In December of 1979 my eldest sister Lisa was working in A&R at Warner Records. Every day a copy of Variety (‘The Bible of Show Business’) crossed her desk and she always delivered it unopened to her boss. On this day, she happened to open it.
The ad was in the lower corner of the page: “Disneyland looking to cast Dancers and Comics for the 25th Anniversary Season of the Golden Horseshoe Revue. Auditions to be held December 31st, 1979 in the Show Production Building at Disneyland. Dancers arrive prepared to move at 6 pm. Comics arrive prepared to perform at 9 pm.” Lisa called me immediately. I asked her to read the ad to me twice and hang up the phone in a daze.
I’ve heard it said that luck is a matter of being prepared when the right opportunity comes along. I realize that I’m as prepared for this as I could ever hope to be. There is a voice inside me shouting, “You ought to be nervous!” But this audition has been my raison d’etre for the previous ten years; and for the last three years I’ve done nothing but prepare.
So I ignore the inner voice and decide that I can afford to be merely excited. Very merely excited.
A few days before the audition I’m at the Park and stop in to see the show. Everyone’s in their typical top form and I keep grinning like an idiot at the thought that there’s a chance, however small, that I could be a part of such a thing. As the show ends and the theater is clearing I get an idea and head toward the stage. The floor is littered with dried baby lima beans, the ‘teeth’ that Wally spits out during the Pecos Bill number. I pick one up and put it in my pocket. For luck.
December 31st, 1979… I arrive early at the Disneyland Show Production Building. There are dozens of beautiful women in leotards following a choreographer in the French Can-Can, then leaping into the air only to land on the floor in a full split. All us waiting comics sit in the back of the room, alternately smiling and wincing.
At the front table sit the auditors, the two men who are casting the show. There’s Wally Boag in his jacket and cap and the head of Disney Talent Booking, Sonny Anderson. When the girls are finished they turn around and greet us warmly, talking about the show and what they’ll be looking for. From the crowd reaction, I’d be surprised if any of these guys around me have ever set foot in the Golden Horseshoe Saloon.
In 1979 Steve Martin was at the height of his popularity as a stand-up comedian. He’d mentioned in several interviews that he was inspired to try comedy by watching Wally perform at the Golden Horseshoe when he worked at the Park years before. Knowing this, a couple of the comics have shown up wearing Martin’s trademark white suit and carrying some of his typical props: bunny ears, a banjo, an arrow-thru-the-head.
I, on the other hand, am wearing my Magic Mountain professor suit and carrying my medicine bag and cane. I figure if they’re looking for someone who can fill Wally’s shoes, I might as well show them that I’m ready to fill the bill.
Each comic steps up in turn to show their stuff. Wally & Sonny are encouraging throughout, making notes and conferring with each other. Then my name is called. I grab my bag and step to the front of the room, swinging my cane just as I’d been doing for 3+ years back at Spillikin Corners. And as I pass the front table I hear Sonny say to Wally, “This is the kid I told you about.”
I started the pitch and everything went well, the laughs came and Sonny and Wally were smiling. At one point I was smacking the medicine bottle with the cane to emphasize a point when the cane slipped and I hit myself in the head. I stopped for a moment, shook my head and spit out the single bean I’d picked up at the Horseshoe for luck. And Wally fell off his chair laughing.
When everyone had performed we were thanked and informed they’d be making their selection in a week or two. And I went home to await the news. Three weeks passed during which I did my best not to think about the audition. I’d done the best I could and felt certain I’d shown them what they were looking for… but you never know about these things.
Then the letter came. “Thank you for your audition. We’re sorry but we have nothing for you at this time.” So… okay. Magic Mountain is looking pretty good right now.