Interview with Ruth Buzzi: by Barry Rogers

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The healing powers of love and laughter have been proven time and time again. For decades Ruth Buzzi has certainly been doing her part to heal the world through her unique brand of comedy. She also radiates love with a smile that invites you in, and lets you know everything is going to be ok–at least while she has your attention.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons that people continue to seek Ruth out via the Internet. Combined views of her performances on YouTube, number well into the hundreds of thousands. She also has a tremendous following on Twitter.

Ruth Buzzi’s career was launched on Broadway, and soared to even great heights, as she made appearances in television programs like The Steve Allen Show. Later she was hired for Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, a gig that solidified the world’s fascination with her talent. She kept delivering with numerous stage, television and movie performances in the years since.

Ruth’s current state of blissful retirement in Texas can sometimes be at odds with a public that’s eager for more of her. In fact, Ruth’s longtime friend Ruta Lee, had to nudge her a little to do this interview. Thank you Ruta. And thank you Ruth Buzzi, as you continue to give us all a little more with your tweets, and your answers to our interview here.

Ruth on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In

Ruth, you have over thirty thousand followers on Twitter. It seems a lot of people want to know what’s on Ruth Buzzi’s mind. What do you think about that? I’m honored so many people want to be in touch with me! I’ve enjoyed the interaction with new friends and old through Twitter @Ruth_A_Buzzi. Every Saturday I try to come up with new cat jokes. We call Saturday, “CATurday”–and have a lot of fun with that!

Much of your work can be found on YouTube. Who would’ve imagined years ago that your performances would live on through the Internet? I sure never thought this would happen, but it’s wonderful. YouTube has brought a new generation of fans our way, as well as the constant barrage of ads on TV for The Dean Martin Show, The Dean Martin Roasts, etc. which show clips of our work. I’ve enjoyed YouTube as well. It’s fun seeing shows I’d forgotten about!

Your remote Texas ranch is a different world than LA. How do you feel about the contrast? The contrast is a welcome change for us. Kent (her husband) grew up in Fort Worth, and always told me, from the time we started seriously dating in the mid-70’s, that some day he wanted to retire to Texas, and I agreed. I love the countryside where we have privacy, nature and wonderful neighbors. I love looking at the horses, feeding the cows, and going for walks on our three miles of trails through the woods. We had good neighbors in Hollywood Hills, but the country folks around our ranch are so much more outgoing, generous, and willing to help one another. It’s a great lifestyle, and I love it!  In short, this is our “heaven on Earth!”

Ruth and husband Kent Perkins

It’s also a long way from Connecticut, where you were raised. At what age did you know that you wanted to be a performer? I started taking dancing lessons in the 6th grade. When the teacher realized I was always a step or two behind my classmates, she made me an offer…“How’d you like to perform a comedy dance in which you’re the only one doing your thing, while everyone else is in unison?”  I liked the idea. When the recital came and I got to do this in front of an audience, they laughed very generously at my antics. I was hooked!

When did you feel like you were really getting somewhere as a comedienne?When our show, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In made it to the top of the ratings, and we were the most popular ensemble cast in television during the late 60’s and early 70’s, it was pretty obvious to “us kids” on the show that we were very lucky, indeed!  I guess being nominated for Emmy Awards and winning the wonderful Golden Globe for Best Performance – Comedy or Variety, 1972, “sealed the deal.”  But I never worked for fame as a goal, nor did I set out to see how much money I could make as an actress. I only went to work to have fun doing what I enjoyed most – making people laugh. Everything else was “icing on the cake!”

You were working in a very male dominated profession when you started out. You didn’t let that get in your way. I never felt male performers had better opportunities than those presented to me at the time. When I was working, as you can read on Wikipedia, I worked continuously year after year for many years, and I think my dedication to doing my best always served me well in that regard.

'Gladys' and the gang from Dean Martin Roast

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve gotten got about performing live? Lucille Ball gave me some good advice in general. She said to never let the audience know anything about my religious or political views, and I’ve followed that advice all these years. Performance-wise, Bob Fosse was a great director who helped me believe in my own instincts, and to trust my own sense of humor. Lee Hale, who worked with me on The Dean Martin Roasts and the Dean Martin comedy and music shows, always provided great advice on the sketches and skits we performed.

What do you remember most about doing Laugh-In? The incredible fun we had, laughing hysterically every day at work. Seeing the show from the other side of the camera was even funnier than what the audience got, especially with the crazies on the cast who did their best to “break us up” from backstage, when we were on camera.  The funniest coworker, believe it or not, was probably Alan Sues, who just passed away. He’d have me literally rolling on the floor during rehearsals, fighting for a breath between laughs.

What were you feeling after the show’s final season? It wasn’t something we wanted to see end; we were still the top-rated show in our time slot, and more people watched us every week than have still seen Gone With the Wind, for instance…several million viewers!  This was before you had four hundred choices; remember, there were only three networks. So we were kind of on top of the entertainment mountain when the show came crashing down around us, not due to ratings – but the fact that the producers “locked horns”, and couldn’t stand the idea of working together another season. There was a lot of behind-the-scenes jealousy and anger that, fortunately, they kept private.  We, the performers, were spared any of the animosity felt between the show’s owners. They’d all made millions and millions by then anyway, and all had other projects in mind, so they just agreed to walk away ahead of the game.

You’re very well remembered for your character, Gladys Ormphby. How did this character originate? I came up with that costume and hair-do in college, playing Agnes Gooch in Auntie Mame. Later, I was in New York City waiting for my big break, doing commercials and off-Broadway when I decided to pose for some new character shots, to increase my chances of getting work. I got a photographer, and we used a number of costumes; then, I found Agnes Gooch, and put that on with the hairnet, bun and all. We were walking down the sidewalk looking for a great place to take that picture when I spotted a huge garbage can, which had painted on the front “Keep New York City Beautiful!”  I had the photographer lift me up, and I stood in the can like someone had dumped me there, posing in the outfit you now know as Gladys Ormphby, the spinster who beat guys up with her purse. The picture was partially responsible for my Laugh-In job, because when the producers saw my portfolio, George Schlatter laughed out loud at the garbage can shot. So before I knew it, I was being asked to take part in the TV pilot for them. The old man was played by Arte Johnson. Arte’s twin brother, Coslough Johnson was a writer for the show, and he came up with the idea to put us together as a comedy team and boy, did that click with the public!

Ruth and Arte Johnson

Dean Martin really took a lot of the wrath of Gladys during his roasts. What do you remember about working with Dean? He was one of the most unassuming, sweetest people with whom I ever worked. He’d come and ask me to have lunch with him in his dressing room before taping day, just as a way of letting me know I was very special to him.  We really loved working together, and he was a naturally brilliant comedy artist. He loved it when Gladys Ormphby got the best of him onstage!

What would Gladys say about the current state of the world? She would whack a few politicians right now, for sure…

How has comedy changed over the years? It’s gotten much more risqué, and Saturday Night Live has redefined the comedy sketch to the extent that they no longer have to come to a funny finale. They’ve apparently conditioned the audience so that, if the characters are amusing, the writing doesn’t need to come to much of a funny conclusion every time.  Sometimes, I miss the old days of our show, Carol Burnett, even The Sonny & Cher’s Comedy Hour  – where you knew the comedy sketches were “headed somewhere!” I hope we haven’t lived through the very best era of comedy in television, an era long gone…but we might’ve!

Do you miss performing at all? No, funny enough; I really don’t. I’ve colored that square, been there, done that, and it was wonderful, but so is LIFE AFTER SHOWBIZ!  In fact, it’s even more wonderful to be able to just live a normal life, and not have so many obligations! I still get fan mail and photo requests, and I answer them all; but it’s wonderful not being in the hectic middle of the spotlight. I enjoy people still recognizing me in restaurants or other public places. They come up, and tell me very nicely how much they enjoyed my work. However, it’s not like paparazzi following me everywhere, and that’s nice!

You seem very happy with your new life. Is there any project that could bring you out of retirement? Only a great movie role. That’s it! Otherwise, I’ll just enjoy the beauty of Texas, the love of my life, hubby Kent Perkins, my precious cats (Skitter, Little Kitty and Ratso Rizzo), our extended family and friends. These really are the greatest times of my life!

Ruth also fills her life with raising money for Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch. For more information, please visit utopiaanimalrescue.com. The link to Ruth’s personal page, where you can donate, is on the Facebook fan page, and website for The Senior Voice.

 

 

 

 

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