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Each time a contemporary dies, a little part of me goes with them. Now Don Rickles is dead, a month before his 91st birthday. I’m 94, and the memory of being one of Don’s first targets still stings.
I was at the top of my professional game that night in 1957 when I headed to the famous Slate Brothers Club on La Cienega Boulevard to hear an amazing new comic named Don Rickles. The place was small and packed as we were ushered to a tiny table near the front. Don entered, and after a few jokes, he mentioned to the audience that I was in the room.
There was applause — and then began a verbal tirade that shocked and embarrassed me beyond words. Don proceeded to tear apart my ripe old “over the hill” age of 34, my looks, my talent and my successes. He left nothing to the imagination, including a few hints as to whom I had slept with “on my way to the top.”
I took everything personally and was left in a pool of my own insecurities. Unlike Frank Sinatra, who enjoyed Don’s gutsy and one-of-a-kind routines, I just felt hurt and mad as hell.
A year later, I was starring in Las Vegas at The New Frontier Hotel. As I passed the casino, I saw Don. I decided that this was as good a time as any to tell him how I felt. And he couldn’t have been sweeter or more apologetic.
But as we said good night and I walked away, I heard Don say for all to hear: “Get over yourself, Janis. Hell, get over yourself!”
Looking at that pixie face perched on the body of a Mafia thug always made me laugh. Thanks for reminding us that we’re all a comedy act. I’ll miss you always. There is no replacement.
P.S. No matter which way you’re going, Don, watch your mouth; you’re liable to piss off someone really important!
Janis Paige is an actress and singer whose résumé includes the films Hollywood Canteen, Romance on the High Seas, Silk Stockings and Please Don’t Eat the Daises, the Broadway musicals The Pajama Game and Mame and her own CBS show, It’s Always Jan. She also was a major headliner at nightclubs and a longtime performer in Bob Hope’s USO shows.
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