Tuesday, January 09, 2018


   As we get older, we become more aware of the obit page, and it seems our favorites die more frequently. We realize, “This IS serious.” It’s going to be OUR time soon. And…it kinda makes you wonder, don’t it? I mean, about being dead? “To be really dead,” Dracula once mused, “must be glorious.” 

    No, like the dead parrot Mr. Cleese brought back to the store, a corpse has “ceased to be.” And so a once vibrant, funny guy like Jerry Van Dyke (July 27, 1931-January 5, 2018) is now silent. The Big Sleep is Sleep No More. 

    A friend of mine killed himself. He was in his early 20’s. My mother happened to meet his mother, and my mother hadn’t heard the news yet. “How is Keith,” she asked. Keith’s mother replied, “There is no Keith.” That sums it up, doesn’t it?  

    We talk about how the legacy lives on. The work is still there. The memories are around. Thus, the person hasn’t really died. What a lovely rationalization. No, the loved one is an EX-Person. One minute you might be able to call Jerry Van Dyke, and he might go off on some goofy anecdote or other. Now he can’t do that. 

    YOU can download “It Kinda Makes Yuh Wonder Don’t It” and enjoy it. And you can think Jerry Van Dyke was a personable fellow. He knows nothing about it. There is pain in sorrow for those around him, and we offer condolences, but we can’t offer condolences to a corpse. In his autobiography, Dick Cavett wrote about feeling depressed sitting on a park bench and realizing he could never tell W.C. Fields or Laurel & Hardy how much they meant to him. And how sad it also was that these guys couldn't be heartened and cheered by that kind of appreciation. Or that they couldn't just enjoy more years of retirement, being at peace instead of resting in it.

     So we end up mourning OUR loss, a bit more than the fact that someone who we wish was still enjoying life, is not. Which kinda makes you wonder. Don’t it? 

    OK, I’ll stop being existential. If it wasn’t for the title of the song, and the fact that it IS a weird fucking song, I wouldn’t have started this way. Time for an appreciation of the deceased artiste.  

    It’s been said, and was said too much during his lifetime, that Jerry was over-shadowed by his famous brother Dick. Well, so have 90% of the comedians and actors in America. Dick Van Dyke is legend. But Jerry did well for himself. He had his own personality. He played an affable variation of “stupid” in his comedy and his stand-up and his talk-show appearances. His variation was to be slighty dizzy and uninhibited. 

    Here’s a guy who could go into embarrassing detail about how your ass gets flatter as you get older, or how llama shit has no smell ("which is a good thing if you sell it as fertilizer") and the more blankly oblivious he seemed in his ramblings, the funnier he became. His light-hearted, goofy way of walking through life got him a lot of work in sitcoms. In fact he "sleepwalked" through his first TV sitcom role, a nepotistic turn on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” as Rob’s confused banjo playing brother. Jerry actually made his TV debut at 19 doing stand-up on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” He showed a lot of poise stepping out there and telling self-deprecating jokes at that age.

    Jerry’s childlike "say what you're thinking or not thinking" charm got almost instant attention. He became a regular on “The Judy Garland Show” and was in the running for many sitcom parts (including the lead in "Gilligan's Island.") He chose the infamous “My Mother the Car” figuring that if talking dog and horse sitcoms had done well, this would succeed too. It lasted a year but was picked on by critics as an example of how low and ridiculous TV comedy had stooped. 

    Fortunately for Jerry, he was able to savor fame late in life. He was Emmy-nominated four years in a row (1990 through 1993) as a co-star on “Coach.” He also performed solo shows and played dinner theater.  

      It is more than a shame that his fame on “Coach” was marred by a great personal tragedy. On November 17, 1991 his troubled daughter Kelly hanged herself.  Her strange and rebellious nature led her to porn films as "Nancee Kellie," including “Catfighting Students,” “Rump Roasts,” and “Coach’s Daughter,” marketed to reference her father’s hit series. She was married to sleazy Jack Nance, who eventually died after some thugs beat him up and damaged his already pulpy brain. The sordid story of her porn life was amply covered by “Inside Hollywood”-type documentaries at the time.

    When he got to be visibly OLD, Jerry was perfect for productions of “The Sunshine Boys.” He played Willy Clark, the firmly retired vaudevillian opposite a variety of straight men including his brother Dick, and also Tom Smothers.  

    When Tom and Jerry performed in “The Sunshine Boys” together, Jerry offered reporters a typically goofy joke: “We both have brothers named Dick, but doing this play, we're Dickless!” But really, memorizing and performing that play at their age did take balls. 

    The song below? It still makes ME wonder. It comes from the Broadway show "Kelly," which seemed like such a sure thing (music by Moose Charlap) that people were vying to cover songs from it before it even opened. The Village Stompers recorded it as an instrumental on their "New Beat on Broadway" album. Columbia handed it to Jerry for his debut single, even if the only lyrics he sang were, yeah, "It Kinda Makes Yuh Wonder, Don't It?" And I wonder, what was going on in the Broadway show during this song?

    "Kelly" lasted just ONE performance and there's no review describing the song, which was ultimately spelled with a YOU not a YUH. I'd like to think that in the musical, the rascal Mr. Kelly is either doing magic tricks, or perhaps eyeing a chorus of burlesque strippers doing a bump and grind. Well, you can imagine your own visuals that could make you wonder. You can do it because you're still alive. 

IT KINDA MAKES YUH WONDER, DON'T IT? - listen online or download, no Passwords, time delays or invitations to download malware because your Adobe is out of date so click here... 

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