The Man Behind The Lilliputian Stripper
by: NPR Staff, NPR, July 29, 2011 3:07:00 am
Jack Segal made his living booking novelty acts from the 1940s to the 1960s in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. There were more than 500 hotels and resorts in the region.
"He employed performers that the other agents would never use or couldn't even find, like the lilliputian stripper, blind xylophone player," Jack's son, Mort, tells his sister Joan Feldman while visiting StoryCorps in New York City.
Jack also had dog acts and the hotels would complain sometimes.
"But he felt for every person, there was a show somewhere and somebody would like them," Joan says.
Mort, 82, explained that "in the heyday of the Catskills, the performers slept on pool tables, on the stage, in the chicken coop" and his father would advocate for them.
"So, he used to say to the hotels, part of your contract has to be you have to give them the room. And when he went up the first weekend, after he got all the performers situated, he realized he didn't have a place to stay," Mort recalls.
"So, a cop used to stand there to direct the traffic. And dad went up to him and said, "I don't have a place to stay. Lock me up.'"
Jack was always optimistic that the next performer he met would be a star.
"Unfortunately, something would always come up where the next step never came about," Mort says. "He had an acrobatic tap dancer out of Florida that was sensational. The guy developed a knee infection."
Jack let the dancer move in with the family.
"I gave up my room," 77-year-old Joan says. "But this was my parents. My parents always took in the underdog."
"There was always an empty chair available at our kitchen table if somebody needed a meal. And I used to tell friends that the best shows ... after the shows when they came back to our house," Mort adds.
"Isn't that where Buddy Hackett took a shower with his clothes on?" Joan asks.
Jack Segal died in 2000 when was 98. He was still representing one act at the time of his death.
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.