Lou Holtz (actor)
He was discovered by vaudevillian Elsie Janis in San Francisco while still in his teens, and came to New York. He appeared in his first Broadway show in 1913, World of Pleasure. He appeared on Broadway in other shows with small parts, then became a star in George White's Scandals of 1919. He reappeared in the Scandals in 1920 and 1921. Holtz became a close good friend of George Gershwin while appearing in the Scandals, which Gershwin wrote the music for. Gershwin later wrote a musical for Holtz in 1925, Tell Me More, which was not received favorably and was short-lived on Broadway.
Several years later, Holtz had a big hit on Broadway in 1931 when he hired his pianist to write a show for him. The pianist, Harold Arlen, would go on to write the music for The Wizard of Oz in 1939. Holtz produced You Said It. In the 1920s, Holtz became the highest paid entertainer on Broadway, with articles touting his salary as an unheard of $6,000 per week. Unfortunately for Holtz, all of that money was invested in the stock market. He later told friends that he came out of the 1929 crash with $500, while he had been worth more than a million dollars the year before.
In the 1920s, Holtz' career alternated between musical comedies and vaudeville shows where he was the headliner. He reached one of his career milestones in 1925 when he played the Palace Theater as the headliner. The Palace was the most prestigious theatre in the country, and Holtz broke all records there by playing for 10 weeks. In 1931-1932, Holtz repeated this feat at the Palace a second time. He also starred in and produced a similar show at the competing Hollywood Theater that even outgrossed the Palace Show. In vaudeville shows and radio, Holtz' comedy was based in telling long, character stories, usually with at least one character having a strong Jewish dialect. His most famous character, Sam Lapidus, stayed with Holtz for his entire career, including Holtz' guest stints on the Merv Griffin Show in the 1970s.
In the 1930s, while still appearing on Broadway, Holtz left New York twice for London and appeared in two hits at the London Palladium: "Laughter Over London" and "Transatlantic Rhythm." Also in the 1930s, Holtz became a regular on radio. He had long stints on The Rudy Vallee Show, The Paul Whiteman Show and many others. Holtz ended up with several radio shows of his own, including The Lou Holtz Laugh Club. One of the regulars on that show was Fanny Brice. Holtz' last two shows on Broadway were Priorities of 1942 and Star Time (1944). After the latter, Holtz was 51 years old.
He went through a bitter divorce at that time, and decided to cut down on his work schedule and appearances. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1989, George Burns was asked who the greatest comedian was that he ever saw. Burns replied that it was Jack Benny, but Burns named Holtz and several others as coming right after Benny.
Holtz' career after the mid-1940s consisted of high-end club dates, including headlining in Las Vegas, and television appearances on variety shows. He appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show twice in 1957 and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson twice in the 1960s. He appeared on Jack Paar's Tonight Show more than 20 times, and appeared on Steve Allen's Tonight Show seven times. In 1973, Holtz turned 80 years old but still appeared on the Merv Griffin Show throughout the 1970s.
Holtz's other credits include the feature film "Follow The Leader" from 1930. This film starred Ed Wynn with a large supporting role for Holtz. The film was based on the musical that Wynn and Holtz starred in on Broadway called "Manhattan Mary." The film also was the first movie that stars Ginger Rogers and Ethel Merman appeared in. Holtz also starred in the Columbia musical short "School for Romance" in 1934, which co-starred a then unknown Betty Grable. Holtz' early standup comedy routine was memorialized in a 1929 Vitaphone short. While semi-retired in New York in the late 1950s, Holtz met his 3rd and final wife, Gloria, who would remain with him until his death in 1980.
In 1963, at the age of 70, Holtz and his wife moved to Los Angeles and gave birth to a son, Lou Jr. In 1965, the couple had another son, Richard. Holtz' final years were spent doing what he'd done on and off for more than 50 years: going to Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles for lunch daily and sitting at the famous round table of comedians, which included performers like Burns, Benny, the Marx Brothers, Milton Berle, and George Jessel.