Shecky Greene

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Shecky Greene
Greene in The Love Machine (1971)
Born
Fred Sheldon Greenfield

(1926-04-08)April 8, 1926
DiedDecember 31, 2023(2023-12-31) (aged 97)
Resting placeMount Sinai Memorial Park
EducationSullivan High School, Wilbur Wright College
OccupationComedian
Years active1954–2003; 2009–2023
Spouses
Nalani Kele
(m. 1972; div. 1982)
Marie Musso
(m. 1985)

Shecky Greene (born Fred Sheldon Greenfield; April 8, 1926 – December 31, 2023) was an American comedian. He was known for his nightclub performances in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he became a headliner in the 1950s and 1960s.[1][2] He appeared in several films, including Tony Rome; History of the World, Part I; and Splash. In television, he guest-starred on such television shows as Love, American Style and Combat!, and later Laverne & Shirley and Mad About You.

Early life and education[edit]

Fred Sheldon Greenfield was born on April 8, 1926,[3] to Jewish parents, Carl and Bessie Greenfield, and raised on the North Side of Chicago.[4] In his youth, Greene enjoyed performing as a singer and in a drama club he formed while attending Sullivan High School.[5][6] He emulated his older brother, who liked to speak in accents.[7]

During World War II, Greene served in the U.S. Navy[6][8] for three years and was discharged in 1944.[9][10] He was briefly, but more than once, enrolled at Wright Junior College.[9][6]

Career[edit]

Greene had planned to become a gym teacher.[9] But after regularly performing stand-up in Chicago at mob-run nightclubs[6][2] and various venues in the upper Midwest, he instead started his comedy career at the Prevue Lounge in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he worked for six years.[11] From there, he went on to showrooms in Miami, Chicago, and Reno/Lake Tahoe before an agent persuaded him to move to Las Vegas and open in 1954 for Dorothy Shay, "the Park Avenue Hillbillie", at the Last Frontier. His act was held over for 18 weeks, a first for that venue.[2] He began performing at the Tropicana Hotel in 1957, remaining there for five years as one of their headliners.[12]

He invented a hysterical, free-form approach to comedy that the confines of a five minute television spot could not handle.[13][14]

Greene played Carnegie Hall and appeared on TV variety show The Ed Sullivan Show, which he said he hated because "They'd rush you on and off".[15] He played Pvt. Braddock for a year on Combat! and guested on The Joey Bishop Show, The Love Boat, and played Lou Carnesco in two episodes of The Fall Guy. He appeared in "Members Only", a fourth-season, 1985 episode of the action TV show The A-Team.[16][17] Greene was widely respected by his peers, including Johnny Carson who was a longtime fan. Greene made 40 appearances on The Tonight Show[18][19] on which he also served as a guest host. He appeared on The Merv Griffin Show and also served as a guest host there upon occasion. He noted that he gave Arnold Schwarzenegger and Luciano Pavarotti their first national television exposure. Furthermore, he also appeared on Match Game and Tattletales (with his first wife Nalani Kele) in the 1970s.[20] In December 1977, he appeared in The Love Boat S1 E11 vignette "Divorce Me, Please" as Paul Baynes, who discovers newfound appreciation for his wife Audrey, played by Florence Henderson.[21][22]

When the MGM Grand Hotel opened in 1975 with Dean Martin as headliner, the second headline act was Greene whose salary at one point climbed to $150,000 a week; he quipped that $125,000 went to "my bookmaker".[8]

Greene claimed Jay Leno once told him that his all-time favourite joke was one Greene recounted about Frank Sinatra (with whom Greene had a contentious relationship) "saving his life". Offended by a remark made by Greene, Sinatra sent five men to assault him; after some time, he heard Sinatra say, "OK, he's had enough."[23][1][24]

Beginning in 2003, and lasting for six years, Greene suffered from panic attacks and stage fright that rendered him unable to perform.[25][26][27] In 2009, in Las Vegas, Greene returned to performing.[28][29][30][31]

Greene owned several nightclubs over the years and in different cities, including New Orleans.[7]

Personal life and death[edit]

Offstage, Greene's main passion was Thoroughbred racing. A horse named Shecky Greene (1970–1984) was the 1973 American Champion Sprint Horse and the front-runner for nearly seven furlongs in the 1973 Kentucky Derby until Secretariat ran off with the race.[32][33] Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Illinois, outside Chicago, held a Shecky Greene Handicap race until it closed.[8]

Greene was married twice.[2] He was married to Nalani Kele from 1972 to 1982. She had a successful nightclub act, the Nalani Kele Polynesian Revue, from the 1960s to the early 1970s. Beginning in 1985, he was married to Marie Musso, daughter of Vido Musso, a Las Vegas musician who played saxophone with Benny Goodman.[8]

Greene's career had obstacles due to depression, bipolar disorder,[34] stage fright, gambling, panic attacks, drug abuse and alcoholism.[8][6] He integrated his bipolar disorder into his public persona, telling an interviewer in 2010 that "I'm more than bipolar. I'm South Polar, North Polar. I'm every kind of polar there is. I even lived with a polar bear for about a year."[4]

Greene led "humanitarian efforts" to create St. Jude's Ranch, a shelter for indigent and neglected children in Boulder City, Nevada.[2]

Greene died at home in Las Vegas on December 31, 2023, at age 97. His family was in extreme grief as Greene was unable to make it to 2024.[35][36]

Awards[edit]

Select filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1967 Tony Rome Catleg [37]
1971 The Love Machine Christie Lane [38]
1976 Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood Tourist [38]
1981 History of the World, Part I Marcus Vindictus [37]
1984 Splash Mr. Buyrite [37]
1984 Lovelines Master of Ceremonies [39]
2000 The Last Producer Poker Player [39]
2013 When Jews Were Funny Himself Documentary[40]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Legend Shecky Greene Returns to Las Vegas". lasvegasnow.com. KLAS News. Archived from the original on March 28, 2017. Retrieved March 27, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e Renzi, David (December 26, 1996). "Shecky Greene has become the man he wants to be". Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved March 27, 2017.
  3. ^ Wills, Adam (2008). "Shecky Greene". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  4. ^ a b Keepnews, Peter (December 31, 2023). "Shecky Greene, High-Energy Comedy Star, Is Dead at 97". The New York Times. Retrieved January 1, 2024. Fred Sheldon Greenfield was born on April 8, 1926, in Chicago. (In 2004 he legally changed his name to Shecky Greene, long after his professional first name had come to connote a certain kind of brash, aggressive, old-school comedian even to people who had never seen him perform.) His parents were Carl and Bessie (Harris) Greenfield.
  5. ^ Berkow, Ira (August 19, 1985). "Memories of Coaches". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 20, 2022.
  6. ^ a b c d e Greene, Shecky (2013). "Shecky Greene Interview 2013 Part 1". Interviewed by Gary Licker and Scott Sobel. Gary Licker. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved January 6, 2021 – via YouTube.
  7. ^ a b Greene, Shecky (2013). "Shecky Greene Interview 2013 Part 2". Interviewed by Gary Licker and Scott Sobel. Gary Licker. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved January 6, 2021 – via YouTube.
  8. ^ a b c d e Neworth, Jack (March 25, 2016). "Ladies and gentlemen, Shecky Greene!". Santa Monica Daily Press. Retrieved December 10, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c d e f "Shecky Greene". Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Program. December 31, 1995. Retrieved December 10, 2019 – via jodavidsmeyer.com.
  10. ^ Schweikart, Larry (May 18, 2006). America's Victories. Penguin. ISBN 978-1101217818 – via Google Books. Comedian Shecky Greene sailed aboard the aircraft carrier Bon Homme Richard.
  11. ^ Olderman, Murray (January 9, 2005). "Leaving Las Vegas". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  12. ^ Clemens, Samuel (2020). Pat: A Biography of Hollywood's Blonde Starlet. Sequoia Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0578682822.
  13. ^ Nesteroff, Kliph (November 12, 2020). "Outrageous and Courageous: The Myth and Legend of Shecky Greene". blog.wfmu.org. WFMU.
  14. ^ Nesteroff, Kliph (November 3, 2015). The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy. Grove/Atlantic, Inc. ISBN 978-0802190864.
  15. ^ Neworth, Jack (March 25, 2016). "Ladies and gentlemen, Shecky Greene!". Santa Monica Daily Press. Retrieved January 1, 2024.
  16. ^ "Shecky Greene, legendary Las Vegas standup comedian who worked with Sinatra and Elvis, dies at 97". NBC News. December 31, 2023. Retrieved January 1, 2024.
  17. ^ "The Joey Bishop Show: Season 3, Episode 26 – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 1, 2024.
  18. ^ "Tonight Show Samplers". Retrieved May 6, 2011.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ "Shecky Greene". JohnnyCarson.com.
  20. ^ "Shecky Greene (1926–2023), old school Vegas headliner". Legacy. January 2, 2024. Retrieved January 2, 2024.
  21. ^ Handler, David. "The Private Eye: The Love Boat", The Reporter, December 22, 1977. Accessed January 1, 2024, via Newspapers.com. "My favorite duo so far is Shecky Greene and Florence Henderson. When the purser wishes them a pleasant Christmas cruise, Flo snaps, 'I'd rather be in a swamp for a week with Idi Amin.' Shecky and Flo decide to be as unpleasant as they can to force the other into asking for a divorce."
  22. ^ "TV Listings", South Bend Tribune, December 10, 1977. Accessed January 1, 2024, via Newspapers.com. "Love Boat – Capt. Stubing turns a lonely Yule Into a lovely celebration with the help of an outspoken priest (Dick Sargent) and six orphans; 'Divorce Me, Please' Florence Henderson and Shecky Greene play a couple seeking grounds for divorce until they discover they are lucky to have each other; and 'Silent Night' Donna Mills and John Gavin are a couple reunited after three years of being separated by prison walls."
  23. ^ Boland, John (November 14, 2015). "He did it his way: The nice and nasty of Sinatra". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved December 10, 2019.
  24. ^ Roura, Phil (April 30, 1995). "Shecky Greene Doesn't Pull Any Punch Lines". New York Daily News.
  25. ^ Schwartz, Ben (December 21, 2015). "The Hilarity of Influence: An Interview with Kliph Nesteroff". Los Angeles Review of Books.
  26. ^ Christon, Lawrence (October 16, 1994). "COMEDY: It's Not Easy Being Greene: Did you hear the one about the comic whose life became a nightmare of gambling, alcohol, panic attacks and prescription drugs? Shecky Greene can tell it". Los Angeles Times.
  27. ^ "Robert Klein, and Shecky Greene Moments Before Quitting Friars Club". April 25, 2014. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved April 7, 2016 – via YouTube.
  28. ^ Smith, John L. (May 15, 2009). "Shecky Greene's Return to Las Vegas Stirs Up Memories of Sinatra, Caesars". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved December 26, 2011.
  29. ^ Katsilometes, John (March 23, 2017). "Shecky Greene knows slapstick, but fall at Italian club was the real thing". Las Vegas Review-Journal.
  30. ^ Nesteroff, Kliph (June 20, 2011). "An Interview with Shecky Greene – Part One". Classic Television Showbiz.
  31. ^ Nesteroff, Kliph (June 23, 2011). "An Interview with Shecky Greene – Part Two". Classic Television Showbiz.
  32. ^ Michelson, Miles. "Shecky Greene Thoroughbred". Pedigree Online.
  33. ^ "No one remembers Shecky Greene". poundfeinstein.com. Pound, Feinstein & Associates. Archived from the original on August 28, 2014.
  34. ^ "300 Famous Individuals with Mental Health issues, illnesses, and disorders". namikenosha.org. Kenosha: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved January 6, 2021.
  35. ^ Katsilometes, John (December 31, 2023). "Comic legend Shecky Greene dies at 97". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved December 31, 2023.
  36. ^ Barnes, Mike (December 31, 2023). "Shecky Greene, Legendary Las Vegas Headliner, Dies at 97". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 2, 2024.
  37. ^ a b c "Shecky Greene, legendary standup comic, improv master and lord of Las Vegas, dies at 97". ABC News. Retrieved January 2, 2024.
  38. ^ a b "Shecky Greene, Legendary Stand-Up Comedian, Dead at 97: 'One of the Most Brilliant Comics'". People. Retrieved January 2, 2024.
  39. ^ a b "SHECKY GREENE". TCM. Retrieved January 2, 2024.
  40. ^ Fox, Michael (June 27, 2014). "When Jews Were Funny promises less and more than it delivers". Jewish Independent. Vancouver, British Columbia: Western Sky Communications.

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