Today is the birthday of Borscht belt funnyman Jack E. Leonard (Leonard Lebitsky, 1910-1973).
I discovered him absolutely backwards. He came to my attention as one of the stars (playing the duel roles of “Herman” and “Irving”) of one of my favorite movies The Fat Spy (1966), which will undoubtedly be a future post here all by itself. Later, I realized I had encountered him twice before: he has a cameo in Jerry Lewis’s The Disorderly Orderly (1964) as “Fatty Jackie”, and he is one of the voice-over actors in the 1974 animated television special Journey Back to Oz (posthumously released).
Why I say it was backwards: Most people a bit older than me know him from television — he was constantly on variety and game shows in the 1950s and 60s, which was before my time! The rotund comedian in the funny hat and two-small suit made jokes about his weight and his bald head, but mostly he made them about the audience, who he referred to as his “opponents”. He is considered by many to have been an influence on Don Rickles.
Leonard had gotten his start in the twilight days of vaudeville (one of his partners was Buddy Howe), but truly came up in Catskills resorts and nightclubs, which eventually led to tv work.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, including comedian like Jack E. Leonard, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.