Arnold Clive wasn’t tall or skinny. Neither was he fat, thin, ugly, handsome, smart, stupid, funny, sullen, young, old, or in any way particularly memorable. Most who met him subsequently forgot him in short order. His voice wasn’t high or low, perhaps the key to his one remarkable trait. He was an astoundingly accurate mimic. All he needed was to hear a man’s voice once. Not always, but nine times out of ten, he could replicate it with his own. It was uncanny and freakish, he mostly kept it to himself.
He was married to a woman that he didn’t love or hate, even after it turned out that the baby she delivered wasn’t his. In the hospital, she tearfully confessed after it was clear that the kid looked an awful lot like her boss at the lawyer’s office where she was a receptionist. He had married her years previously because he felt like he was supposed to. He divorced her for similar reasons.
Arnold performed on stage once, in 1962. He had worked as a cabbie in his native Brooklyn, one day he picked up a snappy but stressed gentleman who identified himself as a promoter for a club.
“Say, pal- You know anybody funny?” he asked Arnold. “I got Joey Bishop on for tonight and I just heard that the drunkard idiot who was gonna open for him fell down a flight of stairs last night and broke his damn neck. I’m in a real bind.”
Arnold got his courage up and shared that he could do this thing. In rapid-fire succession, he did a perfect Cronkite, Sinatra, and Andy Griffith. The promoter was impressed. “Come by the Gaslight Cafe tonight, do a 15 minute set, I’ll get you fifty bucks.”
The thought of all those people looking at him didn’t appeal to him, but he had just broken the garbage disposal in his sink by trying to cram an old potato in it and it was starting to smell bad. He needed the money to get it fixed, so he did the gig. The Daily News review of the show read like so:
“Mr.Bishop’s performance was preceded by that of a dullard who, although admittedly a talented impressionist, seemed to forget that his performance was intended to be amusing.”
It would’ve been one more unremarkable night in the life of Arnold Clive if not for one thing:
Louise Edelman was in the crowd that night.