His Royal Hipness - Page 4

When verbal jazzman Lord Buckley held court— wailing away way-out humor with a touch of the divine
Lord Buckley
Lord Buckley as a contestant on Groucho Marx's 'You Bet Your Life' TV show (1956).

Lord Buckley liked fine cars and dressed well when he dressed, but it can't be said he was overly materialistic.

Though he played top nightclubs, released five albums during his lifetime, and performed many times on TV's 'The Ed Sullivan Show' and for Groucho Marx's 'You Bet Your Life,' "Dick could never hold onto money, or he never did, anyway," his longtime friend Charles Tacot recalled. "To know him was to have him owe you."

From the 1940s through the early 1950s, drinking and drugs caused behavior so erratic some clubs hesitated to book him. He was arrested in Reno in 1941 for public drunkenness while touring with Gene Krupa, and in Las Vegas two years later for marijuana. Once, he set fire to his hotel room.

Given one last chance to make good at New York's Loews Theater, jazz bassist Buddy Jones recalled, the Lord blew it by falling into the orchestra pit drunk.

"If it hadn't been for the children," Lady Buckley said, according to Trager, "I don't think I could have held on." It was the Lady who convinced the Lord to join AA.

By the mid 1950s, when the young Prince Richard was growing up in Los Angeles, near Las Vegas, and in Marin County, Lord Buckley had become "the greatest father. A ton of fun," his son recalls.

When the Lord recorded 'Baa Baa Black Sheep,' it was young Richard doing the 'baas.' "I was three-and-a-half."

"He used to tickle us until we couldn't breathe, and then tell us stories of the cookie monster and how we were going to die laughing," Prince Richard says.

Lord Buckley
The 'Dig Infinity' book from 2002.

Lord Buckley preached against drinking, advising marijuana instead. But he never smoked around the kids, Prince Richard says.

"We'd say 'yes, sir' and 'no, sir' to my father and mother and every adult. He was very strict. I got spanked if I misbehaved."

Lord Buckley loved to read. Mark Twain was a favorite. He read about Eastern and Western religions, Prince Richard says, took an interest in flying saucers, and attended conventions on the subject.

The Lord had become a "health nut," Prince Richard says, doing pushups and sit-ups, creating homemade Orange Julius drinks with oranges and eggs, and easing into "natural artesian wells in Vegas so hot it took you one hour to get in." He loved sailing, and hiking the Red Rock area north of Vegas. "His ashes are buried there."

Lord and Lady Buckley still threw parties and went to nightclubs. Prince Richard remembers meeting actors and burlesque dancers.

"We were doing fine," Prince Richard says. "He worked every night. Plus, my mother was a ballet teacher. We weren't well off. But we weren't broke. I never went to bed hungry."

As the 1950s moved toward their close, Lord Buckley expanded into related areas—he wrote a play, 'Earth Angel,' and he provided one of the voices for Bob Clampett's 'Beany and Cecil Show' TV cartoon 'The Wild Man of Wildsville.'

Buckley also worked with a storyboard artist on a never-completed animation of his monologue 'The Swinging Pied Piper.'

"He wanted to be big in animation. He loved it," Prince Richard says. It was also around this time that Lord Buckley reportedly took LSD, with UC Irvine psychiatrist and psychedelic pioneer Oscar Janiger. It's said the Lord couldn't stop talking—for three days and three nights.

In October 1960, just as Buckley was starting a well-paying, extended run at a club on St. Marks Place, the New York police confiscated his cabaret card.

That meant they confiscated his career, at least in New York, as such cards were required for anyone—doorman to star—working in a nightclub.

Suddenly, Lord Buckley was big news.

The law, adopted in 1941 to keep mobsters out of the entertainment industry, had instead opened the door for another kind of criminal—crooked cops who used the threat of lifting cabaret cards to extort bribes from any entertainer who had ever been arrested for anything.

Police commissioner Stephen Kennedy, described by Life magazine as "an upright but short-tempered cop," claimed Buckley had lied in his application about two past arrests, including his Las Vegas marijuana bust.