“Who Am I?” – 2015

January 2015

I was born in Brooklyn to Jewish parents who emigrated from Belarus. I was a decent athlete but I decided to pursue a career in sacred music instead. I worked as a cantor both in Passaic and in NYC. In those days, I needed a “day job” so I also worked to supplement my income by working as a salesman in the garment industry. In time, I auditioned for the Met; and, with a few lucky breaks, I enjoyed a three decade career as a leading American tenor with a specialty singing Italian and French lyrical roles. Were any of you in the audience one of the times I sang the part of Rodofo in “La Boheme”?

I kept a busy schedule doing live Met performances, honoring record contracts, making concert appearances and doing cantoral gigs during the annual “Days of Awe.”  That’s me, the barrel-chested guy in the photo below. (1) Who am I? (2) What temple in Passaic was I once associated with? (3) My funeral was held at a rather unusual place. Where was it held? As Jack Pearl used to say, “Vass you dere, Sharlie?”

 

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February 2015

I was a Jersey boy from Camden County. Dad worked as a grocer. Life wasn’t the proverbial ‘bowl of cherries’ for me. During WWII, I was a tail-gunner on a Flying Fortress that was shot down over Deutschland. Following that unfortunate episode I spent 18 harrowing months in the fatherland as a P.O.W.

I was blessed with a velvet voice and an oversize personality which helped me brighten the airwaves in a career that started in the 1950’s and lasted for 40 years. My format usually emphasized American standards where melody and lyrics mattered a lot.  Despite my regular musical format I must confess that I had a weakness for Dinah Washington and Brook Benton singing a “Rockin’ Good Way (to mess around and fall in love)” and songs in that genre. Some of you might remember my red-headed wife with whom I worked for a spell.

Some people called me “Tubby” for reasons best known to them. I usually described myself as being “6-4, green piercing eyes and golden flecks dance in my eyes as I face the light.” That photo of me below probably wouldn’t do much to enhance my image nowadays. Besides, that cigarette dangling out of my mouth probably led to my future health problems. C’mon now, you remember me! (1) Who am I? (2) What phrase did I use to sign off of my show? (3) Finally, what north Jersey station was my last regular employer?

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March 2015

Though I am usually associated with New England my roots are right here in Bayonne, N.J. where I was born and raised in a working class family. My grandparents came from Russia and Poland. My dad supported the family running Tooley’s Truck Terminal by the entrance to the Holland Tunnel.

I was a bright kid and eventually graduated both Harvard College and Harvard Law. I worked as an adjunct lecturer at U. Mass, Harvard and B.U. but you probably know me better as a legislator because I did spend 32 years working in the House. One of my priorities there was to reform the U.S. financial industry. I gained a reputation for brokering deals. My rapid-fire staccato speaking style became legendary. I have been described alternately as “eloquent, brash, caustic, witty, humorous, cantankerous and much too outspoken.” If you’ve ever noticed, I never speak from a prepared text and I love every opportunity I can get before a microphone. My take on Ken Starr’s flawed report was that it was “too much reading about heterosexual sex.”

I am especially proud of my civil rights voting record. I helped get compensation for Japanese-Americans who were unfairly detained and mistreated by our government during WWII. I’ve gotten high ratings from the A.C.L.U., the NAACP and NARAL. I always supported the Equal Rights Amendment and L.G.B.T. rights. Yes, that’s really me in the photo below!

(1) Who am I? (2) When I finally wed, who was my blushing bride and who officiated at our wedding? (3) My sister, who is no slouch, is a communications director and a top aide to political campaigns. What is her name?

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April 2015

I was born in Paterson, N.J. during the dark days of the Great Depression. Strangely enough, as a kid, I became a Cincinnati Red fan mainly because my dad was friendly with a Baseball Hall of Famer who lived locally. I graduated from U. of P. and did some radio broadcasting there. Later on I continued my education at Northwestern University Law School.

It seemed I was destined to be involved in sports at one level or another. I was an owner of the I.W.A.; a producer of CBS Sports Spectacular; a founder of a network that telecasted college basketball games; and, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

I teamed up with one of my law school buddies to become owners of the “south-siders.” By the way, I also facilitated the first billion-dollar baseball contract with the networks. I think by now you might know my name. My picture appears below. Good hair, don’t you think?  So, (1) Who am I?   No, I am certainly not George Steinbrenner. (2) Who was my dad’s Hall of Famer friend and what did that fellow do to make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame? (3) Who was my “bud” from law school? What professional ball team did our group acquire? (4) What is my favorite ballpark lunch?

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May 2015

I was born in Ohio to Swiss and Polish Jewish parents toward the end of the 19thCentury. My dad was a tailor. I worked in theatre productions . When we moved to NYC, I found my way to the NYC Yiddish theatre circuit and eventually to the new medium of film.

To the surprise of many, I found success and fame as a femme fatale. My studio publicity department went overboard portraying me as an exotic, foreign beauty with Egyptian, French, and Italian roots! I was supposed to be a predatory, evil vixen who ensnared and destroyed men. I wore skimpy costumes and exaggerated my on-screen character, which really brought the customers into the movie theatres. I felt that in those early days of the film industry the ticket-paying customers really believed in the illusion they saw on the screen and thought that the screen stars seen off screen were just like the characters they portrayed in their movies.

I made over 40 silent films right here in Fort Lee. I guess they still remember me there because nowadays part of a street bears my name in the town. I’ve also been honored by having my image on a U.S. postage stamp, and I have my own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (1) Who Am I? (2) What studio hired and promoted me? (3) Who were the other 2 female silent stars honored on the same U.S. commemorative postage stamp series as me? Check out that photo of me below. (I felt that I had to insert a modest picture because, after all, this is a family-friendly publication!)

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June 2015

I was born and raised in Clifton, N.J. and, in some ways, I never left home because I still live in my childhood home. When I was a kid I suffered from severe glaucoma.  As a result of that debilitating disease I lost 90% of the vision in my right eye. All things considered, I am an optimist and I have never let that disability hold me back. I even played Little League as a kid.

In high school I managed some of the Clifton Mustangs’ sports teams. Later on, I attended and graduated from NYU with a degree in journalism which helped me get a stint at the Herald-News. In time I became the “sports information director” at both NYU and FDU before I found my real calling as the ‘go-to’ “media relations man” for a major sports franchise.  For those of you who are wondering what a “media relations man” does all day let me be precise and tell you that my job description is simply to create BUZZ, and lots of it, for the team.

By nature, I am a workaholic who rarely takes time off. Would you believe I have over 1000 active telephone numbers on my Blackberry?    I have held this last post of mine for nigh on 30 years. Maybe you’ve seen my rumpled figure on the telly or poking around Botany Village. In recent years I’ve been honored with having my likeness placed on a bobble-head doll which was given out to the fans.

You can get a glimpse of my alter ego in the smaller image below. C’mon (1) Who am I? And, what sports franchise pays my salary? (2) Which Little League team did I once play for? (3) I love my Yorkshire terrier which was given to me by a player’s wife. Do you know what I named the little rascal? (4) Finally, I had a mad crush on a certain Clifton majorette while I was in high school though I believe she never even knew about it. She still lives in the area. By chance, does anybody know what her name is? I am still a bachelor….

 

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July 2015

I was born in NYC but grew up in a mid-size town in Bergen County (E.Clinton Avenue, not a river, runs through it). My dad was a manufacturer of children’s clothes. Overnight fame came to me while I was still in high school and it was a bit overwhelming and disconcerting to suddenly have kids and fans hanging out and camping on my front lawn!

I was known as a singer-songwriter and my career was greatly advanced when a legendary music producer/arranger took me under his wing. His professional guidance led to more and more hit records. Stage appearances and concerts were to follow shortly thereafter.

I appeared in film and in the Batman TV series. I’ve made appearances on Hullabaloo, Ed Sullivan, the Tonight Show and Merv Griffin.  I drew inspiration from my favorite singers – Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. Some of my albums were featured on soundtracks of movies and TV shows.

I became interested in the L.G.B.T. movement because I have lived with a same- sex partner for almost 30 years. I have hosted several episodes of a PBS documentary series. I think you know me by now. A picture from my youth appears below. (1) Who am I and what was the pop tune that catapulted me to sudden fame and a singing career? (2) What PBS series did I host? (3) Who was the legendary music producer/arranger that mentored me?

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August 2015

I was born in Brooklyn but grew up right here in Englewood where I attended Dwight Morrow. My dad was busy all the time tending to his catering business. I am sure he must have catered some of your weddings and bar-mitzvahs back in the day. My siblings moved out when I was a young guy and left me with too much time alone with my mom. She insisted on keeping my cowboys and Indians wallpaper in my room throughout my adolescence. Strawberry wallpaper covered our kitchen and our living room furniture was virtually unusable because it was covered in plastic.

My ‘mother problem’ provided me with a rich lode of material to use when I began my career as a stand-up comedian. I’ve appeared on Letterman, in some HBO specials and in sitcoms. I’ve written lots of articles and at least one book. I’ve made some films too. With “practice, practice, practice” I even performed at Carnegie Hall.  I just love wearing my Converse sneakers.

Almost 20 years after my folks moved out of Englewood I returned there to see the touchstone of my youth in the house where I was raised. I’m not sure you’ll recognize me from my baby photo below, but give it a shot because I haven’t changed all that much. (1) Who am I?  (2) Which catering outfit did my dad own? (3) What recipe did the caterer’s wife favor? She prepared it for us at home time and again. (4) Finally, what was the touchstone of my youth that is still located in that same Englewood house?

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September 2015

I was born in CT to parents with UK and Russian-Jewish backgrounds. My grandparents had a farm up there which I visited often. When I was a kid my parents moved the family “south” to a primitive farm in Passaic (yes, Passaic!). We raised a lot of our food and sold the milk from our 12 cows. We had no indoor plumbing, electricity, heat, phone, or radio. I thought about being a farmer for a short time. I was an excellent student in school and was accepted at Rutgers where I earned a B.A. in soil science.

I was drafted into the service and I worked as a bacteriologist in the Medical Detachment of the Army Air Force stationed in FL. I became aware of the inability of the medical profession to control many infectious diseases. I was especially interested in finding an antibiotic that would be effective against gram-negative bacteria (sorry, a bit of medical jargon follows!). I was able to isolate and test molds and actinomycetes from contaminated blood culture plates and samples from the soils and swamps of FL. I saw firsthand how many wounded servicemen who were flown back from the N. African campaign died from infectious diseases and that touched me deeply. I noted that the miracle drug of that time, penicillin, and sulfa drugs were ineffective against bacterial infections. After my discharge I returned to the academic world.

Back at Rutgers I worked on my Ph.D. under the guidance of a world famous scientist. Times were hard and my stipend was only $40 per month. My “home” was a room in a greenhouse in the Plant Pathology Department where I lived in exchange for doing maintenance there.  I lived on fruit, vegetables, and dairy products that I obtained from the school’s Agricultural Experiment station. I finished my Ph.D. in 2 ½ years and skipped the customary M.S. degree.

I worked diligently on the H-37 deadly strain of tubercle bacillus. My mentor was deathly afraid of the contagiousness of that disease because it had literally killed billions of people over the centuries. The nasty symptoms of that “great white plague” were emaciation, shortness of breath, and the coughing of blood. I was therefore banished and relegated to do my research isolated in a basement lab where few dared enter.

My work led to the discovery of an essential antibiotic. Unfortunately for me, my famous mentor grabbed all of the headlines and the glory. I foolishly signed over the rights and royalties to the Rutgers Research and Endowment Foundation naively thinking that the only beneficiary from my research and discovery would be mankind. I’d been had!  Little did I know at the time that my former mentor would reap both fame and fortune from my research. When I finally found out that he was also enjoying 20% in royalties from the new antibiotic, I decided that I had to sue.  For “the trouble” I allegedly caused during that period of time I found it difficult to secure a prestigious university or research position. I was branded a litigious troublemaker and was exiled to the boonies of the academic world. It was only many years later that my name, reputation and accomplishments were recognized. I have published 3 textbooks and over 700 scientific papers.

That’s me, the scientist and educator in the photo below. (1) Who am I, and who was my famous but ethically challenged mentor? (2) What antibiotic am I now credited with discovering? (3) What 2 honor societies did I belong to? Here’s a hint. The second society has this motto, ”Σπουδῶν Ξυνῶνες.” Does anybody know what that means?

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October 2015

I was born in NYC to European-Jewish immigrant parents. Mom was a “yekke,” and she saddled me with a German first name that I never really liked so I changed it when I came of age.

I dropped out of school not much beyond second grade which is kind of ironic because years later I was a member of an elite literary and artistic circle in NYC.  I did have a fine baritone singing voice; and, early on, I got gigs singing professionally with a group. That facet of my career surprised people because during my heyday a few years later, most people thought I was what they then called a “dummy,” or a mute. Not having speaking roles never deterred me. I made a good living on the silver screen wearing a modified top hat, a wig, baggy pants, and a battered raincoat that contained my many props. Though I wouldn’t actually speak, I communicated by whistling with my fingers in my mouth, honking a bicycle horn or by utilizing gestures and mime. It was kind of fun chasing squealing girls around in many of my movie scenes; however, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me. I was a devoted husband and father to 4 adopted children. Oh, did I mention that I had some musical talent as well? I was a self-taught musician who was comfortable playing several instruments. Later on I did take some professional lessons.

As some of you might know, Alexander Woollcott, the famous theater critic, was the inspiration for the character Monty Wooley portrayed in “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”  Alex was a close friend of mine. One of the other characters in that play is based on yours truly.

I had an early connection to north Jersey in the 1920s when I made a silent film in Fort Lee. Years later, in the fall of 1961, I came to Eastside High School in Paterson toting my clarinet. I auditioned members of the band to appear with me in a TV special that was aired in November of that year starring such A-list performers as Edie Adams, Milton Berle, Merv Griffin, and Audrey Meadows. I directed the EHS band members during the program.

So, (1) Who Am I? That’s me wearing the cap and stylish overcoat below. (2) My dad’s name was Samuel but what was his nickname and how did he get that name? (Here’s a hint – it wasn’t “Shmulik!”) (3) What literary and artistic circle did I belong to? (4) Which character in the play, “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” was based on my public persona? (5) What was my preferred musical instrument and which company manufactured the model I liked best?

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November 2015

I was born to a Jewish-Ukrainian father who was a successful bank director and a Hungarian-Jewish mom who was a concert pianist. The good Lord blessed me with beauty, brains, and a sultry voice, which enabled me to forge a Hollywood career for myself where I got to co-star with such luminaries as Jimmy Stewart, Spencer Tracy, John Garfield, and Lana Turner. Many years later I was to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

One of my six husbands was an arms manufacturer, and I got to sit in on conferences with scientists working on military technology. Perhaps that experience piqued my mathematical and analytical mind.  Years later, I struck up a friendship with my N.J. born neighbor, a composer, who was working at the movie studios scoring films. He was also an avant-garde pianist who would sometimes synchronize player pianos in concert performances.

When WWII broke out, I felt I ought to do something to aid the allied cause.   I was never a party girl, so in my off hours I started tinkering around in one of my spare rooms. I enlisted my above mentioned neighbor in a science project based on technology related to the perforated holes in a player piano roll. The basic concept was to utilize 88 (the number of piano keys) “frequency hopping” combinations that could be synchronized between the transmitter and the receptor. Our initial plan was to prevent Axis ships or planes from jamming or hijacking our navy’s radio-guided torpedoes. We eventually gave away our patent rights to the U.S. Navy for free. (A partial schematic of our patent appears below.) It was to be many years later before the navy brass recognized and acknowledged our contributions. Today, the fruits of our labor can be found in fax machines, GPS systems, Bluetooth gadgets, cell and cordless phones, etc. Our research was also the basis for the technology behind modern day encryption because it enables multiple users to use the same band of spectrum without interfering with each other. Users of this technology can operate simultaneously but at different frequencies.  Check us out on the Discovery Channel!

The U.S. government encouraged me to use my Hollywood celebrity to sell war bonds, and I was glad to oblige. During the War, many celebrities rode the rails selling war bonds. They stopped at over 300 cities on the premise that each city would pledge to subscribe to the purchase of 1 million dollars in war bonds. I often trained to major cities with a sailor who acted as sort of a shill, whereby I promised to give him a public kiss if enough war bonds were sold. If you, John Doe, were willing to pledge $25,000 for the purchase of war bonds, you, too, might have gotten a personal kiss from me! That sultry photo of me below was taken by Life magazine during a photo shoot in 1942, the same year I came to several north Jersey cities flashing the “V-for victory” sign while selling war bonds. A famous photo from one particular north Jersey event is now in the Getty collection. Following is a contemporary account of my visit: “{Jane Doe’s} train pulled into Newark, NJ on September 4th, taking the town by storm. When she left the Robert Treat Hotel over 7,000 fans blocked her path and when she spoke at Military Park, police had to control a crowd estimated at between 15,000 and 20,000Several women fainted. Hundreds of camera fans took pictures of the Hollywood celebrity. When Miss {Doe} rode along Broad Street in a jeep, bus passengers stood up to wave, motorists honked their horns and many youths attempted to reach her conveyance on bicycles. The crowds were too large to permit many direct sales of bonds, but a score of women volunteers experienced no trouble in obtaining signed pledges.” During the War I also found time in my busy schedule to volunteer twice a week at the Hollywood Canteen where I danced with G.I.’s in uniform. Hey, I even washed the dishes. I loved wearing my dirndl skirt and blouse on those occasions.

(1) Who Am I? And, how did I get my stage name? (2) On what ship did I sail to the U.S. for the first time? (3) Who was my co-inventor neighbor, the composer born in N.J.? (4) Which one of my serial husbands was a screenwriter/ producer? (5) What was the name of that sailor who traveled with me on bond selling tours? (6) A house my first husband and I once owned was the setting for a much loved film. What is the name of that 60’s film?

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December 2015

I was born in Chicago to Russian-Jewish parents.  As a kid I was a musical prodigy long before I ever developed my smooth and mellow high baritone voice. That period was also before I ever even knew how to scat-sing. Early on I found employment in network radio acting doing soap serials. Later on I found my true calling when I became a professional musician who could also handle the drumsticks and tickle those skins whenever I wasn’t writing lyrics or singing.

I made my movie debut with “Old Blue Eyes”; however, my professional career was interrupted in 1944 when I was drafted into the U.S. Army. As it turned out, I was released soon after my induction when it was discovered that my feet were flat. Better my feet than my voice! Subsequently, during the course of my long musical career, I’ve since written over 250 songs as well as authored books and numerous musical arrangements.

Today I’m best known as a pioneer of cool jazz and as a co-author of a ubiquitous song you hear around the December holidays. In 1982 I was one of the headliners along with Helen Forrest and Teresa Brewer that appeared at the Orrie de Nooyer Auditorium at the Bergen Academies in Hackensack in the show called “Forties in the Eighties.” That’s me in the photo below.

(1) Who Am I? and what nickname was ascribed to me? (2) What was the name of my vocal quintet? (3) Which performer was my musical inspiration? (4) What holiday song am I especially linked to and who was the pianist/vocalist that made it a classic holiday favorite?

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