True: Beverly Hilton Pocket Knife Surgery and Near-Resurrection of Harry “Parkyakarkus” Parke
A comedian who delivers “the most hilarious speech of his career” in front of 1,000 fellow celebrities at The Beverly Hilton, then collapses. An emcee who shouts for a doctor and “five physicians immediately run to the dais.” And then–get this–they cut open his chest with a pocket knife. And then–well, ya just gotta hear the rest.
It sounds like a corny “And, boy, are my arms tired!” comedy skit, but it really did happen.
Park Your Carcass Right Here
Harry Parke, born Harry Einstein in 1904, was a comedian, and by the 1950s was resting on the laurels of his invented persona, a Greek named Parkyakarkus. This fictive name translates to “park a your carcass.” Remember, in these days nobody blinked at ethnic humor.
Harry was one of those clubby, fraternizing comedians who was chums with all the stars of the day. So, naturally Harry belonged to the clubby, fraternal Friar’s Club in Beverly Hills, California.
Before the Friars established their permanent address on Little Santa Monica*, they would use any suitable venue for their celebrity roasts. And for the roast of luminaries Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the Beverly Hilton was the place.
On November 24, 1958, Harry Parke had just finished his testimonial and had sat back down again. Parke sat next to Milton Berle, then slumped his head onto Berle’s shoulder and passed out.
Emcee Art Linkletter said, “How come anyone as funny as this isn’t on the air?”
When it became clear that Parke was seriously not well, he asked for help from the audience. As Linkletter related 42 years later to Larry King, he asked, on-mike, if
…anybody here have a nitroglycerin tablet?’ [To King:] We could have had enough to bury him. Everybody had them. Everybody has heart problems, see?
According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, that number was roughly twelve, saying “More than a dozen men came up with such pills.”
Linkletter then asked singer Tony Martin to sing a song to divert the crowd’s attention.
Martin’s unfortunate choice was “There’s No Tomorrow.”
Husky Western actor John Bromfield, star of “Revenge of the Creature,” part of the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” franchise, carried Parke to a “small corridor in back of the dais,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Improvised Pocket-Knife Surgery and Shock
The most startling aspect of this story is the improvised pocket-knife surgery and shock treatment of his heart.
As related by The Milwaukee Sentinel on November 25, 1958:
Here, George Burns talks to reporters at the Beverly Hilton. According to the caption on this USC Digital Library image, Parke is being operated on behind the double doors to the right.
Parke was the father of present-day comedians Albert Brooks and “Super Dave” Osborn.
Friar’s Club Beverly Hills
The Friar’s Club, known for its roasts of celebrities, was quite a place in its time. I remember its utter windowlessness being one of its great defining features. You would drive down hot, bright, jangly Santa Monica Blvd., and then you would be enveloped in the cool darkness of the Friar’s Club, a place outside of time. It has now been demolished.
- Los Angeles Times. “Building that once housed the famed Beverly Hills Friars Club is being razed”
- CNN, Larry King Live, June 30, 2000. “Art Linkletter Discusses His Career in Television.” In this discussion with King, Linkletter mentions the bit about Tony Martin singing “There’s No Tomorrow.”
- Library of Congress’ National Jukebox. This is a treasure trove of free music and spoken word recordings from the Library of Congress’ archives. Only after reading a carefully-worded disclaimer about the representation of ethnicities in days of yore are you able to listen to these wonderful recordings.
- USC Digital Library. Here you can find a pair of images titled “Friars club on night Parkyakarkus died, 1958.”