“Banana” George Blair loved yellow. When he water-skied barefoot, which he did into his 80s in theme park shows, he wore a yellow wetsuit and was towed by a yellow boat.
But it didn’t stop there. “Banana” George, who drove a yellow Lincoln and lived in a yellow house in central Florida, also had yellow cowboy boots, watches, sunglasses and wallets. People may have thought he was just clowning around, but Blair laughed all the way to the bank — and when he went there, it was in a yellow business suit.
“God gave me an insatiable appetite for the color yellow,” Blair said in a 1993 Chicago Sun-Times interview.
His big crowd-pleasing feat was to water-ski barefoot on just one foot while holding the tow rope (yellow, of course) in his clenched teeth, his arms outstretched with a banana in each hand. Blair was still doing that trick at age 79.
The thing was, Blair didn’t need to do any of this, at least not for financial reasons. He had a highly successful photo business when he was younger and he co-founded a bank. In addition to Florida, he and his wife had homes in New York City, Paris and Steamboat Springs, Colo. But as a performer and master of hype decked out in yellow, Blair was having the time of his life.
“I don’t care how people look at me,” Blair said. “I consider myself just a sportsman who is having fun.”
“Banana” George died Oct. 17 at home in New York City after a long illness, said his wife of 40 years, JoAnne Blair. He was 98.
The funeral was Tuesday. “We spread yellow flowers over his grave,” JoAnne Blair said.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his children Donna Blair of Forsyth, Ga.; Carrie Blair of Middleburg, Va.; and Georgia Blair and Robin Blair, both of Shrewsbury, N.J.; four grandsons and four great-grandchildren.
George Alfred Blair was born Jan. 22, 1915, in Toledo, Ohio. He aimed to have a career in city planning, but instead founded Hospital Portrait Service, a business that took pictures of newborns. The company was so successful that it established operations across the nation and in several foreign countries. He had several other businesses and in 1974 co-founded a New Jersey bank.
Although he enjoyed sports, he was plagued by a back injury suffered when he was thrown from a freight train during his college years. On a visit to Florida at age 40 to recover from spinal surgery, a water ski instructor convinced him to try the sport, gently. “The first time I got up on skis, I felt like a giant weight had been lifted from my mind and body,” he told the Sun-Times.
Six years later he tried barefoot water skiing; later came the exhibitions, primarily at Cypress Gardens park in Florida but eventually in more than 40 countries. He finished his hugely popular shows, which were part daredevil and part humor, by eating a banana as he skied off. At one point, a fan made him a shirt calling him “Banana” George, and the name stuck.
“He liked that people applauded him, no doubt about that,” JoAnne Blair said. “He just liked to please people, give them a lot of fun.”
Even at the end, “Banana” George was dressed for the occasion.
“He was buried,” JoAnne Blair said, “in his yellow tux.”