Duke and Sammy Go Ape! --- Part One
Somewhere during the nineties, Mike Cline and I ventured up to another Meadowlands, New Jersey confab where celebs who'd finished in Gotham exchanged what was left of name recognition plus an autograph for fame's momentary renewal and maybe a ten-spot from middle-agers (like us) who still cared. Into this garden of wilting flora came Sammy Petrillo, late (very late) of a comic team that fifty years earlier photo-finished Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Sammy's partner Duke Mitchell having filled club dates in the beyond since 1981. Petrillo got a table because he and Duke once did a movie (in 1952), their only starring movie, with horror icon and off-screen epic tragedian Bela Lugosi. That alone made Sammy's ink and handshake valued currency.
I'm not of those who'd call Mitchell/Petrillo pathetic and no-talented for carving careers from Dean/Jerry stone. Sammy in Meadowlands twilight was among nicest guys I met who'd once known of-a-sort stardom (certainly nicer than I'd expect Jerry Lewis to be). He was proud of what career there'd been and generous with anecdotage. Still working in a coarsened 90's (and in his 70's), Sam handed me flyers for an act he and partner Suzie Perkovic (what a great handle for
The last survivor of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla might have died a few months ago if you choose to believe Cheetah obits that declared him the genuine article and veteran of endless soundstage safaris. Others of the crew and sideline participating have departed but did leave impressions of a nine-day shoot in May 1952 that cost somewhere north, but not by much, of $50,000 (or was it $100K, as some claimed?). Each were tied to low-budget and exploitation filmmaking. Herman Cohen and Alex Gordon reminiscence was included in last year's published A Sci-Fi Swarm and Horror Horde, a standout interview collection by genre expert Tom Weaver (get this book if you haven't --- it's a fab read).
Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla was brainstormed by Jack Broder, whose Realart Pictures began life reissuing Universal vaulties, including many with Bela Lugosi. Jack and his brother got rich mining horrors back to 1931's Dracula, theirs a one-shop for budget bills and drive-ins that didn't care from age of product. Lugosi stayed a name in the Broder household, for groceries he indirectly supplied, if not current value of a faded rep. How badly washed out was Bela by '52? Laughs at his expense via TV comics enabled a title change once Lugosi was set --- April's announced Women Of The Lost Jungle became May's Bela Lugosi Meets The Gorilla Man. Odds are eight to five that Bela wins the decision, jested Variety. At least, it will be easier than meeting Abbott and Costello. Not so, as things turned out ...
Ann ventured to my viewing cave as Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla unspooled and asked, Is that Jerry Lewis? --- a question tens of thousands might have put forward over a past sixty years, in her case followed by, How could Bela Lugosi have done a picture like this? That second I barely answered short of turning to see she'd left (and there I was happy to continue the lecture for what was left of BLMBG's run time). Concern had already risen for my earlier sitting through Attack Of The Crab Monsters and
I confess liking it more than even before, having firmly switched loyalties from Dean and Jerry to Duke and Sammy. Given acquaintance of real-life guys named Duke, I'd gladly go Hey, Dookie! when approaching one, but alas ... don't know any. Sammy said he was seventeen when the pic was made. I was still waiting for a first shave at that age. He's got Lewis down to a split-hair. No wonder the McCoy blew fuses and tried suing. Dino was more sanguine re Duke. Wish there were CD's of the latter growling Deed I Do and Too Soon from Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. Indeed, platters couldn't be had even in 1952. Ones who'd call BLMBG "So Bad It's Good" doubtless fall short of others who'd just stop at "So Bad" --- but all must admit it's a slick (just over a) week's work. Real pros behind scenes knew how to max out dollars spent. Director William Beaudine had done silents back to 1915 and guided Mary Pickford besides. Image's first-quality DVD gets the most out of nicely photographed sound stage jungles (why do I prefer these over locationing real thing?).