Last week, in Part One, we learned of a time in show business history, when it was not only OK to have more than one performing skill, but it was actually advantagous. We also learned how the title of this blog refers to a certain body part belonging to the great comedian, Milton Berle. But more on that later. First a true story.
The dark ages for the "Triple Threat" were still raging when I was chosen to be the "Marlboro Magician" for the State of Texas. The ad agency that came up with the idea of putting magicians into thousands of bars and nightclubs around the country, to promote the idea that Marlboro loved its customers, brought all 20 of magicians they had chosen to Chicago for a training/hype meeting. After our first session, we all retired to the hotel bar, and there I found a piano. I started playing and singing and encouraged the others to sing along. Between songs, one of the other magicians came up to me and said, “You play pretty good! You must be a lousy magician.” He was obviously of the opinion that you could not do more than one thing well in show business.
Even some incredibly talented performers had to downplay their other talents to make it big. For example, no one knew that Ben Vereen was an amazing singer and dancer, when they fell in love with his performance in the mini-series “Roots”. And Ben was just fine with that. Only show them enough to win.
In case you didn’t read last week’s blog, the title of this blog is a reference to the famous story of when a newcomer to the comedians’ lunch table at the Beverly Hills Country Club, challenges Milton Berle. The newcomer had heard all of 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!”
When I started doing corporate after-dinner shows, I was still occasionally performing for family audiences as my clown character, and I had to be very careful not to let either my corporate clients or my family clients learn that I did both. I would have lost both sides of the business.
Strangely enough, I think the tide started turning for the "Triple Threat" when it finally became acceptable for film actors to do television, without expecting to never to do film again, as it had been the case for decades. And as the years progressed it is not only perfectly fine for actors to jump from TV to film and back, but they are actually admired if they can not only act, but write, direct, sing and dance as well. The "Triple Threat" is back, and we’re all the better for it.