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Jackie Gayle, 76; Stand-Up Comic, Movie and TV Character Actor

November 27, 2002|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Jackie Gayle, the veteran second banana who opened Las Vegas shows for such luminaries as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Tina Turner and earned his own fame for character roles in such films as "Tin Men," has died. He was 76.

Gayle died Saturday at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach of complications after open heart surgery, publicist Warren Cowan announced in Los Angeles.

A stand-up comedian in nightclubs for 40 years, Gayle performed on the Playboy Club circuit and in major Las Vegas showrooms at Caesars Palace, the Hilton and other resorts, opening for many stars, including not only Sinatra, Bennett and Turner, but Tom Jones, Paul Anka, Pearl Bailey, Patti Page and Ed Ames.

Gayle held the stage in small saloons across the country, and his reputation earned him roles as himself or as a fictional comedian in a handful of movies, including Woody Allen's "Broadway Danny Rose."

Gayle was 61 when Barry Levinson cast him in his popular 1987 comedy, "Tin Men," starring Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito as warring aluminum-siding salesmen.

Critics raved. Leonard Maltin in his annual Movie & Video Guide wrote, "Stand-up comic Gayle is hilarious as DeVito's sales partner, who has 'Bonanza' on the brain." The Times' reviewer wrote that DeVito's "partner, Sam (played with magnificent sang-froid by Jackie Gayle) broods frequently on the sex life of the 'Bonanza' boys."

Gayle relished the opportunity to play something other than a comedian and delighted in the attention the role brought him. "Anything that happens now," he said, "I know I was in a hit."

The buzz over Gayle's "Tin Men" performance earned him other movie roles and a part in the Showtime cable television series "The Boys," about five friends playing cards at a pseudo Friars Club. Gayle also had an HBO show of his own, "On Location With Jackie Gayle."

The comedian's subsequent motion pictures included Carl Reiner's "Bert Rigby, You're a Fool," "Joey Takes a Cab," "Mr. Saturday Night," starring Billy Crystal, and "Bulworth," starring Warren Beatty and Halle Berry.

Perennially popular on television talk shows and more than 20 of Dean Martin's Celebrity Roasts, Gayle also won acting roles in episodes of the television series "L.A. Law," "Murder, She Wrote," "Good Advice" and "Stark Raving Mad."

Born Jack Potovsky in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, Gayle became a professional drummer at age 16 and worked for Sally Marr, Lenny Bruce's mother.

Bruce befriended the youth and urged him to abandon music for stand-up.

A compulsive joke-teller offstage as well as on, Gayle proved a natural. He opened the Los Angeles Playboy Club in 1964, and a Times reviewer wrote of a subsequent performance there:

"Gayle is a shrewd and sensitive observer of our world who recognizes the Everyman absurdities of life and seizes them.... He tossed off some really good impressions of the celebrated doing imaginary television commercials -- [Humphrey] Bogart on Poli-Grip

Gayle is survived by his wife, Tracy, and son, Justin.

The funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. today at Eden Memorial Park, 11500 Sepulveda Blvd., Mission Hills. A public memorial service will be held at a later date.

The family has asked that, instead of flowers, memorial contributions be sent to the American Heart Assn.

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