Darrell Vickers – Ted Zeigler Part Four: It’s Always Sonny in California

By 1971, Theodore L. Zeigler’s career was at its zenith. And you could watch him on your Zenith every Sunday night by way of “The Sonny and Cher Show.” The Face that Launched a Thousand Quips quickly graduated from doing spot work on “The Andy Williams Show,” where he was caught committing acts against the laws of hibernation with Cookie Bear, to being a full-time regular on a top ten smash hit. And that’s where he met…

Murray Langston:

Murray bagged and Unbagged

It’s hard not to love and cuddle everyone’s favorite bag-wearing comedian. Even if you’re an uptight guy from England and he’s manhandling your inseam from behind in a busy restaurant while you’re waiting for him to show up for lunch. He is one of the nicest and goofiest guys you will ever meet on this green Earth or between your legs at Jerry’s Deli. But you will soon discover that “Nice” and “Wise” are two entirely different bags of bananas. For some inexplicable reason, Murray has attained success and a very comfortable life by making all the wrong decisions.

First off, he was born in Montreal – never a good thing. In his late teens, he decided that he’d like to move to the land of big cars and cheap beer. While most people would seek out prominent American citizens to offer referrals or sponsorship and slog through the drawn-out process of formally applying, Murray simply joined the American Navy. During the Vietnam War! While every savvy American teen was breast-stroking across the Niagara River to avoid being tied to a barrel of Agent Orange and dropped over Da Nang, Murray was volunteering to pee into a sample jar for Uncle Sam (later in life,

Murray would happily pee into a sample jar or martini glass for anyone who asked… and many that didn’t). Now, one would not immediately peg Mr. Langston as rope-swinging, throat-slashing, grenade-swallowing killing machine – heck, he’d already been thrown out of the Canadian Army for having flat feet. Plus, he weighs about 10 pounds soaking wet. Luckily, Murray didn’t see any action on the battle field, though he did get a little in the nurses’ quarters during Black History Month.

Having miraculously survived military life, Murray moved to Los Angeles and became a computer programmer. Anyone who even tangentially knows the man, when informed of this early occupation, has been caused to exclaim, “What the flaming fuck?” Luckily, his potentially globally catastrophic fling with technology was stomped deader than Dick Cheney’s first heart before he could do any lasting damage.

One sweltering evening, whilst reclining at home and soaking his tired computer-keyboard-tapping fingers in a mixture of coconut oil and zesty lemon, Murray caught a castratic performance by Tiny Tim on “Laugh-In.” “Jiminy!” thinks he, “If that handsome, alluringly curved crooner can become famous on that show, I could be the next Arnold Stang!” But how does one go about getting booked on the hottest TV show of its day? Murray, in all his unique wisdom, decided to just phone up NBC and ask the operator to speak to the producer of Laugh-In. Huh? After a small pause, George Schlatter, himself, picked up the phone!

“What do you want?”

“I want to be on your show.”

“What do you do?”

“I do an amazing impression of a fork.”

“A fork?”

“It’s totally uncanny.”

The next thing Murray knew, he was busily perfecting his uncanny cutlery impression in a taxi on the way to NBC. They brought him into the writers’ room and said, “Go.” Suddenly, and right before their eyes, Langston magically/mystically transformed himself into a fork – his tine-work on that day was especially impressive. But… not a titter. Nothing, and “Laugh-In” writers Chris Bearde and Alan Blye were not laughing louder than anyone.

“Well, thanks. We’ll give you a call, if we decide we can use you,” someone half-moaned.

And that was it. Only, stunningly, it wasn’t. A few days later, Murray got a call to report to make-up the next morning. Wow! A starring role, right out of the gate. Langston was convinced, as only a man of his breathtaking sagacity could be, that he was going to ride Forkdom straight into mansions, limousines and Tina Louise. And luckily, he no longer had his job as a computer programmer to distract him from his quest. The firm he worked for didn’t like him being on television, so they canned his ass. This may have been the first time in history that someone has been fired for being a fork. 

Tina and Murray

A year or more of not being an international sensation went by. Tina Louise? He hadn’t even managed to sleep with The Professor yet! Murray was now subsisting in a shitty apartment in the bowels Hollywood – he almost landed a piss-poor pool house in the urethra of Los Feliz but he got outbid – and performing a thoroughly obscene comedy act around town with Freeman King.

One night, soon after they’d finished scandalizing the audience at Redd Foxx’s club on La Cienega, a woman named Sue Golden approached them. It turns out that she was an agent who saw something in their act that millions didn’t. Millions and millions didn’t. She said there was a summer replacement series starring Sonny & Cher gearing up and were they interested in going out for an audition? Were they????

So Langston and King showed up bright-tailed and bushy-eyed the next morning at CBS but there was a minor but nettlesome problem. They only audition material they possessed was their unbelievably offensive and filthy nightclub act, so they decided to do the only sensible thing and perform it.  

\Once again, there was nary a titter. After they’d finished to inter-galactic-levels of silence, a distant and familiar voice piped up. “Wait a minute, aren’t you the guy who played the fork on Laugh-In?” It was the very same Chris Bearde.

“Yeah, that was me,” replied Murray, hopefully.

“Ah, we’ll let you know.”

In show business, that response and a blowjob won’t even get you the blowjob.

But, sure enough, every wrong you can think of, once more made a right.  For lo! A couple of days later, he was in Schwab’s having lunch when Freeman burst in. “We got the show! We got the fucking show!” This is just one of the 37 reasons that Murray was widely considered to be the Lana Turner of the 1970s.

Back to Our Story:

Ted and Murray hit it off immediately. They were just two wacky peas in a baggy-pants-ed pod. Goofy games abounded. Whenever a guest came on that only one of them knew, the other one would play his maligned and demeaned servant.

“Hey, fuckteeth, go get the man a sandwich.”
”Yes, sir. Right away sir!”

“And if you’re more than ten minutes, you’re sleeping in the driveway tonight.”
”Yes, sir. Very generous sir.”

And off the one playing Mike Pence would scurry to get the sandwich.

            These were happy days. Ted loved working with Cher. This was when she was at her smokin’est and tastiest and before she started dating twelve-year-olds. Perhaps she wanted to have sex with other men but didn’t want to change the height ratio. That way she could lean a book or magazine up against the top of his head while she was waiting for him to finish. Miss “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done” and Theodore used to revel in trying to crack each other up during the show. In another life they might have been lovers, if she’d been attracted to men who were short on looks rather than just plain short. Sonny was an entirely different kettle of bees. While Cher was amiable, talented, attractive and funny, Sonny was only funny looking.

            How funny was she? Every Halloween, the show would dress Murray up as a werewolf for a sketch.  It took hours to put on the makeup and prosthetics. One year, after he was fully decked out, he wandered onto set and saw Cher with her back to him. Langston, ever the devoted prankster, decided to sneak up behind her and place his furry, taloned fingers on her unadorned shoulder. As she turned around, he snarled and bared his teeth. She turned back without flinching and yelled, “Sonny, your mother’s here!”

It was pretty well pre-determined that Ted and his diminutive dimwitted star would not get along. How dim was he? During one scene, where he played an Italian stereotype, Mr. Bono had the line, “Ciao! Ciao!”  But at the table read, he pronounced it as, “Kee-Yay-Oh! Kee-Yay-Oh!” And he’s Italian! It perhaps isn’t a coincidence that “The Beat Goes On” is all single syllable words.

            Ted’s daughter told me she and her siblings would visit the set often. Back then, once you got your Visitors Pass, even kids happily roamed the halls of CBS at will. Today, after gaining entrance to a studio, you’re far too tender from being cavity searched by the parking lot guard to really walk very far. She said that when Sonny would perform his solo spots, she noticed the crew would be looking away, trying not to crack up at his abysmal singing.

Theodore, to quote a genius friend of mine, was to the left of Molotov while Sonny was the prototypical conservative Republican. He had a history of boinking a sixteen-year-old girl (Cher – he was 27), ripping off partners and stealing other people’s tunes for his hit songs. And don’t get me started about his skiing prowess. But the fact was, nobody on the show liked him and by the end of its run, even Cher hated his guts. Sonny referred to the supporting cast as “Atmosphere,” like they weren’t even people. Apparently, similar to Billy Crystal in the day, if your status was a micro-level below his, you weren’t anybody. Bono would never consider going for a drink after work with the cast or join them at the lunch table. Why? All that energy of pretending to be nice to “the help” needed to be reserved for licking the asses of those above him.

            One sparkly-shiny day, the cast all received an invite from Cher to a surprise birthday party for Sonny. This caused quite the storm of consternation among these lowly, hardly-worth-speaking-of performers (Ted, Murray, Billy Van, Teri Garr, Freeman King and Peter Cullen). They just hated the fucker. What to do? In the end, they decided to go to the party – so they wouldn’t disappoint Cher – but agreed, as a group, not to give the birthday boy a present. During the opening of the gifts, Mr. Shortypants immediately noticed there was no neatly wrapped homage from “The Atmosphere” and expressed his displeasure. According to Murray, Ted sprang to his feet and retorted, “Oh yeah, well, you didn’t get us anything on our birthdays, either!”

And the Beat Went On.

Join me next time for more than your fair Cher of Sonny, Guests, Pests and Zeigler takes an unexpected rest.

=DV=

DBAWIS_Button

Darrell Vickers started out as one half of Toronto area band, Nobby Clegg.  CFNY fans may remember the cheery song “Me Dad” which still gets airplay.  From there, he valiantly ventured to L.A. and eventually became head writer for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  Since then, he’s created numerous sitcoms and animation shows in Canada and the U.S.  He still writes music and has an internet band called Death of the Author Brigade (members in Croatia, Canada and the U.S.)   Mr. Vickers also had a private music mailing-list where he features new and pre-loved music.  Anyone who would like to be added to his daily mailing list, just write him at Radiovickers1@gmail.com

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