Jan Wallman, a cabaret owner whose Greenwich Village clubs incubated the careers of Joan Rivers, Barbra Streisand, Woody Allen, Rodney Dangerfield and scores of other singers and comedians, died on Oct. 8 in Manhattan. She was 93.
Her death was confirmed on Friday by Gregory Moore, her companion and club manager.
Ms. Wallman’s cabarets not only helped catapult performers to stardom; they also provided a venue for longtime entertainers, including Linda Lavin, Bert Convy and the comedy team Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara.
Over the years Ms. Wallman presided at Upstairs-at-the-Duplex, on Grove Street (“the owner ran the Downstairs; there was a joke that it was street level until they ran it into the ground,” she recalled); a hole in the wall on Cornelia Street called Jan Wallman’s, and an octagonal mirrored room at the Iroquois Hotel on West 44th Street in Midtown, also known as Jan Wallman’s.
Wherever she went, she attracted a following, both performers and fans.
“I literally had to beg for my first performing job” at Upstairs-at-the-Duplex, Woody Allen told the critic Cleveland Amory in an interview for The Newark Evening News in 1968, “and they put on anyone who’s not a catastrophe. But you get no money at all. At 11 at night, I’d get in a cab in the freezing cold and go down there and perform for nothing for five or six people. Twelve was a big night.”
By 1993, Stephen Holden, who writes about cabaret for The New York Times, described Jan Wallman’s as “one of New York’s best-loved and longest-lived small clubs.”
She was born Janet Jacob on May 14, 1922, in Roundup, Mont. She was married twice, briefly. Her first husband was killed in World War II. She divorced her second but kept his surname. In addition to Mr. Moore, she is survived by a sister, Kate Kemmerer.
“I was a dilettante,” Ms. Wallman told The Times in 1986. “When I was 12 my grandmother brought a singing teacher to hear me sing ‘I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls.’ He told my grandmother, ‘Don’t waste your money.’ ” She didn’t.
Instead, after studying theater at the University of Minnesota, Ms. Wallman went to New York to pursue a career in public relations and promotion.
“My very first night in New York,” she told the website NiteLifeExchange.com, “I went to One Fifth Avenue and saw a wonderful show there, with two guys who played dual pianos and accompanied some singers.”
She became fast friends with the singer Nina Simone and her husband, Donald Ross. In 1959, she and Mr. Ross decided to take over Upstairs-at-the-Duplex, which Ms. Wallman ran from 1959 to 1962 and again from 1964 to 1968. (In between, she ran the Showplace on West Fourth Street.)
“Three weeks later he left, and I was on my own,” she said of Mr. Ross. “I suddenly found that I was doing what I liked to do. I loved what went on there — the music, the performers. It was a party every night.”
She added: “I’d try anything with even a glimmer of possibility, but sometimes I had to turn down people I knew had talent. I couldn’t use Melba Moore because she could only sing with a rhythm section, and I couldn’t afford more than a piano.”
In his 1978 memoir, “Ruby in the Rough,” Bob Ruby, a radio broadcaster performing at the club, recalled when, in the early 1960s, “an unknown promoter named Marty Erlichman brought in an 18-year-old girl with a big nose and hair coifed like a beehive to sing for the first time.”
“The song was ‘A Sleepin’ Bee,’ ” he added, “and when she finished I realized I’d watched the first genuine happening of my life.” The singer was Barbra Streisand.
Ms. Wallman closed the Upstairs room in 1968, then worked as a hospital recreation director, a restaurant manager, a bartender and a hat checker.
She got back into the business in the mid-1970s, when Mona Katz, a friend, invited her to take over the lease of a bar she owned at 28 Cornelia Street. Ms. Wallman renamed it Jan Wallman’s.
By 1986, however, the rent became prohibitive, and she closed it. But she had made many friends, and when they heard of the closing, a group of performers rallied to her side and held a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall so that she could reopen in the Hotel Iroquois on West 44th Street.
“I’m glad they’re doing it while I’m alive,” she said at the time. “Send me the flowers now.”
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