Detroit television icon Johnny Ginger was in his element earlier this week as he sang and joked his way through a free public performance at Marycrest Heights, a senior independent living center in Livonia.
He easily drew laughs, applause and eventually a standing ovation as he entertained with songs, a running gag, and jokes, bringing back memories of his wacky kids shows, Curtain Time Theater, which ran from 1958-60, and The Johnny Ginger Show, from 1960-68, both on WXYZ-TV Channel 7.
Im getting up there. Im 80 years old now, he told the audience of mostly seniors, some of whom watched The Johnny Ginger Show as kids. I feel okay but I dont like people telling you in a roundabout way that youre getting old. I got a half a calendar from my insurance company. Thats not nice.
I was in Florida and I was standing by the pool and a lady came up and she was admiring my alligator shoes and I wasnt wearing any shoes, he said, laughing with the audience at the joke.
Back surgery. I looked around for a good surgeon and I went to this one office and there was a guy sitting there with a cane. They called him he was in there for five minutes, the guy came out, straight as could be. I said sir, you were in there for five minutes you were stooped over and you came out straight. What did the doctor do? He said he gave me a longer cane.
Singing for fans
Ginger, a former Livonia and Farmington Hills resident who now lives in Ohio, has performed at other Trinity Senior Living communities. He sang mostly songs at the Marycrest Heights facility, interspersing the tunes with a continuous cell phone bit that elicited laughs each time the recorded caller ginger portraying a drunk rang the entertainers phone.
Anne and Brendan Dagle of Redford remember watching his television shows, but were happy to hear him sing.
Were here to have fun and listen to the the music we like, Anne Dagle said.
Claudette Bloom of Westland recalled seeing Ginger in concert many years ago and liked what she heard.
My husband and I and another couple saw him probably back in the 60s. We really enjoyed him. He was wonderful.
After the show, Ginger autographed photos and CDs.
The first (senior performance) I did was in Monroe. Then I started getting calls from other places, he said, recalling that one facility couldnt afford more than $15 for his efforts. I said is that $15 a minute? No? Well, it was an assisted living canter and I lived right around the corner, so I said I will do the show for nothing. They were so happy and they were right there with the show the whole time. It was just great.
As an entertainer, that is all you want. You hear this, he said, clapping his hands, and you hear ha ha ha and thats all you want. Its our food. I remember when I was a kid I would work in clubs and wouldnt get many laughs. I said, you know they say laughter is our food and Id like to thank you folks you for a light lunch tonight.
Ginger did a stand-up act under the name Jerry Gale, before he auditioned for a 13-week childrens show in 1957. He landed the show, which lasted 11 years beyond the audition, but was ordered to change his name to Johnny Ginger. During Curtain Time Theater he portrayed a sad sack stagehand and showed Three Stooges shorts. In he traded the stagehand overalls for a bellhop uniform and the show was renamed The Johnny Ginger Show in 1960. He did character voices and wrote and performed his own sketches that were woven between Three Stooges films.
The program manager had seen Jerry Lewis in The Bellboy and said, youre going to be a bellboy, Ginger explained the character switch. The last two years I had built up this guy in coveralls, such a sympathetic character. I said you ruined this sympathetic guy. How am I going to do it now? Well, I pulled it off eventually.
After the show ended in 1968, Ginger hosted the Captain Detroit show on Channel 50.
These days, he not only performs for seniors, but has appeared in films as well. He portrayed Doc Robinson in the 2010 film Alleged, starring Brian Dennehy, and is set to act in a science fiction movie that will be filmed this spring.
Entertainment I love it all, as long as Im getting paid for it. Ha ha.