Reseda : Red Buttons Wows a Favorite Crowd

He came to say a few words, sing a few songs and dance a few steps.

Comedian Red Buttons, 76, took the stage at Reseda's Eisenberg Village on Wednesday and entertained the elderly residents for more than half an hour, singing Al Jolson tunes and cracking jokes.

The Academy Award-winner blew kisses to the predominantly female crowd and said he enjoyed his first show at the Jewish Home for the Aging because "it's part of the Hebrew culture, part of our religion, to give back."

Buttons, whose real name is Aaron Chwatt, grew up in New York and broke into show business at 12 when he won an amateur-night contest. At 16, he was hired as a singing bellboy at a Bronx tavern and was dubbed Red Buttons because of his bright red hair and red uniform with rows of buttons.

Although he has worked for 60 years on Broadway, in films and in television, the witty actor said he relishes these personal appearances the most.

"I feel a love coming from these people," he said. "These are the people who during their lifetime paid money to see me. And when I walk on that stage, I do it from the heart." About 275 senior citizens filled the main dining room before lunch Wednesday to listen to Buttons' jokes about sex, politicians and people in the news.

"You know what Heidi Fleiss said to the Unabomber? I also believe in the Big Bang theory," he deadpanned.

The audience joined in when Buttons sang Jolson's "April Showers," and hands kept time to "Rockaby Your Baby With a Dixie Melody." The actor-singer decided to perform with his longtime friend and pianist Buddy Freed when he was contacted by Joe Bentley, a member of the board of directors of the home. Esther Lebowitz, 85, who has lived there for more than three years, was thrilled to see Buttons in person. "We're very fortunate to have him," she said. "It'd be a long day if we didn't have entertainment."

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