Born: April 5, 1906
Died: November 12, 1960
The hippest cat of the all, Lord Buckley has been credited as an influence by George Carlin, Robin Williams, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia and Frank Zappa, among others.
Born on April 5, 1906 in Tuolumne, California, Richard Myrle Buckley began performing on the streets of that Gold Rush town as a child, and honed his comedy act performing along with Red Skelton at dance marathons in the 1920s, sometimes staying on stage for 10 hours at a time. He appeared on Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town," the Tonight Show with Steve Allen, and "You Bet Your Life" with Groucho Marx.
Lord Buckley hipped his audiences to the language of jazz in courtly manner, referring to them as "M'Lords and M'Ladies." In Buckley's language of the hip, "Friends Romans and Countrymen, lend me your ears" became "Hipsters, flipsters, and fingerpoppin daddies, knock me your lobes!" In his Gettysburg Address (by "Lanky Link") Buckley envisions "a jumpin, swingin, stompin, wailin new nation, hip to the cool sweet groove of liberty, and solid sent upon the ace lick that all cats and kitties, red white or blue, are created level in front." He also translated bible stories for his cabaret crowds and provided the voice of Go Man Van Go in the 1960 Beanie and Cecil cartoon "The Wildman of Wildsville."
Buckley, who had been an alcoholic for 20 years, was "like an evangelist where marijuana was concerned. He thought it was the panacea for everything," said Mel Welles, a writer, actor, director, and Buckley collaborator in Dig Infinity! The Life and Art of Lord Buckley by Oliver Trager (Welcome Rain Publications, 2001). Welles said some 50 people were busted for holding pot at the first services of The Church of the Living Swing, which Buckley founded in Topanga, California in 1954.
Orson Bean, the comedian and "To Tell the Truth" panelist, recalled smoking with Buckley in the late 1940s at the Touraine Hotel in Boston. "I had heard of marijuana but had never seen it," Bean said. "I smoked it and it remains in my experience the finest pot I've ever smoked...I remember that night with fondness, walking down the carpeted corridor of the Touraine Hotel and feeling I was about a foot off the floor...it was quite wonderful."
Eldon Setterholm, a young bohemian working in film industry who knew Buckley in 1950s, wrote in a 1987 article in "Irregular Quarterly" magazine, "He smoked Pall Malls while he did his act...When O'Grady, the Hollywood Vice fuzz was trying to nail him when he was playing at Jazz City on Hollywood Blvd., Buckley would put a joint under his foreskin and smoke it in the head before he went onstage, because he liked to be stoned when he worked. The Hollywood vice were trying to get Buckley because he was so upfront about smoking it."
Every once in a while instead of giving his usual jazz-oriented act, Buckley would give an AA sermon, telling the audience that booze is the tool of the devil and the destroyer of life and health. "Why are you people drinking that vile devil's brew?" he'd say. His audience would often get up and leave when they realized he was serious. This must have popularized him no end with the club owners.
In 1943 Buckley was arrested for marijuana possession in Chicago, but charges were dismissed when Ed Sullivan intervened (he toured with Sullivan on a USO tour from 1942-45, and the two became good friends). On Thanksgiving weekend in 1959, Buckley took part in experiments with LSD (then legal) with Dr. Oscar Janiger (aka "Oz"). Many consider his description of the experience the most interesting and accurate ever.
On October 19, 1960 Buckley's "Cabaret Card" enabling him to perform was revoked by New York City Police, purportedly because of a 1941 arrest in Reno for public drunkenness (while on tour with VIP Gene Krupa). A few weeks later on November 12, Lord Buckley died after suffering a stroke aggravated by malnutrition and a kidney ailment (and most likely, police harassment). At his memorial service at The Village Gate in New York City, Dizzy Gillespie and Ornette Coleman performed and many cultural luminaries attended.
Jerry Garcia said Buckley was not just a stand-up comedian, but instead "like a medicine man, a shaman." "I feel that Lord Buckley is an almost lost resource," Garcia said. "He was on the track." Robin Williams said there are Buckleyesque elements to the Genie he voiced for the Disney movie "Aladdin."
Lord Buckley often ended his routines, "...PEOPLE ARE THE TRUE FLOWERS OF LIFE, AND IT HAS BEEN A MOST PRECIOUS PLEASURE TO HAVE TEMPORARILY STROLLED IN YOUR GARDEN." We're glad he strolled in ours.
Buckley recordings are available at http://www.lordbuckley.com/
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