Another tuxedo. Another strained smile. Another shlub onstage. He is one of the countless, generic comedians found all over America. He doesn't possess originality and he's not particularly smooth. Onstage failure has embittered him, adversely shading his every human relation. He often loses his train of thought mid-joke. When he stumbles, rather than power through, his self-loathing gets the best of him. "Ah, I loused it up," he admits to the microphone. "Sorry, folks, I loused it up!" A crowd of onlookers wouldn't have known the difference. Where there should have been silence there is now confusion. Where there should have been laughs there are headshakes. Where there should have been a comedian - there is Bert Stone.
Stone is a guy that panics. He is a man of extremes. The best one can say about him is that he dresses well. For a professional
comedian Stone lacks the integral confidence - but he is self-assured among the suits of any tailor shop. Made to measure, Stone
thinks nothing of lambasting a veteran clothier.
"No, this is no good," Stone says. "The shoulders are all off."
"No, no, no, my friend. You just need to wear it. It's a bit stiff because it hasn't been worn."
"Nonsense! Look at this! Not even square to the shoulder!"
"Trust me, sir, you just need..."
"Excuse me? Trust you, a fraud posing as a tailor? Don't give me any guff. Just fix it."
No matter where Stone performs the reviews are sure to mention his well-dressed manner. A crease of perfection in his slacks, shoes shined to a luster, and that necktie - sharp - like a knife. Still, inevitably, they will mention that his act stinks. For Bert Stone the material on his body will forever surpass the material in his act. Then again, he ain't alone. He's just one of the hundreds of interchangeable comedians with interchangeable names like Billy and Lenny and Bobby and Jackie - they're all the same guy. Bert Stone, well dressed or not, would be interchangeable with all of them - would be - if not for the cross-country manhunt and the bleeding wrists and the taboo love affair with (gasp) a Negro. Tonight Bert Stone is performing for a crowd not too keen on hearing his act. Maybe if Bert talked about his wife and how she suffered that crazy patella fracture they'd listen. And the earlobe? Christ, how the hell did an earlobe get severed from his wife's head in the middle of a show last month? How does something like that happen? Such thoughts distract everyone as they watch him joking, sweating, bombing - Bert Stone, Comedian.
Spring of 1948 and foreclosure is imminent at the Copa City. You'd never know it based on the energy running through the crimson supperclub. The capacity crowd is as drunk as medical science will allow. Filled with an abundant happiness, most of it illusionary, the soused patronage loves, hates, applauds and drinks, lost within its lush, velvet motif. Copa City, at the foot of the causeway, is an optimum location for launching crazed degenerates into a world of blacktop carnage. Right next door is the Beachcomber, a nightclub where the prices are lower, the shows are lamer and the crowd is older. It still fits the definition of a good time. The Beachcomber delivers old time showbiz, the kind where men in tuxedos are perpetually Puttin' things on the Ritz. Together these nightclubs represent everything that is show business in Miami Beach.
Onstage at the Copa, Eddie Shine is demonstrating a rat-a-tat-tat of so-so hoofing while sardonic comic Phil Foster waits backstage. Foster, hearing the spastic sounds, defies his rule of never watching an opening act, and walks to the wings to view the noise. Shine is beating his tap shoes against a wooden crate. He materializes a derby and slaps it on his head, shouting, "Bojangles Robinson!" and the audience applauds. Eddie Shine dances on the crate, off the crate, on the crate, off the crate, playing like it's a staircase. This is what Eddie Shine does. He calls himself the "Dancing Impressionist" showcasing a limited repertoire of "Footwork Mimicry." Now he's got 'em and it's straight into his Roy Bolger take-off, another impression nobody could identify if not for Stone first yelling, "Ray Bolger!" He closes with some graceful Fred Astaire moves, blows some kisses, bows excessively, smiling, smiling, smiling - stage right - vamoose.
Seven states north at the Casa Seville things are much cooler; things like weather, things like audience response. This Long Island supperclub is far tackier than the Copa City. Plastic grapes decorate the walls, held in place with staplegun efficiency. Every tablecloth has its own unique candlewax pattern, created recklessly on more enjoyable nights. For Bert Stone the Casa Seville is his escape from home and an entrance to stardom. The patrons know his modest comedy act well. Agents and bookers have offered him better gigs much farther away, but he has always turned them down. This isn't due to loyalty. This is due to marriage. If he had his way he would have gone to Chicago long ago - maybe even Hollywood. Yes, if he had his way. But he doesn't. Instead of his way, he has a wife and baby. A wife he didn't wish for and a kid he never wanted.
BERT AND THE FAMILY STONE
Bert Stone did not enter show business to fulfill greasepaint dreams. Forget the roar of the crowd, he entered this racket to get laid. He signed up for the showbiz promise of showgirl flesh. And wouldn't you know it - the promise delivered. With just a handful of gigs under his belt, Bert Stone managed to score a showgirl named Cecilia. Mussing her make-up, tearing her fishnets, Stone got lost in passion and just like that they were developing an embryo before he had even developed an act.
When Cecilia told Stone she was pregnant his first instinct was to split. Such terror. He was just twenty years old, battling the pangs of a nervous, rookie performer, getting paid single digits and an occasional free meal. The Casa Seville had promised him steady work as house emcee. Steady gig, steady pay, learn your chops. But now he felt trapped as domestic reality replaced his showgirl fantasy. Cecilia was delighted. Bert was devastated. Cecilia heard their daughter laugh. Bert heard her cry. The night of her first birthday Bert was at the Casa Seville drinking - and not in celebration. He spent more and more time at the club whether he was working or not. "Stonie, the family man," club owner Gene Seville would tease. "Still here? Listen, I know last night's crowd was rough, but you're getting better. Y'know? Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the stage - the breadwinner!" A hard slap on the back and Stone sputtered. The boss continued, "Bert, my boy, go in the kitchen and grab yourself a roast to take home to the little lady. You give her my love." Bert took the roast. He left the love.
Seth Babbitt, publicity man for the Casa Seville, panicked when he received a call from Billboard magazine writer Bill Sachs. "Babbitt, this is Sachs. Uh huh. We'll be writing up the Friday show. Four comps and... right, right." It was Babbitt's job to promote the Casa Seville in every way possible, whether that meant buying legitimate ad space or slipping payola to a columnist. But the phone call from Billboard filled him with dread. Babbitt's promo was orchestrated puffery. Having Bert Stone's act reviewed objectively, in a national publication no less, was a bad idea. "Well, you know, we're replacing the asbestos curtain," Babbitt told Sachs. "Yeah, frankly, Bill, it'd be best if you... no, next week is no better. There's debris from the curtain and, you know, it's real musty in here. Uh huh. If I were you..." No use. Bill Sachs was on a deadline. He showed up the next night and a week later the review was on newsstands. Seth Babbitt read it and cringed: "The comic-emsee at Casa Seville, Bert Stone, looks well and is a sharp dresser. But
outside of his looks he showed little to recommend him. His material
consists of the more offensive gab of well known comics, some of it
calling for nose-picking and spitting in the air. He also tried to get a
fem customer to join him in the latter bit. He himself summed up his
act: 'I have no talent but I have a hell of a lot of guts!' Maybe the kid's
summation isn't just, because he has stage presence and looks. If he
built on that and got himself some material, maybe he'd do better."
NOW APPEARING - JOANNE DUVAL
Joanne DuVal's hair looks silver or blonde depending on the angle. A graduate of the Miami Conservatory of Music, she plays piano in the Sherry Frontenac Hotel lounge. Miami Beach businessmen smoke cigars while they listen to the twenty-one year old "negress." In the lobby a sandwich board utilizes her only press photo, advertising DuVal in a bathing suit. Men enter the lounge in good faith only to find her fully clothed. Sometimes their sexual frustration manifests as mumbling race prejudice. Miami Beach is still Jim Crow all the way.
Around New York, Stone is avoiding his family by spending time at the movies. Ziegfeld Follies is a picture he has attended every day for a week. While others laugh at a sequence featuring screen comic Red Skelton, Stone studies Skelton's movements and expressions, taking notes. Some might call it stealing, but Stone calls it "writing an act." Accepting a rare gig beyond the Casa Seville, Bert Stone tries the routine he has transcribed. The crowd at the Shore Road Casino does not recognize the material. Stone's interpretation of the Skelton bit, a routine called Guzzler's Gin, is so inept that no one can identify its source. One man offstage, also oblivious to its origin, thought it was great.
Eddie Shine ran into Stone's dressing room. "That drunk bit was great! Real inventive, wow!" Bert instinctively clenched a fist, assuming he was being taunted sarcastically. But then he noticed how perfectly tailored Eddie Shine was. He looked down and saw his own reflection staring back from Eddie's patent sheen. Stone dropped his defense and swelled with bravado. "Well, jeez, kid, thanks. It was pretty good, hey? Well, you know, I'm not like the other comics you see. I write all my own stuff. And it's always great stuff."
"Listen," Shine said. "I'm onstage soon, but I'd love to talk. I do comedy myself, you know... well, it's dancing... comedy dancing... and seeing as you're a writer and everything... I'd sure love if you could tell me what you think..."
"Uh huh. Maybe you best be leaving comedy to us professionals, kid."
"But maybe you could give me some pointers, huh?"
Bert Stone watched the act. It made him wince, but he liked how Eddie Shine had shown him respect. The kid stunk, but so what? It gave Bert a rare sense of superiority. Shine finished to charitable applause. Walking through the wings, carrying the wooden crate his feet had just berated, he smiled and asked Stone, "Whaddaya think?" Stone took the crate from Shine, rapped his knuckles on it and said, "Kid, you're a born straight man." The team of Stone and Shine was born.
STONE AND SHINE: TWO BUMS BECOME ONE
It no longer made sense for Bert to continue as Casa Seville emcee. Club manager Gene Seville felt otherwise. "Bert, you're the whole reason our diners come here. They love you." The manager was a liar. To the contrary, the monotony of Stone's act kept many locals away. Gene Seville was afraid he wouldn't find another comic willing to work so cheap. "Stonie, I'm pleading with you. Come on, no one and I mean no one can hand out door prizes during the champagne hour like you." The Casa Seville had been good to him, but Stone was moving on. "Gene, Eddie and I have to break in the act. We have to go on the road." Hyperbole. Rather than creating two-man routines, Stone and Shine just took turns doing their same old acts; Stone jokes, Shine dances, Stone jokes, Shine dances. Stone wasn't hitting the road to break in new material. He was hitting the road to ditch his family.
Performing at the 3 Rivers Inn in Syracuse, Stone and Shine caught the eye of a Schenectady booking agent. He approached them backstage. "Boys, I'm booking a new place. It's just starting to take off. Dinty's, we're calling it. Now, we were looking for a Jack Eigen or a Barry Gray type of guy, but hear me out. I know you guys are a team and I think that's fine. Just fine. If we could get you boys in the club broadcasting... then bam, you know? Know what I mean? Bam. Could be a real hit." They knew what he meant. Shine had met radio personality Barry Gray at the Copa City. It was there that the smooth, combative talker broadcast a fifteen minute radio program from the loge. Likewise, Jack Eigen was well known around Manhattan for an audio roundtable done from the Copacabana. Beaming a radio talk show from a popular nightclub was a burgeoning fad. Shine wasn't too keen, telling the agent, "Well, with all do respect sir, I'm a dancer and I'm not certain radio is the..." Bert Stone cut him off. A solid gig in Schenectady would keep him far from the wife and child. "You've got yourself a deal, mister." In celebration of losing his ball and chain, Stone named the program The Happiest Day of Your Life.
The Happiest Day of Your Life aired live, twice nightly, from the second level of Dinty's Terrace Garden. Stone and Shine employed fifteen minutes of James Cagney and Al Jolson impressions followed by an interview with one of the acts. Bert never told his wife about the gig. He rarely called and he stopped sending money home. Cecilia Stone was growing despondent.
Agent Abby Greshler was also despondent. For the past two years Greshler had been a show business powerhouse. Greshler persuaded two of his clients, singer Dean Martin and lipsync record act Jerry Lewis, to form a team. They subsequently became the biggest act in show business. They were soon courted by elements far more powerful. Dean and Jerry dumped Greshler. The development made Abby bitter. Living in denial, he brushed it off, convinced he could pick any two losers, pair them, and create another sensation. Desperate to prove himself, Greshler signed every two-bit comedy team on the circuit. "Abby Greshler was the personification of what we think an agent is," says Peter Marshall, who was signed by Abby during the panic. "You'd go to Abby's office and he'd say, 'You see that lamp? I paid $422 for that lamp. You see this chair? This nice chair? I paid $1600 for this chair.' That's the only kind of thing he talked about. Without a doubt, if you were going to cast an agent in a movie - you would cast Abby Greshler. He was the personification of what we think an agent is." Beyond Peter Marshall and his comedy partner Tommy Noonan, Greshler proved his utter desperation when he signed Bert Stone and Eddie Shine.
Billy Gray's Band Box was Greshler's testing ground. Located in Hollywood, the Band Box was not a top nightclub per se, but one that emphasized comedy more than any other. Greshler booked Noonan and Marshall at the Band Box first. "That was our second gig," recalls Peter Marshall. "We went in for one night and we were a hit. It was really a very Jewish club and here we are, these two goyim, and they loved us." It was a place where comic's comics like Buddy Hackett and Shecky Greene found their voice. That rookie gentiles like Noonan and Marshall could succeed here was good news for Greshler. He planted Stone and Shine on its stage. Bert and Eddie had an irrational new confidence. They ditched Schenectady for good. This was the big time. Abby Greshler, Hollywood, and the Band Box. There was no way Stone and Shine could miss!
Billy Gray's Band Box (Minimum $2.50)
When yodeling supplants yocks as the entertainment backbone at this Fairfax funhouse, it's news in anyone's language. But that's the situation cued by singer Betty Reilly's return after a year's absence. As the headliner, she takes the play away from the comedics; as a matter of fact, boniface Sammy Lewis is going to have to do some judicious scissor work to keep the remainder of the layout. Opening night offering ran a shade under two hours, due largely to the insistence of the team of Bert Stone and Eddie Shine upon remaining on the floor. They took up 38 minutes, of which only about three were worthwhile, parading a succession of tired stories, bad imitations and repeated reprises of the spitting water bit. Team doesn't belong in this room. - Variety, March 4, 1953
There was no lightning in this bottle. Greshler dropped them and Stone and Shine disbanded. Shine's disposition was the more upbeat. "You know, Bert," Eddie stated. "Miami Beach. Lotta gigs there for comics. You could make plenty of money quick. You ever done it? I used to work all those spots. Lotta comics just hanging out too. A real nice camaraderie."
Bert had all but abandoned his wife and child. He visited a divorce lawyer, had papers delivered to Cecilia and beat it to the late night playground of Miami Beach. Stone was back in a solo groove, booked at the Sans Souci Hotel and indulging in the nightlife. Stone loved finishing the evening at the Five O'Clock Club where drinks were on the house at five in the morning and the place was crammed. The club had a long bar shaped like a question mark and it was there Stone met a woman equally as curvaceous. Her tan complexion caught his attention and her silver hair intrigued him. "Hey, babe," Stone said. "I hear Martha Raye runs this place." She looked at him, unable to hear his words over the noise. She took note of his impeccable tailoring and stared with intent before speaking.
"I said I hear Martha Raye runs this joint!"
They shouted in spontaneous unison, "What's your name?" and answered in crosstalk.
"Is that a wig?"
"What?" Stone couldn't charm a broad in an atmosphere this loud. To hell with preliminaries, it was five in the morning. He planted his mouth on her face and moved down her neck. Joanne DuVal and Bert Stone enjoyed an intense sexual affair for the next six weeks.
Stone and DuVal kept their interracial intercourse on the down low. Meanwhile, Stone's wife had received the divorce notice and was furious with "that no-good son of a bitch." She was testy with the Sans Souci answering service. "Please tell him Cecilia called. It's important."
"Yes, ma'am, we will see that he gets the message."
"That's what you people keep saying over there, but he doesn't seem... this is the fifth time I've called in six days! Are you sure he's getting my messages? How can you be so sure? Make sure he knows it's his wife. Do you understand? The mother of his child!"
There's a good crowd at the Sans Souci tonight. Bert Stone is appearing under his new subtitle, "Peck's Bad Boy of Comedy." Joanne DuVal is seated ringside, her silver-blonde hair arranged in a coiffure and an imitation mink stole on her shoulders. Stone opens with his Jolson bit, ignoring DuVal except for a peripheral glance. Stone launches into his "Chinaman" routine and gets big laughs with ten minutes of surefire pidgin English. The crowd is hot. Stone is flying through what must be the best set of his career. Stone starts in with the drunk material, a patter of jokes, and the perfect lead-in to Guzzler's Gin. Basking in the laughter, Bert can see a woman squeezing between tables, working her way forward from the back of the room. She finds an empty seat beside Joanne DuVal. Pulling the chair from the table, a loud sound echoes as the leg drags. She looks up at Stone. Stone, his set-up already delivered, forgets the punchline when he looks back at the woman. His wife.As the shock registered on Stone's face, DuVal understood. Stone gestured at DuVal with his thumb, "amscray! amscray!" She grabbed her handbag and scrambled to the powder room. Cecilia shot Stone a deadly look, stood, and followed DuVal down the aisle. Stone in a panic, jumped into Guzzler's Gin with added volume, attempting to distract the crowd, but his momentum had died. Stone abandoned the bit and signaled bandleader Freddie Calo to cue the closing song. Stone jumps into his prearranged number - a song called I Love a Hussy.
Joanne DuVal is pinned to the powder room floor, Cecilia Stone straddling her, beating her with a brutal series of blows. Cecilia is doing most of the shouting. "A Negro! He abandoned his daughter for a Negro! A sick, degenerate tramp!" Fists bruising her ears, Joanne DuVal is deaf to the hysterical screams. "He has a daughter! Did he tell you that!? Did he tell you that, you whore! Do you even care!?" DuVal squirming, struggling to free herself, reaches for a powder compact lying nearby. Maneuvering it into her palm, she smacks Cecilia across the face. DuVal stands in an attempt to run, but Cecilia grabs her ankle, and brings her back down to the ground. DuVal shouts, "Let me go, you're crazy!" Cecilia shouts in her face, "I'm not crazy... I'm his wife!" DuVal grapples forward and bites Cecilia's ear. With her teeth she rips off the lobe. DuVal stands. Spits. Runs. Cecilia Stone curls on the ground. Screaming. Crying. Bleeding.
WIFE GUILTY IN FIGHT
Comedian Stone, Girl Friend Win
Comedian Bert Stone appeared in Miami police court today to testify for his girlfriend against his wife on cross-complaints of assault and battery. Aided by his testimony, the girlfriend Joanne DuVal, a shapely 21-year-old blonde night club pianist, won acquittal, and Stone's wife, Mrs. Cecilia LaRoche, 30, was found guilty. Miss DuVal's true name is Stevens. Stone's real name is LaRoche. The cross-complaints stemmed from a fight between the two women in a powder room of the Sans Souci Hotel, Miami Beach, in the early morning hours of Sept. 17. Mrs. LaRoche suffered a fractured knee cap and a torn ear lobe in the melee. Judge Albert Saperstein, announcing his decision, said that although he 'sympathized' with Mrs. LaRoche on her injuries, the evidence left him no recourse but to find her guilty and free Miss Stevens. The two women had conflicting stories. Mrs. LaRoche declared that she was in the powder room and that Miss DuVal came in and demanded to know what Mrs. LaRoche was doing in the Sans Souci - where Stone was appearing as an entertainer. Miss DuVal, on the other hand, said that Mrs. LaRoche had followed her into the ladies' room. The silver blonde pianist said she had first changed her seat and then quit the night club room of the hotel entirely "to avoid a scene." Stone testified that while doing his act, he saw his wife come in and sit down next to Miss DuVal. "I motioned to Joanne with my hand to get out. I was afraid of what would happen," Stone testified. "I went on with the act. I saw Joanne get up and go toward the door and then I saw my wife get up and follow." Mrs. LaRoche said she came to Miami to fight a divorce action, instituted by her husband. Mrs. La Roche said the pianist had taken her husband from her.
- Milt Sosin, Miami News, Oct 17, 1955
In wake of the tabloid affair, the Sans Souci canceled Stone's engagement. Everyone had heard the news. It was right on the front page. The late night comics at Wolfie's diner were kibitzing when the early edition arrived. Stone wandered in drunk, craving corned beef. His craving was hijacked when comedians Artie Dann, Joey Forman, Guy Marks, Corbett Monica and Phil Foster started yelling, laughing, and antagonizing. The ridicule was so severe Stone just went right back out the door. If he couldn't have corned beef, well, then he'd keep drinking. He ambled back to DuVal's apartment where there was liquor. Stone unlocked the door and was greeted with taunts far more vile than anything at Wolfie's.
"You liar!" screamed DuVal. "You fucking liar! You have a baby!?"
"Oh, Jesus, Joanne, come on, I just want... No, she's not a baby!"
"Rot in hell! You have a baby!"
"Goddammit, she's eight years old! Why don't you..."
"What kind of a person are you! You son of a bitch! And when were you going to tell me this?"
"Hey, come on, sweetie, you..." A ceramic mug came flying at Stone's head and shattered against the wall.
"You son of a bitch! You piece of shit!"
Things escalated. Neighboring units heard the violent crashes, shattering of glass, the wailing sobs. Police were called, but the noise went on and an entire apartment building held its breath. The roar of Bert Stone echoed, "If you don't come out of the bathroom right now I'm kicking it down!" Officers Arthur Godber and Dave Shulman arrived, hammering on DuVal's apartment door. Bert Stone stopped screaming, paused, and then asked in a singsong voice, "Who is it?" As Stone fumbled with the chain lock, the police charged forward, belting it open. They were startled by the image of a shirtless Bert Stone wearing boxer shorts drenched in blood. Officer Shulman strong-armed Stone and applied handcuffs. "Hey, wait a second," Stone pleaded. "I have a show to do! We're gonna be late!" Stone reeked of liquor. His babbling intensified. "Hey, I'll get you boys ringside seats. Come on now, we'll all be late!" Stone started laughing, clearly out of his mind. Officer Godber followed a path of blood that was still flowing down the hallway. In the bathroom he found Joanne DuVal on her back, wrists slashed open, spurting.
SINGER SLASHES WRISTS FOR LOVE OF COMEDIAN
Two officers discovered a pool of blood in the bathroom and a crimson trail leading to where Miss DuVal was lying. A double-edged razor blade found in the bathroom was believed to have been used as the weapon. Miami Beach Officers Arthur Godber and Dave Shulman, who answered a call from neighbors, said that Stone was covered with blood which had splattered on him. Godber and Shulman said that Stone appeared to be in a stupor and in a state of shock. They said he had been drinking. A splintered glass jalousie door of the apartment across the hall was believed to have been broken by Stone in his frantic efforts to reach a telephone. Miss DuVal was taken to Mt Sinai Hospital. While he attempted to stem the flow from both wrists, Godber asked her, 'Why did you do it, Joanne?' She reportedly looked at Stone and replied that she did it because she loved him.
- Palm Beach Post, October 21, 1955
Joanne DuVal was committed to the Jackson Mental Hospital "for her safety." Stone did not visit. Now he was avoiding two women and he was suddenly persona non grata in Miami Beach. If he wanted work, he'd have to go elsewhere. He booked himself a gig in his home state, unaware his wife had filed abandonment charges against him. Two boys from the D.A.'s office greeted Stone as he stepped off the plane. "Comedian Bert La Roche seemed serious enough yesterday when he was arrested on abandonment charges by Detective Edward Murtagh of the District Attorney's squad," said the newspapers. "He was arraigned before County Judge Peter T. Farrell and released on five hundred dollars bail. 'Peck's Bad Boy' promised to be good from now on."
New name, new face, new venues - but the response was familiar. Variety caught Bert Stone's resurrection as Peter Wood, although they were not hip to his former status. "Houston's private clubs are notorious traps for out-of-town comics making first stands here, and Cork Club with light [attendance] for opening night of Peter Wood stint was no exception." Off to the Chi Chi in Palm Springs where the show "opened to a less than capacity audience. The customers amply made up for quantity in the warmth of their applause for singer Marie Wilson. Less heavy was the response accorded Peter Wood, standup comedian." By the time he made it to Reno he was advertised as "Peter Wood - High Comedy." The title was attributed with accuracy according to Bobby Ramsen, a comedy contemporary. "I must tell you that Bert was high quite a bit of the time. I was not into that, but Bert certainly was."
While Bert Stone had no problem changing his name, face or location - he refused to change his act. Peter Wood struggled to get bookings as the pseudonym made him a stranger. To help himself out, he fabricated some glowing press. Cecilia and a pair of detectives had been combing the trade papers for a clue as to Stone's whereabouts. Stone had not been providing the court ordered payments to his wife and child. As the months passed, Cecilia was surprised his name hadn't surfaced. But then she skimmed past an advertisement for "Comedy Sensation Peter Wood" in which some of his act was quoted. It had a ring of familiarity. He was apparently "knocking them dead at the Sherman Hotel in Chicago." Someone in the executive office at the Sherman Hotel saw the same ad. Problem was, the Sherman Hotel hadn't booked any comedians in over a decade. The "knocking them dead" quote was attributed to Variety. The hotel contacted their office. Variety knew nothing about it. In one fell swoop, Peter Wood had raised the ire of a major hotel, a major publication and his major thorn.
COMIC FACES CONTEMPT ACTION
Stone (Wood) was brought back to New York jurisdiction for alimony-jumping. Since the Hotel Sherman's College Inn hasn't played acts for eight years, separate and apart from this paper's disinclination toward any "rave" reviews, the Chicago office of Variety was enlisted to report: The 'rave review' (or any other kind) on Bert Stone-Peter Wood existed only in his mind. Stone and Wood are one and the same. He has played no Chi nitery, hence there was no review. The comic's wife showed up with two cops, punched him on the non-support rap, and hustled him back to N.Y.
- Variety, June 18, 1958
With approval from the parole board, Stone was allowed to accept jobs in Las Vegas. Stone did not have the money that was owed to his wife and child. Las Vegas was where a bad comedian could make the greatest amount of money in the shortest amount of time, but Stone wasn't playing the main rooms. He was stuck in the cheap beer parlors far off the Strip. Bobby Ramsen was performing at the Sahara Hotel when Stone arrived in town. "He came to see me in Las Vegas and he looked awful. He had let his health deteriorate. He was drinking. He had little cigarette burns all over his body. You could see it on his hands and he was wearing this short-sleeved polo shirt. I said, 'What the hell is that, Bert?' He said, 'I don't know. That sex will drive you crazy.' He was a shadow of his former self."
Tom Pryor, editor of trade paper Variety, looked at the club listings placed on his desk. He noticed Peter Wood was playing a small Los Angeles club the following night. He summoned beat man Bill Sachs to his office. Sachs had been at Billboard for years, but was now a feature columnist for Variety's Hollywood branch. "I want you to do a write up on this Peter Wood tomorrow night," Pryor told him. "This is the son of a bitch that tried to use our name last year. Remember that? The phony review, the Chicago hotel and all the rest? I want you to write up the show. Let's bury this son of a bitch."
Bill Sachs took a table at Marshall Edson's eighty-seat club. When he took to the stage, Sachs could barely believe what he saw. Could this really be the same guy he saw fifteen years ago at the Casa Seville? Bert Stone looked so different. The well-dressed manner was gone. Sachs felt sorry him and he couldn't kick him when he was down. The next morning Variety published the best review of Bert Stone's life. "Billed with singer Ron Husmann is bearded comedian Peter Wood, an old-timer on the small club circuit," Sachs wrote. "Woods humor is offbeat and far-out, many of his lines going over the heads of the second show audience. His professional delivery and colorful appearance looks somewhat like a photo negative with white hair and white beard and red face. His best routines are slices of life satires about Negroes. Negro dialect and expressions are excellent."
ARCHIVE OF ARTICLES BY KLIPH NESTEROFF
Billboard, July 3, 1948
Variety, October 10, 1951
Billboard, November 10, 1951
Long Island NY Star Journal, July 28, 1955
Miami News, Oct 17, 1955
Miami News, October 21, 1955
Palm Beach News, October 21, 1955
Indiana Gazette, Oct 22, 1955
Long Island Star Journal, October 22, 1955
Fairbanks News-Miner, Oct 22, 1955
Jet, Nov 3, 1955
Variety, Sept 4, 1957
Variety, June 18, 1958
Long Island NY Star Journal, Dec 2, 1961
Variety, Aug 13, 1964
Variety, Jan 13, 1965
Bobby Ramsen, Interview with Author, October 2011
Peter Marshall, Interview with Author, August 2012
Contact Author : firstname.lastname@example.org