Martin von Haselberg

Kristine McKenna is a Los Angeles writer.

Martin von Haselberg appears weekdays on Channel 22 as commodities trader Harry Kipper. He took the name more than a decade ago when he met Brian Routh at drama school in London and launched the Kipper Kids, notorious for performance art involving foodstuffs, firecrackers and a lot of whiskey. In 1984, he took on a third identity when he married Bette Midler. Q: Where were you born and what sort of upbringing did you have? A: I was born in Buenos Aires, the youngest in a family of four boys, and was brought up in Germany and England. I left Germany when I was 12 and attended a succession of boarding schools. I had what might be referred to as a classical upbringing. I studied Greek, Latin and stuff like that--none of which I've retained. I was a terrible student. I never thought of myself as rebellious but my teachers always seemed to--to the extent that I was asked to leave two schools. Q: What is it about having three radically different identities that appeals to you? A: For me they somehow all merge into one another because I've been doing these things for a long time now. I've been trading commodities since before I went to drama school and did the Kipper Kids. If I was just a commodities trader, I'd probably be very frustrated creatively. If I was just a Kipper Kid, and did that as uncompromisingly as we've always done it, I wouldn't earn any money. Q: Is making money as much an art form as making a painting? A: No. Q: How has money been of use to you in your life? A: It paid for my education and has allowed me to get most of the things I've wanted. At the same time, there've always been many things I've wanted that I can't afford--and I hope that will always be the case. I like the game of making money almost more than what it can buy. It's often said that money is the root of all evil, and in certain cases it can be a very disruptive thing. Q: Do you see yourself as a comical figure? A: Yes, I'm a pretty comical figure, but at the same time I'm also quite forbidding. My TV viewers definitely don't see me as comical; in fact, they sometimes call and ask me why I never smile. I'm very grim on TV. In a sense I'm putting my viewers on, but I never intended that. I just seemed to acquire a rather stern demeanor over the years of doing the show. Q: Why have you kept the more rambunctious side of your nature under wraps in your role as a commodities broker? A: Because it doesn't bring in business. When I start making huge amounts of money for my clients and am no longer in danger of losing clients as a result of a certain capricious change in my behavior, I will gradually and subtly become increasingly comical on my TV show. But I don't want to take that risk yet. The Kipper Kids were on "The Gong Show" once, and I lost two clients because of it. People take money very seriously, and when clients entrust me with their money, they don't want me to be frivolous or eccentric. Q: Are the Kipper Kids still a team? A: The Kipper Kids never broke up. It's just that after many years of performing, we now take longer and longer breaks between performances. Brian's and my marriages changed things a lot. Brian's on his third and I think final marriage, and I'm on my second and definitely final one. The best way to do the Kipper Kids was when Brian and I lived together and traveled around and were constantly feeding off each other. When we do the shows now, they don't have quite the same oomph, and that's one of the reasons I'm more interested in doing film. There've been two occasions when Brian and I didn't see each other for two years and we'd meet somewhere and do a show immediately. That was very exciting for us because the timing and magic of the Kipper Kids would just be there as if it had never left. I don't have any fears of moving myself back into the character. For several hours every day I am this boisterous baboon, particularly when I'm driving alone. When I feel very happy, I usually become a Kipper Kid. Q: What should art do? A: Art should have a strong spiritual effect on people. By that, I mean that it should affect them as spiritual beings. Q: What's the difference between art and entertainment? A: Sheer entertainment lacks the ethereal quality I look for in art, but the two things can merge. Great art can be entertaining, and vice versa. Q: What aspect of being married to a major star were you unprepared for? A: The amount of activity. She's incredibly busy and is all over the place with enormous amounts of energy. I'm comfortable with it now; in fact, I like it. I'm fairly busy myself, but my business is in a straight direction with one thing at a time, whereas hers is albums, acting, producing films, writing--lots of things. Q: What was the last thing that made you laugh uncontrollably? A: My wife makes me laugh uncontrollably several times a day.

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