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Remembering Jane Kean

By Jerry Waxman

Jane Kean

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 chauffer 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.


Quality Time

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By Jerry Waxman

Everybody loved Davy Jones. Rich or poor, old or young, Davy had this ingratiating personality that transcended music lovers of all stripes. We loved The Monkees and we loved him. We sang his songs and we danced to his joyous music. Davey was unique-more than any other entertainer I’ve ever come into contact with. The news today hit me like a ton of bricks because we had a brief association several years ago, got to know each other fairly well and we remained friends.

It was October 2006 and I was winding down the theatre operation that I had started over a decade before. Hurricane Wilma in 1995 had blown the roof off our building and the landlord was not willing to pay to repair the place. We struggled to get through the season by occupying other spaces provided by the City of Hollywood and presenting other programming than our regular season. We managed to get through a successful season of children’s theater, which paid many of the bills and we had grant money that had to be used so we partnered with other companies who needed the funding. I was ready to move to Orlando but had to wait until I had satisfied all of the theater’s obligations. Earlier in 2006 the Rapp Agency out of New York hired me to tour the South Florida Condo circuit with Carol Lawrence, the original Maria in west Side Story, as her production/stage manager. My predecessor, whom she had fired, had confided in me that she was one of the most impossible people he had ever worked with, however, the theater’s coffers needed refilling and it was the chance to work with a living legend. Besides, I had survived five weeks with Melba Moore and her entourage back in 1995 and nothing could have been more impossible than that.

To our mutual delight we hit it off very well and there was never a contentious moment between us. She was very professional and demanding which I admired and I did my best to please her and it worked out great. Now approaching 80 she is still working and still as energetic as ever.

So it was no stretch eight months later to partner with Gold Coast Theatre producer Jude Parry who was touring an adapted British Panto show, Cinderella, written by popular British comedian Mike Winters who with his late brother Bernie starred in the Mike and Bernie Show on ABC TV and in Great Britain. Davy Jones was to be the special guest star along with Anita Booth of the Royal Shakespeare Co. Ms. Parry is an accomplished actress as well as a great mime and she uses these talents to their best advantage. Davy was also no stranger to the stage having played The Artful Dodger in Oliver as a teen ager in London. He also played on stage many other times during his career, so working with this group was going to be more fun than work. It wasn’t work at all. I spent a lot of time rehearsing Davy, and all of us went out afterwards and blew off steam. In those moments you get to know someone pretty well. He genuinely liked being with this cast and crew and he was just one of the gang.

Davy Jones and Mike Winters

When my daughter Nancy found out I was touring with him she called me and asked me to get a signed picture for her old college roommate, Laura, who was a big fan. Laura was ready to deliver her first baby within 10 days and Nancy was visiting her in New Jersey. Davy overheard the conversation and immediately wrested the phone away from me and engaged both Nancy (who was four months pregnant) and Laura for almost half an hour on the birth of his daughters and how he was not only in the delivery room but participated in the actual deliveries. This happened with less than forty five minutes before performance (on New Year’s) and Davy didn’t care; he was delighted to talk with them. His autographed head shot to Laura heads this article. We learned a lot about each other in those couple of weeks and we stayed in touch after the tour was over. We talked about doing it again but my schedule wouldn’t permit me the time. I did get to see him again when he performed here in Orlando a couple of years ago.

I’ll remember those couple of weeks for the rest of my life because to me Davy Jones was special. I weep on his passing yet I rejoice in the absolute joy that he exuded throughout his life and the pleasure that he gave to untold millions of people during his life. R.I.P Davy. Your existence elevated all of us.