THE HANK GARRETT INTERVIEW
the star of "Car 54 Where are you?" TALKS TO RETROCRUSH


 

Join us as Hank talks about the classic TV series "Car 54 Where are you?", going postal in "Three Days of the Condor", and the time OJ Simpson split his skull open.  

How did you end up being on the classic TV show Car 54 Where Are You?

My friend was a comedian and his wife worked for Nat Hiken who created Sgt. Bilko and Car 54. I read for him and the next day I was at the studio filming car 54.

You were friends on the show with Fred Gwynne from The Munsters

He went on to become Herman Munster. The guy who was my partner on Car 54, Al Lewis ended up being Grandpa Munster. I call Al every once in awhile to see how heís doing. He's is in his 90ís.

He has a young wife too?

Yes, I guess thatís what keeps him going.

You almost had a spin-off TV show with Al.

We were supposed to do another show called The Schnausers because that was his characterís last name on Car 54.

Car 54 was on TV for two years?

We were coming back for another season of Car 54. NBC told Nat Heiken they wanted 50% of the show. He said, "No way. Weíre going to another network." There wasnít any airtime left on the other networks so he yanked the show and that was the end of that.

Car 54 is very fondly remembered.

It was a wonderful comedy. I looked forward to going to work everyday.

I had never seen a red and white police car.

It was red and white because the show was shot in black and white. It was the only way it would read.

Were you sponsored by someone?

We were sponsored by Proctor and Gamble. They gave us cases of Lava Soap. I donít know if you know what Lava Soap is?

Something made out of Volcanic Ash?

It felt like it. It was gritty. They kept sending us cases of Lava soap and Tide.

Was that show filmed mainly in LA?

No, it was New York. We were at the old Gold Metal Biograph Studios in the Bronx. In fact when we opened the studio we found traces of the old silent movies. There were costumes from the old movie series, "The Perils of Pauline". There was a heroine and she was absolutely adored.

Did you have many guest stars on Car 54?

Nat Heiken was a big sports fan. We had a lot of fighters on the show that were champions. We had Rocky Marciano, Jake LaMotta, and Sugar Ray Robinson.

Itís been written that actor Joe E. Ross was unprofessional on the show.

I never had a problem with Joe. Sometimes he didnít study his lines.

Did you have Poker nights?

Every Friday at about 3 oíclock Nat Heiken would say itís a wrap and we went bowling. We had a bowling team which included the cast and the crew.

What did you think of the Car 54 remake?

I was called and asked to be in it. I took a look at the script and I decided to pass. It was awful. I watched a couple of minutes of it and I said, "Thank God I didnít do this movie!"

You were in the movie Serpico with Al Pacino.

I play Muscles Malone.

You kick butt on a rapist.

Iíve had the great fortune to work with the greatest actors and directors of all time. In Condor I worked with Director Sidney Lumet. I was in Three Days of the Condor with Director Sydney Pollack.

What was Robert Redford like in Three Days of the Condor?

Robert was a wonderful guy. I had a great fight scene with him in Faye Dunawayís apartment. Max von Sydow played my boss. I won a New York Film Criticsí award for that role.

Did you talk to Faye Dunaway?

I hung out with Redford. Faye Dunaway was very private.

Did people freak out over your postal killer role when, Three Days of the Condor came out?

When it first came out there was a lady from the William Morris agency who said, "Will you do me a favor? Take my shoulder bag and go to this other agentís room when she saw Condor you scared the hell out of her." Stupidly I took the shoulder bag and stood in the doorway. She looked at me and screamed at the top of her lungs.

You had a brief scene in Death Wish as a construction worker?

I was Andrew McCabe. It was a cameo.

You played a bartender in the original Amityville Horror?

Yes. It was great.

What about Margot Kidder & James Brolin?

I just had the scene with James. He was a very fun guy. Heís done a number of films.

Heís married to Barbra Streisand.

Yes, heís Mr. Barbra Streisand.

Did you see the remake of Amityville?

Iíve seen it and Iíve watched remakes of a couple other films. I donít know why they destroy something that's a classic.

You were in the horror movie, The Sentinel.

I actually just did a few days on that. It was a weird, scary film.

What about Exorcist II: The Heretic?

They approached me about doing Exorcist II and they paid me a lot of money. I told them send me the script. They did and I didnít have a line. I was in New York and they had this beautiful costume made for me. They take a shot of me on the train station and then they flew me to California for interior shots. They put me up in a first class hotel and I didnít even have a word to say.

I guess they thought the second one would be another big hit.

It bombed.

You worked with Sophia Loren and OJ Simpson in a movie called Firepower?

In the movie Iím a bad guy who kidnaps Sophia Loren and Iím standing outside the car. OJís supposed to come up behind me and bang my head against the side of the car to rescue her. Iíve done stunts before. I told OJ when you run up behind me put your hand on the back of my head and Iíll do the hit by myself. He ran so fast he smashed my head up against the car. He laid my scalp open.

He said, "Oh, Iím so sorry I was running so fast I just couldnít stop." Now hereís a guy who was one of the best broken field runners when he was playing football. Suddenly he couldnít control his speed.

Then I found out about a year later. A producer who owned a restaurant told me that OJ said you were a wimp and he was able to take you out.

What a jerk!

Yeah. I said, "So he did it on purpose." And he said, "Yes, he did."

They must have had to stitch you up?

When I came too I was laying in Sophia Lorenís arms. Sheís absolutely stunning.

You've written about how nice she is.

We were shooting on this boat with director Michael Winner. They were bringing our food to us. Sophia got in line with the actors and the crew to get some food. Michael said to her, "Sophia, no no no! We have our table here. You donít eat that swill." She replied, "I do." She stayed with us. The food was sensational. The director had special gold rim plates with special food brought to him.

There were a lot of explosions and stunts on that movie.

A lot of guys got hurt. There was a scene where James Coburn dumps fuel overboard while being chased and he fires a flare gun. The boat thatís chasing then explodes and the stuntmen are in the water. The stunt coordinator said to Michael Winter, "You canít do the stunt here. Itís too windy. When the stunt men come up from underwater they canít poke a hole in the fire because it closes right back up." Michael said, "I want it here." He insisted and a number of stuntmen were burned.

Did this movie get wide distribution?

It didnít get great reviews, but it had fair distribution. James Coburn was an incredible guy to be with.

You were on a TV show with James Earl Jones?

I was co-starring. We had a TV show called Paris. Thatís what brought me to California from New York. It only lasted one season. We had incredible reviews when we first came out.

The network said youíre so strong we have another show thatís not doing so well. We want you to switch time slots with them. We were on Tuesday night where we won our night. They put us in another time slot opposite "Hart to Hart" on Saturday night and we died.

It was a cop show?

James played the captain of police and I was his boss. I was a deputy chief inspector. His character also taught Criminology in a college. James is a fantastic human being and we had a great time together.

Do you think because of your role in Car 54 that youíve been typecast into playing military/police types?

Itís interesting because they would not offer me serious roles because I was a standup comic and I was in a comedy series. Then I was in a serious role in Three Days of the Condor and now they donít consider me for comedy roles.

You canít win can you?

Itís the nature of the business.

You were in The Jazz Singer?

I played the desk sergeant.

When I was a kid I went to go see that on the big screen and I was bored to tears.

Oh yea. It was a terrible film.

What about the movie, The Boys Next Door with Charlie Sheen and Maxwell Caulfield.

It was a terrific film. It just didnít get the attention it deserved.

What was the set like?

They were great fun to be with. In fact I ran into Charlie recently and he said, "Oh my God. How have you been?" He was very warm & friendly. I ran into Max at a celebrity autograph show which I do all around the country.

I was just at a big martial arts convention at the Sheraton at Universal. I was selling celebrity autograph pictures there. Fifty percent of whatever I take in goes to disabled American Veterans. Itís the least I can do.

Thatís a great thing to do with whatís going on with the War.

Thatís what prompted me to do that when I saw what these kids look like when theyíre coming home.

Did you get to meet Jackie Gleason on the set of The Sting II?

I had met him years ago. I had worked clubs that Jackie Gleason had worked because he was a stand up comic before he got into television. We were talking about some of the clubs in Stanton Island that he & I had worked at different times. He asked, "Is that place still there?" The owner was named Pete Clunk. It was fun.

You toured as a comedian with Tony Bennett?

I was Tony Bennettís opening act for 4 years.  I worked the Copacabana, and the Sands in Las Vegas. The last couple of years I was opening for Jerry Vale.

Did they have the high roller rooms?

At one point the boss came up to me and said, "The Arab oil sheiks have their own gambling floor and theyíd like you to do a show." I said, "Sure". You donít say no.

Yea, they might slaughter you or something.

They paid absolutely no attention. They kept gambling. A guy came up to me and said, "You were wonderful. You best comedian." as I was leaving and handed me a handful of chips. It was 4,000 dollars!

I donít think people realize how wealthy some Arabians are.

The stories were amazing how much they would lose and it meant absolutely nothing. They could drop a couple of million dollars. While they were gambling they'd make several million more.

Did they have lots of Arabian women around?

The women were off in their rooms or off shopping. They were never with their men.

Do you have any night that was the craziest?

My whole life has been one of strangeness.

Youíve studied Martial Arts.

I was just inducted into the Karate Hall of Fame. That happened in the latter part of June. I was presented with a ring. I started in Martial Arts in 1952. I got my black belt in New York at the Chinatown Dojo. I trained six days a week.

Can you hit a board and break it?

If I hit a board Iím sure the board would hit back and Iíd be laid up.

You toured Playboy Clubs in the 1960ís?

It was a great place to work. They sometimes booked you for years. Youíd travel around the country working different clubs. Membership was rather inexpensive. You could go to the Playboy Club and have lunch for a couple of bucks. They were great fun.

I remember looking at my dadís Playboys as a kid and thinking those clubs look pretty neat.

Iím sure you looked at the magazine and thought, "Wow, look at the club."

You work out quite a bit.

My son and I lift weights. Iíve competed as a bodybuilder and power lifter. I work out with my son who is 21 and in incredible shape.

Where you married a couple of times through the years?

I was married the first time to a very beautiful lady in New York for 18 years. My last marriage was 22 years.

Are you still currently married?

She became a healer and her whole life change. She wanted out.

She got into a whole different thing.

Yes, very much so.

You have a role on the cartoon GI Joe?

I am the voice of Dial Tone in GI Joe. I have a sketch by the original artist of me and the character back to back.

Even the action figure looks a little like you?

Yes

How does that work? Do you get into a big room?

They tell you this is the character and this is the script. We record the script.

You were in the 1980ís classic series "Max Headroom". Did they use computers in that?

They used computers and it was terrific. It was short lived series and very popular in England.

What else about Max Headroom?

The director and producer were wonderful. They asked if you guys mind working overtime and youíll have the rest of the week off. It was a 14 Ė 16 hour day. They paid us for the full week.

Are there other roles youíre proud of?

I played Peter Falkís boss on Columbo. Heís wonderful. I worked with him in a show called, "The Trials of Oí Brian". I did a guest star with him on that.

He always has that squinty thing with his eye.

He lost his eye as a child.

Itís actually a fake eye. It doesnít cloud up does it?

Not that Iím aware of.

You did a guest on Kojak.

Heís a real guy!

You were on Threeís Company?

Working with John Ritter that was the best time Iíve ever had on any TV show.

He welcomed you on the set?

Not just me. He welcomed everybody. We knew each other because he had an improvisational comedy background as I do. He was incredible and sensational to work with.

Are there any other roles youíd like to play down the road?

Iíll take whatever comes along.

Growing up who did you have a retroCRUSH on?

Thereís so many ladies that I stood there with my mouth open. I mean Sophia Loren is a gorgeous, gorgeous lady. I kept saying to myself, "My God Iím working with Sophia Loren."
 


To find out more about Hank Garrett go to his official website at: http://www.hankgarrett.com/

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