Contortionist with the stars, Elisa Jayne, dies at 88

Miami and Miami Beach in the 1950s was a booming entertainment region where the world’s biggest entertainers came to sing, tell jokes and dance across our stages.

Frank Sinatra. Sammy Davis Jr. Louis Armstrong. Cab Calloway. Mel Torme. Buddy Hackett.

And circling, or in her case, entwining herself, on their stages, contortionist Elisa Jayne.

Jayne, 88, died Sunday of complications from lymphoma in Miami, said Donald Graziano, her boyfriend of 33 years.

“Seems like everyone loved her,” he said. “She was a very caring person and she loved animals and was just a good person.”

And she was a popular entertainer on the circuit at a time when the live performance was everything.

Kentucky-born Jayne knew from her school days that show business was for her. She rebuffed a high school principal who tried to talk her into accepting one of two university scholarship offers that came her way during World War II. “Two years later she comes back making more money than he was,” Graziano, a Miami chiropractor said.

Jayne’s first break was landing a spot at Lou Walters’ Latin Quarter, the New York Broadway and 47th Street branch. (His Miami Beach location on Palm Island burned to the ground in 1959.) She was living with humorist/TV host Herb Shriner and his wife Eileen when she met her husband, comedian Paul Gray in 1949. Gray died in Miami in 1980.

A friend suggested to Jayne that her contortion act would enjoy a broader fan base if she’d incorporate humor into her performances so she became adept at comedic antics with imitations of screen icons like Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and others. A Reno Evening Gazette critic wrote in Nov. 1961: “Elisa, on stage, ... is one of the finest female comics of our time.”

Comedian Jerry Lewis tapped her for a cameo in his comedy, The Bellboy, which marked his debut as a film director. The 1960 movie was shot at the Fontainebleau Hotel on Collins Avenue during the day so Lewis, Jayne and her husband could do their respective acts at night. Jazz singer/bandleader Cab Calloway called her “the queen of dance.”

Ed Sullivan put her on a pedestal — literally — when, for his 10th anniversary TV show in 1958, strongman Paul Anderson hoisted a carousel plank upon which sat some of Sullivan’s guests: Betty Grable. George Raft, Carl Reiner, Ernie Kovacs and, yes, Jayne.

At that time, Jayne performed in Cuba, pre-Castro, where she was featured on a billboard smoking a cigarette. With her toe. She went unpaid.

Rose Thurston, 93, of New Orleans, a retired comedian, met Jayne in show business in Chicago. Jayne was 20 and the two were lifelong friends.

“We went on 15 cruises around the world together and we never had an argument,” Thurston said. “We always loved each other and liked to do the same things, to shop and go to hear music and read books. At one time she was a premiere acrobatic dancer and worked only the finest clubs and got the biggest salary. I love her and will miss her terribly.”

There were no services at Jayne’s request.

Read more Obituaries stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">WATERFALL:</span> Ben Bistrong designed coral rock waterfall landscapes in the Redland and around South Florida.

    Benjamin Bistrong, 44

    South Florida coral stone landscaper Benjamin Bistrong dies at 44

    Miami native Benjamin Bistrong, a descendant on his mother’s side to a pioneering group of home-builders who emigrated from the Bahamas to Key West in the 1830s, worked to bring South Florida into a modern Stone Age.

James Garner, who will accept the 41st annual life achievement award, arrives with his family including his wife Lois Clarke, far left, for the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in this Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005 file photo taken in Los Angeles. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86.

    Correction: Obit-James Garner story

    In a story July 20 about the death of TV legend James Garner, The Associated Press reported erroneously that the actor was "found dead." In fact, he died in the presence of family and others.

  • Manny Roth, founder of Café Wha?, dead at 94

    Manny Roth, a colorful club owner in Greenwich Village whose Cafe Wha? and its basement level stage was a rite of passage in the 1960s for Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen and many others, has died. He was 94.

Miami Herald

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category