The Chicago Tribune yesterday ran an obituary of the straw that stirred the comedic drink known as The Second City:
Joyce Sloane, the beloved maternal powerhouse of The Second City, and the woman who found and nurtured such comedy giants as John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Chris Farley and Bill Murray, died Thursday, according to Kelly Leonard, the vice-president of The Second City.
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She was associated with Second City for all but one of its fifty years. She held virtually every title in the place: associate producer, executive producer, founder of the e.t.c. Company, founder of the national touring company, co-founder of the Toronto branch of The Second City, producer emeritus. So on and so forth across the years.
She was more than an operational force, however:
But those titles don't fully convey the import of a gifted woman who could spot raw talent with ease and who provided a crucial nurturing presence in what was, especially in the early years, almost exclusively a boys' club.
Sloane's daughter, Cheryl, was born a year or so after the founding of Second City, but the young comedians, especially the young women, who started out at Second City in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, found that the maternal instincts of Cheryl's mother were available for sharing.
"Everybody who comes to Second City has issues," said Tim Kazurinsky, one of Sloane's charges. "She was the mother to the largest dysfunctional family in the world. Second City was like [M]arine boot-camp, but over in this corner there was little Jewish mother. It's hard to imagine the void."
It was Joyce Sloane who held Radner's hand when things got tough. "When Gilda came out on stage," Sloane told the Tribune in 1999, "the whole audience wanted to put its arms around her." She was, of course, speaking mostly of herself. At the time, Sloane still could not speak of Radner, who had died of ovarian cancer a decade before, without her voice breaking.
As mentioned above, Sloane made a number of talent disoveries:
Yet it was also Sloane who headed out to the College of DuPage and found a raw, edgy young student named John Belushi and hired him without even requiring him to audition.
'Oh, John," Sloane used to say, her round face lighting up with the memory of one of her most notable discoveries.
But Belushi, and his brother Jim, were hardly the only ones. It was Sloane who trekked to London, Ontario, in 1990 to check out a young comic named Nia Vardalos. Sloane brought her to Chicago. Vardalos went on [to] make "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
Although she had other professional and personal interests, the Tribune avers that:
Second City and its performers were her professional life. Her retirement age and declin[in]g health notwithstanding, she remained a fixture at the theater until just a few weeks ago. She was normally to be found off to the side, perched on a stool or bench.
"I'm the only one who still keeps an office downstairs," she said, during Second City's 50th-anniversary celebrations. "To me there are two things that are important here, the stage and the box office, and I'm near both of them."
She always will be to the many who treasure Second City.