The New York Times    January 15, 2005

Friars Club

Gene Baylos, at left in middle row, in 1960's with other Friars, from left: top, Joey Adams, Eddie Fisher, Red Buttons and Morey Amsterdam; middle, Mr. Baylos, George Raft, Joe E. Lewis, Sam Levenson and Henny Youngman; front, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle and Jan Murray.
The New York Times, Saturday, January 15, 2005

Gene Baylos, 98, Dies;
Comic Kept Peers in Stitches


Gene Baylos, a hard-working nightclub comic of the old school whose gags were legend among fellow comedians, died on Monday [Jan. 10, 2005] at St. Luke's Hospital in Manhattan. He was 98 and a Manhattan resident.

His death was reported by his niece, Perry Matsa.

Like countless comedians of his generation, Mr. Baylos began his career in the Catskills in the 1930's and then worked the once-booming national nightclub circuit, starting in the mid-1940's. He opened for Sammy Davis Jr. at the Copacabana in New York and appeared at Ciro's in Los Angeles, the Chez Paree in Chicago and Mother Kelly's in Miami.

He went on to enjoy modest success on television, appearing in small roles on situation comedies like "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "Car 54, Where Are You?" and doing his stand-up act on variety shows like "The Hollywood Palace." He also acted in "The Family Jewels" with Jerry Lewis in 1965.

But he never got the big break that would have made him as well known as a Milton Berle, a Buddy Hackett or even a Shecky Greene.

"I'm not complaining," he told an interviewer for The Daily News in 1981. "When I was making $10 a night at the Loew's Pitkin in 1942 and living in the Bronx with my mother, I loved it then. When I was making $50 a week, schlepping to Hoboken for three shows a night, I loved it. I'm not bitter. I love my job. I love show business."

Exactly why he never broke through was hard to say. Phil Greenwald, the talent booker for the Concord Hotel in the Catskills, offered a possible explanation in an interview with The New York Times in 1976.

"Gene is the oldest club-date act in America," Mr. Greenwald said. "He's a very funny guy, a sweet guy. He's played the Concord a million times. His trouble is he doesn't focus his routine enough. He goes off in too many directions."

Another possible explanation was that Mr. Baylos, while successful as a nightclub act, used material considered too risqué for television, where stand-up comedy migrated after the big nightclubs began closing. Jokes like the one about a man who finds his wife in bed with his best friend and says to him, "Sam, I have to - but you?" may seem tame today, but they were considered unfit for a family audience in the 1950's and 60's.

Still, Mr. Baylos was always able to find work, even if it was just a booking at a private party. And he could always find an appreciative audience at the New York Friars Club or anywhere else comedians congregated.

Alan King once called him "the comedian in residence, the court jester of the Friars Club," adding, "Put him in a room with 20 comedians and nobody gets laughs except Baylos."

While Mr. Baylos got big laughs among his peers - sometimes with shtick as simple as slipping a roll into his pocket while bragging about a lucrative booking - comedians are, as Mr. Baylos's friend and fellow comic Joey Adams put it, "a very limited audience."

Mr. Baylos is survived by his wife of 50 years, Cyrile. He continued working until September 1999, when he fell and broke a hip on the way to the Friars Club, Ms. Matsa said.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company