December 17, 2006
by Reb Yudel
Hank Rosenfeld reviews "Old Jewish Comedians," illustrated by Drew Friedman, edited by Monte Beauchamp. (Fantagraphics Books, $14.95)
Who doesn't love old Jewish comedians? Those mamzers of mirth and halutzim of humor who paved the road from the Catskills to Vegas as first-generation entertainers. Now comes "Old Jewish Comedians," a book to honor these slapsticklers and ticklemen of the 20th century. Thirty-two pages of funny faces (all guys), the book is "An Illustrated Gallery of Jewish American Comedians, Comics, Comic Actors, Clowns, and Tummlers Depicted in the Sunset of Their Years." Artist Drew Friedman's portraits cover the greats and the greatly forgotten, from George Burns and Buddy Hackett, to Benny Rubin and Joe Smith.
To really evaluate the book, I went to 92-year-old Irving Brecher. After all, Brecher is old, Jewish and he has not only done stand-up, he wrote for some of Friedman's alter kackers, like Milton Berlinger (Berle, on the cover), Nathan Birnbaum (George Burns, inside cover), and the Marx Brothers (Julius, Adolph and Leonard, middle two pages of book.)TrackBack
Book open, over split pea soup and half a pastrami on rye at Label's Table on Pico Boulevard, I quizzed Brecher about "OJC" who never found the fame of a Moses -- Harry Horwitz/Moe Howard or Jerome Levitch/Jerry Lewis, a Jack Chakrin/Jack Carter or Archibald Donald Rickles/ Don Rickles, et al.
— Irv, here's Harry Joachim.
"That's Harry Ritz of the Ritz Brothers. Harry was the only one who was talented. Al and Jimmy were nothing."
— Menasha Skulnik?
"That's his real name. Great Yiddish comedian. The Yiddish theater was a remarkable place. I wish you'd seen it."
— Joseph Seltzer?
"Joe Smith of Smith & Dale, the famous vaudeville team. They made a movie called "The Heart of New York," which is a museum piece. For collectors."
— Abraham Kalish?
"Al Kelly. Al did double talk. That was his style. He spoke gibberish in vaudeville sketches and all the people would try to be polite.
— While he mocked them?
"No, not mocking them. The audience would laugh. But people in the real world he dealt with would be taken in."
— Sounds like what Borat does!
"Haven't seen it. But most comedians couldn't do it like Al Kelly could. He was unique."
— Here's a fellow named Ben Rubin...
"Benny Rubin used to work for me! When he was up in vaudeville. I'd give him a part in "The Life of Riley" radio show. In Hollywood, when they wanted a Jew with a long nose, they'd hire him. The lousy Hollywood producers. He'd make $150. I'd never use a character with a Jewish accent. Like Jack Benny [Benjamin Kubelsky] did with 'Mr. Schlepperman.'"
— He used a thick Jewish accent?
"I hated it, that very stereotypical annoying character.
— Who played him?
"Artie Auerbach. Listen, do they have Jan Murray in this book?"
Friedman said not to worry; Jan Murray/Murray Janofsky will appear in the sequel, "More Old Jewish Comedians," due in 2008.
Brecher said he hopes the sequel has a bit, or routine, a catchphrase, something from each comedian to go with the pictures.