Shecky Greene : biography
Shecky Greene (born Fred Sheldon Greenfield; on April 8, 1926) is an American comedian. He is known for his nightclub performances in Las Vegas, where he has been a headliner for more than thirty years. He has appeared in several films, including History of the World, Part I and Splash, and has guest starred on such television shows as Mad About You, Laverne & Shirley, Love, American Style, and Combat!
Life and career
His first gig in Las Vegas was in 1953. Fred Sheldon Greenfield (he made the legal name change to Shecky Greene in 2004) grew up on the north side of Chicago, served in the Navy during World War II, and enrolled at a junior college to become a gym teacher, but he also picked up spare money by playing resorts and small clubs around the upper Midwest. He quit school after he got a call to fill in for two weeks at the Prevue Lounge in New Orleans and stayed six years, until it burned down. 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 for Dorothy Shay, "the Park Avenue Hillbillie," at the Last Frontier. His act was held over for 18 weeks, a first for the Strip.
Offstage, his main passion was horse racing. A thoroughbred horse named Shecky Greene was the frontrunner for nearly seven furlongs in the 1973 Kentucky Derby until Secretariat ran off with the race. Arlington Park in Illinois still runs a Shecky Greene Handicap.
When the MGM Grand Hotel opened in 1975, starring Dean Martin, the second headline act was Shecky Greene, whose salary at one point climbed to $150,000 a week ($125,000 went to "my bookmaker," Greene cracks). He was in rarefied company—the only other standup comics pulling down six figures at the time were Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett, Bill Cosby, and Johnny Carson.
Greene played Carnegie Hall and appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (which he hated: "They'd rush you on and off"). He played Pvt. Braddock for a year on "Combat!" and guested on "The Joey Bishop Show," "The Love Boat," and a fourth-season 1985 episode of "The A-Team" called "Members Only." Greene was widely respected by his peers, including Johnny Carson, who was a longtime fan. Greene made 40 appearances on The Tonight Show, on which he also served as a guest host. He appeared on "The Merv Griffin Show," serving as a guest host on that show as well. He brags that he gave Arnold Schwarzenegger and Luciano Pavarotti their first national television exposure. He also appeared on the Match Game in the 1970s.
He was recruited for Broadway shows but turned them down. "They wanted me to play Tevye at Caesars Palace," he says. "I did a big portion of 'Fiddler on the Roof' in my act, but people didn't realize I was making up everything. They'd go see it on Broadway and come back and tell me, 'That wasn't in the show. They must have left it out.' " He did a few movies, but Greene was a freewheeler, uncomfortable when limited to a script. He was at his best in a Las Vegas lounge, where he wasn't limited to anything.
His capers have become legends, including one about his driving his car into the fountain at Caesars Palace. When police arrived, the windshield wipers were going. Greene rolled down the window and said, "No spray wax."
One of his standard jokes in Las Vegas and on television went like this: "Johnny was a good boy, never smoked, never drank, never dated. On his graduation day from college, his parents asked what he wanted. Johnny replied, 'A drunken broad that smokes.'"
Greene says that Jay Leno once told him that his all-time favorite joke is one Greene recounted about Frank Sinatra saving his life. Five guys were beating up Greene, and then he heard Sinatra say, "OK. He's had enough." (Don Rickles on the Late Show with David Letterman, Oct 15 2009)
After an absence of many years, Greene returned to perform in Las Vegas in 2009. He had reportedly lost $3 million investing with Bernie Madoff.
He is married to his third wife, Marie Musso, daughter of Vido Musso, a prominent Las Vegas musician who played saxophone with Benny Goodman and had roomed with Frank Sinatra on tour with the Tommy Dorsey band.
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