Jana Mason was a talented singer who set aflame stages al over the States with her sensual, jazzy style. Unfortunately, this did not warrant her cinematic success – she never had a credited part and appeared in only a handful of movies. Let’s hear more about Jana…
Ursula Comantadore was born on September 11, 1929, in Jersey City, New Jersey, to Joseph Comendatore and Frances Caiezza. Her younger sister Dolores was born sometime after 1940. Her father worked first as a fruit and fish salesman – he had his own stall, and her mother was a factory worker in the early 1930s. Later on her father worked at the shipyards – her mother became a housewife.
Jana grew up in Jersey City in scant circumstances. To help her family make more money, she had to give up on her education (she never got past the 10th grade), and started to sing professionally. She was soon singing in several radio stations and after she moved to New York, worked in various nightclubs. In the early 1950s, she moved to Las Vegas and slowly but securely built up her “brand”. Here is a short article about her:
Jana Mason, the canary with the fabulous figure (at Basin Street), is making a fast climb up the success ladder. In the same hour the past week, she signed to do two Bing Crosby shows and put her signature on a Decca contract. She’s been singing professionally for only 14 months.
She was already a seasoned performer with hundreds of concerts and appearances under her belt, and sang for more than the 14 months like the article claims. Thus she easily landed in Hollywood in 1955.
Jana’s first movie appearance was in Women’s Prison, a low-budget women’s prison movie (boy, the name does say it all!). but, that’s not the reason to watch this little “trashy gem” – rather, it is a great women’s cast – Ida Lupino, Jan Sterling, Cleo Moore, Audrey Totter and Phyllis Thaxter. Despite it’s overly dramatic story and obvious flaws, it’s entertaining and ultimately satisfying. Just beware, this ain’t Shakespeare!
Jana’s next feature, 5 Against the House, one of the 1950s caper movies (let’s rob a casino!) that Rat Pack excelled it. No Rat Pack here, but he have some interesting substitutes – Guy Madison, Brian Keith, Alvy Moore, Kerwin Mathews. Let’s be clear, all of them were pretty boys that never won Oscars, but they are more than tolerable here, and Keith is still a notch above the median, and stands up as the best fo the lot. What this movie does right is the psychological profile of the caperers – they are all different people with their own “demons and angels”. Another plus is a very young Kim Novak – as soon as she enters the screen, it’s clear there is something about Miss Novak that would make her a star a few short years later.
Jana was then featured in My Sister Eileen, the second adaptation of the well-known book. Unfortunately, it’s a lesser movie than the first adaptation (with the wonderful Roz Russell), but it’s still a breezy, happy-go-lucky movie, a true Hollywood delight for taking the blues away.
Jana’s last movie was The Wild Party. It there is one word that can descrive the movie, it’s sleazy. We have Anthony Quinn, playing an over-the-hill football star that holds a thrill-seeking wealthy couple captive. The movie was supposed to be a social commentary on the rich vs. the poor, but dilutes into a semi-exploatation movie with intense sexual innuendo and some pretty lurid scenes (for the 1950s). High art it ain’t, but it’s not a complete waste either. The social message, while it does get lost in the sleaziness most of the time, comes across to some degree, the cinematography is almost noir-like (always a plus in my book!), and Anthony Quinn, oh my! The man was a charismatic powerhouse and did most of his roles justice, and the movie would hardly work with a lesser actor in the leading role of the deranged football player. His supporting cast is less than stellar, but sturdy enough to make it work (Carol Ohmart, Kathryn Grant and so on).
Jana did some TV work on the side, but retired from movies after her marriage for good.
Little is known about Jana’s early life. We know she had a cat that the press dubbed “the real cool cat”. It slept on the air conditioner. Funny.
Jana married her first husband, David Victorson, on December 28, 1953, in Los Angeles. Both of them worked in Las Vegas, just in different nightclubs.
David was born on June 23, 1916, to Louis Victorson and Hanna Smith. He was married once before, to Jean Victorson, whom he divorced in 1937. He and Jana met in New York and moved to Las Vegas to further their careers (but in reality to primarily further her career).
Their marriage was not long-lived. In 1955, Jana got involved with a man who would completely change her life – Jackie Barnett, the songwriter for Jimmy Durante. if the name rings a bell to you, I’ll just say it should – Barnett dated a string of Hollywood beauties in the 1940s and 1950s, and was even engaged to several starlets I profiled here on the blog. He sure had a rich social life!
After that Jana and Jackie went full yuh-voom. They were often seen together eating supper at the late bistros, seemingly without a care int he world and madly in love. However, the relationship was a stormy one, and they constantly fought only to make up later. Their first real break came in early 1956. In June 1956 Jana met sportsman Jim Kimberly, who would become a serious beau and later change the course of her life (read on to find out how!!)
Jana didn’t stick just to Kimberly – she also dated disk jockey Bill Williams. However, by early 1957, Jackie and Jana were back in each other good graces and in April there was talk that Barnett checked city hall about marriage regulations. His bride-to-be was of course Jana. However, nothing came out of it, and they were kaput once again by September 1957.
In November 1957 dated comic Phil Foster, of the “Halavah Hilarities” cast. She claimed it was an “An old friendship.”, and truly, it didn’t last. By December of that year she was back again with Jackie Barnett, and there were again rumors of an impending marriage.
But oh my, to everybody’s eternal regret Jana and Jackie broke up! (NOT). And this time, it was for good. But, Jana was in no shortage of male company. She was singing in Chicago back then, and the wolves-about-town lined up with mistletoe to greet Jana after every Camellia House performance. Jana took up with her old beau Jim Kimberly, and he then introduced her to .his close friend, socialite Freddie Wacker.
Their mutual interest in modern music was a starting point of what ended up a wonderful romance, ultimately culminating into marriage. Frederick Wacker was born on July 10, 1918, in Chicago, Illinois. He was a grandson of Charles H. Wacker, sponsor of the City Beautiful plan and of Wacker drive. He was a professional drummer and passionate race car driver – he participated in five Formula One World Championship races. Here is what their 1958 wedding looked like:
Frederick G. Wacker Jr., musician, sportsman, and industrialist, left the ranks of Chicago’s most eligible bachelors yesterday when he took Miss Ursula Comandatore as his bride in New York City. The ceremony took place at 5 p. -m. in the Madison Avenue Presbyterian church, with a reception in Hampshire House. Mr. Wacker, son of Mrs. Wacker of Lake Forest and the late Mr. Wacker, is a grandson of the late Charles H. Wacker who headed the Chicago Plan commission for 19 years and for whom Wacker drive is named. The bride is known professionally as Jana Mason and was singing in the Drake hotel when she and Mr. Wacker met a few months ago. Her parents are Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Commandatore of Jersey City, N. J. For the wedding, the bride wore a white lace gown and white pillbox to which a net veil was attached. She carried white orchids. Her only attendant was her sister, Miss Dolores Commandatore. Charles Wacker II was his brother’s best man. After wedding trip to Europe Mr. Wacker and his bride will live in his Lake Shore drive apartment.
The Wackers had three children: Frederick Wacker, III (born on January 5, 1960), Wendy, born on August 27, 1961, and Joseph, born in 1963.
Like many ladies whom I profiled on this site, Jana was a victim of a carefully planned burglary in 1965. There was a long and painful list of valuables taken, including several diamond rings and bracelets, two fur coats, and a fur stole.
Jana in the late 1950s and early 1960s was the embodiment of a seemingly dream-like existence – wealthy, healthy, she had an adoring husband and three wonderful children, but she was unfulfilled and wanted more. So, in the mid 1960s, she went back to work. She sang in Monetral, Chicago and Las Vegas. A short article illustrated her life back then:
Freddie Wacker, the social register’s only professional drummer, flew to Montreal to bring his singing wife, Jana Mason, home from her short but smash engagement at the Queen Elizabeth hotel up there. Freddie reportedly wanted no publicity in Chicago on the deal and isn’t overjoyed at talented Jana’s return to the night clubs.
However, her husband’s distaste aside, Jana found her re-enty into the world of showbiz shallow and insipid. Unhappy qand without a clear idea what can be done about it, she one day met a woman who taught Bible lessons, going from door to door. Jana’s interest was enflamed after she met the woman twice, and she joined their group and found a new meaning in life soon after. Determined never ever again to sing a secular song, she teamed up with old friends from the music industry, and recorded a gospel album. Thus, Jana toured the States with a gospel group for several years, and this completely changed her life. She would later say:
“Everybody tries to pressure himself to live up to the guy next door. I used to spend a couple of hours to get ready to go to a party. I was so uptight. Why? Insecurity? I seemed to believe that life revolved around me. There are no special people under God. We are all together, and we need more love. We need to be touched and loved. We are afraid to clap, to touch, to sing out.”
She retired in the 1980s from all forms of performing and lived quietly with her family. Jana’s husband, Freddie Wacker, died on August 18, 1998, at the age of 80. After his death, Jana divided her time between Lake Bluff, Illinois and Indian Wells, California, where her daughter Wendy lived.
Jana Mason Wacker died on August 22, 2013, in Illinois.
Jana’s son, Joseph, died in 2014.