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Remembering Jane Kean

4:50 pm in Uncategorized by Jerry Waxman

 photo JaneKean_zps3c5b0571.jpg

Author’s Note: my dear friend, Shayan Elahi, messaged me “It’s Thanksgiving. Write something.” Since we are both rabid fighters for social justice I’m sure that he expected me to write about the Simon Legree Big Box stores and their attitudes toward their employees. I do that kind of stuff every day and so do thousands of other writers and bloggers. I needed something different to write about, although I wasn’t expecting to hear about the death of Jane Kean whom I knew and worked with. What I can say is that I give thanks for Jane Kean and many others in show business for the opportunity to have known them for however brief a period of time.

It was the summer of 1990 and I was in the cast of a local production of The Music Man in Ft. Lauderdale. Jane was hired to play the part of Mrs. Paroo as a guest artist. Our producer had asked me to be Jane’s personal escort and chauffeur for the several weeks we would be together. I didn’t exactly jump at the chance because the year before for Bye Bye Birdie, we had had another well know actress from that era (who will remain nameless) who, while not difficult at all kept to herself and never got to know her cast, playing the role of Albert’s mother, May. I did some research on Jane and decided that she was worth the effort, and it was a most rewarding experience. Her association with Jackie Gleason over the years made her a well known and beloved personality in South Florida, especially among the sixtyish and up crowd who actually did buy theater tickets then.

The glamour photos from the forties and fifties that were published in the obituaries don’t do her justice. Very few of her publicity photos do. They don’t capture the twinkle in her eyes. They don’t capture the pixie quality in her stature and personality and in her uninhibited joy. You had to know her personally to see that. We hit it off from the moment we met. Her husband, Joe Hecht, was with her and we had much to talk about since we were both native Philadelphians. Our time together was spent doing radio and TV interviews, visiting old friends from the Gleason years and doing a lot of lunch. Lots of time spent with Jackie Gleason’s widow, Marilyn, and her sister, the fabulous June Taylor. One noted lunch companion was Hedy Lamarr, who at age 76 was as strikingly beautiful as ever. Oh yes, we also rehearsed a lot too. I’ve done lots of rehearsals in my career and this one never felt like work.

Through it all, she never complained about the working conditions, or her fatigue or any of the cast and crew and I knew she had some criticisms, but she was a real lady. Her years in Vaudeville, Theatre and night clubs gave her a drive to excel, which she did, yet there wasn’t a bitter sentiment in her character that I could detect. She, Joe and I parted friends and kept in touch for a couple of years. I never forgot how warm and gracious she was. I’m thankful that I got to know her.

The Revolution Was Televised (Only We Didn’t Know It)

6:31 pm in Uncategorized by Jerry Waxman

Dance programs on radio were nothing new in 1957. They had been around in one form or another since the dance marathons of the Depression years. Swing bands used to do remote national hookups into living rooms across the country and the kids used to dance at their house parties until all hours. This was best illustrated in the movie The Benny Goodman Story where the band is mobbed in California by hordes of teenagers. They had no way of knowing at that time that there was an audience in the west. Frank Sinatra’s time with the Dorsey orchestra was well spent gathering him a multitude of fans that went crazy over him in public. His 1942 dates at the Paramount are legend with bobbysoxers screaming, swooning and dancing in the aisles during the show. Radio dance programs were standard stuff by the late 30’s.

1970s promotional slide of Dick Clark. Photo from Flashbacks.com

In Philadelphia radio station WPEN had two hosts, Joe Grady and Ed Hurst who used to broadcast from the downtown studio on Walnut Street. There was a dance floor in the studio and they used to invite teen agers from local schools to come and dance during their program. The year was 1946 and they were successful for many years. Of course, the music they played was in transition from swing, through Bebop, into R&B and finally Rock and Roll. It was a slow transition because the popular bands were Artie Shaw, Charlie Barnett, The Dorseys, Goodman, Kay Kyser and Sammy Kaye. The big vocalists were Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole Dinah Shore and two newcomers named Doris Day and Tony Bennett. Things were changing, however and groups like Louis Jordan, Three Cats and a Fiddle and Louis Prima were starting to make names for themselves, with music that wasn’t quite what the public was used to. Still, the kids loved it and loved to dance to it. The big breakthrough came in 1951 when Guitarist Les Paul and his wife, Mary Ford turned the music world upside down with their multi-track overdubbed recording of How High the Moon, a ten year old jazz staple that blew everybody away, and everyone young and old loved it. Les Paul became the high priest of the solid body electric guitar and even in death he still holds the title. The first revolution in pop music was over-the stage was set for the second one.

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