Friday, January 16, 2009

Rusty Citron, Come on Down!

There are a few people who really made an impact on my career. Johnny Olson was one, but not in the way you might think.

Johnny Olson is best known as the 'voice' of The Price is Right. For years, millions of people heard him tell winners and losers to 'Come on Down'! I don't know who came up with the slogan, but he made it famous.

This story starts on Lincoln's Birthday in 1967. I took the train to NY and went to NBC. I had been down to the studios before many times. I think I took the NBC Tour about 5 times. For me, it was a magical place. They were setting up for a full day of taping of The Match Game. That was the first time I heard and met Johnny Olson.

In order to keep the audience happy, Johnny would come from backstage and would play the game with members of the studio audience. He had a stack of crisp new $5 bills to give away every time someone raised their hand with the correct answer.

A concrete brink couldn't have kept me in my seat. Johnny would ask a question, and I would jump up. By the end of the day, I was a rich kid...with three crisp new $5 bills in my hot little hands.

I walked back to Penn Station to catch the train home. I was crossing Broadway in front of Ripley's Clothes on 44th Street, and there was a kid giving away free tickets for The Merv Griffin Show. I noticed that he didn't seem to be much older than I was. Another free television show. Yes!

After the show, went to the box office, and asked for a job application. They asked if I was 16. I lied and said yes. I took that application and went home. My head was spinning. Could I possibly get a job in NY working as a page on a TV show? It didn't seem possible.

I worked for weeks on the letter and filing out the job application and finally sent it in. It was over a year later when the call came to my house. I was at school, but my sister was home sick and took the message.

And that's how I got my first real job, as a page on The David Frost Show....but that's not the end of the story.

Fast forward 15 years. I have my own entertainment agency in Hollywood. One of my biggest clients was Melvin Simon, the shopping center developer. We were working on some new campaigns and I had an idea. What about 'Come on Down'. It was perfect, and they said yes.

The next day, I met Johnny Olson for lunch in Hollywood at the Cock and Bull on Sunset. He agreed to the campaign, and then we talked for hours. I told him the story about how me got me started and what a fantastic experience that was for a kid of 15.

We had a great time, and Johnny honored me by saying (in his on air voice), Rusty Citron...Come On down!

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I was 17 when I got a house account at Sardi's.

Working next door to one of the most famous restaurants in the world certainly had its benefits. I was making $3.15 an hour. It was one the best jobs in my career. …and I have some great stories about that famous restaurant.

Tony the Doorman

Tony was a big man... and the first person you would meet going in to Sardi's, and the last person when you left. He was the doorman. He had a long red coat with a ‘captain’s hat. In the winter, he put on ear muffs and gloves. I remember how cold he looked as he would stand outside for hours on end…opening the front door, and helping people into and out of the endless line of cabs that lined 44th Street.

One evening between shows, I was hanging out in the lobby talking with my best friend Art Rosalin. He was the audio engineer on the show (who would be the best man at my wedding 8 years later). It was a very cold night, and we started talking about Tony.

He was standing there in the freezing cold. His cheeks were beet red, and he when he wasn’t working the cabs he would wait just under the canopy to escape the blowing wind.

I felt sorry for Tony.

Art looked at me and said; “Don’t be a putz, look at how mich money he's making.” So I watched. A cab would pull up, and he’d get the door, and then he’d get a tip. Get into the cab, Tip. Get out of the cab, Tip. Open the Door, Tip. It all happened so fast that I was missing it. It was like watching a brilliantly choreographed dance of dollars.

One day in March, Tony didn't show up for work. I went inside and asked Martin, who was Vincent’s MaĆ®tre Di, where Tony was. Oh, he said, “He’s on his three week vacation to Sicily”.

I didn’t feel sorry for Tony anymore.

My Mother's Stuffed Cabbage.

My mother made great stuffed cabbage. And when she made stuffed cabbage it was cause for celebration in our house. One day she wrapped some up for me to take to work for dinner. I was very happy. No tuna sandwich that night, no sir Some good home cooking. But there was a problem. I didn’t have a way to heat it up, and you certainly can't eat stuffed cabbage cold.

So I walked next door with my dinner wrapped up in foil, and asked Martin if he could heat it up in the kitchen. About ten minutes later, he is walking through the restaurant with the aroma of my mother’s stuffed cabbage filling the air. Vincent smelled it and he asked if he could have a taste…a small price to pay for heating my dinner. It was a hit. He wanted the recipie so he could put it on the menu!

I went home that night with the good news. I had visions of my mother’s stuffed cabbage on the menu of the most famous restaurant on Broadway.

I don’t know why she said no…but I never brought dinner to work again after that.

Meeting Joseph Papp

On Broadway there were only a few people that were really important. Among that elite group was Joseph Papp. If you don’t know about Joseph Papp, then I suggest you click here and learn more about him. It's a better story if you know who he was.

Marty Grupp was one of the musicians in the Billy Taylor Orchestra, and the musical contractor for the show. I think he was also the musician’s shop steward. That made him an important person. And I was beginning to learn about important people.

Even though I was ‘technically’ too young (17) to be hanging out at the bar at Sardis I went with Marty Grupp, so it really didn’t matter. The bar was packed as usual.

We were sitting at a table and Marty asked me, “Kid, who do you think is the most important person at the bar?” I wasn’t sure who was even there, so I got up and walked over to the bar and started looking. I started to eliminate people. That guy wasn’t wearing a tie, another looked nervous. I started to look at their cufflinks, shoes, watches and suits. How can you tell if someone is important by how they dress?

You know how this is going to end, right? It’s easy now, but I was clueless then.

I went back to the table, and picked out the guy who I thought looked ‘important’. Marty started to chuckle. We got up and walked over to the middle of the bar. He pointed out a guy off in the corner, all by himself. I didn't even see him at first. He was a rumpled looking man with this far away look in his eyes. He wearing a shirt, jeans and was absorbed in reading the newspaper. Marty said, "Rusty, that’s the most important guy here. And he knows it and that's all that matters. He doesn’t need to impress anyone. Come on, I’ll introduce you".

And that’s how I met Joseph Papp.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Fat Man's Prayer

The David Frost Show was very popular. We won the Emmy Award in 1970. Incredible artists, politicians and personalities from Andy Warhol, Spiro Agnew and Noel Coward to Tiny Tim and Howard Cosell appeared on the stage at The Little Theatre.

And we used to get mountains of mail asking for autographs and photos along with the usual amount of hate mail or praise. Every once and a while there would be a surge in requests for copies of something seen or produced on the show.

The most requested item was from the appearance of Victor Buono on March 11, 1970.

Now, for those of you who don't know or may not remember Victor Buono; he was a very large man. He had a commanding presence on stage and a powerful voice. His career ran the gamut from his Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor as Edwin Flagg in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane playing opposite Bette Davis and Joan Crawford to King Tut in the Batman TV series.

It was on that day that he recited one of the funniest poems I have ever heard. And with compliments to a great actor and poet, I give you:

The Fat Man's Prayer
by Victor Buono

Lord, my soul is ripped with riot,
Incited by my wicked diet.

We are what we eat, said a wise old man,
And Lord, if that's true, I'm a garbage can!
I want to rise on Judgment Day, that's plain,
But at my present weight, I'll need a crane!

So grant me strength that I may not fall
Into the clutches of cholesterol.
May my flesh with carrot curls be sated
That my soul may be polyunsaturated.

And show me the light that I may bear witness
To the President's Council on Physical Fitness.
At oleomargarine I'll never mutter,
For the road to hell is spread with butter.

And cake is cursed, and cream is awful,
And Satan is hiding in every waffle.
Mephistopheles lurks in provolone,
The devil is in each slice of bologna,
Beelzebub is a chocolate drop,
And Lucifer is a lollipop!

Give me this day my daily slice -
But cut it thin and toast it twice.
I beg upon my dimpled knees,
Deliver me from Jujubees.

And my when days of trial are done
And my war with malted milks is won,
Let me stand in the heavenly throng
In a shining robe - Size 37 Long!

I can do it, Lord, if you'll show to me
The virtues of lettuce and celery.
If you'll teach me the evils of mayonnaise,
The sinfulness of hollandaise

And pasta a la milanese
And potatoes a la lyonaise
And crisp fried chicken from the south!

Lord, if you love me, SHUT MY MOUTH!


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sweet Baby James

Being a page for The David Frost Show was a pretty simple job. I only had three things to do; whatever I was told, seat the audience, and stand around and look busy. I did them all pretty well. But there were some days that were better than others.

On this particular day, my assignment was to help ‘seat the audience’ and greet people and VIP guests in the box office lobby. Easy enough, right? Well not on this day.

Each guest’s appearance on the show was the responsibility of the producer and a booker. We had a great staff of talent coordinators and producers. Karen Prettyman was one the show’s best talent bookers working for producer Bob Carman. She looked like Cher…tall and pretty (like her name) with straight dark hair and piercing eyes. She was also the lead music booker for the show…and we had lots of great musical acts.

I usually arrived at 3pm in time for rehearsals, but on this day I was 30 minutes late and the rehearsal was over. James Taylor was the musical guest for the show. I don't remember who else was booked. The audience started lining up at 3:30, and we started seating at 4:30 for the 5:30 taping. The reserved seats in the audience were roped off.

My assignment that day was to be at the box office and greet the VIP’s. All was going pretty smoothly. I escorted guests downstairs to the dressing room and did what I was told. About 5pm a man wearing jeans and a long winter coat comes into the box office. He looked a bit confused and lost. I asked if I could help him and he said he was there for the show.

Ok. I asked him if he wanted a seat, and he looked at me strangely and said sure. So, I open the door and escorted him to a seat in the downstairs audience right section. Everyone was settling in. The cameras and sound were getting set, the show photographer was taking his place and I returned to the lobby.

10 minutes before taping and Karen comes running into the lobby. She’s panicked. She picked up the box office phone frantically trying to get information. Naturally, I ask her if I can help. She tells me that her musical guest for the show, James Taylor hasn’t shown up yet. It’s a disaster.

Then I ask the absolute dumbest question of my life. How do I know it’s the dumbest question of my life? Because its 35 years later, and I still remember it!

I turned to Karen and said: “Who is James Taylor?”

She gives me one of those ‘if looks could kill’ stares and says something like; Oh he’s only the hottest musician today, with the #1 hit that’s playing on EVERY radio station, Fire and Rain. THAT James Taylor!

I then ask the second dumbest question of my life. ‘What does he look like?” Again, with the look. "He’s tall, with long hair, looks like a hippy and is wearing…. "

Oh my God! I sat James Taylor in the audience!

Karen to follow me inside to the theatre and I said, "Is that him?', pointing to the tall stranger I sat in the audience.

I don’t know what the expression on my face was, but I could feel the blood draining from my body, and my dreams of career in Television rapidly turning into life as a ditch digger.

We got him backstage in time, and the show went off, as they say, without a hitch.

So today, when someone asks me what I was doing the first time I heard James Taylor sing Fire and Rain, I know. Believe me, I know!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Booking Steven Spielberg...

Very few people outside the film industry knew who Steven Spielberg was in 1976. But everyone knew the film he directed, the blockbuster Jaws.

I was standing near the entrance to the Universal Studios Tour waiting to meet him to film a Kidworld interview, when it occurred to me I had no idea what he looked like. I guess it was the panicked look in my eyes and the clipboard that gave me away. I turned around and heard, ‘Are you Rusty?” It was Steven Spielberg.

What I think makes this story interesting is how I booked Steven Spielberg for the show, what happened after the interview…and later that night.

It’s hard to describe the impact that Jaws had in Hollywood. Everyone was talking about it. And there were ‘Steven Spielberg’ sightings all over town. The stories were amazing. There were actually people impersonating him all over town; trying to get seats at Chasens, pitch projects and other bizarre stories.

I got a call that Steven Spielberg wanted to be interviewed for the TV show I was working on at the time called KidsWorld. Stars loved the show. It was a kid’s version of 60 Minutes. Stars were interviewed by 10-12 year old kids, and we went to their homes or offices so it was convenient, fun and great exposure.

Getting Steven Spielberg for KidsWorld would be a great booking, but I was skeptical because of all the stories, so I called his office at Universal and sure enough it was a bogus request. But when I told his secretary about the show and how easy it would be she thought he might like doing it. Sure enough, she called back and said yes. I suggested we do it at the Jaws stage (which was being constructed as an attraction on the tour) and that we’d meet at the tour entrance. Booking confirmed. I called everyone with the good news.

We decided to shoot the interview on the Orca. Little did I know that it was one of the actual production boats used in the filming. It was the first time that he had been down to this area and had been on the boat.

He went inside the cabin, where he said the cast and crew had all signed their names - Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Steven Spielberg. The look in his eyes said it all.

Someone had painted over the inside of the cabin and all the signatures were erased. They spend endless hours on this small little boat and now this personal tribute was gone.

He was obviously upset. We shot right on the boat, and he was just great with the young girl doing the interview. They talked about what he was like as a kid, and how he started in the movie business. He answered all her questions about filming the shark, who I later found out he named Bruce, after his lawyer!

When we finished he got up and I am sure made a few phone calls.

A few hours later I went to the premiere of A Star is Born in Westwood. After the screening, we walked down a red carpet that was two city blocks, lined with over 100 Klieg lights, marking our way to the premiere party at Dillons, a hot new club in Westwood.

The place was packed. The Hollywood elite gathered to celebrate. Sitting at well guarded table in the VIP section on the 3rd floor was Steven Spielberg. He called me over and introduced me to the film’s star, Barbra Streisand. What a way to end the day, December 18, 1976.

I never knew who called pretending to be Steven Spielberg, but I am glad I had the chance to work with the real one.

PS. I booked Steven once more for the ABC Show Kids Are People Too. (I loved working on kid’s shows). He was a much bigger deal by then, and it wasn’t as easy to this time. But he remembered me and said yes. I met him at the gate at the ABC Prospect studios, and he was upset. His dog was sick and he really needed to get home. We pushed the segment, and as expected he was warm and inspiring talking with kids.

By that time, everyone knew who he was.