Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Berman Career

This article, written in 2005, is an interesting review of how the career of a comedic genius, Shelley Berman, was severely affected - unjustly I believe - by one instance of anger. An excerpt:

Sinking deep into a blue velveteen couch in his dusky living room, surrounded by his collection of handmade knives—including one that folds into the shape of a tulip blossom and one inlaid with mastodon tusk—Berman begins the story of his downfall. "NBC wanted to do a documentary," he recalls. His eyes form sad crescents beneath a thicket of brow. Cameras followed Berman around for months, he says: at home, on the set, to the Army-Navy game, and finally, on New Year's Eve 1963, to the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, Florida, where he was to play the Café Cristál.

Berman had already earned a reputation as an exacting, even difficult, performer. Early in the one-week engagement, he was onstage when a phone rang backstage. He made a joke of it, but afterward he reminded his road manager that backstage phones should be off the hook.

A few nights later, the backstage phone rang again at a disastrous time: the last few tear-jerking moments of a sketch about his own father. Berman finessed the distraction, but when he got backstage, he freaked. "Take those phones off the hook when I'm working," he shouted, throwing his freshly lit cigarette down. "I'll pull the damn phones out of the wall!" He dashed the phone's receiver to the floor with a clunk. Then he put on his suit coat and leaned face-first into a corner, arm overhead and head down.

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