Back From Yuma
by Peter C. Henderson
On the Carpenters' 1974 World Tour, the first show for Skiles and Henderson
was Glasgow, Scotland.
venue was a grand old theater with an extremely high stage; it was as
high as the balcony. I asked a stage hand why it was built that way
and he told me that the height kept the audience from storming the stage
if they didn't like the performance, and it made it harder to throw
things at the performers.
Then he added that they always hated comedians. I hoped he was just
"sending me up" as they say for putting one on.
Thankfully, our part of the concert went well (our first in the U.K.)
and of course I had to stick around to do the Oldies Medley with the
Carpenter's at the finish of their show. After changing to street clothes
I left the dressing room along with my wife, Linny. Just before we reached
the stage door we were approached by an old stage hand who thought my
wife was Karen Carpenter. Well, we just couldn't convince this guy that
Linny was not Karen; there was a bit of a resemblance. "I seen
ya on the stage y'know. C'mon, just a little autograph." Linny
showed him her driver's license to no avail. "Awright, be like
that," he said and stomped off. (Bad P.R. for Karen!)
next morning we started out for a walk around the city and were immediately
pounced upon by a reporter and photographer waiting for Karen to emerge
from the hotel. Once again, Linny was mistaken for the star and the
photographer used up a whole roll of film taking pictures of her as
we emerged from the inn. Once again out came the driver's license to
the great dejection of the guy with the camera. He started chewing out
the poor reporter who had ID'd Linny as Karen. What tickled me as we
resumed our walk was looking back at the two news guys and seeing the
photographer actually kicking the reporter's butt, just like in a cartoon.
And NOT playfully!
Cruise ships can be an enjoyable and fairly lucrative venue for entertainers.
You usually board in the middle of a cruise, do a show for the passengers
who are on the last half of their trip and then stay onboard for the
next cruise and do a show for the new passengers. This way the cruise
line gets two passenger loads entertained for only one airline fare
per entertainer. There are two seatings (early dinner and show, late
dinner and show), so you work two nights, two shows per night, which
makes four shows for your entire week at sea. Pretty cushy.
You are treated just like a paid passenger, have your own premium stateroom
(two of them in our case, and sometimes a deluxe suite), eat in the
main dining room and have full passenger privileges. Sound like fun?
Sure . . . for awhile. We did more than 160 cruises and the novelty
wore off pretty quickly. After your seventy-fifth visit to St. Thomas
you begin to think, “So what? I'd rather be home.”
But gee, every job has its downside, and as I said, the pay was just
fine. It seems a bit tacky to complain about being FORCED to do luxury
cruises! OK, it was a great living and sometimes we had great times.
But sometimes not. Here is an example of a NOT great time.
We signed on with Holland-America Cruise Lines to do one leg of a round
the world cruise. We were to board our ship, the Amsterdam, in Bali
and go home from Singapore a week later. We did this. We worked one
night, doing two shows for a total of, perhaps, 250 passengers. This
cost the Company about $15,000 if you figure in our Business Class transportation
and agent’s fee. This was just to entertain 250 people once. Hm.
Well, I know I earned MY money on this one! My flight to Bali originated
in Orlando. I flew to Chicago, then to LA. From there it was on to Oahu,
Hawaii, then to Bali. this took only 28 hours. Try sitting in an airline
seat for twenty-eight hours sometime. Ouch! Then an hour’s drive
to the ship, three days of inactivity, show night, another three days
and the flight home completed the journey. Homeward bound I flew from
Singapore to Taiwan to San Francisco to Orlando – another 28 hours.
At least it must have been an interesting trip, right? Wrong. I decided
to stay on Orlando time which was eleven hours behind Bali time, completely
upside down from Orlando. So I was like a vampire, sleeping all day
and staying up all night (I swear it was like being on a ghost ship
– NOBODY was awake in the wee hours. I watched a lot of movies
on the ship’s video and read a lot of good books. I ate bacon
and eggs for dinner and steak and lobster and Caesar Salad for breakfast.
BUT, when I got back home there was not a trace of jet lag, the traveler’s
nemesis! And I really don't think I missed a whole lot.
By the way, the food was absolutely excellent on the Amsterdam, far
better than any other ship I have worked on. I can heartily recommend
Our job was a one-nighter in Yuma, AZ.
had rented a single engine Cessna and our pilot, Earl, was a friend
(fortunately a highly trained professional) who enjoyed flying as long
as we paid for the plane.
One of the wing tanks ran out of gas less than halfway back which surprised
Earl, who had measured the fuel with a yardstick before we left for
the Santa Ana airport. After switching to the other tank, he kept a
close eye on the fuel gauge but that didn't help at all when we went
dry over San Juan Capistrano just 5 minutes from our destination.
It's 1:30 AM on a Saturday, circling and circling with a dead engine,
steadily descending from four thousand feet, broadcasting a "Mayday!"
and everyone's listening to Skiles and Henderson curse like crazy.
put us down light as a feather Southbound on the San Diego Freeway,
right by the off ramp to Bill's house.
Of course, cars began stopping to see what was going on, and one of
them belonged to a friend of ours who took us to Bill's house (where
I called my wife who was frantic because I wasn't home yet.) She started
crying uncontrollably and finally explained that about an hour before
she had a feeling that I was in mortal danger and fell to her knees
and prayed for me. Wow! Twilight Zone. After she calmed down, I got
home somehow. I don't remember how.
Earl stayed with the plane and got it back to the rental people. Apparently
one of the fuel lines was defective and had leaked. And we lived to
tell about it.
of the first times the Carpenters worked with (Skiles and Henderson)
their current opening act was in a huge coliseum in Houston.
Skiles and Henderson's comedy turn, a young man walked up the ramp to
the stage and sat down at Karen's drums.
and Henderson thought maybe the Carpenters were putting them to some
kind of test, and the group supposed the guy at the drums was part of
the comic's act.
punched a policeman who approached him and was forcibly carried off,
shouting, "Don't touch me! I'm engaged to Karen Carpenter!"
had finished our evening show at the University of Notre Dame with the
Carpenters and boarded their chartered plane, a twin engine turbojet
USAir commercial airliner with room for about 40 or more passengers,
complete with a flight attendant.
usual, I sat in the last row by myself so I could read in peace and
enjoy some rum laced hot chocolate.
We had about an hour in the air, and I was oblivious to what was going
on with the rest of the troupe. It seemed to me that we were taking
a lot longer to reach Chicago than we should have, but I ignored that.
It gave me time for another drink.
also seemed that we were flying a lot lower than normal, and I ignored
that, too. Eventually we landed safely with no problem.
I was the last one off the plane and commented facetiously to Karen,
who was getting ready to climb into her limo, "Another routine
miracle," because that's what I always felt about flying. She gave
me the only dirty look I ever got from her, and left for the hotel.
I found out later that we had lost an engine about halfway to our destination,
and there was NOWHERE we could land except the airport in Chicago.
clueless me . . . I was the only one unaware of the danger. (this explained
the disdained "look" from Karen Carpenter.)
Bill and I experienced several engine failures while airborne over the
years. With millions of miles of flight time, I suppose that's to be
the most FUN flight we ever had was with the Carpenters in a Hannsa
Jet they had chartered, a small executive airplane.
pilots treated us to a couple of parabolic arcs which rendered us all
weightless for a minute or so, just like the astronaut training planes.
was just like being on our own spaceship. Boy,
was that fun!!
~ ~ ~
were in Buffalo N.Y. for a New Christy Minstrels concert, when the Big
Blackout of 1966 occurred.
course the concert was cancelled, which was wonderful since we were
paid by the week, not by the show. A day off !!
go into the details of the blackout, but my room was on the 23rd floor
and the elevators didn't offer any transportation to the dining room
on the first floor.
Now here is where the romance comes in.
down the steps to the lobby, the management had put candles to guide
guests between floors. After the trek to the first floor where the dining
room awaited, I discovered a retreat to another time, a time before
electricity. The lobby and the dining room were lit by candles. A virtual
time machine had taken me back a century. The kitchen was run on gas,
so they were able to serve dinner without a hitch. The entire dining
room was bathed in candlelight, and I really felt transported to the
were no electrical sounds... none of that sixty cycle hum.
The climb to my room on the 23rd floor was not.
and Memorabilia ~