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Skip E. Lowe, who hosted a weekly talk show for public access cable television that aired in Los Angeles, New York and other major markets for more than three decades, has died. He was 85.
Lowe, a former child actor who served as an inspiration for Martin Short‘s self-absorbed talk-show host character Jiminy Glick, died Monday in his Hollywood apartment, his publicist, Alan Eichler, announced.
Lowe had been suffering from emphysema and other respiratory ailments though he never smoked, Eichler said, adding that he blamed the illness on years of working as a comic and emcee in smoke-infested nightclubs.
Skip E. Lowe Looks at Hollywood, which debuted in 1978, had the host and his interview subjects facing each other in chairs and chatting for a half-hour. The show, which went unedited and often employed extremely tight close-ups, was often shot in high schools or community-room studios with poor equipment and lighting, on videotapes that Lowe paid for himself. He taped an installment as recently as a couple of weeks ago, Eichler said.
Despite the shoestring facilities, Lowe conducted thousands of interviews with such guests as Orson Welles, Bette Davis, Shelley Winters, Cesar Romero, Eartha Kitt, Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis, Patti Page, Mickey Rooney, Pat Boone and Lynn Redgrave. His first sit-down was with movie tough guy Aldo Ray.
After his shows aired in Los Angeles, Lowe would ship tapes to cable companies in New York, Chicago and San Francisco that were looking to fill airtime.
“Skip E. has a tremendous respect for talent, no matter what the package comes in,” actress Sally Kirkland told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. “He gives voice to people who can’t get on Letterman and Leno every night. His show isn’t about giving a sound bite promoting some current project.”
In the Times article, actor Dom DeLuise said that “doing his show is like no other. I always felt like I was being interviewed by a pixie, some magical person. His face looks like it was drawn lovingly by Walt Disney.”
In an appearance on Late Night With David Letterman, Short revealed that his Jiminy Glick was “a little bit of Skip E. Lowe,” explaining that “he talks to people, but he gets confused with tremendous enthusiasm.”
“Yes, I make mistakes. But my audiences like that I’m not so perfect,” Lowe said in the Times story. “The thing is, I’m genuinely interested in what my guests are saying. I listen to their comments. I look into their eyes. Sometimes I touch them. People want to be listened to. I’m like a psychiatrist who sits there across the table.”
Born Sammy Labella on June 5, 1929, in Greenville, Mississippi, while his mother was visiting relatives, Lowe was raised in Rockford, Illinois. His mother sent him to New York to live with his aunt, and he sang and danced as “The Singing Newsboy” in Sammy’s Bowery Follies.
He appeared in Best Foot Forward (1943) with Lucille Ball and June Allyson, Song of the Open Road (1944) with Jane Powell, in several Dead End Kids comedies at Monogram and in the musical series of films that starred youngsters Donald O’Connor, Peggy Ryan and Gloria Jean.
Lowe worked as an emcee at such venues as the Bon Soir in Greenwich Village, where acts included Barbra Streisand, and he toured in USO shows overseas with Bob Hope and Martha Raye, who would become a lifelong friend.
Later, he could be spotted in the films Black Shampoo (1976) and The World’s Greatest Lover (1977), starring Gene Wilder.
Hollywood Gomorrah: Sex Lives of the Hollywood Stars, in which Lowe described encounters with Marlon Brando, James Dean, Montgomery Clift and others, was published this year. Another memoir, The Boy With the Betty Grable Legs, came out in 2001.
Watch Lowe interview Milton Berle below:
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