BETTY JEAN KAYNE MEMOIR
I REMEMBER THE NIGHTS, I REMEMBER THE DAYS
by Betty Jean Kayne (February 5, 1997)
We sat in darkness, all those many years ago – my two sisters, our mother and I. It was 1942; our country was at war, but our main concern that night was getting seats close down front at The Tower Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri, our hometown.
We watched and listened with rapt attention as the luscious velvet curtain, maroon in color, slowly lifted. Blaring blasts from the orchestra seated on stage announced the forthwith appearance of the Ted Lewis Review, the undisputed best traveling show of the day. The band made a striking picture in tuxedo – black pants with cummerbund, black bow tie and short, crisp tomato red jackets. A grand piano sat at one side of the stage as nineteen other instruments gleamed in a myriad of lights – trumpets, trombones, clarinets, violins and big double base. An impressive collection of drums and cymbals were prominently displayed on the top tier of the bandstand. With the curtain full up, those of us seated down front were surrounded by music. “When My Baby Smiles At Me.” Nothing is music – like the sound of live music.
I gazed with a lurch in my heart at The Three Blaire Sisters, sitting close near the piano in front of the band.They were tall and sophisticated looking – beauties all. I recall I indulged in a bit of childish speculation. “Bet they aren’t really sisters.” Jealous? Well… YES! They were there on stage while my sisters and I sat in the audience, watching.
A white spotlight moved to the right side wing, Suddenly – he was there! A packed crowd gave him a thunderous welcome. He walked briskly to the center stage mike in front of the footlights, carrying his clarinet in one hand. With the other he raised the famous old high silk hat, waiving it aloft, over his head. “Yes Sir! Is everybody happy?” He asked the audience -- his eyes sparkling – encompassing us all. My heart was pounding. Here was a man, a performer I had known of all my young life. I was eighteen years old but felt I knew him well. We were a musical family. Our own father played several instruments, out mother, the piano. Ted Lewis recordings had lain about our home like old friends – music we had grown up with.
I sat entranced as the show Geraldine and Joe petite French chanteuse and her rowdy sailor side-kick, incorporated song and dance, knockabout comedy and spectacular spins by Joe, on the top of his head. Glamour girl,Toni Todd, with a provocative song style, singing, "I'm a rag, a bone, and a hank of hair. " We had worked on shows with Toni and were happy to see her again. Gertrude Erdey, appeared in "The Peanut Vender" number with Mr. Lewis. In those days, everyone had a South American number in their show. From Brooklyn, New York, dressed ala Carmen Miranda pint sized Gerty danced the rumba with hip swinging abandon. Amazing, twelve year old Audry Zimm, twice world champion baton twirler, stopped the show. Linsey, Laverne and Betty, were Can Can dancers extraordinaire with whirls and twirls you wouldn't believe. There was June Edwards, from a long time family of performers in a sensational display of grace and beauty, contortion and control. And of course, Charlie ( Snowball ) Whittier, Mr. Lewis's long time "shadow" in the unforgettable "Me and my Shadow." routine. Just as suddenly as it had begun it was over the singing, the dancing, the music. We rode home in silence, I am sure we were all thinking the same. "Why couldn't we be on a show like that?" What happened next just doesn't happen but it happened.
When we arrived home it looked as if every light in the house was on, including the one on the front porch. Our Dad came rushing out to meet us. "Where have you been?" he exclaimed with excitement. "Barney Joffey has been ringing the phone off. " Barney Joffey was our mentor and agent. "The singing trio with the Ted Lewis Show is going back to New York, " dad said. "Joffey wants you to get right down to the Tower Theatre. . . He has set up an audition after the last show there tonight. " I don't think any of us thought of the profundity of the situation there wasn't time -- but I 've thought of it many times since. We hurried back to the Tower Theatre this tine entering at the rear stage door. We were quickly ushered through the hallway of dressing rooms and into a small studio like room with a piano. The pianist sat at the piano waiting. Saul Kline, the music director on the show, smiled at our obvious eagerness. We did not hang back. My sister Norma, promptly plunked our music before the pianist and began showing him how we wanted it played. Of course, Mr. Lewis was there. He sat with relaxed expression, watching the proceedings with interest. He wore an elegant dressing robe, and his high silk hat on his head that battered old hat so synonymous with him. He smiled with a look of amused surprise. I don't think he expected us to be so young. In our haste to get back to the theatre, my younger sister, Annie, had not changed from her usual attire of skirt, sweater and bobby socks. Fortunately, in wardrobe and make-up, our Annie always emerged a strikingly beautiful young lady. We were not complete "greenhorns" far from it. We had done lots of radio in and around Kansas City. As children we had been regulars on the Kansas City Kiddies Review that broadcast every Saturday morning from station KMBC. As teenagers we appeared on The Brush Creek Follies stage and Radio show. We sang with a tall, dark and handsome cowboy, Smokey Parker. We were Smokey Parker and the Prairie Maids. Tex Owens was the star of the show, with guest stars coming up from Nashville each week. There were always great crowds and a coast-to-coast broadcast from the stage each Friday night. While on the show we had our fan club. It was great fun, getting letters from people we didn't even know saying they like the way we sing.
Before auditioning for Mr. Lewis, our song and dance act had been booked three consecutive tours on the Sun Time Circuit, southern routes that took us as far south at Louisville Kentucky and New Orleans. Mr. Joffey our agent, had always told us. "When you are old enough experienced enough... I'll get you a really good job. " This was it. Our chance to beak into big time ... For our audition we sang what we felt were our best numbers. He (Mr. Lewis) watched and listened. He watched our faces, our expressions. We never once felt as if we were being scrutinized but were being watched with an affectionate interest we would later know to be genuine. We felt at ease. In answer to his questions we sometimes all talked at once. We were not afraid of him. He liked that. He gave us three days to get ready, rehearsing backstage at the theatre the songs and routines we would be doing on the show. I think we made points with Mr. Lewis because we were what's called a "quick study. " We could learn any song, sing three part harmony, memorize the lyrics all in one day, sometimes less. We had energy, enthusiasm and, didn't have to be told twice what to do. We had done our homework years of it. We were ready. Three days later when their week in Kansas City was over, everyone packed up and boarded Mr. Lewis's private sleeping coach on a train to Denver, Colorado. I had an upper birth. I don't think I did much sleeping. You see I had never been on a train before. All our long trips had been made by car or bus.
We opened with The Ted Lewis Revue at a theatre in Denver at 11:30 in the morning. I doubt I will ever forget that day. Norma, Annie and I were dressed in wardrobe and make-up long before the “thirty-minute" warning call was made. At the "fifteen minutes" call we left our dressing room and stood backstage watching the movie on the screen. Now that is bizarre! Everything's backward. Suddenly, the sidewall of light switches was thrown into action by two men working there. The movie was over, the screen disappearing into the rafters above. Backstage was flooded in white, magenta pink and amber light. The men in the orchestra came from nowhere, quietly converging onto the stage and bandstand. No one spoke. They calmly took their seats, tuning their instruments. For me, there is no more exhilarating sound in the world than that of an orchestra tuning up before a show. My sisters and I stood in close circle and clasped hands, giving them one big shake. For years, we had done this before going on stage. superstition? Well, maybe. But with an American Indian father and an Irish mother, we were full of that stuff. The Three Kayne Sisters took their seats in the three chairs near the piano in front of the orchestra. Mr. Lewis crossed the stage before us to get to the other side. I think most performers have a favored side of stage to enter from. The signal was given Sol Kline, with baton on hand, began the show. Then the orchestra struck up "When My Baby Smiles At Me" we were all but lifted off of our chairs. What a thrill! What excitement when the curtain went up. But we were confident well rehearsed and, knew our bits of business for the show. We smiled and sang and moved about with our usual kind of cock-sureness -- that isn't a bad trait to have when in show business.- "what a "rush,' as kids today would say. To sing with a really fine orchestra, grouped around a standing mike so mellow and warm you could feel it. Before the show was half over we knew -- we belonged there. When the curtain came down we rushed to our dressing room. We knew our mother would be there to critic our performance. In the hallway we were surrounded by the featured acts on the show, grinning and laughing, telling us we had done well. Bless 'em they had been watching our first day performance from the wings. Mr. Lewis, walking past us said nothing but we could tell from the smile on his face we had pleased him.
In the middle of the week Mr. Lewis gave us our own "spot" in the show. We sang at the center mike at the footlights, one of our own numbers. A rollicking medley of "Don't Fence Me In." and "Pistol Packin Mama, Lay That Pistol Down." With Mr. Lewis at the end of the number suddenly appearing on stage dressed in oversized wooly chaps, ten gallon hat and a blank gun in each hand firing the blanks into the air, chasing us back to our seats. From Denver on to Seattle Washington and "The Band Box Club" where we met Frank Sinatra before he had become the Frank Sinatra. He had come there to visit Sammy Blank, slide trombonist, a long time friend. Shortly after, he went back to New York where he took a job with the Tommy Dorsey Band. The rest is history. San Francisco. Ah! San Francisco beautiful city on the hill with its picturesque cable cars, China Town, sidewalk flower stalls and, Orange Julius Stands with a real live red devil cavorting on the sidewalk, beckoning the passerby to step inside. In San Francisco we appeared at The Bal Tabarin Club, one of several large nightclubs in that city. What a gorgeous place The Bal Tabarin was. At The Bal, patrons came in formal dress to dine and dance and see the show. A very handsome and young Tony Martin shored up backstage one night. He was single then and he was calling on our beauty, Toni Todd.
We were there several months and lived in an apartment instead of a hotel, a glittering white building on one of the steep hi1ls overlooking the city. There were three designated chaperons on the show. Our own mother, Linsey's mother and, Mrs. Parenti' the wardrobe lady. Rules were set down and strictly kept. With Mrs. Parenti in an apartment near by, our mother went home to Kansas City to spend a few weeks with our dad. I would like to say something about Mrs. Adah Lewis, a vivacious 1it.t1e whirlwind of a 1ady. She did not travel with the show. She was business manager for Mr. Lewis and stayed most of the time in their love1y home in New York. Our first contact with her was the arrival of boxes of new wardrobe to wear on the show -- gowns we could never have afforded and high heeled, platform soled sandals to make us appear ta11er. We loved them. She joined Mr. Lewis periodically and, did so in San Francisco in time for Easter week. One night, just before Easter Sunday, when we arrived at our dressing room at the Bal (a large dressing room we shared with Toni Todd) on the table before each of our places at the long righted mirror was a huge Easter Egg, fi11ed with layers of delectable chocolates. A11 the girls on the show received the same. Always fighting my weight she wasn't making it easy. To hear that Mrs. Lewis was comi.ng on the show was like waiting for your favorite Aunt to arrive. I think both the Lewis's had a true affinity for young people.
Alice Faye and Phil Harris were in the audience at the Bal Tabarin one night as were The Three Ritz Brothers. During the show, those three zany guys slipped backstage, removed their coats, rolled their pants legs up, helped themselves to artificial flowers they found in our dressing room for their hair and came bounding out on stage during our "Pistol Packin Mama," number and broke up the show with their crazy antics. As much as I hated leaving San Francisco, I thoroughly enjoyed the train ride to Los Angeles, our next stop. We where on the coast route and could see the great Pacific Ocean most of the way. By this time I loved riding the trains. I could sleep almost anywhere, in a birth, curled up on a seat or sitting straight up, it didn't matter. I especially enjoyed the dining cars with their starched snow-white table clothes, the waiters in crisp white jackets, the sparkling silver service and china. To sit in the comfort of the train watching out the window as villages and towns rush by, was a great joy to me. I think there was "gypsy" in my soul. In Los Angeles we rode on a chartered bus to our hotel through Hollywood. Everyone on the bus was pointing out the sights to us, The Brown Derby, The Coconut Grove, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Ciro's and more. I am Sure I was all eyes.
In those days, the interiors of theatres in large cities were like palaces, gilded and ornate, shining like jewels, with plush seats, balconies and side balconies and, thick carpet to walk upon. The great Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles was one of these. There were uniformed ushers, courteous and professional, moving about in stunning attire, wearing more brass buttons and braid than a general of the army. The Orpheum boasted one of the finest organs in the country, 1ts pipes alone taking up one whole half of the front. The organist played between shows, filling the theatre with glorious music. The organist at that time was Mr. P. Han Flathe, noted as "one of the best. " Dressed impeccably in black and white tuxedo, stately and proud, he made his entrance right down the center isle to the organ with his long silver hair gleaming in a spotlight. It was a happy surprise for my sisters and I. We had known Mr. Flathe since we were children. He had been staff organist at KMBC in Kansas City for years and, we were very proud for him to see us there with The Ted Lewis Review.
One day between shows, Norma, Anne and I, went across the street to a sandwich shop for lunch. Crossing the street we came face to face with The Three Andrews Sisters. They smiled at us! Maybe they knew who we were. We certainly knew who they were.
From the Orpheum Theatre we moved to "The Casa Manana", a large sprawling nightclub in Culver City. It was not as gorgeous as The Ba1 Tabarin in San Francisco, but seated a lot more people. We had huge crowds every night. When we worked a club, after the show the band played for dancing. Along with Toni Todd my sisters and I sat on the bandstand and sang some of the songs being played for the dancing. Mr. Levis never left a club when the show was over, but stayed late, leading the band and playing his clarinet. His energy was remarkable. Sometimes "the dance" was a show in itself. He liked contact with his fans, he was accessible to them. If he spotted a lonesome looking soldier or sailor in the crowd, he paired them up with one of us girls and we danced.
One night, the great Eddie Cantor stood in front of the bandstand gazing up at us. "Hi! girls." he said grinning. “I’m a friend of Teddy's. "
While at The Casa Manana Mr. Lewis added sti1l another South American number to the show. Along with the Can Can Dancers, Linsey, LaVerne and Betty, my sisters and I (no slouches when it came to dancing, ourselves) made an impressive six girl chorus line. While Geraldine, of Geraldine and Joe, sang with gusto “Brazil'", the six of us Samba our 1egs off. Mrs. Parenti, the wardrobe lady, always traveled with her portable sewing machine and, had whipped up flashy, colorful Samba costumes for everyone. I have sent a backstage photo of Mr. Lewis and his chorus line of girls. A week at the picturesque Alhambra Theatre in Alhambra was restful and serene. The theatre appeared more a beautiful Spanish Mission than a theatre. The city streets were lined with row on row of ta11 stately palm trees, with snow-capped mountains for a background. It put you right back in old California, with golden sunshine and gentle breezes. Buddy Bear younger brother of the great boxing champion, Max Bear, came almost every day to sit out back in the sunshine, playing Canasta with Mr. Lewis. Between shows at the theatre in San Diego, along with my sisters and others, I spent most of my spare time at the beach. We ran barefoot on the sand, letting the ocean water lap at our toes and ankles as we gazed in awe at the vast Pacific Ocean, straining our eyes to see China, vowing someday to return.
We left San Diego and California behind, back on the trains, crisscrossing the mid-west to big 'towns, little towns alike. We swung down to Louisville then back to Cleveland Ohio and Cincinnati, Cincinnati being for me one of the most memorable weeks of the tour. Why was Cincinnati such a"red letter week," well, that was the week I met Sophie Tucker -- monumental luminary of show-business.-- an- other of Mr. Lewis's lifetime friends. She visited backstage then joined a big group of us after the show at a small all-night cafe near our hotel.
Not being the most aggressive of the party by any means, by some miracle I found myself, along with others, squished into the same booth as Sophie Tucker and Mr. Lewis. Others 'hung over the backs of adjoining booths some sat on the floor and crowded into booths nearby, anything to be within ear shot of the conversation between those two great stars. Like Eddie Cantor, She called him "Teddy." Warm and friendly, she soon had the rest of us talking and asking questions. Then, she astounded me by saying of me to Mr. Lewis, "Doesn't this one remind you of me when I was young, Teddy?" Through the years I have recurrently taken that memory out of the past and savored it. What a life we were living, we were downright spoiled When we entered a hotel our rooms had been pre-assigned. When we left -- a big fleet of taxicabs pulled up outside the hotel, we all piled in and away we went to the train station.
All this was taken care of by a young man we all called Ray. We played a theatre in Detroit and The State Theatre in Chicago. We did a coast-to-coast broadcast and show from the stage of The State theatre one night, in front of our audience, thirty young men were inducted into the United States Army, with several high ranking officers presiding over the ceremony. The curtain came down that night to thunderous applause for the young men. They stood there grinning with pleasure feeling good about themselves. They stood staring at the band and members of the featured acts; for Mr. Lewis had insisted everyone on the show assemble on stage to witness the swearing in ceremony. I saw Mr. Lewis solemnly shake hands with each of the new soldiers, asking their names and where they were from. It was a serious business to him.
We played Philadelphia, with our Sunday at Camden, New Jersey. A11 show biz shut down in Philadelphia on Sunday. On to New York City! Grand Central Station, the President Hotel and THE PALACE THEATRE. Can you imagine our feelings as we entered backstage at The Palace theatre that hallowed place? It looked much like other theatres we had been in but, oh my, it was The Palace and we were there. In our dressing room our imaginations ran riot. Which great stars of vaudeville had dressed and made-up, getting ready for their shows in that very room?
At The Palace, Mr. Lewis put in "our spot" what I think is the best song The Kayne Sisters ever sang. "The Birth Of The Blues." He knew his New York audiences would appreciate a more sophisticated kind of song. Not bragging' it went over big. Mrs. Lewis gave a lavish Christmas Buffet at their beautiful Central Park West home, high above the city.
Everyone on the show was invited. Many of the band men had their wives there for Christmas. We sang carols around the Steinway piano like any large family would do. I recall gazing out a large picture window out over a sparkling winter wonderland that was Central Park under snow.
The show was held over. We spent New Year’s Eve among a throng of thousands in Times Square, cheering a New Year.
We didn't know it then but the time for parting with The Ted Lewis Review was drawing near. We too had been approached by a recruiting officer. Abe Lastfogel of The American Guild Of Variety Artist, a union of which we were members, was recruiting acts for The United Service Organization, the U.S.O. He felt we were the perfect act to entertain service men. We had never heard of the U.S.O. Mr. Lewis didn't like it much. His argument being that we were too young and he was already planning his next tour after good rest in New York. Joe, of "Geraldine and Joe” had been drafted into the Army when we were in California, as had Rodney Davis, the pianist who had played for our audition.
Many young men we had known back home were in the Army and Navy or at the Navy flying school at Pensacola, Florida.
It is the young who fight the wars for a country, it has always been so. We were young, wanting to do our part. We signed on with the U.S.O, and later, for overseas duty. We were in Veitach, Germany when the war in Europe ended.
It was a sad farewell for us that last night on the show. But Mr. Lewis magnanimously announced from the stage of The Palace Theatre that we were leaving the show to entertain our fighting men -- giving us a special fan fare and bow.
I am an old woman now, in my early seventies. How do I remember all these things that happened so long ago.
Well -- I've had time to gather lots of people to my heart. Two of them will always be, Mr. and Mrs. Ted Lewis.
Written by Betty Kayne Morris Feb 5 1997 Performed with Ted Lewis 1 year, 1942.