Leno says thanks with $100k check

April 12, 2009
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SALEM - Dressed in a new suit, Lennie Sogoloff felt like a million bucks, seated in the first row of comedian Jay Leno's special appearance last week at Salem State College.

Afterward, Sogoloff had a $100,000 check from Leno, to fund scholarships at the college honoring Sogoloff and his late wife, Barbara.

"I was so touched," said Sogoloff, 85. "Jay has always been a very generous guy."

Leno got his start as the house comic at Sogoloff's jazz club, Lennie's-on-the-Turnpike. The club was in Peabody on Route 1 north from 1951 until 1971, when it burned down. Sogoloff then moved the club up to the Village Green in Danvers, where Leno opened for such artists as Buddy Rich and Kris Kristofferson.

"It was a life-changing moment for me," Leno said in a news conference.

Lennie's-on-the-Turnpike closed in 1972. Sogoloff went on to manage the Empire clothing store in Salem. Leno left for Hollywood and "Tonight Show" fame. But the pair are still laughing. "I never left Lennie," Leno said.

At the end of his 90-minute show, Leno paid tribute to Sogoloff. "I wasn't very good," recalled Leno, who was 19 when he auditioned for Sogoloff. "I did a couple of jokes and he laughed."

Soon after the tribute, Leno walked down from the stage to Sogoloff's table. He reached into his pocket and said, "I got something for you, Lennie. Here's $100,000. God love you."