Friday, February 7, 2014

Monty Python's First Visit to America



     I delivered sandwiches and salads for Marsha's Sandwiches from 1970 to 1972 because they gave me the coolest route, the Sunset Strip from Vine to Doheny. My first day they gave me baskets of sandwiches and a list of businesses on the strip that regularly bought from them, including hair salons, record companies, production companies, and anyplace else I might care to check out along the route, all the way from the Whiskey to the Cinerama Dome.
    Thus I was afforded the perfect excuse to burst into any establishment I pleased as long as I had my wicker basket full of goodies. Burst I did, gathering two other jobs in the process, getting fired from both, and ending up back selling sandwiches. 
    My first gig courtesy of Marsha's Sandwiches was receptionist for Cinemobile. It lasted two weeks until the president of Cinemobile returned from Europe and discovered to his horror that his new receptionist didn't have tits. I was immediately canned and replaced by someone of a different gender, and I went right back to delivering sandwiches.
    Next was Casablanca Records, the home of Cher, Donna Summer, The Four Tops, Parliament, and The Village People. Neil Bogart, the president of Casablanca, gave me a job because he clearly couldn't get rid of me without buying a sandwich or hiring me. I wanted him to listen to my music. I wanted a recording contract. I got the mail room, where it was my duty to send out promo copies of records and to help promote this new comedy group from England. Their hit show had never been shown in America, so they were total nobodies. All they had were these comedy albums that were the funniest I had ever heard. Casablanca had just bought the American rights and was breaking Monty Python's Flying Circus to America. I helped it happen.
     They were sold purely through word of mouth, and I sent hundreds of copies of the LPs to everyone on earth we thought had a sense of humor. Everyone liked them, though there was no airplay at all and little sales. 
    Just to test the waters, in August of 1972 a compilation film of some of Monty Python's best TV bits was put together for the American market. It was called And Now For Something Completely Different, and it had the Dead Parrot, the Lumberjack, and the Upper Class Twit of the Year. (Interesting factoid: The BBC wouldn't allow footage from the TV show to be used in the film so they were all reshot. The footage in And Now For Something Completely Different, though the same routines, are different versions from the TV show.) Casablanca brought the whole group over for their American press premiere, so they spent a day hanging out at the office. There were no pictures of them on their records so I didn't know what to expect. Bearded madmen, not neatly cropped normal looking guys in business suits. Cleese, Chapman, Gilliam, Idle, Jones, and Palin all in matching gray suits and ties, crammed in the mail room making fun of me. They seemed totally stunned that ANYBODY in America got what they were doing. I not only got them, I had them memorized. It WAS the right room for an argument. I ran out of Monty Python albums for them to sign, so I got them to sign albums of all the other Casablanca artists. They signed my copy of Jack (The Artful Dodger) Wild's solo album but later it was accidentally sold by a roommate under circumstances too painful to discuss.
   The first press screening of And Now for Something Completely Different was introduced by Graham Chapman, who apologized for all the obscure references in the film while casually mentioning that then president Nixon couldn't attend the screening because he was having an asshole transplant. Eric Idle ran down the aisle and handed Chapman a piece of paper. Chapman then announced that they had just gotten word from the hospital where Nixon was staying and that "the asshole had rejected him." And the film began. 
   Months later I was not so much fired as the whole company went under. Apparently Monty Python was no Village People. My quest for songwriting fame bought me a day with the reigning geniuses of comedy, then I was back to delivering sandwiches.
 

Years later, I became film critic for the LA Weekly, they became known to more than a dozen people, and I kept running into them over the years, which is how I got these shots.


 
Me and Cleese at the Writer's Guild of America

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