Obituary: Joey Faye

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The Independent Online
Straight Man: Whisky? You shouldn't drink whisky! Look at me. I'm 51, but people take me for 30. That's because I've never touched the stuff!

Joey Faye: Well, I had an uncle who drank whisky every day of his life, and lived to be 83. And when he'd been dead three days he looked better than you do now.

This was just one of an estimated 18,000 routines and sketches in the comedic repertoire of the diminutive actor Joey Faye, once a headliner in burlesque. George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart were fans, and asked Faye's permission to use his "Whisky Bit" in their 1939 comedy The Man Who Came To Dinner. "George and Moss paid me back by booking me to play Banjo, the Harpo Marx character, when the play toured," said Faye. "They switched my routine from whisky to candy. It still played."

At the age of 21 Faye made his New York stage debut at the Republic Theater, one of the chain of Minsky burlesque houses. He continued to work with the Minsky brothers until 1937, when Mayor Fiorello La Guardia put an end to burlesque in New York. Faye's first straight acting role was in the play Room Service (1938). He was cast as himself in Strip for Action (1942), Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse's doom-ed comedy about a burlesque company performing at an army camp. Life soon imitated art when Faye joined Marlene Dietrich's troupe, which entertained Allied servicemen throughout Europe and Africa during the Second World War.

Faye had a key comedy role in Allah Be Praised! (1944), a musical backed by the department store millionaire Alfred Bloomingdale. After a chaotic out-of-town opening, Bloomingdale sought the help of the play-doctor Cy Howard, who sat through a performance and then gave the legendary advice, "Close the show and keep the store open nights." None the less, Bloomingdale brought the show to Broadway, where it vanished after 20 performances. "Little Joey Faye, a good burlesque comedian," wrote the New York Daily News, "works manfully with too little to do." The Duchess Misbehaves (1946) was no better; its original star, Jackie Gleason, wisely fled during the out-of-town try-out, and Faye unwisely stepped in, playing the lead for the musical's Broadway performances - all five of them.

The following year Phil Silvers, who had worked with Faye in burlesque, invited him to play his fellow con-man in High Button Shoes, a musical which notched up 727 performances. They worked together again in the long- running Top Banana (1951), performing some vintage burlesque routines and repeating their roles in the film version (1954).

In 1955 Faye played the hung-over survivor of a boozy party in Max Shulman and Robert Paul Smith's play The Tender Trap. He re-created the role the same year in MGM's screen version, and the New York Times observed: "Joey Faye does a very funny short-take as something left over from the night before." His other films included That Touch of Mink (1962), Ten North Frederick (1958), North to Alaska (1960), How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967), The Front (1976) and Once Upon a Time in America (1983).

Faye made the first of his many television appearances as early as 1946. His Broadway theatre work also included Little Me (1962), Man of La Mancha (1968) and 70, Girls, 70 (1971). He wrote, directed and appeared in two compilations of vintage burlesque routines. In 1976 he supported Jerry Lewis in a revival of Hellzapoppin' which died during its out-of-town try-out. A similar fate befell a musical version of Strip for Action (1956) and Three Indelicate Ladies (1947), a comedy-mystery in which Bela Lugosi was inexplicably starred as a gangster called Francis X. O'Rourke.

Joey Faye's favourite role was Estragon in Waiting for Godot (1959).

Dick Vosburgh

Joseph Antony Palladino (Joey Faye), actor, comedian: born New York City 12 July 1910; married first Eileen Jenkins (marriage dissolved), secondly Ginna Carr (deceased), thirdly Judy Carlin; died Englewood, New Jersey 26 April 1997.