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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2020-09-07 00:06:00
Typefacelarge in Small
Jean herself was born in a poor section of London, the daughter of a laborer and a barmaid. From her earliest years she aimed for a show business career as the surest route out of her social class. She began as a dancer — "I could teach classical ballet or tap if I wanted now" — and danced in stage productions and films from the age of 7 until she gave it up at 20. As an actress, she became an instant success at 15 when she played the role of a cat opposite one of England's leading comic actors. "The play opened, and I stole the review," recalls Jean with a grin. "It was a regional theatre, and they asked me to stay in their company. It was a peak of happiness in my life. There was no time to think of money or boys or clothes or anything — just work."

Every year he takes a vacation to Europe on the Queen Elizabeth II. "I'm in Paris for a week and London for about three weeks." In slow, carefully chosen sentences, he stated, "I represent many English clients because my knowledge of the English theatre is probably better than anyone else in the American theatre. Every year in London, I get the same suite in the Savoy Hotel and give great parties. I go to at least eight plays a week — sometimes as many as 10. So I get to see all the plays in London. And I know all the English actors and they know me." Among his British clients: Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir John Gielgud.

"I would say that most correspondents try to get to New York, because the production is a lot better here. … I wouldn't like the anchor job without the field work," he adds thoughtfully. "I have been told that my forte is breaking news. Last year I won an Emmy for that. The same year I won an Emmy for outstanding reporting.

In December 1979, in a benefit concert at the Alvin Theatre, about a dozen Broadway stars of the past and present strode to the microphone to sing some of the songs they made famous. John Raitt, Alan Jones, Jack Gilford, Michael Moriarty, Delores Wilson and others received waves of enthusiastic applause from the packed house. But when a short, stocky, barrel-chested man with thick eyeglasses and a nose like Jimmy Durante's shuffled to center stage, the audience didn't merely cheer: it erupted. And when 75-year-old Jan Peerce finished his two arias, he was prevailed upon to give the only encore of the evening. Appropriately enough, his choice was "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof, the show in which he made his Broadway debut at the age of 67.

These days, while Maureen is waiting to hear about her autobiography, she is working on some short stories. Two have appeared in the Ladies' Home Journal. "I have no special goals," she says. "One thing leads to another. Supposing my theatrical career came to an end, I'd like to open an antique shop in Vermont, and write, and paint — I always have — and sew. If you can do one art, you can do them all. It's different ways of saying the same thing.

He writes at least 90 percent of his act. Whenever an original joke flashes into his mind, he drops whatever he's doing and jots it down. ("I get no respect. On my wedding night I got arrested for having a girl in my room.") Before a new gag can be thought worthy of The Tonight Show, it must be tested and retested before a live audience. This is no problem, for Rodney is constantly in demand all over the North American continent, not only as a nightclub performer but also as a lecturer at colleges. Last June he was invited to give the commencement address at Harvard. "It's a strange thing," he remarks. "Kids are into me."


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