Former Philadelphia Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky posted this memoriam to Jerry Blavat to Facebook after the 82-year-old music personality died on Jan. 20. Reprinted with permission. Readers can find more of Stu’s writing at www.stubykofsky.com
The words “icon” and “legend” are easily thrown around, applied as freely as suntan lotion in July.
With Jerry Blavat, they were nearly an understatement.
The incomparable Geator with the Heater R.I.P.
He was one of my first friends in Philadel-phia, and here’s how that came about. In 1973, I was the features editor of the Philadelphia Daily News and was reviewing a rock ‘n’ roll show, sponsored by a now-gone rock radio station, at the New Locust theater on Locust Street, now the Estia restaurant.
It was a lousy show.
Some of the ‘50s acts had switched out saxophones for electric guitars, which changed the sound. Aside from that, the two DJs basically made fun of the music as corny. Imagine paying good money for a show that the hosts were making fun of.
In my review, I torched the DJs, for their attitude and their fake tinsel, and said they should study the master of the music and of authentic tinsel, Jerry Blavat. I had arrived in Philly a few years earlier, but had learned of this DJ who called himself “the boss with the hot sauce” who insisted on doing things his way.
After the review ran, Jerry called me up to say thanks and said he wanted to send me a bottle of wine.
I said I couldn’t accept a gift like that under our ethics policy.
“Can I drink it with you?” he asked.
Hmmm. “I guess so,” I said.
Next thing you know he showed up at my home with a couple of bottles in his hand. We polished them off, got blotto, and launched a decades-long friendship.
You will read elsewhere about his public life — his career that started with him being a dancer on American Bandstand and even-tually brought him into contact with national celebrities. (As to Bandstand, he launched a protest to challenge the removal of disgraced host Bob Horn. The new DJ, Dick Clark, to his credit, never held it against the Geator because he was being loyal to a friend.)
A couple of years after our wine party, when I was removed as features editor and banished to the night copy desk, I also was removed from the A party list in Philly. People who had sought my approval and friendship as a features editor turned into smoke in the wind when I lost that title. But not Jerry Blavat, the Geator. Also a handful of others who said I was more than a title, I was a friend. That meant a lot to me.
When I was restored to day work and given the all-important job of gossip column – some colleagues called me Lazarus because of my many comebacks – I was back in Jerry’s entertainment orbit. Jerry was the consum-mate entertainer – from his head-spinning jive talk to the way he snapped his fingers like a machine gun.
He did radio, he did television, he wrote a newspaper column, he knew everyone in the music industry from the Intruders to Frank Sinatra to Madonna.
If I needed to reach someone in music, I often asked for Jerry’s help. He never said no.
Straw-thin and fire plug high, Jerry stood tall among his peers, and was always in great physical shape. He rode his bicycle all over town and hit the gym a lot. He was strong inside and out.
When Sinatra came into A.C., he could count on a meal of homemade pasta prepared by Mama Geator and delivered to the Chairman of the Board at his hotel suite by the Geator.
But Geator was not really friends with Sinatra. He was friends with Sammy Davis Jr.
He was with Altovise Davis when Sammy died at their Beverly Hills home in 1990 and Jerry called me around 7 a.m. to offer me a world-wide scoop.
I could not use it.
The fact that Davis was dead, without any details, was not a newspaper story. There was no public internet, no Twitter, to blurt it out. It was a scoop I could not touch, but Jerry remembered the guy he called Stuophonic Stu.
Then there was the time he called me and asked if I’d like to have dinner with Sinatra and his pals that night in Atlantic City.
Just one thing, he said. “You can’t talk to him unless he talks to you.”
Hmm. “That’s OK. I can still get a column out of it.”
“No – no,” he said. “You can’t write about it.”
“If I can’t write about it, why would I want to go?” I asked Jerry.
“To have dinner with Sinatra,” Jerry said with surprise.
So instead of me having a story about having dinner with Sinatra, I have a story about standing him up.
I did go to dinner with Jerry a number of times.
Monday night was his night off and he would gather a group of friends — from 6 to 12 men — to eat at various restaurants around town. Jerry was known everywhere because he went everywhere.
The dinners were always his treat.
He would never accept anything in return and I told him I wasn’t comfortable with this one-way street. I’ve got to give something back, I explained to him.
“OK, give some money to the nuns,” he said.
Since that day, I have made an annual donation in his name to the IHM, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. You could too: https://ihmsisters.
Jerry’s father was Jewish, but Jerry was raised Catholic and he went to mass most mornings.
Some said he needed to because of what newspapers like to call “mob ties.”
Yes, he did have friends in the mob.
And in the D.A.’s office.
And in the church.
And in the mayor’s office.
And among cops and firefighters and plumbers and accountants and lawyers and secretaries, and among anyone who ever danced at his sock hops for yon teens all over town, decades ago, or at Memories in Margate in recent decades.
That joint was a magnet. A place to see and be seen.
In one corner you could see Philly Democratic Party leader Bob Brady a few steps from GOP leader Vito Canuso (who can really dance), while in another corner U.S. Senator Arlen Specter was holding court while in the other corner (alleged) mob boss Skinny Joey Merlino was hanging loose.
The joint was mobbed in the other way, too. At its height, you could barely move and I remember one night, when I was returning from the Shore after a party, I tuned to his station just in time to hear him give a shout-out to “Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky in the house.”
My date busted out laughing. “You’re there?,” she said. “I thought you were here with me.”
I laughed. “Jerry’s an entertainer. And it’s good publicity for me.”
So, yeah, sometimes he exaggerated.
It is true he did some favors for the mob, but he did favors for everyone else. If a mayor asked him to entertain at a city event, Jerry didn’t charge. Charities got help, too.
He got a lot of grief from my friends in the press when he pointed out reporters and physically blocked them from getting into the funeral of mob boss Angelo Bruno.
I told him he bought himself a lot of ill will from journalists.
“He was like a father to me and I didn’t want them turning it into a circus,” he said.
Loyalty over self-interest.
That was the man. Icon and legend.
He was loyal to his friends, devoted to his daughters, and always respectful to the artists, mostly Black, who created the doo-wop music he loved so much. And his long-time love Keely.
We had a running gag. “What can I do for you, my pal?” He would say.
“Play the Del-Vikings,” I would reply. They were big in the ‘50s, the era that Jerry loved best. He always hated the British invasion for ending the doo-wop era.
So now he’s spinning in Heaven, entertaining the angels and hanging with music makers who preceded him.
So long, Geator. We are so much poorer without you.