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Saturday, February 18, 2012

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 Jersey marquees --- Petrillo and Perkovic!). There were samples from their joke trunk reminiscent of back pages in Scholastic Readers we'd been issued during fifth grade (Sammy liked his humor clean --- well, good for him). Still a willing mimic of both Jerry and Bela, Sammy was like a time-traveler touching down on hotel ballrooms to give glimpse of what stand-up had long-ago been. I wouldn't trade encountering him with any celebrity alive or gone.

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 Valley Of The Dragons. So how do we justify time spent with these? My boast of having met Sammy Petrillo wouldn't excuse my watching him now. Must ours be a secret order of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla fans?

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?).

Part Two of Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla is HERE.


Blogger Arizona's Little Hollywood said...

I became acquainted with Huntz Hall back in the '80s and was thrilled to hear his stories about Bela Lugosi, and in particular, his visit to the Brooklyn Gorilla set. Huntz said Lugosi was miserable that day because he hated the film and despised working with Mitchell and Petrillo, whom he described as "scum." What a bummer! Apparently, Duke and Sammy thought it was funny to constantly torment Bela and the great man was feeling quite disrespected because of it.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I have always had a great love for Bela Lugosi. Whatever he played he invested it with conviction, sincerity and that little something extra from himself defined as star quality.

His opening lines from MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, "I am Dr. Mirakle and I am not a sideshow charlatan," were thrilling when I first heard them and are thrilling now.

I once ran that film for a couple of fellows I had just met who had, to my surprise, never heard of Bela.

"WOW!" they said when the film was done.

Hollywood being Hollywood the miracle is that so much was done that is really good even if so little of it is first rate.


12:53 PM  
Anonymous Jon said...

I am afraid we must politely disagree on the appeal of Sammy and Duke and of "Brooklyn Gorilla." I found none in either the gentlemen or the picture.

8:53 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon shares some interesting info about Sammy Petrillo's ... father! (Part One)

Hi John,

I saw "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla" as a kid, and only because I could not believe that title! At this distance (well over 40 years), I frankly can't remember very much about it. However, even then---though I was a bit too late to be bitten by the Martin & Lewis bug (and never have been since!)---I was certainly impressed by Petrillo's incarnation of Lewis. You are no doubt aware of the fact that Petrillo's dady, whose name I believe was Joe, was the president of the American Federation of Musicians (and this is an approximation---I do a lot of qualifying and copping out!) He's the guy who declared that big strike in the earlier part of 1958 which forced many a Hollywood film score to be recorded someplace else---some in Mexico, some in England, some in Germany. As a result, two of Bernard Herrmann's best-remembered works were recorded abroad: "Vertigo" first, and "7th Voyage of Sinbad", second. "Vertigo" was underway in England when, as the story goes, the English musicians decided to go out in support of the American federation! That's a real surprise, and I'm sure the American producers groaned. The balance of the score [for "Vertigo"] was purportedly recorded in Germany. As far as I know, the cues that had been recorded in England were in stereo, and the balance done in Germany were mono, to add to the curiosity and arcana. The would-be 'restorers' of "Vertigo" stumbled across these in a vault at Paramount and decided they HAD to incorporate them into the film itself, which they were then in the process of spiffing-up for the new copyright holder, Universal. They did not have a clean effects track, however---only a mono music & effects----so in order to lay in the 'new' [only partial!] stereo tracks, they had no alternative then but to re-record the effects or 'Foley'. This decision cost them a lot of grief later on when big fans of "Vertigo"---and I know you are not in that hothouse!---complained about the Foley track more than they appreciated the stereo music stems. I feel just the opposite, but my pal Brad Arrington has recently brought up a good point, which is that certain of Herrmann's cues that were dubbed very quietly in the original '58 release version were re-recorded at a much higher level in the 'restored' version, and not to improved effect. Sometimes it just doesn't pay to be a savior! But Robert Harris has made it his life's quest. (His restoration of "Spartacus" is somewhat controversial, too; he also 'saved' "My Fair Lady". The Blu-ray reissues of both these restorations were not well-received, but it's a moot point whether this reflects on the film restorations themselves, or on the transfers.)

9:29 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

More from Craig Reardon:

I once met Tab Hunter when I would sometimes catch a job working on tapings at the Merv Griffin Show, which used to tape at a theater Merv owned on Vine Street called the TAV Theater. (As a makeup artist, in case that's not obvious!) Tab was a nice guy, and I told him how much I enjoyed watching "Damn Yankees!" as a kid, when it used to be on the Million Dollar Movie, and that meant seeing it every night at 7:30 PM, if you had a mind to. Hunter explained that they had to go to Mexico to record the underscore and the songs for that picture, because it fell within the bracket of Petrillo's big musician's strike. So, there's another one. At least one Dimitri Tiomkin score I know of had to be recorded somewhere other than Hollywood and was done in Rome, Italy, for the Western "The Unforgiven". It has a beautiful, somewhat echoing sound to it, or a terrible echoing sound to it, depending upon how the sound of the venue strikes you (I believe it was actually recorded in a church!) No doubt many big and still-remembered films were done this way which were released between '58 and '59. I don't know the inception and duration of the strike. Herrmann's "...Sinbad" was taken to Germany, officially. However, I've heard a rumor---which may or may not be true (just as in my mind 'truth' is not always the same as 'fact'!)----that Herrmann 'fudged' on this one and went to England to record "7th Voyage..." at Shepperton Studios. I have no idea! Whoever conducted it and wherever it was performed, and by whatever ensemble of musicians, it's a fine job, and it's been a favorite of fantasy fans ever since, particularly those who were galvanized by the film itself and the musical score during its Christmas release in '58.

There was once an entertaining inteview in Filmfax or some such magazine, with Huntz Hall, who was anything but the doofus he typically played in his outings with the Dead End Kids/Bowery Boys. In this interview he spoke of running into Bela Lugosi at Monogram or wherever they ground out "...Brooklyn Gorilla". Hall had known Lugosi from earlier outings with him with the Bowery Boys, and he described him to the interviewer as being very funny (!) He remembered asking him what were Mitchell and Petrillo like? He said Lugosi, somewhat distracted, suddenly focused and spat out, "Oh, THEM! They are scum!" Hall obviously found this vastly amusing!

However, it would seem from your memories of meeting an older and wiser (?) Sammy Petrillo that he was hardly scum. One can appreciate that all Lugosi had left at that point in his life were scraps of his pride. It sounds like Petrillo, at almost the same age Lugosi must have been, was a pleasant guy who was comfortable with his life. Good for him---and good for you, for putting in a good word for him, in Greenbriar.


9:30 AM  
Blogger citizenkanne said...

Thanks Mr. McElwee & Mr. Reardon for pointing out the link between Sammy Petrillo and the Petrillo (first name Julius?) of the powerful musicians union. Can't believe I missed that connection! Didn't the senior Petrillo also call a strike against radio shows using recorded music in the 1940s? Fred Allen mentions him in his Gilbert & Sullivan spoofs "The Radio Mikado" and "The Hollywood Mikado". Allen has to get permission for the music from "Petrillo" to the tune of "Titwillow". Bugs Bunny even refers to him in a cartoon where he becomes an organ grinder (with a gorilla!) by looking straight at the camera to say, "I sure hope Petrillo doesn't hear about this!"

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Kevin K. said...

Describing Duke Mitchell as "growling" those songs is spot-on. When the gorilla starts singing "Deed I Do" you can hardly tell them apart.

5:43 PM  
Blogger citizenkanne said...

After checking Wikipedia, it doesn't seem like James Petrillo and Sammy Petrillo were related. Certainly not father and son, and Sammy even changed his last name slightly. Makes sense, I guess. Sammy probably would have had a bigger show biz career if his dad was the head of the musicians union. Didn't "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla" get released (or re-released) under some other titles? And did anybody besides Lugosi, Karloff, Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, and John Malkovich(!!) ever get their name used as part of the official title of a film they were acting in?

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Jon said...

With all due respect to Craig Reardon, his information is incorrect. Sammy Petrillo was not related to James Petrillo, longtime head of the American Federation of Musicians. James Petrillo is best remembered for the 1942 strike that kept musicians out of recording studios for up to two years. (Some labels came to terms with the union much sooner than others.) He called a similar strike in 1948 that was much shorter-lived.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I enjoy BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA and don't mind saying so. Ted Okuda and I interviewed him for Filmfax years ago and he was delightful. He recalled that he and Duke Mitchell were mainly nightclub performers, and when BROOKLYN GORILLA came out they wrote Lugosi into their act!

11:18 AM  
Anonymous r,j, said...

My oldest friend on earth is a boy, who I guess is no longer a boy, named Alan Duke. We went all thru school in Beverly Hills together, and I still run into him occasionally. Anyway, his father Maurice Duke produced the Lugoai pic. Morrie Duke was a great guy and very-much a larger-than-life "Hollywood character" of the old school, much like my Dad's old friend Bill Castle, so Alan and I came from very similar backgrounds.

It's a funny thing but the last time I ran-into Morrie, shortly before his passing, he and Alan were having lunch at a popular westside spot called "Hugo's" and we had a very pleasant reunion. I remember I took the opportunity of asking him about the film and if he had any memories of Bela. Oh yes, he said, everyone on the project was very-much in awe of him and deferred to him with great respect. That's coming from the film's producer so he should have known! Alan, btw, stayed close to the film business, having been a lawyer for both Disney and Fox, I believe.



7:32 AM  
Blogger Paul Castiglia said...

So I hadn't checked the Greenbriar site in a few days and imagine my surprise when I log on to find John is a fellow champion of "Brooklyn Gorilla" and Sammy Petrillo. I have to admit, in many ways it is my favorte Jerry Lewis film.

If you want to know why, I invite you to check out my review of the film at my blog to book project, "Scared Silly: Classic Hollywood Horror-Comedies." You can read it at

While you're there you can access an alphabetical listing of all the film reviews I've posted to date on the right-hand side of the page.

Thanks, John for giving "Brooklyn Gorilla" and Sammy a little low. It's out there in pockets, and I think both the film and Sammy are deserving of more than the usual dismissal they receive.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Paul Castiglia said...

Oh, my - typo city in my previous comment! That should be "favorite" and "love" (not sure how you can give a film or a person "low" after all)... ;) While I'm at it, you can read my own personal remembrance of meeting Sammy Petrillo at

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

John is a fellow champion of "Brooklyn Gorilla" and Sammy Petrillo. I have to admit, in many ways it is my favorte Jerry Lewis film.

Smells like ... flamebait.

2:52 PM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

A couple of years ago, I was out of town so missed a rare screening of Duke Mitchell's "Gone with the Pope."

Trailer is here:

I still regret missing this.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Paul Castiglia said...

Hey Chris - not "flamebait." I really do like the film... I find it (and Sammy) oddly compelling. It's just my personal opinion, not "flamebait." By contrast, I have to be in the mood for the real Jerry's comedy films (again, just my personal preference/opinion). I enjoy Martin & Lewis' "Artists & Models" because of the subject matter and director Frank Tashlin and I thought Jerry was actually excellent in "King of Comedy." But I really am compelled by Sammy as I explain in my book's review of "Brooklyn Gorilla." I guess it's half, "I can't believe what I'm seeing/hearing" but still, there's no denying the frenetic energy that Petrillo exudes in the film.

10:03 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon follows up, with some links, on the Sammy/James Petrillo discussion:

Hi John,

Well, once again I must sit down to a little snack of crow. Brad Arrington sent me the link (below) to the Wikipedia entry about Sammy Petrillo, and lo and behold, his father was NOT James Petrillo, the head of the American Federation of Musicians (the actual and proper name of of musician's union.) Sammy's birth name, it says, was Sammy Patrello, and his father's name was Abraham! I can but lamely state that I'd heard or read the info about Petrillo, the comic, being the son of Petrillo, the powerful union leader, and it stuck. However, I hope you'll run this retraction and apology to your always very enthusiastic readers, of whom I'm one.


5:33 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I Love THE MASK OF FU MANCHU. Wish those early Parmounts would surface.

5:20 PM  
Anonymous fredde duke said...

I certainly like the big, long, overdue shout-out to the late Sammy Petrillo. He was truly a nice man and deserves it. But what you should know is that my father, Maurice Duke, was the one to “brainstorm” the idea of making the movie “Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.” Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were a box office sensation and my dad thought he could make a “Martin & Lewis movie” with impersonators Mitchell & Petrillo. My dad was also their manager. He approached Jack Broder and Herman Cohen with the idea and the movie was “greenlighted.” Jerry Lewis was so freaked at the thought that these knock-offs might steal his audience, my dad saw an opportunity: he figured he could make a bigger score if he got Martin & Lewis producer Hal Wallis to buy his film and destroy the negative. It might have worked, but Wallis & Lewis managed to get a peek at it. After seeing “Brooklyn Gorilla,” Lewis said, “Go and ahead and release it and good luck to you.” The plan fizzled, but at least we’ve still got “Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.”

7:43 PM  
Anonymous r.j. said...

What a great kick it was to read the comment by Freddie Duke just now! If she reads this please send my best to your brother. (And I enjoyed reading her linked-posts as well! Brought back a lot of memories.)

John, who'd have thunk that this seemingly innocuous little piece on a late Lugosi, etc. film would turn, for a least one of your faithful-followers, into "old home week"?

With particular thanks,


12:43 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Delighted to hear from a Maurice Duke family member --- and RJ, thanks as always for sharing your own Duke connection.

6:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a family memeber of Sammy Petrillo, I just would like to thank everyone for their comments and for the correction on who his father was. Thank you John McElwee for doing a wonderful blog on Sammy Petrillo. Sammy was a person that would give you everything he had to help you..I will make sure the family will see it.
Thank you again.

9:44 AM  
Anonymous Laughing Gravy said...

I like the film well enough, as 1950s Lugosi movies go, y'know. I recall Michael Weldon of Psychotronic Video magazine saying that if this were an ACTUAL Martin & Lewis film, it'd be one of their best, and I agree with him. Sammy doesn't make my skin crawl, the way... uh... some wild juvenile comics do.

2:29 PM  

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