“Who Am I?” – 2016

January 2016

I was born to German Jewish parents in NYC. I felt I had to leave school at age 15 because my dad abandoned the family. I did odd jobs but drifted into a life of crime. I robbed craps games at first and eventually got pinched for a burglary I pulled off. That little job landed me a stretch in the stir on that sliver of land between Manhattan and Queens. I was also sent to a special “work farm” for tough guys because the authorities thought me to be incorrigible.

To my delight I discovered that the eighteenth amendment opened up a lot of opportunities for me. At times I worked for a trucking company that transported bootleg hooch. For a time I worked as a tough “s.o.b.” bouncer at a “speak.” A Union City, NJ brewer helped supply our product. Taverns bought my beverages “or else.” I was not above promoting illegal gambling or the elimination of rivals.   Sadly, when Prohibition ended I had to find a way to supplement my lost income so I moved big time into the numbers racket.  My clever accountant upped my chances of winning. I also offered “protection” to restaurant owners and union workers alike.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I became persona non grata in NYC. One crusading U.S. Attorney, who was later to become a presidential candidate representing a major political party, along with the then NYC mayor, had me in their sights so I moved my operation over to New Jersey. I had an idea that maybe I should knock off said U.S. Attorney; however, the “Commission,” an umbrella association of organized crime at the time, disagreed with me. Maybe, just to get me out of the way and take over my territory they put a hit out on me! I and 3 associates were mortally wounded in a blaze of gunfire at a north Jersey restaurant. Though I had strayed far from my roots, my mom insisted I be buried with a Jewish prayer shawl. It’s still alleged that somewhere in New York State there is a waterproof airtight safe containing millions of dollars in securities and cash from my stash that has never been found. Are you one of those folks with a metal detector still looking for it? I’m afraid it’s a secret I took to the grave.

That’s me wearing the Homburg in the photo below. (1) Who am I? (2) What “sliver of land” am I referring to above? (3) What northern New Jersey restaurant was I in when I was gunned down? (4) Who was the “crusading attorney” referred to above? (5) Who were those two gunsels that knocked me off and what was their ultimate fate?

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February 2016

I was born back in the 19th century into a German-Jewish family in PA. I bounced around doing lots of odd things in my early years when I was thought to be reclusive and introverted. I spent time on a ranch in Idaho; I studied law; I went to secretarial school and worked as a stenographer; I took playwriting courses at Columbia University; and I worked as an office clerk among other vocations.

I went to school in Paterson, N.J. after my dad brought the family here. With Paterson as my home base I found work as an outside salesman selling ribbons. In time, I became interested in the theatre and began submitting unsolicited material to a drama columnist until I also eventually became a drama editor and critic. I achieved fame and fortune as a playwright, a stage director, and a screenwriter. I was known for my brilliant satire and wit which still holds up after all those years.

As the years passed I became a member of a well-known circle of witty writers and show business people who exchanged bon mots. I won two Pulitzer Prizes for my plays. I often collaborated with other famous writers of the time. Two plays I was deeply associated with became film vehicles for Minnie’s screwball sons. I took one hobby very seriously and even wrote books about it. That’s me, wearing the specs, in the photo below.

(1) Who am I? (2) What famous circle of writers & show biz types did I belong to? (3) What 2 plays/films were referred to above? (4) And finally, what was my very favorite pastime?

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March 2016

I was born in the Bronx to a handyman who specialized in painting and carpentry.  From an early age I studied music and graduated Hunter College with honors. I only mention my musical bona fides because some people only thought of me as a statuesque model who looked terrific in a bathing suit.

When I was 21 years old I achieved something singular for a woman of my ethnicity but that was just a jumping off point for me. I was often to stand head and shoulders above my peers both literally and figuratively. During my long life I have appeared as a regular on TV shows, hosted parades and special events, written books and personally served three U.S. presidents!

All of you carnivores are probably enjoying more beef in your hamburgers today because of my work as a consumer advocate. I fought for better labeling and for unit pricing to enable you, the consumer, to do comparative shopping.

All along the way I have never forgotten my roots. I refused to change my ethnic sounding name even though I was strongly advised to do so. I’ve worked for the ADL, the NAACP, and the Urban League. I am proud that my name appears among the “Founders” on the “Wall of Honor” for those who have contributed $1 million or more to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park, NYC.  At age 36 I came to Temple Emanuel in Paterson as the guest of the Women’s Division, Paterson Committee for Israel Bonds. The luncheon only cost $3 back then, but you had to buy a State of Israel bond along with your lunch. We packed the house!

I think by now you know who I am. Those are my long gams in the photo below.

(1) Who Am I? And what was it that I achieved at age 21? (2) What musical instruments did I play, and what pieces of music helped me cinch that award? (3) What 2 TV shows was I most associated with (answers may vary)?

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April 2016

Though people usually associate me with Waukegan, IL, the town where I grew up, I actually was born in Chicago to Jewish parents who had immigrated to the U.S. from Poland and Lithuania.  I studied music at an early age and thought about becoming a professional musician.

During my navy service in the Great War I began entertaining troops with my music and ad-libs.  I found that I had a gift for comedy, and, after the war, I found work in revues and soon after that, in vaudeville.  I often appeared on stage with a fiddle and developed into an excellent raconteur rather than a joke teller. Some of you senior citizens might have caught my act at the Lowe’s Jersey Theater in Jersey City. My public persona was that of a vain tightwad; however, I could take a joke at my expense to get laughs. I mastered the knack of the pregnant pause and/or silence in my routines.

I was very fortunate to have a long career in vaudeville, radio, film and on the small screen. Some credit me with being one of the pioneers of situation comedy.

I have other New Jersey bona fides. “Well,” my mother-in-law resided in Plainfield. In addition, a rival radio host of mind appeared in one of my mid-1940’s films claiming he was the president of my eponymous fan club located in a north Jersey town.

That’s me wearing the bonnet in the photo below. Nearby is a photo of my automobile of choice. It’s true that those cars sputtered and rattled; but, keeping them on the road saved me from having to buy newer models. (1) Who Am I?  What company manufactured my ride? (2) With whom did I have a famous feud on the air (radio) and in what mid-1940’s movie did that rascal appear alongside me purporting to represent my fan club? What north Jersey town did he allege to represent? (3) My long-time valet “man-Friday” on my show had the identical name as the fictional master of Thornfield Hall. What was his name? (4) In one of my more well-known films I wore the military uniform of the detested Nazis. My dad was really angry about that even though the movie was a spoof. (a) What was the name of that movie? (b) Who was my lovely co-star? (c) Who played the Polish aviator that vied for my screen wife’s affections? (5) Finally, in the 1970s ill health prevented me from taking on one last movie role but my “B.F.F.” took the part and won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Who was my B.F.F. and what was the name of that movie?

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May 2016

I grew up in Manhattan. My dad had a good job in advertising. Even as a pre-teen I knew I wanted to be an on-air announcer. I’ve done NBA (basketball) play by play games; Ivy League football and basketball games; sports call-in shows; and I’ve hosted biography shows for players on teams I’ve covered.

Most of you probably know me for my radio play by play announcing for a metropolitan baseball team that wears pin-stripes. My shows are strictly off the cuff, and they’re definitely seat of the pants broadcasting despite the reams of stats that are thrust upon me.

A lot of fans swear by me, and a lot of fans swear at me. Some get annoyed when I make multi-syllable words out of words like “the” and “strike.” I sometimes like to linger on that “mmmmmm…” sound more than usual, but I would say stretching out the word “the” with a schwa  ‘ə‘ sound (pronounced “thuh”) is the one that really drives people up a wall. I’ve been known to make more than a few gaffes in the broadcasting booth, such as when I call a home run when it is not or when I call a ball fair when the umps call it foul. My thoughts on this are the same as those of Joe E. Brown whose memorable words at the end of the movie, “Some like It Hot” were, “Nobody’s perfect.”

At some point in my career I started inventing a special home run call for individual players. Fans sometimes write in and give me additional suggestions for those special home run calls for specific players. Fans think me either clever or cloying. How about you?

I’ve been exceedingly lucky and have been able to combine my hobby with my vocation. I really am a sports nut. A lot of people don’t know that I really love music, especially the American songbook and Broadway show tunes and I probably know as much about music as I do about baseball.

I lived for a time in Teaneck before I became a resident of the Avalon Apartment Complex in Edgewater. Like many others, I was displaced by that huge blaze that occurred there a few years ago.

That’s me in one of the images below. It is up to you to decide which one most resembles me! (1) Who am I? And, who is that former musical theater actress who does color commentary alongside me? (2) What phrase do I utter when I describe home runs? If I were describing a home run hit by Bernie Williams, what description, special for Bernie, would I have intoned? (3) What do I do during the seventh inning stretch? (4) Who is my favorite singer? My favorite on-air broadcaster? (5) What 2 TV stations are usually on at my house all the time? (6) What do I like to do for exercise?

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June 2016

I was born in Rakov, Belarus, in Czarist Russia to my biblically named parents, Abraham and Sarah. Dad worked as a scribe and mom ran a grocery store of sorts.

As a young girl I apprenticed to a dressmaker and as a teen I decided to follow William, the love of my life, to America. I bought a Singer sewing machine on the installment plan and set up a dressmaking shop in Hoboken, N.J. Later on we moved operations to Manhattan. During the “Roaring Twenties” the flapper flat-chested look was all the rage, and it seemed every woman wanted that boyish form look. William was a sculptor, and he began to work on designs to emphasize a woman’s full figure.

William and I made a great team. William became our designer. He sliced the bandeaux that were used by women of the time and cut them in half and then created cups from the tucks in the materials. Then, he created a shoulder strap and a practical fastener in the back to hold it all together. It wasn’t long before adjustable straps appeared on this new-fangled contraption, as did some provision for women of different size cups. Numerous permutations of that basic design concept followed over the years to include maternity and nursing variations and uplift and strapless styles. I concentrated on the financials and the promotion end of our business. I became very skilled at harnessing the media (radio, TV, magazines and newspapers) to promote our sales.

William and I became very successful, and our product and company name became well known and sold world-wide. We were both active in ADL and UJA. I served for a long time as a director on the board of Bronx Lebanon Medical Center.

That’s me, looking rather stern and formidable, in the picture below. (1) Who am I? (2) What was the name of the company we founded, and why was it called that? (3) Our original plant was located in N.J.  Later on, we moved to another N.J. location. Name those 2 locations. (4) What was our gift to the B.S.A.? (5) What were the words to our most successful 20 year ad campaign? (6) Why did I visit the U.S.S.R. in the early 1960s?

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July 2016

I was born at the close of the 19th century in old New York to Russian-Jewish immigrants. I grew up on Delancey Street near Lefkowitz & Son’s soda factory which was kind of ironic because that firm was later to join my syndicate. I was a bright and dapper lad who graduated NYU with a degree in civil engineering before I went on to graduate from law school in Brooklyn. I never actually practiced law.

1920s Gotham was a time when soda fountains proliferated. For typical immigrants and others on a limited budget, a sweet, cold, bubbly water concoction for $.12 or so was just what was needed for refreshment. If you were better heeled, you might order an actual ice cream soda instead. Anyway, it occurred to me that there might be an easier payday for me than lawyering if I only could somehow find a way to corner the market on the syrup essential to making a pedestrian egg cream.

My business plan was simple. I sought to establish a sort of “syrup trust” whereby syrup manufacturers would join my syndicate for a $50-$100 membership fee plus weekly dues, and in turn, we’d control prices and competition. Syndicate members would then share the customer base. We would sometimes have to strong arm reluctant customers or threaten them by sending in so called “dead wagons” to their mom and pop retail outlets in order to undersell them. Sometimes, I used my connections with the Department of Health by having their agents come in and issue violations to businesses who were non-compliant.

My brother was a practicing attorney who lived on Vreeland Avenue near 20th Avenue in Paterson (by Public School #20). The authorities alleged that he drew up certificates of incorporation for several of my straw companies that helped me disguise the actual racket behind the syrup companies in my syndicate. At my peak, it was said that I controlled half of all the soda syrup sold in NYC. Brother, that’s a whole lot of syrup.

Well, the good times weren’t to last, and one fine day I was tried and convicted by the Supreme Court of NY, Appellate Division, for extortion, conspiracy, and for heading an illegal monopoly. I was given a 3 year stretch by the judge. After my release, I moved to Philadelphia and disappeared from public view. Tell me now, during these dog days of summer, wouldn’t you like to go down to your corner soda fountain and order up an egg cream?

(1) Some people will always associate me with the tasty beverage pictured below. I’ve included a recipe for those of you who have forgotten how to make one. Who am I? What were my parents’ names? (2) During my heyday, what was my car of choice? (3) Where did I serve my time? Here’s a hint – it was a 10-acre site in the metropolitan area that was razed in the 1930s and on its site was built a hospital park with support facilities for the chronically ill.

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August 2016

I was born in Philadelphia, PA to Russian-Jewish parents. I demonstrated an early ability to sing and came home with prizes in talent contests and appeared on children’s radio shows.

My singing career really took off at the height of the big band era, and I appeared as the star vocalist with some of the biggest names ever to grace a bandstand. On September 28, 1939 I appeared at the nearby Meadowbrook on the old Newark-Pompton Turnpike in Cedar Grove. At one point, my career was briefly interrupted by a medical condition that paralyzed my vocal cords for a few years; however, I did recover and went on to make hit records for major labels like Decca, Mercury, RCA Victor, and Columbia.

I was to make several Hollywood films and eventually to have my own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. When the big band era ended, I found work as a soloist and did radio and nightclub work. On the small screen I have appeared as myself on the Colgate Comedy Hour, the Ed Sullivan Show, the Dinah Shore Show, the Cavalcade of Stars, and other popular variety shows. I finally had to retire due to a lung ailment. For many years I maintained a home in Englewood, a short ride from the JHSNJ.

That’s me in the photos below. (1) Who I am?  (2) In 1945 I had 2 mega-hits which returning GI’s really related to. What were the names of those 2 songs? (3) Name at least 2 big bands I appeared on stage with. (4) What is considered my “signature song”?

September 2016

I was born in MA to a dad who was a budding playwright as well as a lay minister in the Episcopal Church. My mom was born Jewish; however, I was often criticized for being ambivalent and sometimes hostile about my own Jewish ancestry. People are often surprised to hear that I spent some of my formative years in nearby Wayne, N.J. We also rented a house at Echo Lake. For a while my parents ran a private school in Pompton Lakes.

I began my career as a Broadway actor and eventually gravitated to the new industry of film making. I partnered with another early movie maker and his brother-in-law to form a “players company,” and we pioneered the idea of making feature length films of more than 2 reels from the popular plays of the time. You might say I was one of the first movie men to “go Hollywood.” Before my career was over in the late 1950s I was credited with directing over 50 silent movies and almost 20 talkies. Though I directed comedies and westerns, I am probably best known for directing and producing epic blockbusters often with biblical themes. (Some say this was because of my dad’s vocation and his influence on me).  I worked with some of the biggest stars in the business, including Gary Cooper, Claudette Colbert, and Joseph Schildkraut. I’ve earned a few academy awards, and I can boast of 2 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

For many years I hosted one of the most popular radio shows on the air. We adapted film scripts into the radio format and featured many of the original stars playing their parts in front of a live audience.

A younger version of me appears in the photo below. (1) Who am I?  What did I usually hold in my hand while I was working in film? (2) Who was my niece? What film and play of the same name is she most associated with? What was her part in those productions? (3) What was the name of our first six reeler film, and who was the male lead? Here’s a hint: A modern day major male star was named after him. (4) What was the name of the popular radio show that I hosted? (5) In what film did I play myself? (6) What do I have in common with “Alfalfa?”

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October 2016

I was an unassuming hausfrau in my 30’s living in Passaic when I somehow stumbled into the record business. I started my own record label and had an immediate hit with a local girl group from my town. It wasn’t long before I founded a leading independent record label in the 1960’s.

I have been described as “a white {Jewish} woman in a black business who couldn’t carry a tune….” Despite that handicap I was a record producer and music executive for such popular singers as Dionne Warwick, Tammi Terrell, B.J.Thomas, and Chuck Jackson.

My picture appears below. (1)Who Am I and whatleading independent record label did I found? (2)Which of the original singers of the local girl group referred to above owns the trademark to their name today? What is the name of that girl group? (3)Finally,what Broadway show was based on my life?

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November 2016

I was born in NYC to Russian-Jewish parents on the eve of the ‘Roaring Twenties.’ My dad was an amateur violinist and my mom had a beautiful singing voice so it wasn’t too surprising that I was blessed with a fine baritone singing voice and that I also became quite skilled at playing the violin. My first professional gig, which lasted but a week, was performing in a rented tuxedo at some now forgotten Paterson night club for $30.per week. In time I gained invaluable experience singing in choirs, dance bands and on the radio; however, my ambition was always to become an actor which I eventually did.

I chose my stage name very carefully. In fact, I borrowed part of new name from the “great profile.” (I am definitely not referring to Edwin Booth, the brother of you know who).

By the early 1940’s I found my way onto the legitimate stage. I found work in theater road companies and off-Broadway productions. As luck would have it, I met my future wife while she was rehearsing for a show starring Mae West. Years later my wife and I were to star in several shows together. Our marriage was made in heaven and has stood the test of time unlike many other show business marriages.

In the early 1950’s, while I was still cruising around in my Kaiser-Frazer automobile, Hollywood beckoned. Before I called it quits I made 20 or so movies. Darn if I didn’t have my own TV series back in those days when westerns were all the rage. My TV role was that of a gambler who was fast on the draw. I daresay “my name stood out of all the rest.”

I have made many personal appearances for the charitable causes I believe in. I despise bigotry and racism so you won’t be surprised to learn that I was an advocate for the ADL.

I was once associated with that get-up in the image below. (1)Who Am I? When did I wear said get-up pictured below? (2) Who was the inspiration for my stage name? (3)In what Mae West show did I meet my future wife? (4)Name at least one show I appeared on stage with my wife. (5)Aaron Spelling produced a TV series for me. What was it called? (6)Finally, I was standing very close to a public figure who was assassinated in the 1960’s. Who was that famous person?

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December 2016

I was born in NYC to very left-leaning Jewish immigrant parents from Belarus. I believe their politics and world outlook influenced me greatly throughout my life. I was a child prodigy musician and made my concert debut at the ripe age of 7. I continued performing the rest of my long life though, as the years went by, I spent more of my time conducting. I have played with just about all the major orchestras in the world.

Some of you may remember me from a film I made during the war years in which I played two very well-known musical pieces. During WWII I also performed several hundred concerts for the I.R.C. and for both U.S. and allied troops. I believe I was the first Jewish musician to play in occupied Germany for survivors of the Holocaust.

I sometimes performed chamber music accompanied by my pianist sister who was named after a biblical wife mentioned in the “Books of Kings.” I performed at least twice in Paterson at the invitation of the “YM/YWHA” – in October 1944 and again in October 1952. Some of you might even have been in the audience!

In later years I was known to work outside my usual genre. From the 1970’s on I performed with jazz artists and I helped bring Indian classical music to the west as a result of my association with a famous sitar player.

I worked hard for world peace, social justice and for preserving a clean environment. When all was said and done I believe I had the longest musical recording contract anyone ever had in the music industry, 7 decades of recording with the same studio! The last I heard, Warner Classics planned on releasing cd’s of my most memorable musical performances and recordings. As you might imagine, I’ve won many awards during my lifetime. I even earned a knighthood – me, the child of Jewish immigrants born in the Bronx! I also have my own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I think you know me by now. That’s me, the wunderkind in the photo below. Alongside my photo is my marked-up copy of Bach’s Sonata II. (1)Who Am I? (2)What film did I appear in during WWII and what musical pieces did I play in that film? (3)What connection, if any, do I have with Martha Tilton, the big band singer? (4)What is my sister’s name? (5)Who was the famous sitarist I worked with?