By Scott Simmons
The phone doesn’t stop ringing at Flossy Keesely’s Highland Beach home.
“Ah, so good to hear from you.”
“Definitely! Plan to be there.”
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
Flossy is 96 and has a schedule that would leave women half her age exhausted.
She holds up a calendar. Every day of the month has something penciled in.
Flossy— born April 15, 1914, in Philadelphia — has long been a patron of the arts.
She was on the board for the Centre for the Arts at Mizner Park — the statue on the fountain in front of the amphitheater is Flossy reaching for a star.
And the Boca Raton Rotary Club recently honored her with a lifetime membership for partnering with the group on its Future Stars Performing Arts Competition. Auditions were held Dec. 4 for the competition, scheduled for March 4.
Winners from of that competition go on to perform in Pathway to the Stars, a showcase sponsored by Flossy’s Dream Foundation. Last year’s show featured singer Doug Crosley, local actress/producer Jan McArt and the Ziegfeld Dancers.
“I have been an entertainer for 50 years,” says Crosley, “and I have not met anyone like her.”
Rotarians echo that sentiment.
“She is such a joy,” says Doug Mummaw, a Boca Raton architect who is chairman of the Future Stars competition. “She’s sitting in the director’s chair and interacting that way, and [competitors] just love her.”
Flossy acknowledges the love.
“This connection with Rotary is a gift from heaven for them and for me,” she says.
And Mummaw hints at the future: “We call it the five-year plan. We’re going to celebrate her 100th birthday on the stage at Mizner Park.”
Mummaw says Flossy’s sponsorship, which includes as a prize the videotaping of the winner’s performance, is helping the competition to gain regional recognition.
“One of our competitors went to Juilliard,” he says. “[Flossy] helped us underwrite all of the costs associated with that.”
And, Mummaw says, the Boca Rotarians think Flossy may be one of the oldest people ever to be inducted into Rotary.
“She brings joy to us, and we try to give some of that back,” Mummaw says.
Flossy, who has no children, says it’s only natural that she should be nurturing talent.
Her mantra: “If you have talent, it’s a gift from God. And if you use it, it’s your gift to God.”
Flossy’s late husband, Nick, was a producer in early days of television.
And Flossy herself had a stint on the very first daytime television show, Your Television Shopper, which debuted Oct. 29, 1948, on the DuMont Television Network.
“All we had was a camera and a couple of lights,” Flossy says with a laugh. “We had authors and guests. We cooked. I did ceramics.”
They went to lunch at the Stork Club to celebrate that first episode.
Quarters at the studio were tight. “In the next room was Dennis James doing Okay, Mother, and that went on for a long time,” Flossy says.
Flossy’s husband didn’t want her to pursue show-biz, so she stepped back from the program, and her TV career faded away, like the DuMont network.
But her co-host, Kathi Norris, went on to have a career on NBC, and later joined Dave Garroway on the Today show. And Norris’ daughter, Koo Stark, gained notoriety as a porn star and for a dalliance with Britain’s Prince Andrew.
Along the way, Flossy met the stars.
The walls of her penthouse are lined with photos of Flossy with the famous of another era: Jackie Gleason and Desi Arnaz. Arthur Godfrey and Morey Amsterdam. Lawrence Welk and Ed Sullivan.
Joey Bishop was a friend. So was Danny Thomas.
And Dale Carnegie himself inscribed a photo, “To my dear Floss Keesely, who certainly knows how to win friends.”
Of Carnegie, Flossy says: “I’ll never forget: In the late ’30s or early ’40s, we’re walking along, and to my husband, Dale Carnegie says, ‘I would give all my money to be your age.’ ”
Flossy, born to immigrants from Vienna, met her husband through the German clubs of Philadelphia when she was 12. They married in 1932.
“Those were the days when you could acquire something through hard work,” she says. And because it was the Great Depression, “everybody was in the same boat.”
Her husband developed his career in music and radio, then moved on to be a television producer and director.
Flossy remembers one young woman Nick helped — Barbara Walters.
Walters’ father, Lou, owned New York’s Latin Quarter night club.
“Barbara was a script girl at NBC,” Flossy says. “Lou asked Nick if his daughter could meet the host of the Today show, and that was the beginning of her career on the Today show.”
From their home in New Rochelle, N.Y., they entertained.
When her husband retired in the mid-’60s at age 52, they sold the home in New York and moved to Fort Lauderdale, where they bought a home on one of the Intracoastal islands off Las Olas Boulevard.
Why South Florida?
When the tobacco companies that sponsored television shows had conventions, they were held down here. Woody Woodbury had a hotel on Fort Lauderdale’s Galt Ocean Mile. “And Jackie Gleason was already living down here,” she says.
Flossy has albums of photos of herself with Nick on the beach. In many, she wears a stylish swimsuit with white pumps. “Those are part of my uniform,” she says.
Flossy says she always has been involved in charity, going back to the New Rochelle Hospital’s Hospitality Corner.
She helped start the now defunct Fort Lauderdale Ballet Company with Edward Villella — “How he could leap!” — and she was involved with the Ziegfeld Girls of Florida.
By that time, the Keeselys had moved north to a home in Boca del Mar.
They were active in their neighborhood association, until Nick — a sun worshiper — died of melanoma in 1999.
After Nick’s death, Flossy moved to Toscana in Highland Beach, where she lives alone, with help from personal assistants. She steps out onto her balcony, with its views of Highland Beach and the ocean, and asks, “How close to heaven can you get?”
She became involved in the Centre for the Arts after an old friend from New York, the Countess de Hoernle, invited her to attend a presentation. Flossy pledged $50,000 for a green room, and became a board member.
She named pavers at the amphitheater “Pathway to the Stars,” and pledged the fountain, which was created by Yaacov Heller — “I used to wave to him from my balcony.” Next up: a sculpture of Flossy’s Yorkie, a 5-year-old ball of fur named Schatzi, at the base of the fountain. Flossy describes the tiny dog, who grew larger than expected, as “a teacup who turned into a coffee pot.”
Flossy still cooks — during a recent visit, she whipped up a elegant lunch of soup, an omelette, tomatoes with vinaigrette and artichoke hearts, and topped it off with tapioca pudding. She quit driving two years ago, and counts on friends and her two assistants to ferry her to her many engagements.
“I had good health, a good marriage, and my life has been interesting,” Flossy says. “I really have been very blessed.”
And maturing has not slowed her down.
“My golden years have turned into sparkling diamonds,” Flossy says.