My lasting memory of Jan Hooks goes back to when she was a cast member on Saturday Night Live. I worked at NBC for the network censors who edited the show, and had some nice privileges. Rehearsals were open for my viewing, cast members and weekly guest hosts would roam the hall like Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Mark Harmon, Paul Simon, Alec Baldwin, etc. Many a Thursday afternoon lunch hour would be spend watching a famous musical guest rehearse from the ninth floor level where the balcony seats are – rock stars like Keith Richards, Neil Young, Robbie Robertson, Sting, The B-52’s, The Sugarcubes, David Bryne and James Taylor – to name a few. And yes – I had my grubby paws on a department allotment of Dress and Live tickets to the show – which I would use on those weeks when my boss didn’t give them away to friends or family. (Did I mention I attended the dress rehearsal of Robin Williams’ last SNL hosting stint? I’m sure I did.) Not a bad job to have, I thought.
I had always admired Jan Hooks and the ladies of SNL. Since I had to go to studio 8H to give various things to my boss – messages, scripts, paperwork – I would run into her and other cast members. (Phil Hartman was my main crush, man I worshiped the ground he trotted on). Jan’s work on the show was memorable. She and Nora Dunn teamed up to do a sister lounge act that always flowed with a silly melody that landed always with “Clang, clang, clang went the trolley.” She played a hilarious Tammy Faye Baker, and was a supreme impersonator of characters that fell into the white trash category.
Back in the late 80’s, when I had that gig at Program Standards and was seeing Jan Hooks and her then boyfriend Kevin Nealon around the hallways of 30 Rock, I managed to find a small studio apartment on West 83rd street near Central Park West. My first place. The thing about the upper west side is that many member of SNL’s staff lived around there. I used to see Jan, Kevin and Conan O’Brien walk around the area whenever I took walks to Central Park. And you have to understand – back then – Conan was just a writer on the show. He wasn’t the host you all know today. Back then, he was that tall weird looking red headed guy who worked on the 17th floor. I was shocked to hear that this tall red headed goofball was hired to replace David Letterman on ‘Late Night’. If you can imagine, for a moment, being at work and the guy you see but don’t know from Accounting gets the job of replacing your idol on a talk show. That’s what I was feeling.
One lasting memory of Jan was the day I moved into that studio apartment on West 83rd. I was pushing my stereo cabinet across the street, vulnerable to the cars that could drive through, trying hard not to rattle the glass doors on that ugly thing. I looked behind me for a moment – over at the sidewalk. There was Jan Hooks, who always looked vacantly at me at work, looking at me the same way as I huffed it toward my brownstone. Did she recognize me from work? Who cares. It wasn’t long before she would leave the show. She disappeared for a while. She had a recurring role on Designing Women, and years later took a hilarious turn as Jenna Moroney’s mother on 30 Rock. I had heard she was ill for some time. Sad she left us so young.
Rest in Peace, Ms. Hooks. “Clang, clang, clang went the trolley!”