Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Driving Miss Zsa Zsa

Who started this trend? Celebrities being interviewed in cars? Jerry Seinfeld drives around the White House backyard with President Obama. James Corden tools around London singing and chatting with Adele (which, if you haven’t yet seen, treat yourself). These road trips are fun but a little unnerving. Corden takes his hands off the wheel frequently. I’m guessing (hoping) the car is actually being towed because I’d hate to think he kills Adele because he’s trying to hit a high note on “Hello.” (On the other hand it would’ve been great if Obama had knocked over a birdbath or something on the White House lawn. Hey, how often does he drive these days?)

But it got me thinking – what celebrities have been in my car? Zsa Zsa Gabor and Moe Howard. Does that qualify me for getting my own show? This was when I was a student at UCLA. We had a closed-circuit TV talk show and my job was to chauffer guests. I talk about this in my memoir (on sale now). I had an old Mustang. Moe sat in the front during my journey with him, but Zsa Zsa got in the backseat, as if my dented Ford was a limo.

So what did I talk about with them? Remember I was in college at the time. I asked them both dating tips. Think about how pathetic my social life was that I was seeking advice on women from Zsa Zsa Gabor and a Stooge.

I never toted around a Commander-in-Chief but I did have two singers. I drove Linda Eder to her hotel once and then there’s Darlene Koldenhoven. Not Adele but Linda won STAR SEARCH and is phenomenal (Barbra Streisand at affordable prices), and Darlene has a Grammy. Darlene is also the lead singer on the KRTH jingles. It’s weird being in the car with her, a jingle will come on the air and she’ll sing along with it. Ohmygod! The radio just came alive! (If only that were true when a Katy Perry record came on.)

During the first year of CHEERS I drove Shelley Long home on some filming nights. That was great. She had wonderful stories of doing furniture commercials in Chicago and breaking into the business. Then one night she talked about her acting process. She could teach a master class on that subject. It’s fascinating how great actors project such ease while below the surface wheels and gears are turning left and right. That’s a skill set I really admire – probably because I have absolutely no aptitude for it.

Okay, this is a weird one. Rush Limbaugh. Very early in Rush’s national radio career, David and I had a pilot with a character similar to Rush. He was doing his show from LA one week and we arranged to get lunch with him as research. You probably won’t believe this, but he was a great guy (back then). He was charming and candid. Probably underneath all the bravado and bullshit he still is. It’s been 25 years since I’ve seen him.

I got to drive Jerry Coleman from San Diego to Anaheim for a game when we were both broadcasting for the Padres. In addition to being a hall-of-fame announcer, Jerry was also a great ballplayer for the Yankees when teammates included Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Again, not Adele, but to me Jerry Coleman was a GOD.

So there it is. A rather eclectic bunch. Looking back, I probably could have had more. I think my mistake was asking them to pay for gas.

42 comments:

Xwordz said...

Cliff Clavin would have loved this as a source of a Jeopardy category - "Who are 3 celebrities who DID drive in Ken Levine's car?"

Dan said...

When I was in college in the early '80s I was part of the group that arranged speakers. When Broadway great Geoffrey Holder came to campus I was his driver (with a friend along for the ride). Picked him up at the airport and he had me exit the highway to buy Popeye's chicken for the three of us. Nice guy, and engaging speaker.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Holder

Igor said...

Ken wrote: "(On the other hand it would’ve been great if Obama had knocked over a birdbath or something on the White House lawn. Hey, how often does he drive these days?)"

How did they not do that???

Andrew said...

I used to listen to Rush in the early-to-mid 90's. He was really enjoyable and entertaining. He didn't take himself so seriously, and offered some great commentary on the Clinton years. It's too bad that he went off the rails, because he clearly was a talented man.

On this subject, Ken, would you consider Rush to be a positive or negative influence when it comes to radio? I don't mean in a political context. I just wonder if you think (as many seem to) that Limbaugh deserves credit for reviving AM and talk radio.

Andrew said...

I used to listen to Rush in the early-to-mid 90's. He was really enjoyable and entertaining. He didn't take himself so seriously, and offered some great commentary on the Clinton years. It's too bad that he went off the rails, because he clearly was a talented man.

On this subject, Ken, would you consider Rush to be a positive or negative influence when it comes to radio? I don't mean in a political context. I just wonder if you think (as many seem to) that Limbaugh deserves credit for reviving AM and talk radio.

Mike said...

As I recall, the encounter with Zsa Zsa went south when you handed her the crash helmet.

An early instance of chat chez auto: Robert Llewellyn (Kryten, the android from Red Dwarf) interviewing the likes of Stephen Fry & Jonathan Ross in Carpool (UK, 2009-), predating Seinfeld. Happily driving in traffic while holding down an intelligent conversation. I'd settle for either of those abilities.

And the sitcom Peter Kay's Car Share (UK, 2015-), a very effective two-hander (no sniggering).

Roseann said...

Dan!- When I was working at the Yale Repertory Theatre fresh out of college I too had Geoffrey Holder in my car which was a red Volkswagen Beetle. He sat next to me in the front seat and I looked down to see that his giant shoes filled up the total space on the floor of the passenger seat. It make me laugh. He was very gracious and I will never forget that ride to the railroad station.

AlaskaRay said...

I'm fairly certain I had a famous TV/film writer named Ken Levine in my car more than once, but I'm not sure if he ever got on the back of my motorcycle. He got to drive me around a few times, also. How come he doesn't mention that in his blog.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Will somebody please explain to me who James Corden is? I've never heard of this guy before and don't understand how he came to replace Craig Ferguson. Granted, at least he's not another SNL castmember who was just given a show on a silver platter like Jimmy Fallon, Seth Myers, Amy Poehler (showrunning a new sitcom on NBC), or Rachel Dratch (has a cable sketch show now).

John Hammes said...

Zsa Zsa was a familiar panelist on "Take A Good Look", 1959-61...

Ken, that makes you one degree separated from Ernie Kovacs.

:)

Pumphouse said...

No stories from your time with Moe Howard? Did he use his front seat position to poke you in the eyes? (Just kidding, I bet he was a sweetheart).

Dan Reese said...

I don't think I've ever had anyone famous in my car, but I can name several famous people who have never been in my kitchen.

Ron Rettig said...

My twin was an NBC page in Burbank in the late '60s. He was asked if he had a car and replied he did; he was sent by Johnny Carson Tonight Show to pick-up Ed Ames, who played Mingo on the Daniel Boone series. NBC did not ask what kind of car my brother had, he had an old VW. Ed Ames was gracious to my brother but not pleased with NBC for his transportation arrangements. I do not know if this was the time Ames demonstrated tomahawk throwing!

Unknown said...

Most scary ride of my life with a celebrity was with Rush also. He was driving, and he kept going to the left, didn't care if anyone was near him....

Victor Velasco said...

Dating tips, huh? How did that go?

"Give her diamonds, dahlink"

"Spread out!"

Jason said...

"Most scary ride of my life with a celebrity was with Rush also. He was driving, and he kept going to the left"

That seems highly unlikely.

Howard Hoffman said...

If you're looking for unnerving, download Periscope and watch some of what goes on in L.A. One guy, comedian Brody Stevens, broadcasts his drives from the valley to the Comedy Store, and it's horrifying. He plows down the 101 while blasting music and using the steering wheel as a drum kit...WITH DRUMSTICKS...all the while fiddling with the phone. Yikes.

benson said...

@Andrew

Ken, I'm sure you knew or knew of John Rook, a legendary radio programmer who just died last week. I remember Mr. Rook writing on Facebook after Rush's incident with the college girl. He said what Rush needs is a program director. Someone to reel him in when he starts going off those rails.

I wonder how many famous folks were in Rush's car in the early 80's when he was a PR flack for the KC Royals. I know he's buds with George Brett, probably more Royals, too.

The only famous person that I can think of giving a ride in my car was former California Angels manager and pitching coach Marcel Lachemann.

Greg Ehrbar said...

I once drove none other than Barbie in my car.

Epcot was doing a live Barbie stage show, and we were doing an interview in what was supposed to be the luxurious "Barbie Mobile" but it was actually my own Chevy Cavalier. Ah! The magic of radio!

One of the questions Barbie answered was about how she spent her day...

“I like to wake up real early in the morning and get a really good breakfast and then I like to have enough time that I can take a nice bubble bath before I start the shows ‘cause we have such a long day, that I just like to sit in the bubble bath for a while. Sometimes I doze off and Skipper has to wake me up (laughs).”

Jeff Maxwell said...

I was visiting a friend who used to be a limo driver in Las Vegas. He suggested I tag along on his last job and then we'd go have dinner. His fare happened to be Dick Clark and his wife. Mr. Clark decided he wanted to pick up a colleague and coldly told me to "get out." He didn't care where I was dropped as long as I got dropped. Choking back laughs, my driver buddy dumped me off on Hooker Avenue. Luckily he came back for me before I caught something.

Pre-stroke, Dick was tan and healthy, and his voice was fun to hear in person. He was quite friendly until he told me to take a walk.

Johnny Walker said...

God, I'd love to hear Shelley Long talk about how she approached acting. There's so many amazing moments she gave to Diane. I was just watching a show last night where Carla shared a vulgarity she was proud of (I can't remember, but you can imagine). How does a character react to non-sequiturs like that? Do you look shocked, disgusted, bored? Do you laugh with the audience? Long decided to go with puzzled. It struck me as such an interesting choice, especially when you consider that she probably didn't have any assistance from the script or director.

I would LOVE to hear her talk about her craft. Could you maybe ask her to write guest blogpost? :)

As an aside, the first celebrity to drive around while interviewing other celebrities (as far as I'm aware) was Robert Llewellyn (from RED DWARF fame) in his show CARPOOL. It started in 2009 and when I saw COMEDIANS IN CARS GETTING COFFEE, it's the first thing I thought of.

Strangely, despite the growing number and popularity of these shows, Lewellyn seems to have stopped his in 2014.

For anyone who's interested, they're here: https://www.youtube.com/user/carpoolUK

Was he the first...?

brian t said...

Like Mike above, I also credit Robert Llewellyn and his Carpool series for starting the craze. Robert was an early booster of electric cars in the UK, and their quiet ride made recording conversations easier to record.

MikeK.Pa. said...


"Darlene has a Grammy." Not impressed. Jimmy Carter has two.
"In addition to being a hall-of-fame announcer, Jerry was also a great ballplayer for the Yankees" and a so-so manager. Two out of three ain't bad.
If I could go back in time, it would be to meet Moe Howard. From everything I've read, he was a very down-to-earth guy, approachable and appreciative for the college crowds that re-discovered The Three Stooges late in his life.

Liggie said...

According to a recent feature, when Corden does the "Carpool Karaoke" bits, CBS cars surround all four sides of his car, so all he has to do is stay in his lane.

Joseph, James Corden wrote and starred in the popular Britcom "Gavin and Stacey", and then won a Best Actor Tony Award for a comedy play. He followed that up with two American movies, "Once Again" (Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo) and "Into the Woods", where he sang several numbers with Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep. His ability to write, improvise comedy and sing caught the eye of CBS when Ferguson left.

Chris said...

Ken:
A big "I second the motion" to Johnny Walker's suggestion that you invite Ms. Long to guest blog. People I've driven: Oliver Stone, Peter Bart, Alec Baldwin, Alan Ladd Jr., Alexander Payne, Ian McKellan. All gracious and wonderful, and each shared at least one great story with me. I ask unusual questions.

D. McEwan said...

I've driven John Cassavettes, and on another occasion, Adela Rogers Saint John, who informed me that I was a better driver than Humphrey Bogart, perhaps the oddest compliment I've ever had. And I drove Larry "Seymour" Vincent to Knott's Berry Farm once.

D. McEwan said...

You're lucky you weren't pulled over by a cop when you had Zsa Zsa in your car. If she'd slapped the cop, you could have ended up in jail also.

And I for got, I also once drove the award-winning playwright Megan Terry to a performance. She was high on God-only-knows-what, and demanded I make a u-turn ON THE HARBOR FREEWAY! When we got to the theater I turned her over to the director. She was freaking out that the set was "All wrong!" (She had written the play, and actually, she was right about the set.) She did not see the production. The director told me: "I poured her into a cab and sent her home."

Oh, and you left one celebrity out, Ken. I happen to know that you've driven the author of My Lush Life

Anonymous said...

Shelley Long's furniture commercials were pretty good here on Chicago TV. Mostly late at night.
it's hard to argue against Rush Limbaugh's talent on radio, regardless of what you think of his politics.
He learned much of his craft listening to radio late at night in Missouri. The channel blasting out his radio after sundown was WLS, the 50,000 watt rock and roll blowtorch in Chicago. Larry Lujackt was the jock he modeled himself after. "Talent on loan from God"
"My formerly nicotine stained fingers" and some of his intros (like the one from Cheap Trashy Showbiz Report) were direct ripoffs of Unlcie Lar.

Jeff said...

Hm. I never drove anyone famous, but I did ride in an elevator with Sam Kinison in Milwaukee and wait for a flight with Robert Urich in San Antonio.

Andy Rose said...

James Corden is still not quite as nerve-wracking as watching "Cash Cab." That's the show where the host drives a New York City taxi (for real) and conducts a game show inside while driving contestants to their destination. I wouldn't want to drive in NYC under any circumstances. Ben Bailey had to host the show and attempt to be charming while staying on the correct route and listening to the producers in an earpiece prompt him on the questions.

Tom Lawrence said...

In college, I was on a committee that brought in stars for shows, and also wrote for the school newspaper. I interviewed Harry Chapin on the way to the Brookings, SD, airport. It was closed when we got there after the show, so his pilots scaled the fence.
I gave Harry a boost and he hopped over and waved as he ran for the small private plane. Great show, interview and memory.
A few years later, James "Scotty" Doohan came to SDSU up and I was among three guys who took him back to the Holiday Inn after his talk and autograph session. He invited us in for drinks and regaled us with stories for a couple hours. We were stunned when he told us how much he despised "that little prick," as he referred to William Shatner.
Again, great memory that I have written about a few times, always beaming up at the memory.
http://sdprairie.blogspot.com/2015/04/a-star-trek-fans-final-frontier.html

Diane D. said...

Let me be the third to say how wonderful it would be to have a guest blog by SHELLEY LONG, discussing her approach to acting or anything else. She's an extraordinary actress; I just recently watched the episode of CHEERS where Markie Post was a guest. Their chemistry was great and I was pondering how marvelous it would be to see them in a "buddy movie" at their current ages--they make so many of those for older men (Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson in THE BUCKET LIST), but rarely for women.

Rashad Khan said...

What about a series where you (or someone) interviews comedy professionals (comedians, actors, writers, directors, etc.) as you do your laundry at a laundromat? I'd watch!

CRL said...

I gave many car rides to a character actor named John Ciccolini, who appeared on an episode of Becker directed by Mr. Ken Levine.

It's not a celebrity story per se. I just grew up with him.

Cheers Fan said...

A Friday Q: I loved Shelley Long on Cheers and thought she was amazing. I am sure her leaving pissed off a lot of people -- after all, it was their livelihoods at stake and there was no assurance that Cheers could continue to be a hit. But in hindsight, do you think it was actually better for the show? The Sam-Diane relationship was so white hot perhaps they did everything possible and went out on top. And adding in Rebecca allowed new story lines.

And, not sure if you know, but did Shelley Long at the time have this sense? Timing is everything for an actor and though she left to pursue that elusive movie-star life, perhaps she knew the character had peaked even if others did not see it that way at the time?

Anonymous said...

I've actually helped with the filming on a few of Corden's Carpool Karaoke's, and he is in fact driving. In a recent interview, one of the EP's of the show described the process a bit: " we don’t take routes that are difficult. He’s also got two of our cars ahead of him, and three cars behind him — essentially, a convoy. So he’s moving at under 20 miles an hour, and we don’t let any other cars around him. The second thing is, the cameras are tiny. They’re about the size of your knuckle, and they’re [stuck on] the windshield. So it doesn’t really distract his view. That’s how we do it."

D. McEwan said...

Well, Ken, none of this tops your mother being driven to school by Vincent Price. That's like the best "Driving with a Celebrity" ever.

Don said...

I dunno. Yes, I think a guest blog from Ms. Long in which she discusses her approach to acting and to the character of Diane could be very interesting and informative. On the other hand, I'm not sure how much fun it would be for her to receive the inevitable flood of comments from people demanding that she agree that leaving CHEERS was the biggest career mistake of her life.

@Johnny Walker: I'm puzzled as to why you believe Long probably had no assist from writers or director in how she reacted to Carla in the scene you discuss. I find it much easier to believe that Diane's reaction was indicated in the script than to believe that Long was left to improvise it.

Andy Rose said...

And of course, we can't forget Jay Thomas' annual Letterman story about driving The Lone Ranger for a small-town radio remote.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFabfnfhIaY

Johnny Walker said...

@Don It's only a guess on my part, but from the CHEERS script I've read (and other scripts) all such reactions are the actor's domain, and essentially (in my mind) what separates someone just waiting to say their lines, and a real actor. (BTW - Diane's being puzzled wasn't the punchline to the joke, it was just her character's reaction.)

jbryant said...

Wow, I'd forgotten those Shelley Long furniture commercials. Used to see them all the time when I was managing the TV and stereo department of a music store in Western Kentucky. I remember recognizing her from them when she got Cheers.

Despite 17 years in California, I can't recall ever driving a celeb, though I made script deliveries to a few when I was a runner for six months for an animation company. Nobody huge: Super Dave Osborne, Amy Smart, Jenna Von Oy. No Moe Howard, but I did deliver something to his son's house once. Delivered to Casey and Jean Kasem once, but only saw the housekeeper.

Robert Llewellyn said...

Not that I wish to blow my own very meagre trumpet, but I was doing exactly what you describe a little earlier that either Mr Seinfeld or Mr Corden.
https://www.youtube.com/user/carpoolUK
I'm not saying it was my idea but I know both of the other chaps saw many of the 106 episodes of Carpool and thought, 'hey, I could do that.'
And why not?
So I'm just saying, Carpool was first, original and occasionally a little better.