Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I Was So Much Older Then


I'm not going to bother to check, because there's no way he doesn't hold the record, but I'm going to assume that the oldest performer ever to appear on Saturday Night Live was Eubie Blake, who appeared with Gregory Hines on March 10, 1979 (the show hosted by Gary Busey), at a time when Eubie claimed to be ninety-six. (The revue Eubie! was a hit on Broadway at the time). He was pretty remarkable, playing three songs - two of them solo - with his incredibly long spidery fingers and being utterly charming as he chatted with Hines.

I say "claimed to be," because at some point, pretty far along in his life, Eubie added four years to his age. This was sometime before he recorded his 1969 album The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake, because Eubie was in reality only 82 at that point. The album was nominated for a Grammy (and featured, as long as we're on the topic, a song called "Chevy Chase") and kick-started his late-in-life revival. He appeared on The Tonight Show in 1973, got an honorary doctorate from Rutgers in 1974, and Eubie! premiered on Broadway in 1978.

The decision to add exactly four years to his age would prove fortuitous, for Eubie Blake died on February 12, 1983, five days after the celebration of his centennial. He was ninety-six.

6 comments:

MJN said...

I didn't know that Eubie Blake padded his age. I guess I can take him off my list of people who became famous, and then became centenarians. It's a short list: George Burns, Bob Hope, Rose Kennedy, Elizabeth the Queen Mother . . .

Who am I forgetting?

T. Nawrocki said...

Do you count Billy Werber as famous? He cleared 100.

George Burns celebrated his 100th birthday quietly at home, although he famously had contracted to play Caesar's Palace that night. He was never seen in public again, and there were rumors that he had actually died before reaching 100, and the family kept it quiet so people would think he had made it to centenary status. But Burns hung on for 49 more days; I don't think they would have waited quite so long if he were actually dead.

MJN said...

I hadn't heard of Billy Werber until now, so I'm not going to count him. I do know that last time I checked (some years ago), there hadn't been any former major league baseball players who had reached age 100. Was Mr. Werber the first one?

T. Nawrocki said...

I think he and Milt Gaston are the only ones who had a real career. There were a handful of guys who played in a game or two who made it to 100, but I wouldn't call them famous.

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MJN said...

Here’s my measuring stick for determining whether someone is famous before becoming a centenarian: On the date of his 99th birthday, am I aware that it’s his 99th birthday? Do I have the opportunity to cheer for him as he completes one more lap on his way to 100?

Happy 99th Birthday, Coach John Wooden, and best wishes for many more.