April 04, 1977 12:00 PM

It was as chilling as any scene in the Oscar-nominated satire of TV, Network. Only it was real. Comic Marty Ingels was suffering a nervous breakdown, live-on-tape, on the Tonight Show. “A comic to the last,” as Marty Ingels recalls it, he excused himself, explaining he had “always wanted to use Johnny’s bathroom.” A friend carted him home, and “for nearly 10 months,” he admits, “I literally lay on the floor. I couldn’t control my muscles and had to crawl around.” Along the way, Marty lost his career (that had peaked with the ABC sitcom I’m Dickens—He’s Fenster), his wife of nine years (model Jean Marie), his Rolls-Royce and his West Hollywood manse.

“The doctor diagnosed it as extreme anxiety,” Ingels laughs half a dozen years later, because he is now, at 41, off the floor and an afflictor not afflietee of anxiety around Hollywood. Marty is trying to undercut the William Morris and other established agencies to become Hollywood’s nonpareil impresario of plugola.

He has chutzpahed out his second career finding Robert Wagner’s price ($200,000) for Timex, Howard Cosell’s for Canada Dry and Orson Welles’s for Stock brandy, not to mention cajoling John Wayne to do a freebie TV spot for the American Cancer Society. “I’m a giant Jewish knight on a white charger,” says the 6’1″ Ingels, “exposing the fat cats who veto projects without even bothering to discuss them with their clients.” He cites the case of a hardware firm that sought Will Rogers Jr. but signed Don Knotts as second choice for $25,000. Then Marty got through directly to Rogers, who yelped, “I would have done it for $10,000.”

So when the Carter White House inquired about kicking off this spring’s savings bonds drive with a boost from TV superstars like Farrah and The Fonz, the official call went not to the old-line agencies but to Ingels Inc. After his first six months in business last year, Ingels had netted a quarter-million dollars in finder’s fees and percentages and now claims grandly to be booking talent at the rate of $1 million a month.

One of the few stars not to yield to the Ingelskrieg, at least professionally, but who has helped Marty come around personally, is actress Shirley (The Partridge Family) Jones, 43, his regular lady of the past two and a half years. Since the death of Shirley’s ex-husband, Jack Cassidy, last December, Marty has been foster father to her three boys: Shaun, 18, a star himself on ABC’s The Hardy Boys, Patrick, 15, and Ryan, 11. (Rock singer David Cassidy, 26, is Shirley’s stepson from Jack’s first marriage.)To hear Marty tell it, he and Shirley “are getting married any day now.” But Shirley cautions, “We have no immediate plans. Marty is unpredictable, impulsive, compulsive, volatile—and exciting.”

Marty hit the nursery floor hustling in a Brooklyn family of dentists. After six weeks at Queens College, he ricocheted through odd jobs as a bookkeeper, barber’s hair model, greeting-card idea man and contestant on Name That Tune. He won $6,000 and plunged on to comedy in summer stock and on Steve Allen’s old Tonight Show.

Shirley was the gyroscope in Marty’s askew world of the early 1970s. (He courted her like a client, dogging her on location with candlelit lunches in a rented mobile home.) Then a pal in the mail-order business asked Marty to sign Rudy Vallée to plug an album of oldies. It led to 16 gold LPs (hawked by such veterans as Chubby Checker, Fats Domino, etc.) and Ingels’ windfall packaging of celebrities.

His minimum finder’s fee is $1,000, but for delivering a package of Eva Gabor, Joey Heatherton, Ruth Buzzi and Phyllis Diller to Ray-O-Vac batteries, Ingels walked away with $56,000. And that’s only the beginning. Ahead Ingels grandly envisions movie deals (he’s talked to Terry Moore about a Howard Hughes epic), Broadway shows (he’s working on a revival of The Music Man) and books (soon to be out is Zsa Zsa ‘s Beauty Secrets). But his woman, Shirley Jones, sticks loyally with William Morris and is ambivalent about the whole proposition. “She hates it,” cracks Ingels. “She’d like me to be a priest.”

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