My friend Ed Jones is retiring. I guess he’s earned it — he is in his mid-80s. I will still see him with a group of retired fellow broadcasters, the WOC Club, we’re part of when we get together for breakfast on a monthly basis. But I will miss seeing Ed as the lobby host at Circa ’21, where my wife and I are long time subscribers. Following is a news release that Circa put out about a retirement party planned for Ed.
For nearly two dozen years, patrons arriving at Rock Island’s Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse have known that, in addition to dinner and live stage entertainment, they would be treated to one of the venue’s less-heralded treats: a warm greeting, and probably a joke or two, from the theatre’s resident lobby host Ed “Jonesy” Jones.
This past December, however, Jones decided to retire from his Circa ’21 position after 23 years of employment – even though, as the theatre’s producer/director Dennis Hitchcock says, he had actually considered doing so several times before.
“When Ed was initially hired,” says Hitchcock, “he was 62, and he said he thought he’d work until he was 65. And when he turned 65, he then thought he’d work until he was 70. And then it was 75. And then it was 80. And in the end, luckily for us, he chose 86 instead of 65.”
“It’s crazy,” says Jones himself, “because sometimes I wonder, ‘Why am I retiring?’ Because I want to keep going. But then I think, ‘Wait a minute! What are you thinking? You’re going to be 87 years old!”
But fans of the ebullient Circa ’21 lobby host will have at least one more chance to see Jones in his longtime Rock Island stomping grounds. On Tuesday, January 21, the theatre will host a retirement party for Ed Jones from 4 to 6 p.m., with the public invited to share in an afternoon celebrating the almost 24 years of dedicated and always entertaining service provided by this Quad Cities icon.
“Ed graduated from college wanting to be an actor,” says Hitchcock, “and this gave him a perfect role to play. He has the kind of personality that attracts people to him, and because of that friendly, outgoing personality – and because he can talk to anybody about anything – he really became the face of Circa ’21.”
The job, in many ways, was a natural fit for Jones, who grew up in the Boston area and always had a particular fondness for the world of show business.
“When I was in grade school,” he says, “I was the only kid in school who tap danced, and who put on dancing shows at lodges and such. And after that, I was the only kid in school who, every Saturday, would be on the train going to Boston to see the latest musical or the latest play – all the shows would try out in Boston before they hit New York.
“So I got to see famous stars from Gloria Swanson to Edward G. Robinson … people like that who would come to appear in a play between pictures. Everybody you can think of. And I’d go to the nearest town and just sit in the radio studio and watch the guys do a radio program … . I was thought of as an oddball, I suppose, but I was the only kid in school who ever wanted to do any of that!”
After graduation and two years spent serving in the U.S. Army, Jones did find entertainment-related employment, working at a summer theatre in Vermont and a radio station in Louisiana, and, locally, serving 25 years as a director for Iowa’s first television station, WOC-TV.
It was in 1990, after retiring from WOC-TV, that Jones saw an ad in the newspaper stating that Circa ’21 was seeking a lobby host. “I didn’t know what they were talking about,” says Jones, “but I went over there to see them, and a week later I started work as a lobby host.”
“The position, as I see it, is that of a host welcoming our guests to the theatre,” says Hitchcock. “And up to the point of Ed’s hiring, we had sort of been rotating the people in that position from the dining-room staff. But I think some of the younger people were intimidated by the job, and didn’t have Ed’s gift of gab, and so they couldn’t serve as well as a more mature person. The job, after all, was about communicating, and Ed spent his whole life in the communications industry.”
“I enjoyed the job from the start,” says Jones. “And I don’t know how I got into it, but pretty soon I had the idea: ‘What if I could find a costume that would kind of fit with the show?’”
Jones’ greeting of patrons in an ever-changing series of costumes – wardrobe associated with whatever musical or comedy they were about to see – quickly became an element of the Circa ’21 experience that guests most looked forward to. Says Jones, “People would start coming in saying, ‘You know, we were talking on the way over here, and we were wondering what who’d look like tonight!’
“So I’ve been a priest, I’ve been a nun, I’ve been a grandmother, I’ve been a track coach … . For The Full Monty, I had a short bathrobe on. People didn’t know I also had a bathing suit on, and thought I was naked underneath. I had a lot of fun with that one.”
“I think my favorite,” says Hitchcock, “was the long underwear that he wore for Who’s Under Where? But there were so many clever ones over the years. He would go to Greg [Hiatt], our costume designer, and talk to him about what he should wear, and he would frequently have his own ideas. Ed was very, very serious about it, and it was very important to him, and that’s part of why he was such a wonderful choice in that position.”
Jones could also always be counted on to greet Circa ’21 guests with a joke which, depending on the patron, could be anything from G-rated to … not G-rated.
“One of my nicknames over the years was Fast Eddie,” says Jones. “And people would say, ‘Why do they call you Fast Eddie?’ And my response would always be, ‘I’d rather be Fast Eddie than Half-Fast Eddie.’ Because when you say that fast … .” Laughing, Jones adds, “Nobody seemed offended, though.”
“He really cares about the people at Circa,” says Hitchcock, “and he really is the person people miss the most when he’s not here.”
Jones, meanwhile, says he misses his Circa ’21 family as well, even though he and his wife Jeannie are greatly enjoying their newfound time together. “She retired, too, just three weeks ago,” says Jones, “and so she’s home all the time, and I’m home all the time, and we’re trying to take little trips and do more stuff together.
“But it is like family over there. Not only the people that work at Circa, but all the subscribers that I’ve known for almost 25 years. I’ve made millions of friends at that place. But I’m still gonna go to all the shows!”
Ed Jones’ retirement party, open to the public will take place at the Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse (1828 Third Avenue, Rock Island, IL) on Tuesday, January 21 from 4 to 6 p.m., and more information on Circa ’21 events is available by calling (309)786-7733 extension 2 or visiting Circa21.com.