For 12 Minutes Every Night, Jovers Are Circuit's Live Wires

Posted: August 14, 1991

The Jovers have 12 minutes in Merv Griffin's Resorts' "Starstruck" show. This doesn't sound like much, especially on those nights, about once a month, when Griffin himself grabs a microphone and makes a surprise appearance.

When Griffin appears, the Jovers have a tag line, one of many that have been tried, proved and seasoned from nearly 30 years in front of audiences.

Fe (pronounced Fay) Jover halts her nonstop gush of bubbly, British- accented giggles, and says quite seriously, "Merv has asked us to make a special announcement. Tonight, all of the money made by the casino will be given directly to the bank."

"When we were younger, I was very ambitious," Fe says later, cooling down in their hotel room. "I'm 62, and I'm not ashamed to admit it."

The Jovers also aren't bothered by the fact that theirs is not a household name. Three-quarters-of-a-century ago, when the loose, live form of entertainment known as vaudeville was at its peak, the act that had 12 minutes in the show got top billing. Smaller, less popular acts got five and 10 minutes. To have 12 or 15 was the equivalent of superstardom in the days before movies, radio and MTV.

Today the vaudeville circuit survives in hotel and casino showrooms, on cruise ships, in small clubs and taverns, and at the occasional convention or ''industrial" show, where special effects or wide-screen television cannot substitute for the intimacy and adaptability of a live show. The Jovers are stars of that circuit, unknown to the audiences, but familiar to the entertainment managers who book them.

"What our act is, is ridiculous," Wilf Halliwell, Fe's husband, says proudly. "George Burns has been booked to play the London Palladium for his 100th birthday. We want to be his opening act so that we can make him look better."

They are British and call themselves the Jovers because Fe's family had already made the name famous in Britain and Europe. The pair met on stage in England, when Wilfred Halliwell and Fe Jover were doing dancing and acrobatics in a rehearsal in 1959.

"I was a dancer doing acrobatics. I was standing about when Wilf Halliwell bounded up and did a handstand on my shoulders," Fe recalls. "I thought he was so cute, but I wouldn't have anything to do with him, but a photographer snapped our picture, gave it to an agent and the agent came back and said he'd booked us for three weeks."

Marriage came rather quickly after that. Fame and fortune did not. While performing a mix of acrobatics, dance and comic pratfalls in Yugoslavia, they were noticed by Harlem Globetrotter manager Abe Sapperstein, who brought them to America and booked them for three seasons as opening act for the comedy basketball team.

"When we were done with the Globetrotters, we were down to our last $100. We went to the British consul in Boston, and on the way, a friend said an Irish club needed an Irish act. We put on the brogue, did the act. . . . We stayed three years in Boston as an Irish act. We bought a house, a Cadillac and an airplane."

They also got booked on The Ed Sullivan Show.

In 1969, while performing in Miami, they were noticed and signed to appear in a revue at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas. They eventually spent 20 years performing in Las Vegas shows and elsewhere. Along the way they had a daughter, Amanda, who died in childhood. The Jovers adopted another child, Wendy, who is married and a mother. She runs an artsy T-shirt shop in Phoenix, Ariz., now the Jovers' home base when they're not performing.

This stay marks their second visit to Atlantic City. Their first was as a specialty act in Liberace's show. A few days ago, as the Jovers were unpacking their trunks, a Resorts stagehand told them of a Jovers

comedy team mentioned on a 1929 handbill from an English theater that was hanging on the wall of the Atlantic City Irish Pub.

"We had to go to see it, and we were very touched by it," Fe says. "It was my father and my uncle's act. My father must have been 34 at the time and I had just been born that year. Isn't it wonderful, 62 years later, his girl would see it, and that she would be performing as a Jover, too."

IF YOU GO

The Jovers perform through Sept. 29 in "Starstruck," a variety revue in the Superstar Theater, Merv Griffin's Resorts, North Carolina Avenue and the Boardwalk. Show times are 7:30 p.m., Monday through Wednesday; 8 and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 6:30 and 9 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20; available from the box office, 340-6830, and Ticketmaster.

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