The first Broadway show I appeared in was the 1995 revival of “Hello, Dolly!” with Carol Channing. The leading man of the show, and Carol Channing’s comic foil, was the incomparable Jay Garner. He was funny, warm, funny, talented, and very very funny.
Jay never ceased to make me laugh. To this day I smile and laugh out loud at the memory of him backstage.
Often, during a very quick costume change I had going into “Before The Parade Passes By” he would walk past me, Jon Bantay and Stephen Bourneuf quickly stripping our costumes off to change into our “Parade” costumes. With the driest of readings he would walk past, without stopping, and say “whores.” I laugh as I type this.
He was so dear to all of us, and especially Carol. It’s not an easy thing to hold the stage with Carol Channing. And especially Carol Channing in HELLO, DOLLY! – but Jay did, and with absolute ease, charm and pure Broadway talent.
Jay would laugh and joke with everyone. Everyone. And he loved to find a little time to head to a casino and gamble. And damned if he didn’t win most of the time.
Among other roles, he created the role of the Governor of Texas in THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS, and the politician “Dindon” in the original LA CAGE AUX FOLLES. Additional Broadway roles included “Benjamin Franklin” in the Tony Award-winning 1776 and the role of “Sir John Tremayne” in ME AND MY GIRL. He would later play kindly “Ben”, the gardener, in the first national tour of The Secret Garden in the early 1990s.
I was just watching a rerun of the movie of BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE and was telling Michael how Jay created the role of the Governor. It was only in looking up his many other credits that I just learned Jay left us this past January 21, 2011 at the age of 82.
I will laugh and smile at the memory of his talent and amazing warmth forever. RIP Jay.