LOVED ONES REMEMBER A LEGENDARY TRIO: MARTY ALLEN, ROBERT GOULET AND JERRY LEWIS
For the 17th edition of “Conversations with Norm” the show was billed “Remembering Three Legends: Marty Allen, Robert Goulet and Jerry Lewis.” Representing the trio: Allen’s wife Karon Kate Blackwell, Goulet’s wife Vera and Lewis’ daughter, Danielle Lewis.
They joined me Sunday on stage at Myron’s Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
Introducing us was our friend Bryan Scofield, KTVN-TV, Channel 13 meteorologist.
Here is an edited version of the 90-plus minute chat:
Karon grew up on a farm in rural Mississippi near Hattiesburg. Her earliest memories from her hometown area of Ellisville:
“We grew cotton, we grew corn, watermelon. We grew it all, and it was hard. That’s why I got into show business,” she said, with a laugh.
“We owned a country grocery store. My momma did everything. My father was a country musician. He could pick up any instrument and play it. Couldn’t read one note of music but he taught me how to play the piano. My momma insisted I read music and I did.”
She shared this story from her youth: “When you grow up in the country, like I did, you might have a few relatives show up in church on Sunday with a bible in their back pocket. And the next Sunday they might have a fifth of whiskey. And on this particular Sunday my uncle, Spurgeon Blackwell, was coming along and he had a fifth of whiskey and they’re having a baptism in the river.
"They said, ‘Brother Blackwell, come down here!’ And they said to him, ‘You want to find Jesus?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I do’ so the preacher takes him (underwater) and he comes up coughing. The preacher said, ‘Did you find Jesus?’
“No, I didn’t find him."
“So the preacher takes him down longer the next time and he comes up, sputtering all over the place and the preacher says, ‘Did you find Jesus?’
“Uncle Spurgeon said, ‘No I didn’t.’
“So the third time he just holds him down there and Uncle Spurgeon comes up and he’s just about to pass out and the minister said ‘Brother Blackwell, did you find Jesus?’ and Uncle Spurgeon said, ‘Are you sure he’s down there?”
“That’s what I grew up in,” said Karon.
She moved to Chicago to pursue an entertainment career and got her first paying gig in a “little plush room” in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “It held 25 people. But, boy did I ever make me the money and I didn’t even have a tip jar. They just threw that money and I liked it.”
She went back to Chicago, built an act and was doing her own show “and along the way I met a funny little man with crazy hair. We did the Merv Griffin show together but he wouldn’t remember me until years later” (when Carol Burnett was doing her show in Las Vegas.) Burnett introduced Karon to the audience and to Marty and his partner, Steve Rossi. “Little did I know I would meet him again and we got married nearly 35 years ago.”
They met again in the early 1980s when she took a break from show business and ran the celebrity hotspot, Cyrano, in West Hollywood.. He quickly became a regular and expressed his interest by scribbling on a menu. Allen had lost his beloved wife of 16 years, Frenchy, in 1976. After a two-year courtship, Allen proposed to her under the moonlight outside Dick Clark’s home in Malibu. They married in 1984 and teamed up as a act all the way to the end, when Allen died at the age of 95 on February 12 from pneumonia shortly after a breaking a hip.
Blackwell had Marty buried next to Frenchy at Eden Memorial Park Cemetery in Mission Hills, Calif., near Santa Barbara.
Vera recalled her harrowing years in an area of communist-held Yugoslavia that later became known as the Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.
Starting at age 12, Vera and her mother made their first of three attempts to escape. After the second, they were incarcerated again and her mother was given an ultimatum: try to escape again and she would lose her daughter.
“Put a person in a uniform and they became little Hitlers,” she said.
“Sometimes I wake up from little nightmares,” she said.
“My mother went hungry to feed me bread.” Among the first English words she learned, from begging in the port city she was living in, was, “Please mister. Chewing gum.”
Meat was a luxury. At times they went four months without meat, she said, and when they had it, it was often horsemeat. “It was a meal made in heaven,” she recalled.
Months after their second escape attempt, they finally made it to freedom, ending up in Trieste, Italy, where they stayed in San Sabba refugee camp with an ugly past. It had been a Nazi extermination camp a decade or so earlier. Years later, she made an emotional return to the site which been turned into a museum. She remains haunted by the thought of the atrocities that took place there.
Vera and her mother eventually made their way to England where her mother started over, from scratch, working two jobs to survive.
Eventually Vera’s life turned around when she started modeling and working in public relations in London.
She met such entertainment greats as Richard Harris, Sammy Davis, Sean Connery and her husband-to-be.
Seven or eight years later, in 1980, she traveled to Los Angeles and was staying with Davis and his wife Altovise. Both were out of town at the time, so she called Goulet to say hello. At that time he was living on his yacht on Marina del Rey, going through a rough patch in his life.
They had dinner, she told me during the pre-interview. It went well. The next day she arrived at the yacht. He teased her about how “all the luggage will fit on my little boat.”
Two years later they were married at the Little Chapel of the West, with Wayne Newton as the groom’s best man and actor Glenn Ford giving away the bride.
Goulet’s last Broadway show was “La Cage Au Folles” in 2006. On October 30, 2007, the legendary star of stage, screen, television and records died in a Los Angeles hospital of pulmonary fibrosis.
Danielle’s first memories of her father, who died a year ago in August at the age of 91, involved an intercom in his bedroom.
“I’d wake up and call him. 'Dad, come get me.’ He’d make breakfast and we’d go into his office and he’d put ‘Barney’ on (TV) and he’d dance to ‘This Diamond Ring’ every day,” she said, referring to Lewis’ song, Gary’s son that went No. 1 in 1965.
“He loved making me laugh,” she said. He usually entertained her with faux clumsiness, for many years a staple in Lewis’ films. "He’d take my lollipop and stick it to his forehead or hand,” she said.
The first movies she recalls seeing were “The Nutty Professor” and “Cinderfella.”
She was “terrified,” she said, when his character in “Professor” transformed into a monster.
Later she learned her dad’s sons where not allowed to watch the movie because their mother was “scared they would turn out to be like Buddy Love” and she didn’t want them acting that way with women, Danielle said.
She is getting married in November to Jason Roberts. They met while working at David Saxe Productions.
An aisle seat will be left vacant to honor her father, with a rose on it. Roberts, a videographer, is doing the same on the other side of the aisle, to honor his late mother.
Danielle works as a personal assistant for a former Academy Award winner. She requested that he not to be identified.