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10 things we learned from George Schlatter's book: ''Still Laughing: A Life in Comedy"

George Schlatter is an iconic and prolific producer, director and writer best known for his work with the 1962 series Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Throughout his long and successful career in Hollywood, he has been responsible for hundreds of hours of television programming.

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In was just one of the many successful projects Schlatter put his heart and soul into. The series lasted for 140 episodes on NBC and was hosted by comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin.

At age 93, it's no wonder that Schlatter has built up a lifetime full of memories during his time in Hollywood. To add to his already long resume, Schlatter recently published a book, Still Laughing: A Life in Comedy.

Still Laughing: A Life in Comedy focuses on the coming-of-age story of George Schlatter, from his early days in Vegas to one of his final shows. Here are 10 things we learned from Schlatter's book, Still Laughing: A Life in Comedy, from Rowan and Martin stories to presidential inaugurations, hanging out with Judy Garland, Goldie Hawn and more. We don't need a book to tell us how talented George Schlatter is, but his biography does a pretty good job of it anyway.

If you want to read more facts and stories from Schlatter's life, pick up a copy of his book, Still Laughing: A Life in Comedy. Available now!


George Schlatter's career started in a mailroom

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Before he became the successful producer we know him as on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, he was just starting out like the rest of us. 

In 1948, Schlatter applied for a job at MCA (Music Corporation of America), where he received a low-paying gig in the mailroom.

According to Still Laughing: A Life in Comedy, Schlatter even met his future friend Frank Sinatra at MCA when Sinatra arrived unannounced. Sinatra noticed the young producer and said to him: "Here. You. Handle this." He handed Schlatter his signed MCA contract and added, "I have ties older than you."

He and Sinatra would go on to become good friends and would work together in their careers.

"As you'll learn from this book, that man played some pretty important leading and supporting roles in my life," Schlatter wrote.

Because of Sinatra's interaction with Schlatter that day, MCA saw Schlatter's potential. The MCA mailroom would be the start of Schlatter's amazing career and story.


He invented the Las Vegas lounge act

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In Schlatter's book Still Laughing: A Life in Comedy, we learn of his life before Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. 

In 1949, Schlatter began working for speakeasy owner Herman Hover in Las Vegas. Hover had bought Ciro's in West Hollywood and made it the go-go nightclub on Sunset Strip by booking Hollywood's biggest names, such as Sinatra and Lili St. Cyr.

Hover cut a deal in Vegas where he and Schlatter would select the acts, negotiate for talent and produce live shows in Vegas. 

At the time, the government had a 20 percent entertainment tax. If anybody sang or danced, the IRS got 20 percent.

To pivot around the tax Schlatter's idea was this: Turn the piano so the gamblers couldn't see the player. The tax law said you could hear performers but not watch them.

After a few revisions of the plan, Vegas became the late-night mecca for lounge acts like Don Rickles, Shecky Greene and more. That's how Schlatter invented the Las Vegas lounge act.

To see the full version of this story read his book, Still Laughing: A Life in Comedy. 


He bought a house for Sammy Davis Jr.

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In Schlatter's book, Still Laughing: A Life in Comedy, we learn that Schlatter bought Sammy Davis Jr. a house in the 1960s.

Sammy Davis Jr. wanted to buy a house in Hollywood, but at that point in the '60s, no one would sell to a black person. 

"This was not just pre-Zillow; this was pre-Civil Rights Act," Schlatter wrote. According to the book, Sammy Davis Jr. and Schlatter worked out a deal where Schlatter would buy the house in his name and then transfer it to Davis Jr.

"I must admit I was a little nervous, because I had a very small bank account, and this was a very big house," Schlatter wrote.

Schlatter wrote that Davis Jr. never forgot what Schlatter did for him, so whenever he needed him, Davis Jr. would be there. Including when Laugh-In was just starting out. He would go on to be a guest on Laugh-In six times between 1968-1973.


Schlatter raised stages by thirty-six inches

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In 1964, Schlatter had been signed to do six Danny Thomas specials for Timex. Thomas was one of the most brilliant nightclub performers in the world.

The Wonderful World of Disney was usually reserved for 7 pm on NBC, except for the occasional special Schlatter would produce. NBC allowed the show to be called The Wonderful World of Burlesque, whose name got them a lot of promotion and attention.

To do the special right, it was necessary to re-create an old burlesque theater, which involved raising the stage.

"I told them we were raising the stage thirty inches, and the good news, it was only going to cost $20,000," Schlatter wrote in his book. "We did raise the stage. Thirty-six inches."

That became the height of all raised stages at NBC, including in the Bob Hope specials. Schlatter is the reason stages are raised thirty-six inches today.


Laugh-In and the TV clap

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According to Still Laughing: A Life in Comedy, the first year they did the pilot for Laugh-In, they finished the show at 3 am. According to Schlatter, the cast and crew were all aware they had made something wonderful.

"We were standing out in the parking lot, when we ran into Carolyn Raskin," Schlatter said. "She was one of the brightest and most creative people I ever worked with, so I always asked her, 'Well, what do you think, Carolyn?' She stood there quietly clapping alone in the parking lot. We looked at each other and realized that was the only fitting ending for this crazy comedy we had just completed."

They went back into the studio, reopened all the tracks and added the single handclap. On the third show, NBC called a meeting to discontinue the single handclap.

"We could not understand why, but they then explained that the handclap took place at the same time as the NBC credits, and it appeared that only one person was clapping for NBC," Schlatter said.

The single handclap became a trademark, and Schlatter wrote that he was proud of it.


The time Bob Hope was on Laugh-In

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Bob Hope was a guest on Laugh-In three times during the series' six seasons. During his first Laugh-In monologue, Schlatter sent Arte Johnson out as his "German with a cigarette" character and in his accent, he said, "Das is verrry interesting, Mr. Hope, but every Christmas vee [waited] for you in our bunker, but you never came to see us. Merry Christmas, Bobby."

Schlatter wrote that Hope almost died. The audience fell apart, and it became one of the classic Laugh-In moments.


Laugh-In and President Nixon

Schlatter wrote: "Probably the number one question I’ve been asked over the years is this: 'George, how did you get Richard Nixon to appear on Laugh-In?'”

According to the book, the connection was this: One of Nixon's closest friends, Paul Keyes, was a joke writer who worked on Laugh-In.

Laugh-In was full of stars you couldn’t usually get to appear on television. Nixon saying "Sock it to me," was an iconic Laugh-In moment.

"It took six takes to get him to say 'sock it to me' and not look angry," Schlatter wrote. "And here’s where things went wrong—not for me but for the country. Nixon, in a strange way, was actually very charming, so when it went on the air, it was so unexpected, and people liked the fact that he was willing to make fun of himself."


Schlatter wanted to be a producer after attending carnivals

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"I wanted to be a producer," Schlatter wrote in his book. "And I was lucky. I got in on the ground floor of the early days of variety television. No experience necessary—we were making it up as we went along."

Schlatter's love for producing can be traced back to his early days of attending local carnivals while in high school. 

"Every carnival had a wrestler and a boxer," Schlatter wrote. "My brother and I would show up and enter the ring, because we got $25 if we could go three minutes with the wrestler or three one-minute rounds with the boxer."

Schlatter loved the sideshow and its pitchmen. He attributes his love for carnies and carnivals as why he went down the producing path in TV.


How Schlatter ruined Dan Rowan's Broadway career

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According to Schlatter, Dan Rowan was the perfect straight man, but wrote that Rowan's main problem was that he had no humor about himself.

"One year we were doing the Halloween show, and one of the blackouts involved Dan dressed as Dracula with a black cape," Schlatter wrote in his book, Still Laughing: A Life in Comedy. "When he turned around, you could see that he had a stake driven through his chest. He sang “Peg o’ My Heart” with his fangs in. Dan was not a singer."

When it went on the air, it was one of the funniest moments on Laugh-In.  

"However, immediately after the show I got a call from his lawyer, Ed Hookstratten, who babbled that he had been on the phone for an hour with Dan, who had complained that I had ruined his 'singing' career," Schlatter wrote.

According to the book, Dan had been up for a Broadway musical, and by making fun of him, he had lost his opportunity to star on Broadway.


Laugh-In was not an immaculate conception

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So, how did the show end up being called Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In

"I was working on reviving The Colgate Comedy Hour as a special presenting all the comedians and acts who might have appeared on the original Colgate Comedy Hour had it stayed on the air," Schlatter wrote.

The comics included Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks doing "2,000-Year-Old Man," Bob Newhart with "Driving Instructor," Shelley Berman's "Phone Call," and many more. At the time they were the hottest comedy acts around, and to top it off, Schlatter said he convinced Jack Benny to host the show.

"In addition I booked the funniest nightclub act in existence, Rowan and Martin," Schlatter said. "They were amazing, hysterical, professional—and they did not get along at all. Although they appeared successfully together onstage, from the time they walked offstage at the close of one engagement until they walked onstage at their next engagement, they didn’t see or speak to each other. I knew they’d be great as hosts of Laugh-In."

Laugh-In finally had the title, concept and hosts. Learn more about the birth of Laugh-In by purchasing a copy of Still Laughing: A Life in Comedy.

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