Sunday, January 20, 2008

Wits End* and the Merry Mutes



*Bring Money.

(Not to be confused comic artist Wally Wood’s magazine Witz End).

When I was in my teen years there was a local group that had a 15 or 30 minute show on a local TV station. I think they called themselves the Merry Mute Players. They did funny skits… a fast pace funny skit thing, sort of like The Committee, but silent.

The two main players were Phil and Nancy Erickson, a married couple. One of their players was a young man named Dick Van Dyke. Dick came and he went, as others did – but, boy was he good, a born mime.

Later, on a date once, Anna and I went to The Wits End* (*Bring Money) Playhouse in Atlanta, on a little side street off Spring Street, near the Biltmore Hotel. They were just as funny as when I saw them on TV… a high energy one skit after another - but this time they had dialog and sung... they had a great song called "They Are Tearing Up Peachtree Again".

The Wits End* (*Bring Money) was a night club. I forgot the details, if you had a drink minimum, or a cover charge, or what, but the show was always great. After we were married, whenever we had guests from out of town, we knew they would like The Wits End*.

They would pick on common situations, politics, national and local, and it was very entertaining. Yes, indeed.

If I remember correctly they moved from their little club off Spring Street and to the top floor of the huge Merchandise Mart, right in the center of downtown Atlanta.

After that it was just too much trouble to get to.

In 1965 when I worked for Atlanta News Agency. On my route out in the southeast rural country side of Dekalb County, Georgia, I saw a farm house that had WITS END* - The Ericksons on the mailbox. I wonder if they had many unannounced visitors?

I think Phil and Nancy would be in their 80s or 90s now, if they are still living. The Wits End* (*Bring Money) probably is gone forever. I Googled The Wits End and also Phil Erickson and came up with nothing. With all that hard work they did, now they are nothing but a memory.

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19 Comments:

Blogger kenju said...

They are a good memory, though, at least to you. I never saw that place when we were in Atlanta in the 70's, but I'll ask mr. kenju if he did. He travelled there a lot on business and I was only there twice.

8:57 AM  
Blogger ET said...

Judy,
Mr. Kenju might remember it. It was a hit with businessmen from out of town.
How is Mr. Kenju?

10:01 AM  
Blogger Jean said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:24 AM  
Blogger Jean said...

According to an interview that Dick Van Dyke gave Larry King, Phil Erikson died in 2000.

Elsewhere I read: Some of Atlanta's Wits writers went on to "Saturday Night Live," including Bonnie and Terry Turner, who later created "Third Rock From the Sun" and "That '70s Show."

5:33 AM  
Blogger ET said...

Jean,
Phil Erickson died in 2000 huh? He was good at what he did.
I didn't know Bonny and Terry Turner wrote material for the Wits End. They must have been in high school then.
Sometime in the late 70s or early 80s they had an excellent show, similar to the Wits End, on one of Ted Turner's channels, then, I think it was Channel 17, locally. Then I wondered if they had a "Turner Connection."

6:22 AM  
Blogger Jean said...

When I google, I start with the most obvious and work toward the obscure. Start with Dick Van Dyke AND Wits End and work toward Dick Van Dyke AND Wits End AND Phil Erikson.

When I google for fun, I start with something obscure....

10:07 AM  
Blogger ET said...

Jean,
You are a good Googler.

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Buzz said...

I grew up in Atlanta and my Mother and Father were friends with both the Erickson's and Dick Van Dyke. I met Dick once and he left such a positive impression
that I followed his career from "Wits Inn" to Ed Sullivan to "The Dick Van Dyke Show"

I'll always remember his show on WSB-TV in Atlanta
and how Phil and Dick improvised so many routines.
They were quite a team and worked so well together.

I miss those times....

10:38 AM  
Blogger ET said...

Buzz,
They were so good!
I'm with you, I miss those times too.
In the summer of 1965 I was out someplace in the rural part of Dekalb or Gwinnett County and came across a farm-l00king house that had on the mailbox "Wits End - The Ericksons"
When I first saw them at the Wits End they had a lady, not thin, and a tall young man (not Dick) who did an excellent job also. The lady did an excellent job acting out running a jack hammer with a helmet on her head going every which way, while they all sung "They are tearing up Peachtree (St) again.

10:53 AM  
Blogger ZigZagger said...

Thankyou! As a friend woke me up this morning to ask "What was the old ATL group Dick Van Dyke played in?" Zzzzzzzzz...she does this to me all the time. After about 4 sites, boom!, I got the answer here. Yes, I as not even legal (21) when I first saw the Wits End Players. They were more amazing than they were recognized for being. Yes, SNL and many other groups have (unknowingly) followed the premise they set for humor about ourselves! DVD had the zay physicalities to make their gigs funnier ... but Phil (and Nancy) Erickson were truly the essence of what they did on stage. Ironic to have been asked this 'ATL history' question this week. I've just returned fm annual SF vacation--if you ever get to SF, you've gotta' spend an evening at Beach Blanket Babylon--look it up. In it's 35th years, BBB is soooo entertaining. It's a cast of many with GREAT music, very talented players---the premise is several vignettes, all full of 'those in the news' and not many are left out. It's kept fresh ... and over 20 years, maybe seen it 4, 5 times. Today's shows are The Best. Steve Silver was the originator, and since his death, his wife, Jo, and many of same players==continue a mainstay in SF. It's a VERY entertaining show!

7:43 AM  
Blogger Eddie said...

You are welcome. Now, ask me who is in Grant's Tomb.

8:37 AM  
Anonymous Cheryl Bayer Taylor said...

I use to be a "Wit's End" player from 1968 to about 1971. We were one of the "traveling" companies. We traveled around doing Wit's End shows in mostly Southeast dinner theatres along with a short, eyeopening 1 week at the NY Playboy club! Being a "Witsender" was one of my most memorable experiences. In 1986, Phil Erickson called me up and asked if I'd like to perform on the Fox Theatre stage for a 25th reunion of Wit's End. It was a fabulous experience! Phil and Nancy were WONDERFUL friends! Their son, Jamie runs "Wit's End Productions" in Atlanta and you can find their site on google

3:52 PM  
Blogger Eddie said...

Thank you Cheryl! I feel honored that you made a comment on my blog. About the time period you were with Wits End is about the time period we mostly went. I'm sure I have seen you perform.. the odds are for it. I know you did a great job because everybody I saw did a great job.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ ET!

I read your post on the not thin woman running the jackhammer and wearing the hard helmet. That's My Mom! Her stage name was Kay Mason. If you have any info on where to get photos or print on Wits End Players. The tall guy you were referring to is Bill ?? I did a billboard with him when I was 6 or so making it year 1967-1968. Please email with any info and thanks in advance to bankersgal@hotmail.com

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Cristina said...

Bill Sims was the tall, handsome guy. Sally Street was the hilarious black woman. Ginny Parker was the tall, thin beautiful woman. Then, of course, Nancy and Phil. I used to do some songwriting for them...they were soooooo funny!! Miss that kind of humor.

7:27 PM  
Blogger Terry said...

Does anyone remember a Wits End player named Tom Bentley? Should have been around 1958.

Thanks Terry

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Wes Morgan said...

I first went to Wit's End in 1957 when I was in high school. They wern't too strict about IDs in those days. Later when I was at Tech it was a great place to take a study break. The mime performances by Phil and Nancy were always funny and entertaining. Thanks for the memories.

2:15 PM  
Anonymous Agnes M Cowan said...

Wes Morgan is right, they were at Wits End in the fifties,starting about 1955, I believe. The last time I saw the mery mutes and Ericksons, minus the moved on Van Dicks, was at the York Hotel, almost across the street from the Fox theatre. The hotel is no more
Those were the dayss! Many stars got start in atlanta, some at the Dogwoo room at Heenry Grady Hotel.

6:50 AM  
Anonymous Agnes M Cowan said...

The Van Dick boys debuted in Atl with the Ericksons. I went to Wits End many times in fifties, and later when the group, minus the van dicks, played at the York Hotel, which is gone. Those were the days!!!

7:48 AM  

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