ON TV WITH JACKIE GLEASON.
I’m never tense during a live stage show.
I’m always a wreck on TV shows.
What makes the difference is this: Control.
At a stage performance we can instruct the sound guys,
get the equipment set up just right,
and have the lighting the way we want it.
And, most importantly, it’s our show.
We can read the audience and set the pace accordingly.
We’re in control.
On a TV show,
we have to stand on a tape mark that somebody else put there,
and usually I can’t hear myself sing
because the monitors are set for the normal human voice.
I don’t own a normal human voice.
For one thing, I sing lead in the bass range,
which most TV engineers don’t understand.
It’s somebody else’s show.
Some directors like you to play to the cameras, and some don’t.
They never tell you which.
In a show we did with Ralph Emery on TNN,
I was standing on my mark,
singing by the seat of my pants because I couldn’t hear myself.
When a camera red light would go on, I’d play to that one,
and the director would immediately switch to another camera.
I played eye tag with the cameras through most of the song,
and never won a round.
Misty is calm on TV.
Her voice can cut through a brass band.
She doesn’t care about the sound monitors,
because she can just sing louder.
I have often wanted to hide behind her.
She doesn’t concern herself with finding her tape mark on the floor,
but usually gets to it okay.
I’m like Sherlock Holmes looking for a clue.
To me, the worst was a show we did with Jackie Gleason,
Mike Douglas, and Frank Fontaine,
live from the Miami Beach Auditorium.
We had to show up for rehearsal at about noon.
We had special orchestra charts written for the occasion,
and we’d never heard them before.
While we were rehearsing,
Jackie Gleason and Mike Douglas were sitting in the fifth row,
My tension started to build.
Then there was a four or five hour wait until the show started.
Plenty of time to relax, right? Wrong!
Plenty of time to get my panic into high gear!
We were backstage talking to Gleason
when he was introduced with a fanfare.
He stood behind the curtain for a hundred count
while the applause gained momentum,
then he walked briskly onstage.
He didn’t want to step on his applause,
and he didn’t want it to die down.
His perfect timing told him the exact second to make his appearance.
I was impressed.
Jackie Gleason wasn’t anything like Ralph Kramden.
He was intelligent and dignified,
wearing a dark blue suit with a flower in the lapel.
When Misty and I were introduced,
we walked briskly out from behind the curtain,
and she walked right past our mark to a wrong one
about eight feet farther front.
My panic gong rang. She didn’t even notice.
The directors and camera crew had to move fast to find her.
I had no choice but follow her to my doom.
I looked like cross-eyed rabbit caught in the headlights.
When I go into a real panic
my voice goes up into Dolly Parton’s range.
I have never sung worse, or looked stupider.
Misty and the orchestra sounded great.
The directors and camera crew looked at us with venom,
but I was the only one who noticed.
Misty still thinks the show went nicely,
so I’m alone in my embarrassment.
After we did our fiasco,
Jackie and Mike led the applause, and we sat down to talk.
This part was where I hope I redeemed myself
by debating spiritualism with Jackie Gleason for twelve minutes.
I let him win.
We have a videotape of it somewhere around here,
but I’ve just never felt up to looking for it.
I hate watching myself on TV.
I’d rather eat bugs than go through it again.