In the early 60's, Nichols and May became famous and went to Broadway with their acerbic, neurotic brand of satire. Taking the opposite approach, Stiller and Meara soon became famous (and "The Ed Sullivan Show" regulars) with broader, more human comedy on the differences between man and woman and Jew and Gentile. All four would eventually have successes in solo careers. (Mike Nichols has directed many a brilliant film and play, Elaine May has also written and directed some remarkable work. Comic actors Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara are still married, and yeah, spawned Ben Stiller.)
Also playing the same clubs, but not reaching TV or Broadway, Holt and Jonah were a synthesis of the other two acts. Like Mike Nichols, Will Holt tended to play it uptight and brittle. In his case, WASPy as well. Like Anne Meara, or even Jerry Stiller, Dolly Jonah was blunt and at times boisterous.
They did make one album for Atlantic, called "On the Brink." Which we now know was not the brink of success. The cover pose had them dressed as sophisticates while standing in the rubble of a destroyed building.
Back in the late 50's and early 60's, nightclubs flourished, and urban clubs in Chicago, New York, St. Louis, San Francisco and elsewhere gave the "intelligentsia" sophisticated and challenging humor that could at least match Fred Allen of radio, or Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley of the magazine world. Audiences were expected to "get" the references to literature, art and history, and in the case of Holt and Jonah's closing showpiece, Brecht and Weill.
An evening of Holt and Jonah touched ground in many areas. The dynamic in their best routines was the down-to-earth broad giving an elbow in the ribs to Mr. Hung-up. There was also room for songs (Will Holt having been a solo folk singer for years, and the first to record "The M.T.A." comic ballad about a guy unable to get off a Boston train).
Let's just say it was a great (lost) age when people came to a nightclub to hear challenging, brainy material, be it poems (Henry Gibson), rambling political riffs (Mort Sahl), fake lectures (Professor Irwin Corey), dark meditations (Brother Theodore), theatrical monology touching on Freud and Kafka (Shelley Berman), or…this rather daring and ambitious serio-comic mini-musical Hollywood satire incorporating the stylings of "Threepenny Opera."
Will Holt went on to write lyrics for a few successful off-Broadway and Broadway shows. As previously mentioned here, he put lyrics to "Lemon Tree," which was a hit for Trini Lopez, and wrote "One Of Those Songs," a catchy vaudevillian novelty which was a favorite of belting-bozos like Jimmy Durante. Sadly, Dolly Jonah, who acted in the films "The Pawnbroker" and "Harry and Tonto," and performed solo in cabaret, died back in 1983. She was only 53 years old. Her ebullience is well-captured on the track below, which brims with both a joyous and wicked sense of humor.
Holt and Jonah The Rise and Fall of the City of MOVIEVILLE