I booked a show into one of the ‘summer sheds’ – amphitheater venues in upstate New York – in the summer of ’89 or so. The budget was $20K, $15K for the headliner, $5K for the opener. I put Tony Bennett in to headline, but could NOT find anyone on the roster who was open on that date and had the weight to carry the $5K. I didn’t want to lose the date for want of a package and had heard that Henny Youngman was listed in the Manhattan phone book. I dialed 411. Sure enough, they had his number.
I called. He answered. I introduced myself. “Oh, APA! Wonderful agency! How are ya?” Fine, Henny, how are you? “Me? Very funny…” I explained the date. “Tony? We’re old friends – known him for forever. What’s the offer?” Um, $5000. ”Let me check if I’m open, (two second beat), Yes! Open!” So, you’re listed in the phone book…? “Sure – why not? I don’t owe anybody and money.”
The date played. Everybody was happy. And Henny had my phone number. I asked if he was represented. “I’m like the CIA, I’ve got a 1000 agents. I live across the street from William Morris – if things get tight, I hang a sign in my window, ‘book thy neighbor’.” I started laying in the occasional date. We became friends.
Henny had a ‘service’ – this was pre-answering machine – and when they picked up, a heavily accented, female voice would answer, “Henny Youngman, king of the one linahs.” If I called at around noon, leaving my name, as often as not I’d hear, “Mistah Broggah – Mistah Youngman said you can reach him at the Cahrnegie Deli – you want the numbah?” No, just ask him to call me.
One day Henny called out of the blue, “You want to have lunch with me tomorrow at the Friar’s Club?” Wood eye, wood eye?! I called Tim Sarkes, assistant to the head of the NY office, Roger Vorce, and a stone Henny fan. Want to come along? I could hear the YES echo from down at the end of the hall.
Tim and I arrived at the Friar’s at 12:30 PM exactly. “Mr. Youngman’s table? Follow me” At the first four-top to the right as you entered the dining room, sat Henny and an old boyhood friend of his from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I told him my father was from Bay Ridge. Henny looked at me. “You a Square Head?” Yup. A Square Heard was a street name for Norwegians (I guess they wore some strange hats, probably merchant seamen gear). Norway had the largest merchant fleet in the world in the teens and 20’s and the Norwegian Seamen’s Church was in Bay Ridge. The place was lousy with Norwegians; my father said you could walk six blocks in any direction, and hear Norwegian on the street. Henny eyed me, “You look like a Square Head.” I am what I am…
Every comedian who walked in had to pass our table, and HAD to stop and spritz with Henny. Joey Adams, Pat Cooper, and every guy who had ever worked Grosingers, The Concord or any room in ‘the hills’, stopped and paid homage. And traded smart remarks. I wish I could remember the exchanges; it was the stuff of lore. At one point, Henny wanted to make a call. The waiter brought a phone and plugged it into a jack under the table. Henny picked it up. It didn’t work. “Waiter… this phone is like my brother-in-law…”
I’ll never forget that afternoon. Thought I’d died and gone to show biz heaven.