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Comedian, actor, writer, producer, banjo player
If cities could be given an EKG, New York’s readout would be Andean and Los Angeles’s would be a sandy beach.* New York is exterior and L.A. is interior, even though L.A. has the weather and New York doesn’t. It’s completely backward. When I’m in L.A., I always find myself pausing to feel the weather or look at the sky or feel how vivid everything is. How fertile and verdant.
I moved to L.A. when I was five. We lived in Hollywood, and my father worked at the Callboard Theatre on Melrose Place. I went to see him in a play there once. Of course, I didn’t understand what a play was—I was too young. But I watched him perform. My first job was at Disneyland selling guidebooks. I was 10. Then I worked in the magic shop until I was 18. Disneyland was literally like living in heaven. You could go to Frontierland or Tomorrowland. But to me they weren’t lands, they weren’t fantasy. They were a kind of reality—paradise. I saw my first live comedy show at Disneyland: Wally Boag at the Golden Horseshoe Revue. He was fantastic. I was enchanted by the idea of a live comedian. I have a very soft spot for Disneyland in my heart. Anything they ask, I do.
In 1967, the biggest change in my life happened in L.A.—I got a job as a writer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. It was magic to me that you could be working in a folk club for nothing and then the next day you’re working at CBS for writers’ scale, which was a fortune. That’s very L.A. From nowhere to somewhere, overnight. While I was on that show, I was a contestant on The Dating Game three times. I got picked three times. Three for three. I won a trip to see Wayne Newton perform at Melodyland, I won a trip to Tijuana to the bullfights, and then the big one was I won a trip to Portofino, Italy, with Deana Martin, Dean Martin’s daughter.
I left L.A. in 1970, and one of the reasons I left was the horrible smog. And then they cleaned it up. That was one of the greatest things the government has ever done for me. You have beautiful days now. It’s a much, much nicer place to live. It’s kind of a grander place now.
You know, when you’re doing a movie, it’s often at odd hours. I always think of these moments, driving home, maybe from Pasadena, going toward Los Angeles at 5 a.m. The sun is coming up behind you. You’re on a freeway, but it’s elevated, so you can really see almost the whole city. It’s so starry and vast. The freeway is empty, so it’s this glorious time—like being alone in the city. By yourself. And it’s warm. » Martin, 65, just won his third Grammy, for Best Bluegrass Album. He next appears in the comedy The Big Year.
*This sentence is good enough to be in a novel. In fact—it is, on page 160 of Martin’s latest, An Object of Beauty.