WT, Fountain of Youth (continued)

On two occasions, Sterling Holloway performed with us. He was not spoiled by fame. He was down to Earth, and very friendly. We were rehearsing a Western, where Sterling got shot. I was the sound-effects man that day, and there was no device with which to simulate the sound of a gunshot. I tried clapping my hands, hitting the desk with a wooden yardstick, and others. None was right. Then Sterling bent down to pick up something he dropped. And I was seized with an inspiration. I whacked his behind with the yardstick, and the sound was perfect. I yelled, “I killed him!” The entire crew had a good laugh. Sterling feigned injury as he held the “wounded” area and moaned. “Trouble is that you killed me in real life. Let’s change the script to read that I was stabbed with a knife.”

Sterling asked how I got into show biz. I explained. At age 10, I was a “year-round” camper at Surprise Lake Camp (for kids from destitute families). I was the youngest child at the camp, and performed stand-up comedy routines. I wrote the material myself. The camp was located across the Hudson River from the Catskills, where many rising comedy actors performed for summer vacationers in the many hotels. One such unknown actor named Daniel Kominsky, heard about Surprise Lake Camp, and hoped to get a “year-round” gig --- not just for the summer. He was interviewed by the head counselor, and was rejected. While he waited for the ferry to cross back to the Catskills, I met him. I told him I was a comedian and we had a long discussion. I was delighted that a grown up was willing to talk that long with a little kid like me. He told me to call him Mr. K without the period. A year later, he send me a medallion signed, Daniel K, note K without a period. And he later used that as his stage name, Danny Kaye.

In high school, when I was 15, I often had long discussions with the elderly science teachers, Mr. Max Sherrin, and Mr. Ernest Scintsen who referred to me as one of their peers. At the same time, I had written a pack of comedy skits for my English course. Odd as it sounds, I had total rapport with the teacher, an elderly woman named Mrs. Schulderfer. She said, “You’re so young, but you’re ready to mingle with the adult world.” And she gave me the name of a comedy scout who met with potential actors in front of Kellogg’s Restaurant in downtown Manhattan. I met him, and found that he overlooked my obvious very young age, and he talked to me as an adult. He held my huge pack of manuscripts as if weighing it and said, “One pound.” And he handed me $5, a lot of money in 1942, especially for a kid like me. And he stuck to that price in the years to come, coining the expression “$5 a pound for humorous skits.” He then forwarded (or sold) my material to upcoming stars in the Catskills. Wow, I was back to the Catskills! I had come full circle. I wished him a long life of success, and it came true. He was still in the funny business into his 90’s, under the name of Pal Joey --- Joey Adams.

“So, Mr. Holloway, that’s my background.” Sterling Holloway said, “Can I summarize? As a child, you have been constantly dealing with adults on their standards and on their terms. Tell me something; did you get along with kids your own age?” I was embarrassed and replied, “No. That’s the down side of my ability to converse with people who were so much older than I. Kids my age shunned me, and thought I was very odd.” Sterling pursed his lips and said, “Let me tell you why I asked. There’s an actor who bears the same affliction.” I interrupted, “Affliction? No, that’s my asset.” Sterling insisted, “Yes, affliction. The actor I’m thinking of plays the role of LeRoy on a radio show called, ‘The Great Gildersleeve.’ He got the part because he looks like a child. That’s his gift. But he must deal with adults. That’s his affliction. I’m sure he could use you as his liaison.” I chuckled, “Well maybe when I get discharged a year from now.” “No, he could use you now.” He pondered a while. “Can’t you get a furlough? Never mind, let me find a way.”

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