Morgan Memories – Regis Philbin at Club Bene!
Regis Philbin currently holds the Guiness Book of World Records record for having the greatest number of hours in front of a television camera on a commercial network. The previous record of 15,188 hours was held by Hugh Downs. That’s just a day and a half shy of 380 forty hour work weeks (7.3 years) or, alternatively, 632.83333 consecutive days! Regis surpassed Hugh on 20 August 2004 and he is still going strong though he is now “retired.”
My first recollection of Regis was when he was sidekick to Joey Bishop on “The Joey Bishop Show” between 1967 and 1969. Joey’s show was a 90-minute late-night talk show (11:30pm – 1am) which was broadcast on ABC (channel 7 in NJ) five nights a week opposite “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”. My strongest memory of this show was one summer when we rented a small bungalow at MidwayBeach near SeasideHeights for a week. It was probably the summer of 1969 – the same summer that Apollo 11 landed on the moon (or maybe it was 1968). The show was funny even to a young stallion. What I most recall of “The Joey Bishop Show” – in fact pretty much all I recall – was the way that Joey would pronounce Regis’ last name. “Regis Phil-a-bib!”
I guess I started to get Regis Fever when Regis appeared in the famous episode of Seinfeld when Kramer appeared on “Regis and Kathy Lee” with his coffee table book which, in turn, was also a coffee table. This was Seinfeld Series episode 86, the 22nd and final episode of season 5 which aired on 19 May 1994. What a brilliant premise and a funny episode. A few years later, my wife, young son, mother and I went to Walt Disney World for Christmas were we saw Regis in person preparing for a Christmas special in front of the castle. My mom yelled out to Regis and he very kindly waved back to her.
Regis Fever got serious when he hosted the show which everyone could just NOT get enough of, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” It was around that time that I picked up a copy of Regis’ 1995 autobiography “I’m Only One Man”. It wasn’t expected and I got very excited when I read what he wrote about his very happy experiences everytime he performed at Club Bene in Morgan, NJ! Club Bene, which will be featured in a hopefully soon future posting, was right down the street from where I lived when I lived in Morgan. This little club in its heyday attracted some of the world’s greatest and most well known talent. More about this in a moment.
Anyone that watches “The Late Show with David Letterman” will frequently see Regis make seemingly unplanned cameo appearances usually designed to try to throw off Dave. The smoothest one was a few years ago during the final credit roll when Regis and Dave were sitting on top of the marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theatre reminiscing about show biz and smoking stogies.
On one of my visits to Morgan a few years ago, I was able to get to get together with some of my Sayreville War Memorial High School buddies. The greatest stories told that evening IMHO were by Bruce who must have one of the world’s greatest jobs. He gets to work with Regis! Regis sounds like he is off camera just as nice and funny as he is on camera.
Fast forward to a few weeks before the original posting of this page when I received correspondence and the photo shown on this page. The photo is of Regis with Mrs. Mary Beninato and was received from her daughter Donna and grandson Tommy. Mrs. Beninato was the wife of Club Bene founder and owner Joseph Beninato. Not only would Mrs. Beninato often make dinner for the world famous entertainers who would perform at Club Bene, but she would also get her photo taken with them. How cool is that! It is so cool that her grandson posted this and a number of other photos of his grandmother with celebrities who performed at Club Bene on his Facebook page! Awesome.
The thing that touched me most about Donna’s letter to me was the justifiable pride she had about her parents. What also touched me was when Donna wrote, “When we had Regis he would arrive hours early before show time to enjoy an Italian meal my mother would cook for him which he always looked forward to.” Isn’t that something? Here it is a number of decades later and that special event still stands out greatly to the Beninato family!
I asked if Mr. Philbin would be so kind as to write something that I can post just for this web site. True to the awesome person I thought he would be, he very kindly wrote the following just for us. For that kind act, I can’t be more grateful to him and the people that helped me make contact with him.
Sure I remember the Club Bene. It was a great place to break in an act, improve it and most important, learn it. The crowd was always friendly if not a little on the rowdy side. Let’s just say they were enthusiastic. I thought it was a great place to learn another side of show business … being up there onstage entertaining the people in person and not through the camera. I loved the Beninato family. All of them were great characters and Mrs. Beninato was a terrific cook. After rehearsing with the band she always served a great dinner. Great meatballs, and pasta just like my Italian mother made. It was always exciting to appear at Club Bene. I loved that place.
So should Mr. Philbin ever come to LA, if could have his people talk to my people, I would be delighted to “do” lunch!
Originally Posted on January 27, 2010.