The title refers to a famous line the great comedian, George Burns, said to another great comedian, Milton Berle, as Berle left the table to go into the men’s room, to settle a bet. But, more about that later.
There was a period, between 1970 and 1990, when if you had more than one skill you had to keep it under wraps. You could display a talent other than the primary one you were selling, but it could not threaten the perceived mastery of that primary talent. If it did, you were viewed as a “Jack of all trades and a master of none”!
A hundred years ago, having multiple, skills worked in your favor. Producer/Actor/ Theater Owners ran most of the legitimate theaters at the turn of the 20th century. In Hollywoodland, Charlie Chaplin would write the script, direct and act in the film, and write the musical score! And in following years, artists like Gene Kelly and Bob Fosse enjoyed great popularity, while working all facets of their art. But, there was a short period, as I was starting out in the business, where the audiences and casting agents expected all performers to be experts in one field, and one field only.
True story: When I was in LA with the National Tour of Barnum (early 80’s), I figured I would have no trouble getting an LA agent to sign me. After all, they could come to the show and see me act, sing, dance, do magic, and perform on numerous circus apparatus. But only one agent was willing to sign me, and after going out on a number of commercial auditions for clowns, jugglers and magicians, I finally got the nerve to ask my agent why he wasn’t sending me on any straight acting calls. He pointed to a stack of headshots on the floor near his desk that was literally 3 feet high, and said, “You see those people? All they do is act! When I get an acting call, I have to send them! You are a “skills” person. The way he said “skills” made me shudder. I had learned an important truth.
When I told my friend, fellow multi skilled performer and Barnum cast member, Gordy Weiss, what had happened to me, told me he had known about this bias for a year or two, and had removed all references to singing, dancing, and gymnastics from his resume before he came to LA. He, by the way, had gotten an agent that was sending him out on acting calls.
As I wrote in the first paragraph, the title of this blog is a reference to the famous story of when a newcomer to the regular comedians’ lunch table at the Hillcrest Country Club near Beverly Hills, challenged Milton Berle. The newcomer had heard the stories of the allegedly enormous size of Berles’ member, and thought he could out measure him. As they got up from the lunch table, heading for the men’s room to settle the bet, George Burns told Milton, “Only show him enough to win!”. Click here to read a first-hand account of Mr. Berles’ enormity, by Alan Zweibel - long-time writer and producer for Saturday Night Live .
Next week, in Part Two, the” Triple Threat” makes a comeback!