] was sitting in the vestibule reading the paper and a young man came in and shot him with a .32 automatic pistol. I remember that because I collected some of the rounds." Rusty explains, "Someone had shot Poppa, the owner. Now they've got four of his sons working that place. Two are bartenders and two are... don't ask. They carry guns. Honey, they pummeled the guy that shot Poppa. Momma comes out from the back, 'They've shot Poppa!' She's at the cash register. She says, 'I can't leave the box, tell Poppa I'll take care of him [later],' because she's not going to leave that cash register." Odette shakes his head at the memory. "He was shot while we were doing the show. This was [the result] of them having [thrown] a guy out of the club one night. It was a revenge deal. A revenge shooting." Warren concludes nonchalantly, "That's one of the things that stopped the show for a bit." Nightclubs around the country often had mob ties and Rusty, like most nightclub performers of the era, learned to look the other way. "Whatever it was [that caused the shooting] I have no idea. I don't ask. I worked for a lot of gentlemen of that persuasion over the years ... learned a long time ago when I worked for Frank Costello in New York ... Don't ask."
Meanwhile, Jerry Blaine took some of Jubilee's massive earnings and invested heavily in a doomed Hollywood production. "Jerry thought he'd go into the movie business... which was a fiasco," says Rusty. "Some movie he was getting into was with Jayne [Mansfield] with the big boobs or it may have been [Mamie Van Doren]. He [was] enamored with her somewhat. He put a lot of money into it. He wanted to fly to Hollywood and be a big shot." The picture was called The Party Girls for The Candidate (1964). Gary Owens narrated the trailer and demanded in his booming voice, "See the wild sex party that rocked the nation's capital!" Blaine's insistence on throwing more and more money at the motion picture pulled Jubilee into the red for two years. The picture featured Ted Knight nine years before his role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and another bombshell, June Wilkinson. The film has been rendered lost for many years.3 Despite Rusty's monster record sales, The Party Girls for The Candidate tarnished the Jubilee books so brutally that the label never really recovered. Syndicated columnist Dick White made fun of the B-film in his weekly space. "The main girl in the picture is played by Mamie Van Doren. Believe me, she does a marvelous acting job ... You might not think that playing a sexy blonde who pouts a lot requires great talent. In some cases it doesn't. But in this case it does. It isn't generally known, but in real life Mamie Van Doren is an 83 year old man crippled with arthritis."
Rusty Warren became a huge draw at Chicago's top nightclub, Mister Kelly's. A classy venue, far above the cocktail lounges she'd spent so many years in, it had been home to legendary performances from (and subsequent recordings of) Ella Fitzgerald, Woody Allen and Sarah Vaughn. Whenever she came to town the venue would sell out for several weeks straight. The Chicago Tribune was appalled. It laid down a frothing assessment, far more corrosive than anything Time magazine ever published.
The dullest show thru which we ever struggled to keep our eyes open is the drab monolog current at Mister Kelly's. Rusty Warren could bore you to death while telling you that a rich uncle had just left you one hundred oil wells. She makes sex as appetizing as dish water heavily laced with rat poison. She takes her gigantic lack of talent to brassiere sizes, prostitution, infidelity, pregnancy and several similarly hilarious subjects.
- Will Leonard, The Chicago Tribune, November 8, 1964
The content of Rusty's act could fill casual onlookers with contempt. She was once booked on a television show that burlesque legend Gypsy Rose Lee hosted in Canada. The other guest on the episode was a sitcom success story, who at the time was a widely respected figure on the Broadway stage. "I was on the program with Charlotte Rae," explains Rusty. "We met in the make-up room. Charlotte Rae said, 'Oooh, Rust-ah Wah-rawn... Rust-ah Wah-rawn... Oh, yes. You're in the nightclub business.' It was funny. [Her attitude] was if you're not in the thee-yah-tuh, you're not [anything]." One regional television program Rusty could always rely on for some exposure was The Joe Franklin Show in New York. Franklin was known for simultaneously showcasing accomplished showbiz giants and, moments later, its most desperate fringe elements. Depending on whom you talked to, Rusty Warren was a member of either category. When asked why he was able to showcase Rusty while other television shows could not or would not, Franklin takes full credit. "I trail blazed. You're a smart man to notice that. I was doing things [then] that they're doing today. I got away with it somehow because I got a cute, lovable, huggable, kissable, adorable way about me. You know what I'm saying?"
Rusty was lodged in both multifarious mob-controlled venues and in the hearts of America as the country's most popular female comedian. Naturally, that combination could only lead to one thing: Las Vegas. She was never a member of the Rat Pack crowd, but Rusty had her own set of Vegas Strip chums that made up an equally legendary assortment. If you spotted Rusty's towering red beehive relaxing in a Vegas bar, you'd probably find her sharing drinks with Belle Barth, Totie Fields, Eydie Gorme and Pearl Bailey; all great friends - a free spirited group of nineteen sixties Las Vegas legends. Warren's initial Vegas engagements were the lounges at The Dunes and Sands Hotels. Soon after she was booked as a Hotel Aladdin mainstay. Dick Kanellis, the man that booked the Aladdin acts, was looking for a performer to fill a late night slot. He was apprehensive about Rusty Warren. Her overblown reputation had the Aladdin wondering if she might be too lascivious even for Las Vegas.4 Their fears were put to rest after her initial run exceeded their every expectation. "I broke the Aladdin [Hotel] record," Rusty remembers. "Jackie Mason had been breaking house records there and he worked seven nights a week ... you worked four weeks at a time [then two weeks off] and then other stars worked there. I was asked to work The Aladdin, but I said, 'I can't work seven nights a week for four weeks. I just can't do it." After years on the road, Rusty had no desire to work twenty-eight straight nights. Manager Stan Zucker brokered a deal that would eventually become the Vegas performer's norm. "Stan arranged for six nights a week with one night off. Honey, that, in the lounge... that was a miracle! Mason flipped his gourd! He was so pissed ... He [was on his two weeks off] and I broke his house record [for attendance]! So, he was perturbed by that [and] by the fact I got a six day work week." Rusty's Vegas years were among her most successful. Throngs of tourists that had possessed her albums for years were tantalized to see her among the glitz and pageantry. She was making a mint for the hotel owners. "Milton Prell was the owner of the Aladdin when I worked there and after breaking the house record Milton presented me with the most gorgeous solid gold purse with my initials [embroidered] in emeralds and diamonds. I carried that for many, many years when I was living the fur coat and diamonds, the Rolls Royce and chauffeurs [and] limousine life."
America in the mid-sixties was still a boys club and nowhere was that more evident than in the world of comedy. Before Phyllis Diller, Totie Fields, Moms Mabley or Lily Tomlin broke through as panoptic comedy stars there was Rusty Warren. Showered with laurels, she seemingly would be a natural to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. By now it was evident that she specialized in innuendo not brazen filth. Carson's nightly monologue itself was known for such comedy conventions - but it was not to be. "He just didn't like me. He just didn't like me. I don't want to go any deeper into it than that," Warren concludes with a semblance of disdain. "He used to come to Vegas a lot and Johnny Carson was Johnny Carson and you either play the game or you don't and I just don't play the game." Years later, comediennes like Elayne Boosler confirmed that Carson held female comics in contempt. Joan Rivers was an exception to that rule until she and Carson had their huge falling out. "He just didn't like what I did and I'd seen him in Vegas several times and he had seen me," reflected Rusty. "He had interviewed everyone I've ever known." Although Rusty doesn't feel comfortable elaborating on Carson's iciness, one can speculate he was less than diplomatic. As Vegas wunderkind Wayne Newton recently explained, "Johnny Carson was a mean-spirited human being ... There are people that he has hurt that people will never know about."
Billboard said of her next LP Sex-X-Ponent, "Despite her material, the Warren approach would not be considered by most as offensive - just damn funny!" Rusty Sings a Portrait of Life came out simultaneously and featured Rusty singing a collection of straight up ballads, no comedy shtick whatsoever. The income amassed. Her manager recommended she invest some of her major earnings so as not to have it eaten by the high tax rates of the era. "I earned a lot of money and got into [investing] in shopping centers and cows ... I remember it was Barbra Streisand, Charlton Heston and myself ... we bought Black Angus down in God knows where. We had to have our initials on there. Mine were 'W' and Barbara's were 'BS," Rusty says with a cackle. "We had never met. It was just the company that put us together. They did bull runs of semen, y'know, impregnating the herd. So much money was earned. It was the Nixon days [and we] had to do something with the damn money."
Jubilee Records is planning a "Rusty's Big Ten" merchandising campaign, which will mark Rusty Warren's 10th Anniversary on Jubilee Records and the release of her 10th LP, "Rusty Rides Again." Details of the program will be announced at regional sales meetings this week ... The Rusty Warren program will run from April 15 through May 31. Included will be four regional contests for distributors with color TV sets as first prizes. The program will encompass comedy albums by Doug Clark, Saucy Sylvia, the Richie Brothers, Larry Storch and Jackie Vernon and the Bloopers series. Special order pads and new catalogs will be made available. Miss Warren received gold records for "Songs for Sinners," "Knockers Up," "Rusty Bounces Back" and "Sin-Sational."
- Billboard, April 8, 1967
The Knockers Up Club now totaled three hundred thousand members. In March of 1968, Jerry Blaine proudly stated "more liberal attitudes in the United States spell even greater sales for Jubilee comedy product." He was wrong. Once society loosened up, the demand to hear someone say "knockers" on vinyl diminished. Why hear about knockers when you could go see the real deal playing down the street at the grindhouse? As many say, Rusty Warren spearheaded what became the sexual revolution. Once the revolution happened, the market for her entendre shrunk. Come 1970, Jerry Blaine retired from the record business. Various Jubilee assets were put up for sale including their incongruous Monarch & Jubilee Medical Supplies Corp, a division with the sole purpose of manufacturing disposable thermometers. The banner years of Ilene Goldman's act as Rusty Warren were waning. Luckily Las Vegas still had a voracious appetite for entertainment in all its forms. Unlike Jerry Blaine, Rusty had invested her earnings wisely, never having funded Mamie Van Doren films. She enjoyed equestrian pursuits, visiting Hollywood and relaxing on her sprawling Arizona property. She finally had national exposure with an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, secured the rights to the master recordings of her albums, and struck a deal with GNP Crescendo for a profitable series of re-issues. She continued to perform whenever she saw fit to do so including another healthy run at Mister Kelly's in Chicago in 1974. Rusty Warren was doing all right. She far outlived contemporaries Belle Barth, Totie Fields and Pearl Williams. At the end of the eighties she hung up the microphone and moved to Hawaii. Back on the mainland, there was a sudden comedy club explosion and stages were filled to excess with comediennes using risqué material and talking freely about sex. Rusty Warren paved the way.
1They held the distinction at the time of their release and for several years afterward. Eventually several other non-comedy artists surpassed their record breaking numbers.
2Blaine made it through the payola brouhaha more or less unscathed. He was upfront about his dealings when asked about them and admitted to engaging in payola practices. A few Jubilee artists fled coop amid the controversy including Della Reese, but generally speaking the label did not end up taking much of a hit.
3Further finances for the production were provided by Maurice Duke, the man who had produced Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952). Much more famous than the film itself is a song that June and Mamie sang in the movie, a track that Jerry Blaine subsequently released as a Jubilee single. Their rendering of Bikini with No Top on the Top remains one of Jubilee's most revered contributions to the world of camp. The song Bikini with No Top on the Top originally had the more muddled name Girl with the Bikini with No Top on the Top. The B-Side was a track called So What Else is New. The film became the target of a Warner Brothers lawsuit when Robert Redford's 1972 picture The Candidate was released. The rights holders of Party Girls for The Candidate, always looking to make a quick buck in true exploitation fashion, tried to re-release it theatrically as The Candidate, hoping to capitalize on a potentially retarded movie going public. Warner Brothers won the court case easily.
4Dick Kanellis, also famous for being the husband of Connie Francis, wrote in retrospect about the apprehension to book Rusty Warren. However, his memory might be distorted. It certainly seems strange that the relatively tame sexual subject matter of Rusty Warren would be feared when the same hotel was showcasing The Ladybirds, an all-topless band at the same time!
Some notes about comedy record sales...
Actual numbers about comedy record sales are poorly maintained and hard to come by. Rusty Warren is the highest selling performer of vinyl comedy recordings based on my own estimates. According to a November 1962 issue of Billboard, Allan Sherman's best-selling My Son, The Folk Singer was the fastest selling album "in disk history," surpassing three hundred thousand orders in its third week on the market. Said Billboard, "Demand for the comedy album ... is still surpassing the label's ability to supply it. Chief problem has been to keep production of album covers in step with record pressing. When its supply of covers on hand fell short, the label was forced to ship coverless LP's to distributors here [in Los Angeles], San Francisco and Chicago." By December 1962 Sherman's record breaking feat had been shattered by Vaughn Meader's comedy LP The First Family - suddenly the highest selling record of any kind in the history of the world. The totals of Allan Sherman's best selling records and Meader's one best seller do not surpass the total sales of Rusty's seven gold albums. Rusty's records sold consistently through several printings for over a decade. Neither Bob Newhart or Shelley Berman saw their albums sell with such consistency after their first three years on the market, although they too went gold. To give one an idea of just what a huge business comedy albums were during the time, here is a list of the comedy records that sat on Billboard Music Week's Top LP Charts (in no particular order, unfortunately) in 1961 alone:
Songs for Sinners - Rusty Warren
Knockers Up - Rusty Warren
Sinsational - Rusty Warren
Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart
Button-Down Mind Strikes Back - Bob Newhart
Behind the Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart
Down to Earth - Jonathan Winters
Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters
Here's Jonathan - Jonathan Winters
Outside Shelley Berman
The Edge of Shelley Berman
A Personal Appearance - Shelley Berman
Laughing Room - Woody Woodbury
Woody Woodbury Looks at Love and Life
Kick Thy Own Self - Brother Dave Gardner
Rejoice Dear Hearts - Brother Dave Gardner
Ain't That Weird - Brother Dave Gardner
Mort Sahl at the Hungry i
My Name is Jose Jiminez - Bill Dana
Jose Jiminez at the Hungry i - Bill Dana
An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May
Moms Mabley at the Playboy Club
Moms Mabley at the UN
In Living Black and White - Dick Gregory
Stan Freberg Presents the USA
Manna Overboard - Charlie Manna
Rusty Warren - Interview with author - 5/24/10
Dick Odette - Interview with author - 6/16/10
Joe Franklin - Interview with author - 6/21/10
Billboard magazine, various issues, 1959-1970
Shecky Magazine - The Rusty Warren interview
About Rusty Warren - RustyWarren.com