Jay Leno

The US chat show host got his sen­si­bil­i­ties from his Scot­tish mother

SCOTS Heritage Magazine - - Contents -

Mummy’s boy

Known as the King of Late Night and Jut­ting Jaw Jay, Jay Leno is best known for host­ing The

Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Jay Leno Show. Fa­mous for his square jaw and pro­trud­ing chin, Leno is also well-known for his ex­ten­sive au­to­mo­bile and mo­tor­bike col­lec­tion.

A cel­e­brated talk show host, he re­ceived the Mark Twain Prize in 2014 and has also won two Prime­time Emmy Awards. Born James Dou­glas Muir Leno, to an Ital­ian fa­ther, An­gelo, and a Scot­tish mother, he cites his mother as an in­flu­ence on his comedic ca­reer.

‘She was al­ways con­scious of how the jokes would af­fect the peo­ple I was talk­ing about, like she said, “What if you hurt Pres­i­dent Clin­ton’s feel­ings?”‘ he says. ‘She af­fected the kind of com­edy I wanted to do. She had an ear for what was ap­pro­pri­ate.

Cather­ine ‘Cathy’ Muir Leno was sent over to Amer­ica from Greenock, Scot­land aged just 11 by her fa­ther af­ter her mother left him for an­other man. Strug­gling with six kids, and be­ing un­able to find any­one to take her in, her fa­ther sent her to live with an older sis­ter and work as a serv­ing girl. On meet­ing An­gelo Leno, she was forced to learn to cook Ital­ian food be­fore she could marry him, which Jay thinks is the rea­son she can’t cook Scot­tish food. ‘Scot­tish mums can’t cook. Scot­tish cui­sine? I don’t think there’s any such thing. When you buy a Mars bar... they dump them in hot oil.’

Cather­ine mar­ried An­gelo Leno on 30

Be­low left: Leno as a young man. Be­low right: Leno’s Scot­tish mother Cathy mar­ried his Ital­ian fa­ther An­gelo af­ter be­ing sent from Greenock to Amer­ica aged 11, af­ter her own fa­ther was aban­doned by his wife and strug­gled to bring up six chil­dren on his own.

So I’m on the stage, and I see these col­lege kids laugh­ing dur­ing my per­for­mance, and my mom is go­ing ‘Shhh! Shhh!’ I stop and go, ‘Ma, you don’t shush peo­ple at a com­edy show!’

Novem­ber 1935, the same date as her son and his wife Mavis many years later. She had her first son, Pa­trick, in 1940, who grew up to fight in the Viet­nam War and be­come a grad­u­ate of Yale Univer­sity. She had Jay ten years later in 1950, and raised both boys in An­dover, Mas­sachusetts. Pa­trick passed away in 2002 due to can­cer, just like his mother, who passed in 1993 aged 82.

De­spite her son be­ing in the lime­light with stand-up com­edy and host­ing The To

night Show, Cather­ine never liked be­ing the cen­tre of at­ten­tion. ‘Scot­tish peo­ple are re­served, that’s why it’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno – not Star­ring Jay Leno,’ he says. ‘And even with that, my mother would say “Why do you have to have your name all over ev­ery­thing?”’

Nei­ther Cather­ine nor An­gelo un­der­stood Jay’s pro­fes­sion in com­edy but they sup­ported his per­for­mances, go­ing to many, in­clud­ing one fa­mous gig at New York’s Carnegie Hall. ‘So I’m on the stage, and I see these col­lege kids laugh­ing dur­ing my per­for­mance, and my mom is go­ing “Shhh! Shhh!” I stop and go, “Ma, you don’t shush peo­ple at a com­edy show! They’re sup­posed to laugh!” My mother was stunned.’

But de­spite not un­der­stand­ing his cho­sen pro­fes­sion, Cather­ine was very proud of her son. ‘He used to dis­turb the class, but no one could get mad at him be­cause ev­ery­one was laugh­ing. It’s nice to know that they like him. I mean, this is your son and they like him.’

Jay Leno is one of the few co­me­di­ans who is clean and doesn’t make a fuss about his sta­tus as a co­me­dian. He is still a hum­ble man who only uses his mon-

ey from his gigs, rather than his in­come from The Tonight Show. His wife Mavis Leno knows how ded­i­cated her hus­band is to his work. ‘He loves do­ing his job bet­ter than any­thing else he does,’ she says. ‘It’s in his fam­ily. The whole male side of his fam­ily is like that.’

Leno never had a bad word to say about his mother and even if he used her in his jokes, she never got mad. ‘When he’s talk­ing about me then I know he’s think­ing about me, so it’s fine.’

Leno is also known for his au­to­mo­bile and mo­tor­bike col­lec­tion which is held in two large bunkers at Bur­bank Air­port. He has 150 cars and 92 bikes in his col­lec­tion and all are driv­able. Not only does Leno have fam­ily ties to Scot­land, he also

Leno vis­ited Scot­land with his mother and fa­ther, bring­ing her back for the first time since she was 11 years old

drove a one-of-a-kind 1951 Ecurie Ecosse XK120 road­ster by Jaguar, dur­ing the Mille Maglia in 2014.

Jay bought his par­ents a pearl white Ital­ian Cadil­lac, which his mother hated. She would tell ev­ery­one they would meet on the road that ‘we’re not re­ally Cadil­lac peo­ple – our son got us this.’ Ac­cord­ing to Leno, in her very Scot­tish way the self-ef­fac­ing Cather­ine was so em­bar­rassed by the car that she would al­ways lie be­neath the line of sight, un­der the dash­board, not want­ing to be seen by other peo­ple.

Leno vis­ited Scot­land with his mother and fa­ther, bring­ing her back for the first time since leav­ing when she was 11 years-old. She was ap­pre­hen­sive at first about leav­ing Amer­ica as she wasn’t sure she would be let back in to the coun­try.

‘It turns out my fa­ther took her down to get her cit­i­zen­ship pa­pers,’ laughs Leno. ‘To be­come a cit­i­zen if you had more than five ques­tions wrong you didn’t pass so my mother got five ques­tions wrong and the sixth ques­tion was ‘What is the US Con­sti­tu­tion?’ and my mother said “It’s a boat”. And the judge said “Well, you failed” and so my fa­ther ar­gued with the judge and the judge said “Fine, fine you’re a cit­i­zen, get out! Get out! So sixty years go by and my mother is afraid that the judge put a note some­where that takes it away.’

Since leav­ing The Tonight Show Leno spends most of his time with his wife and his cars, he still tours, do­ing com­edy shows, but has not been back to Scot­land since tak­ing his mother be­fore she died. But that does not mean he will not be back in years to come; in­deed he has pleged to get more in­volved in Scot­tish cul­ture. His mother would be proud of him.

Leno never had a bad word to say about his mother and even if he used her in his jokes. she never got mad. “When he’s talk­ing about me then I know he’s think­ing about me, so it’s fine”

Above left: Leno on stage at the Carnegie Hall in New York. Above right: Leno’s older brother Pa­trick fought in Viet­nam.

Image: Jay Leno’s mother, Cather­ine Muir left her home town of Greenock for Amer­ica when she was only eleven years old.

Cather­ine was born here in Greenock

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.