I’ve been longing for an opportunity to talk to Jack Jones – one of the most popular vocalists of his time—for over a year, but his busy schedule didn’t ease up until recently. It was worth the wait.
Jack, born John Allen Jones, is the only son of actress Irene Harvey and singer/actor Allen Jones – best remembered for acting the straight man in the Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races , as well as his chart topping hit song The Donkey Serenade.
After signing a recording deal with Capitol Records while still a teenager Allen invited his son to join him on stage for his engagement at The Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas. This was Jack’s first professional gig. They sang duets, including “Donkey Serenade” and then Jack sang a solo – his first in front of such a sizable paying audience— and he liked it.
Capitol Records and Jack soon differed on the direction his music should go and they parted. He found that the progressive record label Kapp was a much more compatible match. The first song they recorded together, “Lollipops and Roses” snared Jack a Grammy for Best Pop Male Vocal Performance. This was swiftly followed by “Wives and Lovers” earning him another Grammy and a spot at the table with the big boys, an engagement at The Persian Room!
Jack entertained sold–out audiences many times at The Plaza, starting with his first in December of 1964 and until October 1975. “That was my debut” says Jack. “I was scared to death and excited at the same time, I had hit the big time and had hardly paid any dues at all.”
“John Doringer was my PR guy. He was the top PR guy in New York, and he handled the opening—did a marvelous job. Everyone was there. Lesley Caron was going with Warren Beatty – they were both there – and of all the people in the room: I forgot to introduce them. Warren was a friend and he kiddingly gave me trouble over that for a while.”
“Ethel Merman was there—and yes, I remembered to introduce her. She was a good friend of mine throughout the rest of her life. So many people were there it was a real star-studded audience. That entire time surrounding my first successful opening at The Persian Room was so exciting. Just prior to that I was playing a tiny club called The Living Room, so it really happened quite quickly.
“Funny story about that initial success: Peter Leverson worked for John Springer, my PR guy. One day we were sitting around my suite talking on the phone, doing PR stuff, and Peter called the hotel operator for something – I don’t remember what – but I hear him say, ‘Operator …enough, enough…I’m talking to you from Jack Jones’ suite and I want you to XYZ….’ When he hung up I said to him, ‘Peter, it appears to me that my new-found fame has gone to YOUR head!’ And we both had a good laugh.”
“I remember another time there,” Jack continued. “I got a call in my suite, from the matri de, John, who was a real character—very European, and he knew what to do and how to handle everything. One of his tasks was to keep tabs on who was coming to the show. So this particular night he calls and very excitedly says, Mrs. Kennedy is coming in! ‘It’s wonderful’ he says, and I agreed, it was great. So they pull out the best china The Plaza has to offer. There are amazing flower arrangements. Her table is especially beautiful and the staff is polished right down to their last button.”
“Then John starts calling me saying, ‘Jack, you have to hold the show, she hasn’t shown up yet.’ ‘Okay I say, but let’s hope it’s not for too long; I don’t want the other people getting mad at me.’ ‘No, no, no, it will be fine,’ he assures me.’ He calls me two or three more times with updates – basically to say she’s not here yet! Okay, but I can’t hold the show much longer, so I leave my room and go downstairs to just wait and keep a lookout from behind the kitchen’s swinging door.
“Finally, he comes and tells me she’s cancelled. ‘How can she do this to me?’ he moans, ‘Oh me, oh my’ and so on and so on. “I say, ‘You? How can she do this to you?’ Even though I never had a chance to meet her, she was reportedly a big fan. The show was delayed about 45 minutes by this time, but I went out and made some kind of excuse and began the show. It was fine. These things happen – you hope they don’t, but they do and you just roll with them.”
“My ex – wife, Jill St. John, might have been there at some point when I played that room…wait a minute …she was! I remember this because we used to go around the corner to the jewelry store Van Cleef and Arpel!” Just like a man to have his memory jogged by that! “We also enjoyed the Palm Court.”
During the 60’s and 70’s, Jack was a staple on all of the popular TV variety shows, as well a guest star on the most widely watched TV shows of the day. One of his most recognizable songs is the catchy theme song for Love Boat.