"Sit here," says Georgie Jessel, plumping the right side of the bed on which he is lying. He didn't get much sleep Monday night, the night he opened at Hogate's. And he is almost 79 and he is tired.
He clasps a hand and gives it a sharp tug toward him. "I don't feel THAT terrible, dear." But there is no accompanying chuckle. Georgie Jessel, the comic songwriter "Toastmaster General," is clothed in martial memories; around his neck a long white scarf that is a memento of Korea; on his head a beret.
"It's from - who are those guys who speak all the languages?" You know, They made a movie about them . . ."
"That's IT. See, I'm honorary member of everything. I particularly enjoyed my long stay with the military."
Georgie Jessel is talking, of course, about the years he spent entertaining the troops - boosting the morale, he calls it. He is talking about the 20 trips he made to the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam. He is talking about the 171 citations he got. The night he and Gen. Patton went out drinking. "And he says - here. Take these." And that's how Georgie Jessel got three stars. He is talking in other words, about all the things that were and are not any longer.
"Matter of fact, dear - would you do me a favor please?" From his reclining position he points to a black tuxedo jacket. "See that jacket over there on the chair? And see those pins on the table? Yeah, well could you please pin them on my jacket for me, dear?"
There are three pins - from the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines. "And see that cane over there? See the initials? HST, Harry Truman. He gave it to me after I got wounded in Korea. Jumped out of a helicopter."
Once upon a time Georgie Jessel was hot property, big news.
He looks back on it all now, and he thinks - it wasn't too much fun.
"You know German? Yes, well I suffer from Weltschmerz . Mr. Truman showed me at least 50 pacts the Communists signed. They use them for toilet paper. And I'm afraid if we give up the Panama Canal, they might take it all away. Next thing you know we might have to give up the Louisiana Purchase, and then all we'll be left with is Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh and Newark."
The eyes smile, the lips don't. "And then naturally I worry about Israel, because I've helped it all my life. Matter of fact I'm dedicating a forest there - 30,000 trees."
Once upon a time, before all these worries invaded his mind. Georgie Jessel was Vaudeville. And then he was "The Jazz Singer," when it was a show and ran 1,000 performances. And that was five years before Jolson. And he was radio and movies. "But I was happiest when I did pictures for Fox."
And once upon a time - and this is how he hit the headlines in that time - he was paired with the most beautiful women of the day.
"Beautiful," he agrees. "I knew some beautiful women, Lois Andrews was the most beautiful girl in America, she was."
Lois Andrews, a pretty, pouty girl described in contemporary news clips as "a chorine," was, in fact a 16-year-old when Georgie, at 42, married her - and the combination just thrilled the gossips, for she was the romantic successor of movie queen Norma Talmadge, and they all said that Jessel had never gotten over her. JESSEL'S 'PERFECT ROMANCE' HEADING FOR RENO, said the headline, LOIS BLAMES MATE'S MEMORY OF NORMA.
"Norma," he says now, and the blue eyes grow wistful, "Norma - that's the real love of my life. And I married this other one - this beautiful girl on the rebound. That and my own vanity's sake. Norma - she fell out of love with me.
"And after Lois there was Rita and I, Rita Hayworth. We were engaged. At least that's what the papers said, and we only believed what we read in the papers."
In all there were three marriages.After two years with Lois, he never did it again. There was a paternity suit brought by an actress, and he agreed to pay $500 a month. That was all.
"I have a romance going on now," he offers brightly "Yes, with a mind reader in California."
And is she very interesting?"
"She's very pretty."
His lids droop wearily. In his younger years, he was a mildly handsome man, dark and appealing enough to make a success out of a schtick called, appropriately enough, "Hello Momma," a pre-Newhart act in which he talked on the telephone to his . . . yes . . . momma. The result of this of course was that Momma Jessel - the real one - became about as famous as her son, and was often photographed with him. Through the years his act maintained that portion of easy humor and sentimentality he finds so vital to his existence. He does it still at Hogate's; the jokes about Jewishness, Italian-ness, California, Dulles Airport.
It seems that it is that - the fierece sentimentality - that prompted his outbursts in the early '70s. When he called the film "Viva Max," "a terribly un-American movie." When he equated The New York Times and The Washington Post with "Pravda," on the "Today" show. Georgie Jessel wants things perceived as good; and it seems that it is the perceptions that bother him more than the reality.
"Rebel Without a Cause," he says "that movie I believe I helped stop it from being shown in Europe. Well it showed Americans as a lot of bums. No law and order. Marking fun of policemen. I like things to be . . . well, I believe we all are victims of circumstance.
"They got a picture now - about Lincoln's assassination - saying they never got the guy who shot Lincoln. What the hell good does that do?"
But curiously enough, he does not draw a veil of illusions over his own life. Not at all. He is asked why he is doing Hogate's at 79. He is told he must have made enough money by now.
And the replies, "That isn't so. I lost fortunes of money."
"I could use the money. I lost money in the stock market. And that paternity suit cost me nearly everything I had."
"Besides, I've never done this before. I've never done a lounge before."
He is asked if it doesn't make him very tired doing two shows a night through Nov. 4.
"Well I don't ACT like I'm tired. I wouldn't - I wouldn't want to keep on doing it. But I've enjoyed this last night."
A bleak smile. "The way I see it - the way I see it, a man is only as old as SHE feels."
And he blows a kiss.