Video of the Week: Frank Zappa on the Steve Allen Show, 1963 revisited

We received the sad news today of the passing of Gail Zappa, Frank Zappa‘s widow and the fierce guardian of his legacy. It seems appropriate, then, to reach back into the archives and re-post this video of young Zappa’s appearance on The Steve Allen Show back in 1963. He talks a bit about his involvement in The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962) and seems rather embarrassed by the whole thing. Then he plays a bicycle.

We send our love and support to the Zappa family, and thank them and Gail for protecting and curating Frank’s work for posterity. Peaceful rest.

Quote of the Week

THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER (1963)

Music like the worst nightmare the Cramps ever had.

Timothy Carey – the charismatically malevolent “heavy” of The Killing, The Wild One, Paths of Glory, and East of Eden – single-handedly made this film between 1960 and 1963 in and around the town of El Monte, outside Los Angeles. Its plot centers on forty-year-old Clarence, who quits his job at an insurance company so that he can don the mantle of a rock star and run for public office as God. Carey’s portrayal of a rock star in a gold suit backed by a ragtag Mexican band is so fantastically bizarre that it puts Salvador Dali (Carey’s idol) to shame. During his main performance, which is sour and atonal, Carey falls to his knees and screams, “Please! Please! Please!” (Without ever having seen or heard of James Brown!)

The World’s Greatest Sinner isn’t a music movie per se, but its soundtrack stands out. For the background music, Carey hired a young, unproven local odd-ball, Frank Zappa, to compose a full orchestral score. Their association was short-lived, however. Appearing on the Steve Allen show playing a bicycle, Zappa made disparaging remarks about the film that earned Carey’s lifelong enmity.  (Still, they both made cameo appearances in the MonkeesHead.) Although this crude but uniquely imaginative undertaking was ignored by major distributors when it first came out, history has heaped kudos on The World’s Greatest Sinner – and on Carey for his bravery, wit, and vision. Fans, take note: Still alive, Carey makes occasional film and TV appearances. He also pops up at showings of his films at revival houses around L.A. In early 1991, he was completing a stage play, The Insect Trainer, about a postal worker killed by a fart.

Art Fein, from Hollywood Rock: A Guide to Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Movies by Marshall Crenshaw (HarperPerennial, 1994)

The World's Greatest Sinner

Quote of the Week

“When I was working with Debbie Reynolds for the second time [Ed. note: it was actually for the first time, at least as far as I know!] (in The Second Time Around, a western comedy) at 20th Century Fox, a fellow came up to me and complimented me on my acting. He said he was a composer and the guy he came with, his next door neighbor, played the guitar. I said, ‘What’s your name?’ He said, ‘Frank Zappa.’ So I said, ‘OK, I have something for you. We have no music for The World’s Greatest Sinner. If you can supply the orchestra and a place to tape it, you have the job.’ And that’s what he did. Around the same time he was on the Steve Allen Show. That’s where our friendship stopped. Steve asked him what films he did. He said, ‘I did The World’s Greatest Sinner, the world’s worst film and all the actors were from skid row.’ It wasn’t true. The press said I was the world’s greatest ham, and that The World’s Greatest Sinner was a travesty of the arts. Zappa didn’t like that and he started to get on their bandwagon. The opening night at the director’s guild, he was in complete awe. He walked into the window and banged himself in the head. He didn’t even know there was a window there.”

– Psychotronic Video magazine #6, Summer 1990; interview by Michael Murphy and Johnny Legend, research by Michael J. Weldon

For a video of Zappa’s appearance on the Steve Allen Show, please go here.

Video of the Week: Frank Zappa on the Steve Allen Show, 1963

This week we present something slightly different. This is a young Frank Zappa appearing on The Steve Allen Show in 1963. He talks about his involvement with Tim and the scoring of The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962). He is not exactly complimentary. Then he plays a bicycle. Take a look:

“Around the same time he [Zappa] was on the Steve Allen Show,” Timothy said in the Psychotronic interview in 1990. “That’s where our friendship stopped. Steve asked him what films he did. He said, ‘I did The World’s Greatest Sinner, the world’s worst film and all the actors were from skid row.’ It wasn’t true. The press said I was the world’s greatest ham, and that The World’s Greatest Sinner was a travesty of the arts. Zappa didn’t like that and he started to get on their bandwagon. The opening night at the director’s guild, he was in complete awe. He walked into the window and banged himself in the head. He didn’t even know there was a window there.”