How to Be a Star at Eighty

06/17/2010 05:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Who makes her cabaret debut at eighty-years-of-age? Only my friend Janet Jacobs.

The other night I watched Janet, who looks at least twenty years younger, absolutely wow a crowd at Manhattan's "Don't Tell Mama." Dressed in tights and with a dazzling smile, she sang fifteen songs, ranging from World War II favorites, to classic love songs, to Broadway show stoppers. She also interspersed the music with witty patter, telling the story of the ups and downs in her long life. She described a disastrous teen-age marriage, a lover lost in a tragic plane crash, and how she met her current husband of twenty seven years. She sat next to him on a plane and wouldn't stop talking to him. "I'm a very friendly person and he was a grump," she declared. She then sang "Just in Time," to her Ted.

Now I have known Janet for many years but the Janet I know was not a performer. She was a travel agent who liked to write short stories. She collected Asian art and gave great parties. The only time I think I ever heard her sing was "Auld Lang Sine," one New Year's Eve. But I learned during her very professional act, which she calls "A Life Well Sung," there was another Janet who always was an entertainer.

By three she was already performing for her mother's friends. She said, "Mother always wanted me to sing 'Deep Purple.' I hated 'Deep Purple.'" And although her father warned her, "You may be the belle of Kenosha, there are a lot of girls just like you in New York," she still came to the big city to model and try her luck on the stage. She auditioned for roles in shows. She went to Hollywood for a while and auditioned for roles in movies. She became friends with musical directors and Harold Arlen once told her she reminded him "a little of Judy." She got close, time after time, but she never got the part. Her biggest success was being the voice of one of the first talking dolls. Somewhere a doll is probably still saying, "Diaper me," in Janet's melodious voice.

Forty seven years ago she auditioned for, "How to Succeed In Business" and when that didn't work out, she decided, that was that. Months later she met Cy Feuer, the show's producer on the street, who asked her how she was and why he hadn't seen her around. She said she tried to explain by telling him the joke about the man who cleans up after the elephants in the circus. When someone asks him why he doesn't get another job he replies, " What? And leave show business?"

Last year a friend gave Janet a very unusual present, cabaret lessons, which is a course at the 92nd Street Y. She loved it and acknowledges that maybe she was the best in the class. That inspired her to put her act together and book three performances at "Don't Tell Mama." She will be there the next two Wednesday nights, singing, talking, and, I have no doubt, getting standing ovations.

Women over fifty are often told to reinvent themselves. But Janet, at eighty, did something different which could be a significant lesson for us all. She reclaimed an important part of herself. And then she decided to share what she always knew. Janet is really a star.