While dining at Mario and Pucci’s restaurant in Fairfax in the Eighties you may have crossed paths with someone who looked a bit like Father Guido Sarducci, the chain-smoking priest on TV’s “Saturday Night Live.” While Sarducci appeared 31 times on the popular late night comedy show and was once arrested in Rome for impersonating a priest, DON NOVELLO — the comedian who plays him — has lived a somewhat less colorful life in Marin over the last 30 years…Unless you count that project he did on a Novato high school campus with a pack of sheep. He explains:
JASON: You created a high school yearbook of SHEEP?
NOVELLO: Sheep, yes. It’s called The Blade and it’s a book that came out in about 1984 and I did it here, I guess near Novato…Fort something. (Inverness or Tomales?)
JASON: I don’t really understand what a yearbook of sheep IS…
NOVELLO: Say you have a high school yearbook…
NOVELLO: It’s all sheep. It’s ALL sheep. And I did it here. We took sheep to Novato and used the stadium there and–
JASON: You have a copy of this thing?
NOVELLO: You know, take a look on the web and maybe you can find some stuff. I don’t know anymore. It’s out of print. But someone told me lately it goes for $150 bucks each or something now, I can’t believe it.
JASON: How many sheep did you have?
NOVELLO: The class was about 12 high school graduates… It was a ‘Marin thing’. I could only do this in Marin County, this sheep yearbook. I mean, how many other places in the country can you do something like this? We rented this school and they let us bring the sheep in.
JASON: You had a ‘Brain Sheep’ and a ‘Jock Sheep’, is that the idea?
NOVELLO: We had all the sports teams and everything (played by sheep). We had the Skydivers Club with a sheep hanging from a parachute from a tree. This book was something. You either loved it and thought it was the funniest thing ever or you didn’t understand it. All sheep. We had (sheep) in cars. We had a (sheep dressed as a) Homecoming Queen.
JASON: So when did you first move to Marin?
NOVELLO: I had some friends living here — a guy named Dave Sheridan who was an underground cartoonist who did something called “Mother’s Oats” and “Dealer McDope.” Anyway, I worked in Advertising until I quit in 1972 to write a rock opera. Dave (and I) worked together on that. So I came out here and worked with him on it and I moved up here in ’73. I lived here until ’75 when I went down to LA (to work on) “The Smothers Brothers” show. Then I moved back to Marin County in 1981 and have been here since then. I had an apartment in San Rafael in ’73 until ’75.
JASON: What do you remember about the Marin of 1973?
NOVELLO: A lot of rain. There were more people my age at that time here, artists and musicians, and it was much looser. It was less suburban than it is now . I guess because it’s gotten so expensive. People without a regular income are having a hard time living here.
JASON: What age were you in ’73?
NOVELLO: I was 30 in 1973.
JASON: What kind of places did you used to go to for fun? Restaurants, bars?
NOVELLO: I remember there was a place called The Lion’s Share. You know that place?
NOVELLO: I didn’t go there. I didn’t have the money. But that was like the ‘cool’ place I guess. It was kind of expensive but they had good entertainment there.
JASON: But you never went?
NOVELLO: No, I never did.
JASON: How about a place that you actually went to?
NOVELLO: We used to work, you know. We used to sleep all day and work all night. Are you talking about bars or something like that?
NOVELLO: Nothing comes to mind. There was a place underneath Dave Sheridan’s studio that was called … The River City or something like that? In downtown Fairfax? It was a nightclub kind of thing. I worked there. It’s a dance studio now. It was a night club for awhile until the police closed it down and harassed people. I don’t know why. Fairfax had a few music places that they kind of shut down.
JASON: What about Marin during the Eighties? Anything come to mind?
NOVELLO: Not really. When I first came out here I was performing at a coffee house called The Intersection in North Beach. I remember it used to cost 75 cents to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and we’d all have to chip in, you know. (Laughs) I worked there with some group called The Nicolettes which were like 9 women. And they’d have another comedian, like a guy named Freaky Ralph, perform. It was all hippies at the coffee house. So they’d split up the door evenly between 11 and 15 people so maybe you’d get like 3 bucks (at the end of the night).
JASON: What was it about Marin that really compelled you to move here for good?
NOVELLO: I had friends here. It’s a beautiful area. Another artist friend of mine, B. Kliban, he did the “Cats” cartoons, he was friend of mine who lived here. I love it here but I wish there was somewhere else I could go. It’s not the same. It’s just gotten much more suburban.
JASON: What has Marin lost for you?
NOVELLO: It’s not what Marin (specifically) has lost. It’s (happening in) a lot of areas where the Real Estate goes up (in price) and it changes the populace. It changes the make-up. I may be just talking through my hat. I don’t know, maybe there are many 30 year olds here who are musicians and artists that are making it. Maybe there’s a whole society that I don’t know about. I’m twice that age now. It just seems to me that, for myself, friends and acquaintances that I once had (in Marin) — so few are around here and mostly because they couldn’t afford it, you know. They had to leave the area just because it got very expensive. If they were lucky enough to buy a house then they’d probably still be here. But the people who didn’t (buy) were forced to move by the economy. But (then again) it probably doesn’t matter THAT much. To get REALLY cheap (housing) you probably have to go to some outskirts of Vancouver. For all I know it isn’t that much different in Sonoma. I’m not sure if what I’m saying makes sense economically but that’s my view.
If people can’t afford to live in Marin they probably can’t afford to live in Sonoma either, right? So maybe what I’m saying was valid ten years after people moved away. It’s nothing new, it’s not like in the last 5 years people left. But the community changed because of Real Estate prices I guess. You’ve asked me how things have changed but there are two ways of looking at it. One way (from the perspective) of a 60 year old and one way (from the perspective) of a 30 year old.
JASON: Like some things you used to enjoy as a 30 year old might still exist (in Marin) but you wouldn’t know because you’re not doing them anymore?
NOVELLO: Absolutely. Although I’m sure glad the home prices didn’t go DOWN! (laughs) (Overall) I think it’s great here.
JASON: Did you ever used to go out to eat?
NOVELLO: I liked Mario’s and Pucci’s. It was an Italian restaurant in Fairfax.
JASON: When did you used to go there? In the Eighties?
NOVELLO: Yeah, the Eighties. It’s called something else now. I love Fairfax, it’s my favorite place. It’s kept some of that personality, more than other places like San Anselmo. Like in San Anselmo, when a drug store closes down they put in an antique store. A barber shop closes they put in some kind of high fashion thing. But I love it here and the people are great…
JASON: You ever do any comedy about Marin in your act?
NOVELLO: You know I did a joke once that Robin Williams used and he gave me credit for it. In fact he did it on “The Tonight Show” when that Marin Taliban guy was making news.
JASON: “The Tali-Boy”…?
NOVELLO: Yeah, The Marin Taliman. They found out who he was because he asked his commander if he could get time off for “Ski Week”. I always felt sorry for that guy. He’s just a kid.
JASON: I’ve got a video clip on MarinNostalgia of a woman in a hot tub getting massaged by two men with peacock feathers. Do you feel that image was overdone?
NOVELLO: Absolutely, yeah. I didn’t know anyone who had a hot tub. Honestly. It’s just not valid at all. In the East Coast they have an impression that all of California is like that old image of Marin. But if you go to Bakersfield it’s like being in the middle of Texas. But the image (of Marin) is still this hot tub place. It’s a beautiful area and the weather’s the best. If I were to be living in New York today, I’d want to move here now just as I wanted to move here then. I can’t think of a better place in America to live. I felt that when I first came here and I still feel that today, although it’s not the same now. I’ve had many friends here who have died or moved away. So it’s changed a lot. And at the same time, it dawns on you that you’re a different age so you don’t look at things the same way.
JASON: There are people on MarinNostalgia’s Forum section that say that they remember Marin being a fabulous place in the old days while other people say, “Hey, it really wasn’t ‘Leave it to Beaver’.”
NOVELLO: Well, no place was. But probably this was the place that was closest to it! (Laughs) I don’t know… What about starting a poll on your website that says, “We love Marin but where else do you think is better?”
JASON: Great idea!
NOVELLO: Yeah. “If you could live anywhere else, where would it be?” And here’s another one: “If you didn’t live here, would you want to move here?”
JASON: That’s a good one too. Thanks!
If you’ve got an answer to any of Don Novello’s Marin questions, own a copy of his sheep yearbook “The Blade” or wish to reflect on your own favorite Marin memories from the Seventies and Eighties, please visit the FORUM.