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The Voice of God - Buddy Hackett
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The Voice of God - Buddy Hackett
Buddy Hackett's life reads like a road map for comedy. Born in Brooklyn in 1924, Leonard Hacker was the son of an upholsterer and part-time inventor who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. But Buddy (as he quickly became known) stood barely five feet six inches tall yet weighed over 200 pounds-and had almost no choice in the matter. He was born to be funny.

The World According to Buddy: "If it's dirty, it's not funny, but if it's funny, it's not dirty."
A childhood bout with Bell's Palsy left him talking out of the side of his mouth - and the tendency of his voice to reach near-hysterical volume made everything that came out of his mouth sound hilarious. He was a man who was dearly loved for his gift of making people laugh. The man just "thought" funny.

His first job as a comedian was at the Pink Elephant, a tiny club in Brooklyn. His salary was $40 a week, where he was first noticed. In 1948 he met a car dealer named Frank Faske who became his de facto manager and even invested his own money buying jokes for Buddy. In spite of the written material by others, the two of them realized that Buddy was funniest when he was himself, and that's when his star really started to rise.

It began in California, at Billy Gray's Band Box, with an off-the-cuff routine about a Chinese waiter - and everything suddenly clicked. Buddy, with a rubber band around his head to slant his eyes, did 20 minutes on a befuddled Asian trying to sort out soup orders. It quickly became part of the American lexicon of comedy. ("Flied lice," anyone?)

He returned east and killed at the Concord, appeared on a pioneer television show called "Laff Time," and was even asked to replace the ailing Curly of The Three Stooges - a job he turned down so he could pursue his solo career.

In 1954 his acting studies paid off, as playwright Sidney Kingsley tapped him to appear in "Lunatics and Lovers" on Broadway, for which he won the coveted Donaldson Award for Best Newcomer-at age 21. Even the snobbish New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson praised his talent, extolling his "exuberance" in "the best part Mr. Kingsley has written." The role led to appearances on "The Tonight Show" with Steve Allen, on "The Jackie Gleason Show," and, eventually, to his own sitcom, "Stanley," which ran for only one season but was filmed live and launched the career of his co-star, Carol Burnett.

In 1958 Buddy drew critical raves for his role in the film version of Erskine Caldwell's "God's Little Acre." Variety praised his performance as having "perception and depth and real acting.' Buddy's career was so set that he even turned down Frank Sinatra's offer to be his opening act. "I'd rather be in competition across the street than be your opening act for the rest of my life," Buddy responded. Despite the refusal, Buddy became a lifelong friend of Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack, appearing with them in several Vegas performances, as well as numerous incarnations of Joey Bishop's shows, the Dean Martin Show, and steadily worked with them all throughout their careers, even performing with them at Carnegie Hall in 1961. The following year he appeared as Marcellus Washburn - Robert Preston's sidekick in the film version of "The Music Man"-followed by his hilarious turn in the star-studded Stanley Kramer extravaganza "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", the number one grossing box-office movie of the year, and the number one comedy film of all time at that point.

But it was in the 1960s and 70s, holding court at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, that Buddy became a legend. Del Webb, owner of the Sahara, appreciated his talent and loved him for his audience appeal as well as his hotel sense - a trait he had learned from his Concord days and never forgotten. Webb appointed Buddy vice president of the Sahara (at a salary of $50,000 a year), and Buddy took the job seriously. One day, Buddy complained to Webb about the static electricity in the casino's carpet, then joked on-stage that night that Webb had "nailed a chain to his ass" to take care of the problem. But in his new job, Buddy made it a point to discover new talent.

"Buddy was the one who gave me my first big job," recalls David Brenner. "He saw me on 'The Tonight Show,' and the next morning he called the Sahara and told them to book me - not in the lounge, where I would have been thrilled, but in the showroom! He booked me on the spot as the opening act for Sonny & Cher." Charo was another recipient of his largesse, as was former "Gidget" singer and star James Darren. By this time, Hackett's reputation was so big in Vegas that, when he saw the Sahara put up big "Merry Christmas" lights on top of the building, he asked that the hotel put his name up in lights as well as on the marquee out front. The Sahara agreed, and many who drove along the Strip thought seriously that Buddy was the new owner.

"My Dad brought a lot of changes to this town," says his producer/writer son, Sandy Hackett. "He influenced comedy in ways no one fully appreciates today."

 


 

 

The Las Vegas Cast

Voice of God
Buddy Hackett

Frank Sinatra
David DeCosta

Sammy Davis Jr.
Doug Starks

Joey Bishop
Sandy Hackett

Dean Martin
Johnny Edwards

 

The Rat Pack Show

Frank, Sammy, Joey and Dean

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