Sunday, September 19, 2010
This week a famous Las Vegas entertainer died. He was only about 15 years old but lived a full, long life – played to audiences of thousands of people who adored him and took photos and laughed and loved him. His name was JoJo, and he was a showdog.
I worked with many animals during my career as a singer/dancer. First was in Branson, MO where lions and tigers and leopards and a huge snake were used by my boss, magician Kirby VanBurch. Kirby may have been a little crazy, but he was a meticulous performer and took the safety of his animals and performers seriously. No one was allowed backstage when he used the animals during his act; no one was allowed to go visit them in their cages or mess with them in any way. Since I never saw them, the only time I was reminded there were actual animals in the show was when the magic assistant ran to the dressing room mid-show when the snake peed on her during the act. (Apparently, you have to wash it off right away or risk smelling like snake pee for weeks.)
In Las Vegas my first job was with Melinda, First Lady of Magic. While she didn’t use exotic animals in her act, she did have the requisite birds and rabbits. These animals’ cages were in our dressing room where we got used to the continuous soundtrack of the doves’ cooing, and we sometimes took the rabbits out to pet them.
Many years later, I worked in a show with the comedian/magician/fire eater/animal trainer Max Clever, whose act I loved to watch from the wings so I could laugh along with the audience. Somehow, he managed to merge all of his talents into one clever act (no pun intended), making it all work together seamlessly. The star of his act, besides Max himself, was a little white fluffy dog named JoJo.
At Christmas, JoJo wore a red Santa suit during the show, his white hair looking like a Santa beard. But his usual attire was a black tuxedo and dark sunglasses. I often saw him sitting in the wings before his first entrance. It was pitch black back there, except for the light coming from the stage and the small light clipped onto the backstage technician’s station. He sat backstage facing the lights as Max began his act, and he waited for his cue patiently. He was the most professional dog I’ve ever seen. In fact, he was more professional than many of the human performers I’ve worked with.
When the act was over, JoJo would often stroll into our dressing room to say hello. It was nice to pet him and have a little down-to-earth contact with an animal in the middle of our strange entertainer’s environment.
One Christmas, another performer and I made sweaters for JoJo, and he kindly obliged us by modeling them in the dressing room between shows. I worked in that show for seven years, and JoJo was as much a part of the family as anyone. He will be missed.
Back when I worked with Max, I jokingly told him that someday I wanted to have my own JoJo. And in a way, I feel I do. George looks like him, and I trained him using the suggestions Max gave me long ago. I can’t help but feel that I have the same bond with George that Max had with JoJo. When I heard JoJo had died, I truly felt sorrow at Max’s loss.
As a tribute to JoJo, I think I will teach George a few more tricks – pass on his legacy through the lessons of a showdog.