She was a true classic, a Broadway chorus girl in the days of breadlines, bootleggers, and bad gin. She made her way to
Hollywood during the Golden Age and worked with the comedy greats: Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton, Abbott
and Costello, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, the Three Stooges, Shemp Howard, and the Bowery Boys. She was Iris Adrian, tough girl
I was in Los Angeles in May 1989, working with Steve James on the script for our movie Street Hunter. I called Iris, hit
it off on the phone, and asked for an interview. I wanted to meet her in person, but Iris wouldn't let me, she wanted me to
remember her from the old days ... not as an old lady. I respected her wish and she talked straight. She was one helluva dame,
IRIS ADRIAN: How we gonna start?
JOHN A. GALLAGHER: Let's talk about Wild Bill Wellman, one of my favorites.
IA: Oh he was a wonderful man, more handsome than any of the stars that worked for him. He was a war hero, he was everything!
He gave me two very good parts, in Roxie Hart (1942) and Lady of Burlesque (1943).
JAG: What was he like on the set?
IA: A lot of fun, but really business, you know? They used to say every picture Wellman made was another war (laughter).
JAG: Lady of Burlesque is a lot of fun, too.
IA: It had all the wonderful girls in there, Marion Martin. Marion Martin died, remember her, that beautiful blonde?
JAG: You worked with her in New York, too.
IA: Over at the Hollywood Restaurant in 1928. She was the head nude there. She was always lying about her age. When she
died, her husband didn't know how old she was, some weird setup! The age she gave made her 10 years old when she opened the
Hollywood Restaurant in 1928!
JAG: Did you like Barbara Stanwyck?
IA: I loved her. I was with her all through the picture, playing her girlfriend.
JAG: Wellman was the boss on the set.
IA: Oh, you better believe it.
JAG: Did anyone ever come down on the set from the front office?
IA: They did once and he beat 'em up (laughter). They had a fistfight, him and one of the producers. I don't know what
that was all about. People drank then, you know? They had a few drinks at the end of the day.
JAG: Dana Andrews told me they had a special cell at the Beverly Hills Police Station for Wellman so he could check himself
in on Saturday night and stay out of trouble.
IA: The guy that told you that oughta know, cause he was quite a drinker! Everybody drank in those days, you know, Pat
O'Brien and all of them. They even drank early in the day. It was just a lot of fun. You'd make a picture and they made a
party out of it.
JAG: When you were on a picture you were working six days a week.
IA: Oh sure.
JAG: When did you have time for socializing?
IA: Oh heavens, nobody had any time for that. I didn't. When I was in New York I had three jobs. I slept two hours a night,
which is kind of dumb, but it was during the Depression, and nobody had any money. I was keeping my mother and my grandmother.
I was the only one that worked (laughter). We were living out here and I was going to school, and all of a sudden they turned
off the electricity. I said, "What's going on?" Mother says, "Well, we're out of money. You'll have to go to work." My grandmother
put me in a Perfect Back contest. I won it.
JAG: Perfect Back?
IA: Isn't that the dumbest thing you ever heard? Well, the chiropractors were having a beauty contest. So grandmother put
me in and I won it. I think it was fixed ... my grandmother arranged that (laughter).
JG: George Raft had a big impact on your career.
IA: George brought me out from New York. He picked me out of the nightclub and I danced with him across the country to
"Sweet Georgia Brown". It was fun and he was nice, and all the gangsters would come see us. He loved gangsters. Of course
I knew all of them from New York, anyway. Frenchy and Owney, Owney Madden. I don't know what the hell Frenchy's name was,
it was just Frenchy. Big fat Frenchy. And the guy that owned the Chicken Ranch. Frenchy came out here when I was doing Rumba
(1935) and said to the director, Marion Gering, "Listen, this is one of our kids from New York" -- meaning me-- "and
if she isn't good in this picture there's only one guy to blame" (laughter). Marion was terrified of Frenchy. I said, "Frenchy,
what are you trying to do, ruin my life?" He said "What do you mean, if this bum doesn't make you look good in this picture
..." I said, "Jesus, you can't come out here and do that! You'll have me out of pictures because he's afraid of you!" God,
he was a big boob. George was so thrilled they let him live. He used to work in nightclubs as a dancer and these guys would
come in and see him and they let him live and he was so grateful to them (laughter). They came in to see the girls and out
came a guy dancing with them, they threw pennies at him. So then poor George tried to rate with them and he loaned Bugsy Siegel
$100,000 and then Bugsy was shot and he never got back the money. George threw away all of his money trying to make the gangsters
think he was a good guy. George died broke.
JAG: The taxes got him.
IA: Yeah, I think he got $17 a day to live on. It was so sad. He turned down all the pictures, nothing was good enough
for him, High Sierra (1941), The Maltese Falcon (1941), and the classic of all time, Casablanca (1942). I think he was afraid
to do them.
JAG: All the pictures that made Bogart a star.
IA: Yeah. He did Bogart a good favor. Of course, Bogart was better than George, really.
JAG: Raft was considered a good dancer, right?
IA: Sure. I loved the way he danced. But you know, he wore a corset, and he wore kind of high heels cause he was short.
He had a very sad life, George. I mean, what the hell was good about his life? He had a wife in New York who was a dental
technician and he wanted to stay married to her. A friend of mine knew her, and said, "No, she wants to divorce him, but he
says it's money, so he won't". You know, there's a certain type of a man around who doesn't want to get tied up with anybody,
and if you're married, you stay married and you don't get in any trouble. George was madly in love with a wonderful girl named
Virginia Pine, who married Quentin Reynolds, a New York guy. That just about killed George when he lost her. Then there was
Betty Grable, and she married Harry James right in his face. He couldn't marry her because he was already married.
JAG: Spencer Tracy stayed married to his wife too.
IA: That's right, she was a Catholic. Except that was her excuse (laughter)! Frank Sinatra got his marriage annulled through
the Catholic Church! Can you imagine? Ridiculous ... if you have money you can do anything. They don't have any rules that
JAG: Nowadays it doesn't matter.
IA: No! They just have children, they don't want to be bothered with the marriage license. It's too much trouble to go
get it (laughter). Too much trouble to go and say "Will you marry him?" Takes a day out of your life.
JAG: They used to have the moral clauses in the stars' contracts.
IA: Well, it didn't do much good (laughter).
JAG: Let's talk about some directors. Fritz Lang, Woman in the Window (1944).
IA: He was a pain in the neck. He was a great director, though, I guess. He was tough on actors. They all were. Michael
Curtiz was really tough (laughter). It seemed I was always working with him. They didn't tell me who I was working with, they
just said go to Warners or wherever. I'd get there and it'd be Michael Curtiz' picture. He was awful to Joan Crawford on Flamingo
Road (1949). She was so unhappy. She said, "Iris, I'm miserable!" He was standing in the next room and he said "Don't give
me that one with the big shoulders and the big eyes! Don't give me her!" She said, "I know he means me! He doesn't want me.
I can't give up this picture, my contract will be broken and I won't do the other three movies". So she did it. She said,
"I've never been so miserable in my life". We had this scene and we did it, and it was late in the day, and she said, "Well,
home to mother" and I said, "Home and be mother". She says, "Oh my God if everything is as rotten there as it was here, somebody's
gonna get it". So I think that's when Mommie Dearest started.
JAG: You did Carnival Rock (1957), one of Roger Corman's first pictures.
IA: He's doing pretty well now! I don't remember him ... (laughter ) ... I know him now! I thought he was much
younger. See, I'm going to be 77 on May 29 (1989) and it scares the hell out of me because I haven't died yet which means
I have to die from here on out (laughter). If I already died I wouldn't have to worry about it anymore. But here I am and
now I gotta worry about it.
JAG: You worked with all the great comedians.
IA: All of them.
JAG: Laurel and Hardy on Our Relations (1936)...
IA: They were adorable! They were so cute. Babe Hardy was just a big baby doll. He was a darling man. He was so cute, he
said to me one morning, "Let's have dinner tonight". I said, "OK". But as the day wore on, you thought "Oh my God!" I hate
things like this where you think, "Jesus, do I have to have dinner tonight?" and he's thinking the same thing". So at the
end of the day, I sneaked out and went home, figuring maybe he'll forget about it. But he called and he said, "How do you
feel about dinner?" I said, "Oh, God, I can't do it! I'm so tired!" Babe said, "Oh I love you for that!" But a guy had to
keep a date, I don't know why.
JAG: Go West (1940) was funny, with the Marx Brothers.
IA: Oh, they were adorable too! They fought among themselves a bit. But oh, Groucho, I loved him. I thought he was so dear.
I liked them all. The darling of the whole bunch was the redhead, Harpo. After Go West I did a show in New York for Kaufman
and Hart, The Fabulous Invalid, and Harpo came backstage to say hello, not only to me, he knew everybody else. But I was so
thrilled he said hello to me. I don't know why! You know, he was a big star to me. He came back and said, "Iris, I really
like you in this show".
JAG: He appreciated talent.
IA: Well, I was good in it (laughter).
JAG: Chico had a reputation for womanizing and gambling.
IA: Well you know, the racetrack ruined everybody, George Raft, Lou Costello. They had to be big shots and bet $10,000
on this and $10,000 on that. Life is so short, you don't have to be a nut trying to show off. Who's lookin'? It's so stupid.
JAG: You worked with Buster Keaton.
IA: Very nice guy. Quiet guy.
JAG: The Misadventures Of Buster Keaton were TV episodes and they were put together into a feature.
IA: I don't know. I just went to makeup and went to work. I didn't care whether they did them
for film or TV. Who cares? How
could I think of all those things? Buster lost his money, too.
Why do they always have to gamble when they drink? Nobody wants to lose their money but when they
get drunk they get a lot of nerve and they lose it. Why don't they just drink and pass out?
JAG: You did a picture with the Bowery Boys.
IA: Oh, sure. Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall. They were great, too. They were fun. They were all great people. Everybody on the
planet's pretty great I guess unless once in a while somebody sneaks down to the corner and murders somebody. Jesus, there's
a lot of murders goin' on. I never go out at night. People say "Oh, come on, I'll pick you up". They pick me up, my God, they
could be killed too! That's one part of my life I like now. I do not go out at night. I don't like it.
JAG: In the early days you were out every night working.
IA: I went down to Miami Beach to work in a place called The Palms. Moey Dimples met me at the train and said "You're not
going to work there. You're gonna work at The Paddock. They're gonna double your money". I made $500 a week, which was the
biggest salary I ever made. So I stayed down there and they wouldn't let me out of there. I stayed through the summer but
I still was getting paid. But God! Our first show was twelve midnight. It was a late spot (laughter), Miami Beach. Everybody
was there. I don't know what happened to those people. They died, I guess, from drinking. This was the summer of 1940.
JAG: Do you talk to Bob Hope?
IA: I see him once in a while driving around. He yells, "Hello, Iris! How are you? How's Fido?" Well Fido died five years
JAG: What kind of dog was he?
IA: He was my husband (laughter). Fido Murphy. Raymond Marcus Murphy. He was a ballplayer in his youth, and then he worked
for George Halas. He saved George's football team, the Chicago Bears. My husband died. That screwed me up because I lost my
cheering section, I lost everything. I can't go to work and come back to an empty house. And there's no reason for me to work!
JAG: You've worked ten lifetimes.
IA: I have, haven't I? I think, "Gee, the nerve of me quitting!" (laughter).
JAG: I love that scene in The Paleface (!948) with you and Bob Hope in the saloon.
IA: I love that, too. In the scene, my boyfriend got jealous and they had the fight, whether they got that or not. Sometimes
you watch a picture and you don't know what the hell it's about.
JAG: That's a classic scene in The Errand Boy (1961) with you and Jerry Lewis with the giant champagne bottle.
IA: He directed that, too. You know, he was a hell of a guy. I loved working with him. He was real cute. He took me in
and showed me all the pictures in his dressing room. He was like a kid. "Come here, I want to show you these pictures" ...
of him ... (laughter) ... and his wife. He was married to Patty. He was in love with his wife. They got divorced since, married
again. He had a few set-to's here and there with a few people, but it worked out all right. Well, everybody has a few set-to's
here and there.
JAG: I watched The Errand Boy yesterday. That scene is so funny.
IA: I played Anastasia Anastasia, the movie queen. She's been 21 for 23 years. I don't think Brian Donlevy liked him very
much. Brian Donlevy smelled like Scotch. He perspired Scotch. He was a drunk and it's too bad. He was pretty and he was great
actor, but he'd get near me and I'd smell Scotch! And he perspired all the time and it was Scotch coming out of his body.
He was mad at Jerry but I thought he was OK, Jerry. Jerry did everything and I copied him. That's the way he does it. He does
the thing the way he wants it and you copied him. I didn't like some of it too much, but I did it (laughter). The movie-in-a-movie,
the death scene, Jerry did that first and I copied him. He's clever. I can get along without watching him but he's clever!
(laughter) Isn't that awful? That was water in the big champagne bottle. Come on, you don't think that was champagne? (laughter)
It was ridiculous but it was wonderful and I enjoyed it. I was getting a little older-looking then. What year was that?
JAG: '60, '61.
IA: I did the Elvis Presley picture Blue Hawaii the same year and I looked good in that. I looked fat in The Errand Boy.
JAG: Well, Errand Boy was black and white and Blue Hawaii was color.
IA: Maybe that's it. We always made the movie queens out to be boobs, you know. But Mae West sure wasn't a boob. She wrote
all her own stuff. A smart cookie. No matter what you do, no matter how smart you are, you're gonna die anyway.
JAG: What were Abbott and Costello like?
IA: They were kind of silly when you think of it. Now here were two guys who made it that hated each other evidently. I
don't know what the hell was going on there. They were like two gangsters. I did a radio show with them. There was a big long
table and Abbott would come in with his crowd at one end and Costello would come in with his crowd at the other end, all their
flunkies, the guys, the entourage. They acted like they were mad at each other. But their comedy isn't very funny. I never
thought it was too hot, but listen, what do I know?
JAG: I never thought they were on a level with Laurel & Hardy or Buster Keaton.
IA: No! They were so unhappy with their comedy, so morbid. They weren't up, they were so down. They were mad at each other.
One was waiting for the other one to go over the lines so he could bawl him out. They were both like that.
JAG: Tell me about Jack Benny. You worked with him for years.
IA: Oh God, he was the sweetest thing. He was the greatest thing to ever hit this planet. You know? He really was. He loved
everybody and everybody loved him. He loved the whole world. He never lost his temper. He was just like he is in the TV shows
and the pictures, that's the way he was. I knew him, I guess, for thirty years. I worked in television with him and I worked
in radio with him, and then he wanted to do this act and I worked in that act for 20 summers. 20 summers!
JAG: That was the Smithers Sisters.
IA: Yeah! I thought, Fine, I'll go to Europe, you can't go to Europe with a better guy than Jack, you know, he'd been there
so many times. He loved show business, you know, like George Burns. They just loved it. Jack was a lotta fun. We played the
Palladium. I came out one day and there was a lineup and I sneaked around, and they were talking about me--"Jack, when is
Iris Adrian coming out?" Jack said, "I'm the star of this show!" (laughter) But you see, I'd been seen in a lot of pictures.
That's the power of the movies! In a Broadway show there was a lot of applause when it was over, but then everybody forgot
about it. No reruns!
JG: You were in the very first episode of Green Acres.
IA: I was good luck. I was in that show and I was in the first show of Get Smart.
JG: Do you know how many pictures you made?
IA: I have a list from a guy named Jordan Young and I counted up to 150 and I didn't go any further. I did a lot of shorts
in New York way back there in the Thirties. My first picture was with Jean Harlow in a Charley Chase comedy in 1928. I was
16 and she was 17. You know, she died at 26.
JG: Did you have a favorite studio you liked to work at?
IA: Paramount. They signed me to a contract. I felt like it was my home. I worked there when I was in the chorus, and I
went back to New York and I thought they'd never let me out of my contract but they were thrilled to death to get rid of me
(laughter). I told them I want to go back to New York and do a show. I got lonesome for New York, because New York was so
much more exciting than L.A. I thought. Well, I went back to New York and I did some more shows and they signed me again!
So I came back more of an actress than a chorus girl! (laughter).
JG: Do you remember the Three Stooges?
IA: Howard, Fine and Howard. Larry Fine was so adorable. I didn't know Shemp too well but I just loved Larry Fine. He had
a very cute little wife. I went to Joe Besser's funeral recently, 9 o'clock in the morning. They spent so much money on his
funeral and nobody was there. I don't know why they do that. They put these great big gorgeous caskets in the ground and let
'em rot. isn't that stupid? It costs so much money and they put all that money in the ground. You know, the wife could have
used that money to eat on.
JG: You did a lot of Disney pictures.
IA: I did ten or twelve of those in the '70s, one right after another. Just bits.
JG: With Dean Jones.
IA: Dean Jones has gone a little bit stupid. He's a born again Christian and those kind of people get on your nerves. I
said, "Look, I was already born once" (laughter) But it's OK with me. I don't know. The funny part of the whole thing is I
think we're all Jews. We all came up from Judaism. Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism. And what about the Lost Tribe?
They said this lost tribe went where it's all green and plush. I think that's Ireland. I mean, Gaelic and Yiddish are very
much alike. They taught me to say one thing that means you should live so long. I said that at the end of a few songs I sang
and they all loved it because I was supposed to be a goy or a shiksa or something. The Jews to me are the best people in the
world because I worked for them all my life. They do things for you. It's the best religion, I think. They don't believe in
that pie in the sky crap. Do it here while you're here now and don't worry about the rest of it. Just do the best that you
can for your fellow man while you're here. We got the whole Bible from the Jews. Written by Jews, for Jews, about Jews. Jesus
was a rabbi, come on! (laughter)
JG: Comedy had to be your favorite.
IA: Well sure. It was all the same, but they didn't hire me for anything but comedy! I always did comedy.
JG: You were in a knife throwing act in the '30s.
IA: I met the act at the Hollywood Restaurant, which was on top of the Ziegfeld Roof they called it, this was '31 (now
the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York). I joined it as the girl who steps in front of my lover to save his life. There was
an apache dance in it and we played all over, went to Europe with a knife-throwing act and got to be very popular over there.
I was on all the marquees, we were a big hit, there was no dialogue so they could understand it. We played all over the world
and we were going to go to Germany. We played the Palladium and then we went on to Manchester and Scotland and Budapest. We
were going to play Germany but they were throwing things at the American actors. That was in 1933 and the Nazis were just
coming in. This act came back from there and told us "Don't go, they threw everything at us, vegetables, eggs, just don't
go, you're going to get killed". So we didn't go. We could have gone all over Germany but Hitler screwed us up, so we came
back to New York and they billed us as "the sensational act from Europe" (laughter).
JG: I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.
IA: I really enjoyed it. Y'know, the 29th of May I become 77.
JG: Happy birthday in advance.
IA: Jesus, it won't be happy. Nothing happy about this one or any of the ones that happened before. I think that life is
a three act play. I'm in my third act. From one to 20 is the prologue, 20 to 40 is the first act, from 40 through 60 is the
second act, from 60 on ... well, let's hope it's a long act, as long as it can be.
JG: You're 39, you're not fooling me.
IA: Of course! Well, I love ya and I'm glad you called, darling.