Tom Williams AT LARGE:
Everybody knows Regis Philbin. For more than half a century he has been entertaining America and hosting some of television’s most popular shows. He will be in Atlantic City on Saturday with Don Rickles, doing one show at The Borgata.
“There is nobody funnier than Don Rickles,” Regis said. “More than 50 years ago I was working in San Diego and I read that he was coming to town. I went to see him with a cameraman and he agreed to an interview. In those days the cameras needed a lot of light so we had to go outside to record it. He asked me my name and when I told him it was Regis – well, that was all he had to hear. He did four minutes just on my name. I couldn’t stop laughing and I couldn’t get over how fast his mind worked.”
“He’s been on my shows many times through the years. I remember going to interview him at a big comedy show. There were lots of great comics but he was the one I wanted. They came onto the stage one by one and I was waiting. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get back to the station in time with the interview. Finally, he was the last one to come on. I asked Jack Benny why Don came on last. He said it was because none of them wanted to follow him.
“For a while in New York I was doing a stage show, some singing and some comedy. My first gig was opening for Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme but eventually I started opening for Don. We’ve had a long friendship. Recently he suggested I come do some shows with him. So here we are.”
Regis and Rickles will be at The Borgata on Saturday night for one show. It will bring together Rickles, one of the funniest men in the business with an inter-active act that is different every night, with Regis, who holds the Guinness World Record for the most hours on television in the United States. The last time his record was updated, in 2011, he had been in front of a camera for 16,746.5 hours.
“I hate to even think about it,” he said. “I’m proud I’ve lasted but that is a really long time. I’m just glad people aren’t sick of me.”
The Borgata show will include video from both of their careers, which will certainly be fodder for both of their senses of humor. Both men have a strong history with Atlantic City, having appeared in casino showrooms over the last couple of decades. Regis even emceed the Miss America Pageant, both by himself and co-hosting with Kathie Lee Gifford.
He remembers an entertainer who inspired him early in life.
“I was a great fan of Dean Martin,” Regis said. “He was a great singer and a very funny guy. When I graduated from Cardinal Hayes High School (Bronx, NY) we went to the Copa in New York to celebrate and to see him and Jerry Lewis. I couldn’t take my eyes off Dean, I thought he was great. I’d met him through the years. I always marveled at his ease. You couldn’t rattle him. Then I met him one last time late in his life in a restaurant. He was cordial but he wasn’t the same old Dean. Some felt he never really got over the death of his son in that jet crash.”
Regis graduated from Notre Dame University and has a well-documented love for the school. “My father was in the Marine Corps and he ran into Moose Krause (former Irish athlete, coach and athletics director). They’d all sit around the fire at night and he’d tell these great Notre Dame stories. He told my dad that I should go to Notre Dame and he agreed.
“I try to go a couple times a year to a football game. This year I’m taking my eight year old grandson with me. He’s quite a little athlete and he wants to go see Notre Dame play. I’m gonna show him the entire school. Of course, it keeps changing. They’re expanding the stadium – building it higher. Sometimes it gets me a little crazy because I used to know where I was going out there but with the changes I’m not always sure.”
Regis and Rickles on the same stage brings together two show business icons – they are a combined 174 years old with more than 100 of those years entertaining people. This event happens once around here, Saturday night at The Borgata.