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The Comic and the Kid : Parks: With a little financial help from 'Tonight Show' host Jay Leno, a 5-year-old will get a neighborhood playground built.

August 01, 1992|JIM HERRON ZAMORA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When you are a kid living near a park, it's nice to have a famous television comedian working in the neighborhood.

That's what 5-year-old Jenna Berger learned after helping her mother, Claire, raise $31,000--including $15,000 kicked in by comedian Jay Leno--to build a playground in Johnny Carson Park in Burbank.

Burbank city officials said the playground will be named The Tonight Show Children's Playground at the request of Leno, who succeeded Carson as host of the show in May. The show originates in a studio across the street from the park.

Leno was on vacation Friday and was not available for comment.

The quest began when Jenna asked her mother several months ago why there wasn't a playground at the park at Riverside and Bob Hope drives. The city had renamed the 17-acre site--formerly Buena Vista Park--after Carson in March, as he prepared to retire from "The Tonight Show."

Berger, a stand-up comic, decided they should do something about it and gave her daughter a crash course in networking. Jenna wrote letters, licked stamps and accompanied her mother to several meetings with public officials and entertainment executives.

"A 5-year-old can present a convincing case for a playground," Berger said. "I don't think of it as exploitative. It was her idea to begin with and she's going to play there, so she had to do some of the work."

It is not clear whether romping in the new playground will tire out kids living near Burbank's Media District so they will go to sleep in time to let their parents watch "The Tonight Show." But Leno sure has a fan in Jenna.

"She has Jay Leno on the brain," Berger said.

Jenna shyly declined comment on the subject.

"We got money, lots of money," she said before hiding behind her mother and shouting, "No pictures."

In a letter to Leno, she wrote: "Dear Jay, Thanks for my park. See you at the slides. Jenna. Age five."

She also wrote thank you letters to NBC and Walt Disney Studios, which kicked in $5,000 apiece. Not to be outdone by the media giants, Portrait of a Bookstore in Toluca Lake contributed $1,000. Much of the money was raised in small donations from neighbors and friends, Berger said.

"We created a Juvenile Walk of Fame for the kids. So that for a $50 contribution you can have your kid's handprint at the playground," in the style of Hollywood's Mann's Chinese Theater, Berger said. "I also want Jay Leno's handprint, so we can have kids of all ages involved."

The fund-raising effort came after Berger asked the city to build a playground and found there was no money.

"It's a great idea, but we were cut 5% in the last budget," said Mary Alvord, head of Burbank's Parks and Recreation Department. "There was no way we could afford the playground."

The efforts of the mother-and-daughter team have also inspired the city to create an "adopt-a-park" program to encourage local businesses to follow Leno's example.

"Not everyone has a Jay Leno or Johnny Carson as a neighbor," Berger said. "So it's important to try to help other kids who also want a playground."

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