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Hail, Caesar

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"What're you gonna do, scream at him? Next to him was Jack Entratter, owner of the Sands, Tony Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Frank says, 'Was that you up there singing and playing drums?' The other guys are making cracks, but he ignored them. Frank ignored what he didn't want to hear.

"He says, 'Are you Italian?' I said, 'Yes, sir.' He says, 'You don't have to call me sir. You sing good; get the fuck off the drums, and get yourself a little group, and get out there.'"

Thus, heeding the order from on high, drumming, piano-playing Vittorio Cesario transformed himself into singing, swinging Vic Caesar. And he did get out there.

Now, it's the early '60s, and one of the guys Vic's running with is Lenny Bruce.

"I had an apartment at 20 East Delaware in Chicago, and when he was in town, he would take an apartment at 25 East Delaware. And sometimes he would stay with me to get away from the broads and phone calls and other junkies who wanted to get his dope," Vic reveals.

"He would leave some dope at my apartment, and he'd come over and give himself a fix. I'd hold his vein; he had what you call a rolling vein."

Let me interrupt Vic for a second to let Vic interrupt himself to clarify his personal level of drug use.

"I'd describe it with a passion, probably. When I get involved in something, it's passionate. I never shot up, can't stand needles. When I was doing coke, I did it for two or three years passionately, then stopped. There's no addictive genetic code in our family. I never liked to drink, and with pot, it got to a point where I hated the smell of it."

Now, back to Lenny.
"I was in the kitchen writing a lineup of what songs I should do that night, and he comes out of the bathroom and says he's leaving to go to his gig. I looked up and said, 'Wait a minute. You can't go anywhere with your mouth looking like that.' He says, 'What's wrong with my mouth?' 'It looks like you ate a blueberry pie. Go look at yourself in the mirror.'

"So he does and, sure enough, he starts laughing, saying, 'Oh, man, oh, man'; every other word was always 'man, man, man' with him. He says he's going to go to the gig like that, but I was thinking, 'Where the hell did that blue shit come from?' I go in the bedroom and, sure enough, I had a little, thin blue-suede belt, and it was all wet with his saliva and tooth marks."

In 1960, Vic was one of the opening acts at the first Playboy Club in Chicago--natch, he was pals with Hef. This brought him to Phoenix for the first time when Playboy opened a club here a couple of years later. Tireless Vic also worked the Mountain Shadows, a Scottsdale resort, driving back and forth like a madman to make the spotlight of each set.

Then Vic went to the Bahamas to open a big hotel club; that's where he met Cheri, his wife-to-be. Gorgeous lady. She ultimately dumped him "like toxic waste" for his best friend, "a snake," but that was five years in the future. After the Bahamas stint was over, they took off for her hometown, New York City. It was 1964, and more stuff happened.

"I got a phone call from Jim Marshall, who was one of the Kennedy speechwriters, and he asked if I would like to do some Christmas parties for Senator Robert Kennedy. I said, 'Are you kidding? Definitely!' There was no pay, it was to benefit underprivileged kids.

"So they told me to be in front of my building at six in the morning and, sure enough, a limo pulls up and inside is Bobby Kennedy. He was a little guy; that impressed me because he comes off as very powerful.

"We shake hands, I get in the limo. He's telling me how much he appreciated me doing this in that voice that's like an 18-year-old Walter Brennan. So we're driving to pick up Sammy Davis Jr. on Park Avenue where his apartment is. We get him, then Bobby says we got to go get Irving Berlin's daughter, I forget her name. So there's me and Sam and Bobby. I'm nothing, I was just there! We're driving to Queens and Sammy says, 'Come on, Bobby, what are we waiting for?' Bobby says, 'I don't know.' They're looking at me. I say, 'Don't worry about me.'

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Peter Gilstrap
Contact: Peter Gilstrap