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by Harry Spencer
Rickles’ Reno Connections
A short while ago I posted a Memory about comedian Don Rickles, who passed away recently. It was about my encounter with him at which I believe was his first Reno appearance. The incident was during his late show in the Riverside Hotel showroom sometime in the early 60s, and I believe it was Riverside Manager Lee Frankovich who booked him.
RIckles had gained a reputation as Insulter in Chief and was a little too Avantgarde for Reno audiences. He had trouble filling his twiceanight shows.
On one occasion I happened to be at Rickles’ midnight show. His modus operandi was to have the maîtred slip him names of people in the audience he could personally insult.
I was surprised when he delivered some acerbic remarks to me because he said I had booked Sammy Davis Jr. into the Mapes Sky Room opposite his performance.
After he finished his diatribe, I had a waiter take him a note that said, “The only reason we are here tonight is that we couldn’t get a seat in Sammy’s show because it was sold out.”
That posting brought me a letter from my good friend Burt Bonaldi. Many locals will remember Bonaldi as a partner with Ronnie Gaylord under the name “The Gaylords”, who were a top lounge act during the Golden Age of Entertainment in Reno. In his letter, Burt noted that on one evening occasion when they were on the same bill with Rickles, they were engaged in conversation with Rickles’ manager. The manager said that Rickles was extremely unhappy with the theme song that closed his show, the title of which was, “What kind of fool am I?”
At that juncture, Ronnie Gaylord said, “Give me about an hour and I’ll give you a new song for Rickles.” True to his word, he handed the manager a song complete with music and lyrics that was entitled, “I’ll Trade You Laughter for Love”.
For those who never had the opportunity to catch Rickles’ act, there exists a permanent recording, some six minutes long that can be acquired by Googling “Don Rickles Laughter” on any cell phone or computer.
For myself, my first viewing of Rickles’ act was a late –night one in the lounge of the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas. I was staying at the Sahara courtesy of Bill Raggio and had been alerted to the comedic talents of Rickles by the showroom maîtred, Harry Karn. Prior to his work at the showroom in Vegas, Karn had been maîtred at the Mapes Sky Room in Reno and I had spent many hours cutting up touches with him. In addition to touting the Rickles jampacked performance, Karn had also insisted that I catch the Bobby Darrin show in the big room. I remember him saying, “This kid is as close to Sinatra as you can get.”