The King in His Castle

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(Pictured: I’m clearing up some odds and ends today, with two bits that didn’t add up to full posts on their own. There is no picture that fits both subjects, so please enjoy this cat listening to music.)

When radio stations opened their weekly package from American Top 40, they sometimes found a memo attached to the cue sheet. It would inform stations of extra commercial time available to them that week, alert them to the presence of a guest host on that week’s show, or remind them of upcoming specials. The show dated February 9, 1974, included a memo promoting a couple of upcoming TV appearances Casey was making. He had a guest role on Hawaii Five-O, but also: “Casey plays a comic Adolph Hitler in a Dean Martin roast of Don Rickles.”

That might be the most 70s sentence ever written. Go and watch it, then come back here and read the rest of this.

There’s a lot to take in. There is Casey’s dreadful acting, although it is kind of a kick to see him do something so different from his on-air persona. (His Casey-ness overwhelms every other part I have ever seen him in.) And there is the gobsmacking inappropriateness of the entire bit, at least to those of us watching 48 years later.

The really interesting bit is right at the end. Casey-as-Hitler says that Rickles is “the only person who has bombed in more cities than I have,” then kisses Rickles full on the mouth before exiting the stage. While the audience and attendees explode in laughter and applause, there’s a quick shot of Rickles turning to Jack Klugman, sitting on his left. We can hear Klugman say, “Casey Kasem,” so clearly Rickles had no idea who he was. Then Martin steps back up to the podium and thanks “Casey Ka-SEM,” putting the emphasis on the last syllable of his surname.

Casey has 134 acting credits at IMDB, although the vast majority of them are for voicework, or in roles where he appeared as himself. His last role in which he played a character seems to have been on a 1984 episode of Fantasy Island. But in the 70s, he was seen on episodes of Switch, Quincy M.E. (with Klugman), Police Story, and Ironside. He was on Hawaii Five-O twice: in the February 1974 role, he played an inflammatory TV talk-show host; in October 1974, he was a crooked appliance store manager.

Casey pursued acting roles in movies and on TV practically from the moment he arrived in California, and it’s not a stretch to think he might have preferred that sort of stardom to the kind he achieved behind a microphone.

OK, New Topic: I exchanged e-mails the other day with a guy who attended both the Iola People’s Fair and Sound Storm rock festivals in Wisconsin back in 1970. He added a detail to Iola that I have not encountered anywhere else: that it rained at least once during the three-day event. He remembers people sliding in mud, some naked, and people bathing in the pond on the grounds. His description of the Sunday morning riot involving bikers and attendees is terrific:

On the last day, I remember waking up to the sound of gunfire. Once outta the tent, I saw bikers coming up the hill going into peoples’ tents and taking whatever they wanted. The bikers got real close to us but we didn’t get robbed. Then, just like in a movie where the peasants rise up against the king in his castle, the sky darkened with sticks, stones, beer and wine bottles, anything the hippies could throw, which rained down on the bikers. I saw two bikers on one bike (one guy driving the other sitting backward shooting a pistol toward the crowd of people coming for the stage area), fishtailing in the sandy soil, he dumped the bike and the two ran off. Some of the crowd descended on the bike and tore parts off it.

Attendees largely cleared out after that, but not all:

We were there after most of the people had left. Like Ma would say, it was a “holy mess.” Everything was muddy, a lotta trash, sleeping bags, blankets, clothes, shoes  and people. There were some people cleaning up, some looking for things lost, and some were just kinda there.

Please tell me your rock festival stories from anywhere, not just in Wisconsin. Find my contact information here.

10 thoughts on “The King in His Castle

  1. There’s nothing like good taste and the Dean Martin Roasts—-especially THAT one—-were nothing like good taste.

    For the young and/or uninitiated, the Dean Martin Roasts were inspired by the Friars Club Roasts, which were often too raw for TV of that era, but at least were usually funny, and when a joke bombed, it bombed.

    The Dean Martin Roasts, like so much 70s TV, couldn’t allow that, so the laugh track was turned up to 11 and the celebrities treated every line, no matter how lame, as though it was the funniest thing since the beginning of time.

    Trying too hard, laughing too loud—-it was pathetic. And it took years for teenaged me to figure out why these big stars of my parents’ generation, who I thought were fine, if not anywhere near cool, in the 60s sucked so completely and thoroughly in the early-mid 70s.

    This reminds me that I may have been a teenager, but I wasn’t wrong.

    And it also proves that Dean was the laziest man in show biz. Not only wouldn’t he rehearse, he couldn’t be sure he got Casey’s name right before the cameras rolled.

    1. Brian L Rostron

      I think some of the attendees were taped at a different time and edited in later laughing uproariously to random jokes. Or at least that’s Jimmie JJ Walker’s excuse.

      1. mikehagerty

        True. In fact, not just at a different time, but in a different location. The main thing was shot in the showroom at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. But not everyone’s schedule would line up, so there was a duplicate set at NBC in Burbank. Speeches, cutaways and laughing hysterically at jokes they weren’t hearing were done all the time.

        I read a piece once that said there were literally hundreds of edits in any one of these shows, to make it look like it was a big deal and everyone was having a great time.

  2. Chris Herman

    I’m not going to click on the Casey-as-Hitler video because I’ve already reached my maximum daily dose of cringe. Still, the premise of “Hitler at a Don Rickles Roast”–while having a high-risk factor–is not beyond the pale as a source of comedy depending upon who you got to dress up as Hitler. The comic would’ve had to have been someone who was not only outrageous and edgy but zany as well (i.e., the opposite of Casey Kasem). I can think of some current comedians who could pull off something like this now but I’m not sure who, aside from maybe Mel Brooks, could’ve done it in 1974.

    1. Mel Brooks would have been brilliant, a callback to “The Producers”, which makes the whole thing way too cerebral for the Dean Martin Roast.

      Mel would also have insisted on writing his own material, and as I understand it, only Jonathon Winters and Rickles were ever allowed to do that. Everyone else had to use the hackwork done by the staff writers.

  3. Wesley

    The Dean Martin Roasts were born of desperation as The Dean Martin Show entered its ninth and last (1973-74) season. Having run through the Golddiggers and just about every top supporting comic actor for a variety series (Dom DeLuise, Nipsey Russell, Kay Medford and so on), the show’s producers had run out of ideas, so they poached one from the last few years of The Kraft Music Hall around 1970 or so of doing sanitized adaptations of the Friars Club roasts for TV. Those bits, initially called Man of the Week, got the best reaction, so as the series went off, NBC retained the concept on specials for 4 years, ending ignominiously in May 1978 with one featuring Betty White that aired 4 months after her 1977-78 series went off the air. Doing the canned jokes were several of her castmates and such other fountains of hilarity such as Bonnie Franklin from One Day at a Time. Dean wasn’t even pretending to laugh much by this time, and even Foster Brooks’ drunk routine, usually a highlight of the show, was worn out.

    Oh wait, we were talking about Casey Kasem’s Hitler bit on this show, right? Well, as much as I admire his AT40 work, the fact that he objected to announcing the name of George Michael’s hit I Want Your Sex on that program while having no qualms about playing one of the most monstrous men ever in humanity makes me question how desperate he was to make it on TV.

      1. Wesley

        They ended it in 1978 then revived it in 1984 for Mr. T and Joan Collins. Then Dean got tired of the revival again or the ratings weren’t great or maybe both, and it vanished soon thereafter.

  4. porky

    Mike’s right about Dean being lazy but after reading Dean’s excellent bio* by Nick Tosches one gets the feeling that everything just fell into his lap. He was a natural at every medium that came along without expending much effort.

    *it also revealed that the father of a friend I ran around with in junior college provided seed money to make Las Vegas a gambling town. He always downplayed his family’s wealth, but about this I had no idea.

  5. Alvaro Leos

    The “Casey as Hitler” sketch becomes even more bizarre considering Casey was a leader in progressive politics, including Arab-Israeli understanding projects. And he put his money where his mouth was, refusing to do a Shaggy voiceover for Burger King (he was a vegetarian) and quitting work for the “Transformers” cartoon for their treatment of Arab characters.
    On Dean Martin, yeah his “I’m getting paid for this?” attitude was mostly laziness. But that effortless charm has dated much better than old partner Jerry Lewis’ desperate attempts to make audiences love him. Like a lot of music, better to underthink than overthink things.

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