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Daily Buzzkills: Funeral Friday

Congratulations on making it to the end of another week! Unfortunately, these people didn’t: Light a candle for Funeral Friday.

A veteran of the vaudeville circuit who, as one half of the tap dancing duo Cook And Brown, shuffled across the same stages as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Lena Horne, Ernest “Brownie” Brown headlined all over the world at venues like Radio City Music Hall, Paris’ Latin Club, and the legendary Cotton Club. Brown was the short (at only 4-feet-9-inches), slapstick-happy foil to straight man Charles “Cooky” Cook, coming up with physically demanding dance routines that bordered on acrobatics, including his trademark “cane dance.” Cook And Brown performed together from the 1930s through the 1970s (Cook died in 1991), and later Brown helped to found famed traveling dance troupe The Original Copasetics, which—along with the efforts of Gregory Hines, we guess, and that one episode of The Cosby Show where Bill Cosby squares off against Rudy’s teacher—helped keep tap dancing alive throughout the 1980s and beyond. Last year, Cook And Brown were inducted into the American Tap Dance Foundation’s hall of fame, and Brown continued to tour and teach with his younger protégé, Reggio “The Hoofer” McLaughlin. He’s also the subject of a forthcoming documentary from filmmaker Scott Stearns, who reported Brown’s death this week at the age of 93.

Tasked with one of the most difficult vocal parts to pull off successfully for a post-pubescent non-eunuch, doo-wop singer John E. Carter hit all the right, high notes as a founding member of The Flamingos and later with The Dells. His soaring falsetto topped the charts only a handful of times with The Dells (including “There Is,” “Stay In My Corner,” and “Oh, What A Night”), but it’s his work with The Flamingos that many fans have belatedly pointed to as some of the best the doo-wop era had to offer, thanks primarily to Carter’s lead—particularly the slow, ethereal “Golden Teardrops” and “I’ll Be Home,” which had its chance at crossover success stolen by none other than Pat fucking Boone. And while Carter wasn’t on The Flamingos’ most famous hit, “I Only Have Eyes For You,” he can be seen performing with them in the seminal Alan Freed Film, Rock, Rock, Rock! He was also the only surviving member of the band to be around when it was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Fame in 2001, and he repeated the honor again when it was The Dells’ turn in 2004. Carter died this week at the age of 75.

Bread keyboardist Larry Knechtel enjoyed a brief string of soft-rock hits after joining the band in the early ’70s, when America was in the throes of its A.M. Gold rush, but his legacy encompasses far more than that. His music career began as part of Duane Eddy’s The Rebels, which eventually led him to Hollywood and a decades-long gig as an in-demand session musician. Phil Spector first employed him as a pianist to help him create his “Wall Of Sound” technique, and it was on the piano that he made his most lauded, lasting performance, playing on and arranging Simon And Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” for which he received a Grammy. Looking at the list of his session work is like reading a greatest-hits compilation of the ’60s: He played keyboards on The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, played bass on The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man,” contributed to most of The Mamas And Papas’ albums, and sat in on Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special. (A very partial list of all the artists Knechtel recorded with in his lifetime: Elvis Costello, Neil Diamond, Fats Domino, The Doors, The 5th Dimension, Jerry Garcia, Billy Joel, Henry Mancini, The Monkees, Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Roy Orbison, The Partridge Family, Johnny Rivers, Steppenwolf, Barbara Streisand, Tina Turner, Conway Twitty, Townes Van Zandt, and Hank Williams, Jr.) Most recently, Knechtel had been working with producer Rick Rubin and had performed on the Dixie Chicks’ Grammy-winning Taking The Long Way, as well as touring with them. Knechtel died this week of a heart attack at the age of 69.

There’s only one Jerry Lewis—and even when there were briefly two, the original Jerry Lewis did everything he could to make sure the second one suffered for it. As a Jerry Lewis look-alike who impersonated the comedian most of his adult life, Sammy Petrillo was a constant thorn in Lewis’ side, a wannabe actor who discovered after a particularly unflattering haircut that he resembled one of the most popular entertainers in the nation and immediately set about turning it to his advantage. When he was only 16, Petrillo used his resemblance to Lewis to talk his way into a meeting with Milton Berle, who then set up a sit-down with Lewis himself; after initially giving the kid a hard time, Lewis reluctantly agreed to cast Petrillo to play his baby on the Colgate Comedy Hour. After Variety wrote about it positively, Lewis signed Petrillo to the MCA talent agency, promising Petrillo he would find him more work. After many months of inactivity, however, Petrillo began to suspect something more underhanded: Lewis had signed Petrillo specifically to keep him on the shelf, and away from his own career. Eventually, Petrillo's father got him released from his contract while he was still a minor, and after a few more minor TV appearances, Petrillo moved to Los Angeles, where he soon hooked up with nightclub singer Duke Mitchell, known for his smooth, Dean Martin-like baritone.


For several years, Petrillo and Mitchell peddled their Martin And Lewis impressions on the nightclub circuit, much to the original duo’s ire. After they appeared in the cheap B-movie Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla, Martin And Lewis briefly considered suing them, but threw their power around in different ways, telling nightclubs they would boycott anyone who booked their impersonators. Similar intimidation tactics got Petrillo And Mitchell blacklisted from playing the Colgate Comedy Hour, when Lewis called hosts Abbot And Costello, outraged, and demanded they be removed from the studio. Petrillo And Mitchell dissolved their partnership not long after Martin And Lewis dissolved theirs, and Petrillo continued to tour and pop up in movies—primarily soft-core sexploitation and other low-budget fare like Shangri-La, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, and the sadly uncompleted Gas Is Best, about a superhero who flies by drinking celery tonic and farting. He also dabbled in TV and music, writing a treatment for what eventually became The Munsters, and penning the lyrics for the Isley Brothers' "Angels Cried." By the 1990s, he’d moved to Pittsburgh, where he ran the comedy club The Nut House, emceed shows for porn stars, and helped mentor comics like Dennis Miller and Richard Pryor. Lewis reportedly never got over his anger at Petrillo—though to be fair, this wasn't helped by incidents like a 1982 Today show interview with Bryant Gumbel, where Gumbel introduced Lewis using a clip of Petrillo—and according to Petrillo’s agent, he even tried to have Petrillo forcibly removed from his front-row seat at a speaking engagement that Lewis was giving last year. Petrillo died two weeks ago at the age of 74, finally freeing Jerry Lewis from decades of apparent torment.

Have a super weekend!


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