Pete Henderson is not known for taking things seriously, mainly because doing just the opposite has made him a comfortable living for about three decades.
But get the junior member of the comedy team of Skiles and Henderson into the kitchen and life takes on decidedly serious overtones.
That was obvious on the Mike Douglas television show several years ago when Henderson was attempting to demonstrate his cooking skills only to be thwarted by the zany Bill Skiles--who, when asked to add salt and pepper to the bowl, for instance, hurled in the shakers.
Everybody howled at Skiles’ antics, Douglas and the audience in laughter, Henderson in frustration. “Knock it off,” he growled at his partner.
Today he insists it was all in fun--like another day on the same show when he and Skiles made a shambles of an appearance by a famous wine expert--but a viewing of the tape might lead to a different conclusion.
Henderson, who now lives in Huntington Beach, calls the dish he was trying to put together Heavenly Hamburger, a longtime favorite still enjoyed by his family and friends, and one which he agreed to share with Guys & Galleys. Lasagna-like in appearance, it’s a tasty combination of ground meat, noodles, cream cheese and sour cream. “It’s particularly handy for someone like myself who travels so much (about 100,000 miles a year) because it can be prepared far ahead of time and frozen,” he says.
And it doesn’t matter where the partners play, one of them has to do a lot of traveling. Skiles--who, like Henderson, was raised in Newport Beach--now lives in Ft. Wayne, Ind. “He prefers dates in the Midwest, and I prefer the ones out here, but we both make the show wherever it may be.”
Last weekend, for example, they appeared in San Francisco and the week before in Las Vegas, which followed a weekend in Florida.
“We’re doing a lot of conventions and county fairs these days,” says Henderson, “because the club market, especially in Las Vegas, has dried up. Now it’s all those big revues, and there’s no room for personalities.”
Still, it’s a far cry from the day the two auditioned with washtubs and tire pumps at Disneyland a few years after the park opened.
They were given a two-week contract that somehow stretched into 19 months. That launched them into a 30-year career that has seen dates at the biggest showrooms in Las Vegas, about 20 appearances on the Johnny Carson show and an equal number of guest shots on the Douglas and Merv Griffin shows.
Henderson moved with his mother to Laguna Beach as a child in 1944 after she and his father, motion picture arranger and vocal director (“The Music Man,” among others) Charles Henderson were divorced.
Seven years apart, both Skiles and Henderson graduated from Newport Harbor High School, where each had been involved in music and drama. “I had a band that started out as a trio when I was a freshman and wound up a big band by the time I was a senior,” Henderson says. He majored in music at USC, playing bass in a band at Disneyland on evenings and weekends.
He dropped out of college after his third year, he says, “because I knew I wanted to be an entertainer, so I became one. Bill and I played golf together, and it was really almost on a lark that we did that audition at Disneyland.”
It led to one of the longest partnerships in show business history and, indirectly, to Henderson’s love of cooking.
“I got tired eating food the way restaurant chefs liked it and decided the only way I was going to have it the way I liked it was to make it myself,” he says. “It didn’t come that easily to me, but I figured it was like learning to play a musical instrument. . . . You know, a little time and a little practice.”
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Accent
1/2 teaspoon sweet basil
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
32 ounces tomato sauce
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 16-ounce container of sour cream
1 bunch scallions, chopped fine
1 8-ounce package 1/2-inch egg noodles
8-10 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
Add egg yolk, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, Accent, basil, mustard, salt and pepper to raw meat and mix well. Melt butter in heavy skillet and brown meat. Add tomato sauce, bring to boil, then lower heat. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes.
While meat is simmering, cook noodles and mix together the cream cheese and sour cream. Stir 3/4 of the scallions into cream cheese-sour cream mixture. Grease 3-quart casserole dish. Place 1/3 noodles on bottom of casserole dish, then layer of 1/2 meat sauce mixture, sprinkled with 1/2 of reserved scallions, then layer of 1/2 cream cheese-sour cream mixture, followed by second layer of noodles, meat, scallions and cream cheese, topped with the final 1/3 portion of noodles. Top with the cheddar cheese and bake in preheated 375-degree oven for about 30 minutes.