Jack LeMaire: From Keith Orpheum to KFC

This may be the only complete biographrical article on multi-talented Jack LeMaire (1911-2011, sometimes rendered “Le Maire”) that you will find on the internet. His interesting career brought him into contact with many key show biz giants, so I thought he’d be worth a portrait.

LeMaire’s dad and three uncles were all in vaudeville; I’ve written about his dad George and uncle Rufus. As a small child, Jack accompanied his father to his engagements. This valuable 2002 interview conducted by the National Association of Music Merchants recounts how young Jack came under the wing of jazz guitar pioneer Eddie Lang, who was performing with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra on a bill with his dad. Jack was to go on to perform with the bands of Hal Kemp, Wingy Manone, and others.

But LeMaire was also a bit of a ham. You can see him in a 1929 Pathe short called Turkey for Two directed by his dad, featuring William Frawley. He’s also got a walk-on in Born to be Bad (1934) with Loretta Young and Cary Grant. In the ’40s he played jazz clubs on 52nd Street with guys like Dizzy Gillespie and had a residency at the Palmer House in Chicago. When he was quite young he began to be afflicted with arthritis and began to play less and lean into comedy and performing. He did stand-up in U.S.O. tours with Bob Hope, normally climaxing his act with a single number on guitar. In the ’50s and ’60s he acted on TV shows like Bat Masterson, Sky King, and The Famer’s Daughter. In 1969, he had a small role in George Cukor’s movie Justine! If you’re the vaudeville fan I think you are, you have also seen him in the 1997 Vaudeville documentary on the PBS show American Masters. In his later years, he worked primarily portraying Colonel Sanders in KFC commercials and at in-store appearances. That’s because he looked like this:

When he passed away in 2011, Jack LeMaire was just shy of the century mark, and one of the last genuine links to the world of vaudeville.

For more on vaudeville history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube. 

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