CATSKILL COMEDIANS IN THOSE GOOD OLD DAYS – Marilyn Armstrong

Maybe you remember the old Jewish Catskill comics. Some of them went back to the old days of Vaudeville. Others are more recent. A fair number are alive and well, and a surprisingly large number are still working. Except, the center of the action today is Las Vegas.

Maybe the Catskills will rise again. Probably not. It has gotten too built up. Meanwhile, ghost hotels are still there. Empty, but packed with memories.

Red Buttons, Totie Fields, Joey Bishop,  Milton Berle, Jan Murray, Danny Kaye, Henny Youngman,  Buddy Hackett, Sid Caesar, Groucho Marx, Jackie Mason, Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, George Burns, Allan Sherman, Jerry Lewis (mostly at Brown’s Hotel),  Carl Reiner, Shelley Berman, Gene Wilder, George Jessel, Alan King, Mel Brooks, Phil Silvers, Jack Carter, Rodney Dangerfield, Don Rickles, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Mel Brooks, Mansel Rubenstein and so many others … they were all there.

Grossinger’s in the early 1970s, the end of the good old days

There was not a single swear word in the ” family” routines, but on the road, these guys were (are) as blue as any other comics. Also, when the punchline was in Yiddish, you knew it was too blue for English.

I always tried to get my mother to translate for me, but she said the lines were “earthy” in Yiddish, but disgusting in English. So mostly, I never heard the punchline.


 For your enjoyment, a few oldies but goodies:

I just got back from a pleasure trip. I took my mother-in-law to the airport.

I’ve been in love with the same woman for 49 years! If my wife ever finds out, she’ll kill me!

What are three words a woman never wants to hear when she’s making love? “Honey, I’m home!”

Someone stole all my credit cards but I won’t be reporting it. The thief spends less than my wife did.

We always hold hands. If I let go, she shops.

My wife and I went back to the hotel where we spent our wedding night; only this time, I stayed in the bathroom and cried.

My wife and I went to a hotel where we got a water-bed. My wife called it the Dead Sea .

She was at the beauty shop for two hours. That was only for the estimate. She got a mudpack and looked great for two days. Then the mud fell off.

The Doctor gave a man six months to live. The man couldn’t pay his bill so the doctor gave him another six months.

The Doctor called Mrs. Cohen saying, “Mrs. Cohen, your check came back. ”  Mrs. Cohen answered, “So did my arthritis!”

Doctor: “You’ll live to be 60!” Patient: “I am 60!” Doctor: “See! What did I tell you?”

Patient: “I have a ringing in my ears.”
Doctor: “Don’t answer!”

A drunk was in front of a judge. The judge says, “You’ve been brought here for drinking.”
The drunk says “Okay, let’s get started.”

The Harvard School of Medicine did a study of why Jewish women like Chinese food so much. The study revealed that this is because Won Ton spelled backward is Not Now.

There is a big controversy on the Jewish view of when life begins. In Jewish tradition, the fetus is not considered viable until it graduates from medical school.

Q: Why don’t Jewish mothers drink? A: Alcohol interferes with their suffering.

A man called his mother in Florida, “Mom, how are you?”
“Not too good,” said the mother. “I’ve been very weak.”
The son said, “Why are you so weak?”
She said, “Because I haven’t eaten in 38 days.”
The son said, “That’s terrible. Why haven’t you eaten in 38 days?”
The mother answered, “Because I didn’t want my mouth to be filled with food if you should call.”

A Jewish boy comes home from school and tells his mother he has a part in the play. She asks, “What part is it?”
The boy says, “I play the part of the Jewish husband.”
The mother scowls and says, “Go back and tell the teacher you want a speaking part.”

Question: How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: (Sigh) “Don’t bother. I’ll sit in the dark. I don’t want to be a nuisance to anybody.”

A short summary of every Jewish holiday — They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.

Did you hear about the bum who walked up to a Jewish mother on the street and said, “Lady, I haven’t eaten in three days.”  “Force yourself,” she replied.

Q: What’s the difference between a Rottweiler and a Jewish mother?
A: Eventually, the Rottweiler lets go.

Grossinger’s – 2008

WOODCLEFT CANAL, FREEPORT, LONG ISLAND – Marilyn Armstrong

Freeport, Long Island. It’s in Nassau Country, the closest county on Long Island to New York.

I grew up in the city. In Queens, which is a borough of New York. Each of New York’s boroughs has its own character and in many ways, is a city in its own right. Certainly, people who grow up in Brooklyn identify themselves as Brooklyn-ites and if you come from the Queens, Staten Island, or the Bronx, you will always identify that as your “home ground” rather than just “New York.”

Maybe it’s because New York is so big. Each neighborhood is like a city unto itself. Boston is like that, too. Maybe most big cities are.

Colorized postcard of Woodcleft canal with houses visible on the right side of the photo. Postmark: “” Merrick, N.Y, September 3, 1907″ Addressee and Address: “M.A. Hansen, 791 59th Street, Brooklyn” Message [on the front]: “” Sept. 1, 07. Have a good time. May” – From the Freeport Historical Society Postcard Collection

Between the picture postcard and our visit lay almost exactly a century.

People from Manhattan have a strong sense of superiority because they come from The City. For reasons that are hard to explain, but perfectly obvious to anyone who has lived there or even visited for any length of time, Manhattan is the heart of New York in ways that cannot be simply explained. It’s not just because it’s the center of business. In fact, that really has little to do with it. It just is what it is. Even when I was a kid growing up in Queens, when we said we were going “into the city,” we meant New York. Manhattan.

If we were going anywhere else in the five boroughs, we said we were going to Brooklyn or the Bronx or some specific neighborhood … but the city was Manhattan and no doubt still is.

I moved to Long Island in 1963 when I was 16 and had just started college. I never moved back to the city, though for many years, we went there for shows, museums, etc. And of course, work.

A few years of my childhood, before I was 5 and moved to Holliswood, we lived in an apartment house — really, a tenement — on Rose Street in Freeport, near Woodcleft Canal.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the area near the canal was decrepit. Living “near the docks” was not a good thing, certainly nothing to brag about. My family was going through hard times and it was the best we could afford.

My mother hated it. It was the middle of nowhere and she didn’t drive. For her, born in Manhattan, a lifelong resident of New York, what was Freeport? Long Island? That was farm country where you went to buy vegetables at farm stands. My mother, an urbanite to her core, understood poverty but being poor in the country was her version of Hell.

My memories are limited but I see in my mind a big white stucco building with no architectural features. A large white box that didn’t fit into the neighborhood. Even by the less stringent standards of 60-years ago, it was an eyesore. It hasn’t lost that quality. It is still an ugly building, but I expect the rent is higher.

We drove down Rose Street to look at it. I was curious if I would recognize it, but I did. Instantly. I think early memories are deeply embedded in our psyches. Then, having satisfied curiosity, we found out to the canal.

Reflections in the canal.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the canal lined with marinas and yachts. The road along the canal has the usual expensive restaurants featuring faux nautical decor. It was a trifle weird.

There were many huge Victorian houses in Freeport back in the 1970s that you could buy for almost nothing. A great deal if you had a lot of money with which to fix one of them up. Those grand old houses … there are still a few around there and here too, but restoring one is big bucks and maintaining them, even if you can afford the initial restoration, out of the range of most people. I’m glad that some have survived. They are magnificent, though even thinking about the cost of heating one is frightening.

Everything changes.

You can’t go back in time except in your memory. Sometimes, if you treasure the way it was, how you remember it, it’s better not to revisit places. Keep your memories intact because then, the places you remember will always be the way they were.

ALMOST STAR TREK: STERLING BRONSON RETURNS – BY TOM CURLEY

Several of my recent blogs here have been about Star Trek and all of its various iterations.

nerdist.com

nerdist.com

It’s apparently sparked a bit of a trip down memory lane because Marilyn just posted a funny (and true) blog about Star Trek called Ten, Nine, Eight… (Shut Up Spock).

It seems we have inadvertently (or advertently?) begun to write new mini-episodes of an old radio show we did a long time ago in a galaxy not that far away — and that Marilyn wrote what was probably the first parody of Star Trek.

When the original Star Trek went into syndication in the early 1970s, Marilyn and I (and many others of our tribe) watched them. Constantly.  Repeatedly. Usually under the influence of Romulan Ale.

giantbomb.com

giantbomb.com

I’m just kidding. It was usually Acapulco Gold.

barneysfarm.com

barneysfarm.com

We all loved all of them. Back then I was doing a one hour weekly radio show called “Fulton’s Folly” at WVHC. Our college radio station. (Note: Our alma mater is on Fulton Street, hence … )

youtube.com

youtube.com

It was a sketch comedy show.  Most of it was pretty dumb, but sometimes it was truly funny. One of our most popular recurring skits was the  previously mentioned Star Trek parody. Marilyn and a friend of hers had the idea, and called it “Sterling Bronson, Space Engineer.”

Why? First, it was an inside joke about the radio station’s real chief engineer. Second, we figured if we called it anything with “Star Trek” in it, we’d probably get sued.  Looking back “Star Trek, Oh God Not Another Generation!” would have been cool. The episodes recounted the adventures of the merry band of miscreants who flew a United Federation Organization Star Ship, the UFO Sloth.

Its crew consisted of:

      • Captain James P. Clerk,
      • Science Officer Mr. Spook,
      • Chief Engineer Sterling “Scotty” Bronson,
      • Chief Medical Officer Dr. Femur,
      • Communications Officer Lt. O’Hara
      • Helm Officers Ensign Tolstoy & Lt. Guru
      • Nurse Temple.

They were not the sharpest pencils in the Star Fleet box.

clipartkid.com

clipartkid.com

Hell, they spent the first 6 episodes just trying to get out of the transporter room and beam down to a planet. Marilyn and her friend wrote the first dozen episodes.

Our listeners really liked them. After a while a young aspiring writer who worked at the radio station began writing longer, more complex episodes.  One story is was a humorous send up of “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial.”  The young writer went on to become a successful science fiction and fantasy writer. His name is Simon Hawke.

amazon.com

amazon.com

He wrote one of my all-time favorite book series called “Time Wars,” available on Amazon.

A few years later I wrote and produced a full length one hour episode of the series. It was called “Sterling Bronson, Space Engineer.” Original, right? It’s online and you can hear it here.

It was serialized on another show I did later called A Half Hour Radio Show.

half-hour-radio-show

If I can ever find the tapes of the original series Marilyn wrote, I will put them online too. They are in my basement somewhere. I found them once. Damn it, I’ll find them again.

Years and years ago, I wrote the beginning of a Sterling Bronson episode that I never finished. I found the script a while back. It was printed on old dot-matrix computer track paper.

nearbycafe.com

nearbycafe.com

(Yeah, it’s that old). I’ve always regretted having not having finished it. What cracked me up is that it’s based on the same point that Marilyn’s blog made. That being how Spock has an annoying habit of constantly counting things down.

All of our recent Star Trek blogs have made references to,  our “So Called President”.

mobile.twitter.comn

mobile.twitter.comn

In that light I’ve updated the episode. A smidgen. Here it is: the “Lost Sterling Bronson Episode”. It’s supposed to take place in real time. (“24” ripped me off!).


ENSIGN TOLSTOY: Captain! A Trumpulan ship has De-cloaked and is arming its weapons!

CAPTAIN CLERK: Trumpulans? Who the hell are they?

MR SPOOK:  A recently discovered species sir. They are an off-shoot of the human race. Apparently, hundreds of years ago a small group of humans left Earth and colonized a remote planet. They worshiped some long-forgotten despot they referred to only as “The Donald”. They are known for their lack of attention span, their rejection of anything factual and their tradition of wearing dead animals on their heads. They are easily offended and will attack anything that does not worship them.

debatepolitics.com

debatepolitics.com

CAPTAIN CLERK: Great. A bunch of narcissistic alien assholes. God, I miss the old days when we just had to deal with Klingons.

ENSIGN TOLSTOY: Sir, the Trumpulan ship is firing!

MR SPOOK: Shields are down to 90 percent. At this rate we will lose shields in 75.1243575789

CAPTAIN CLERK: ROUND IT OFF SPOOK!

MR SPOOK: A couple of minutes Jim.

CAPTAIN CLERK:  Arm photon torpedoes! Lock all phasers on that ship! Ensign Guru, FIRE!

ENSIGN GURU: But sir, if we fire on them, then they will fire on us. And we will fire on them. We will just be creating very bad karma.

CAPTAIN CLERK: Damn it Guru, I know you’re from the planet Gandhi Five but I don’t have time for your left-wing peace and granola  crap right now. If you don’t fire the phasers, we are all going to die!

MR SPOOK: In 69.268 seconds captain.

ENSIGN GURU: I’m sorry sir. It is against my beliefs to attack anyone.  Even if they are narcissistic alien assholes.

CAPTAIN CLERK: Then why the hell are you the Weapons Officer?? Never mind!  I’ll fire them myself.

LT O’HARA: Now old on sir. You can’t fire those phasers. You’re not in the union. You’re senior management.

CAPTAIN CLERK: WHAT? Are you serious?

LT O’HARA: Yes sir. Article 15, section 5 of the contract states …

CAPTAIN CLERK: OK. Fine. Whatever!  Then you do it!

LT O’HARA:  I Can’t sir.

CAPTAIN CLERK: Why not??

LT O’HARA: I’m in a different union.

CAPTAIN CLERK:  I don’t believe this! There must be something I can do!

MR SPOOK: There is sir. But I suggest you hurry. Shields will be down in 51.7865 seconds.

CAPTAIN CLERK: Stop telling me the time and tell me what the hell I can do!

MR SPOOK: I believe you might be able to get something called “A Waiver”. It would allow you to fire the weapons systems on a provisional  “one time” basis.

CAPTAIN CLERK: Great! Get me one of those!

MR SPOOK: I’m sorry sir. You would need to get that from the ship’s shop steward.

CAPTAIN CLERK: Shop steward! Who the hell is that?

MR SPOOK: Chief Engineer Bronson.

CAPTAIN CLERK: Attention Chief Engineer Bronson. This is the captain. I need to get a waiver to fire the phasers immediately! If I don’t we are all going to die!

MR SPOOK: In 52.7685

CAPTAIN CLERK: Shut up Spook! Can you do it Scotty?

SCOTTY:  I can sir, but I’ll need more time! There’s a lot of paperwork involved. I get can get it for you in about a week.

CAPTAIN CLERK: We don’t have a week!

MR SPOOK: We have 41.3454

CAPTAIN CLERK: SHUT UP SPOOK! OK, listen Guru, how about this. We don’t shoot the Trumpulan ship. We just “wing it”.

LT GURU:  Wing it?

CAPTAIN CLERK: Yeah! We “wing it”! Just like they did in those old holographic 20th century Westerns you love to watch. We just target the weapons systems. We “shoot the guns out of their hands”!

LT GURU: Hmmm. That sounds reasonable.

SFX: Phasers being fired.

MR SPOOK: Direct hit on all weapons systems sir. And I might add with 1.209384765 seconds to spare.

LT O’HARA: Incoming message from the Trumpulan ship sir.

CAPTAIN CLERK: Put it on speaker.

LT O’HARA: It’s an old-fashioned text message sir.

CAPTAIN CLERK: OK, put it on the screen

trump-tweet


I miss Klingons too.

NOT QUITE THIRTY – Marilyn Armstrong

We are about to celebrate our 29th  wedding anniversary. As I ponder the upcoming 29th — a year short of the big 3-0 — I hear distant bells.

I remember the wedding. The thrill of ultimate victory, the agony of getting there. How, by the time I got to the altar, I was a nervous wreck, but Garry was cool as the proverbial cucumber and looked dashing in his tuxedo.

After it was clearly established that we were definitely, unquestionably, without any doubt, getting married, it came down to details. Dates. Rings. Caterers. Bakers. Flowers. Music. Photography. Videography. And (trumpets) a ceremony.

I had been married twice before — okay, three times because I’d been married in a registry office in London, then the whole Jewish medieval ceremony in Jerusalem. Having been there and done that. I wanted to elope or maximum, go to city hall, have the mayor marry us. He would have. We knew the guy and still do.

We could have been married at City Hall, I’d toss a bouquet, someone would throw some confetti, and voilà. Married. After that, we and our actual friends could all go out for Chinese.

Garry wanted a Real Wedding.

He was 48 years old. Never married. This would be his one and only wedding and by golly, he was going to Do It Right.

“I want a real wedding. In the church in which I grew up. In New York,” says Garry. “And I want my old pastor to officiate.”

“Pastor G. is retired … like fifteen years ago.”

“I’m sure we can work it out.” When he said we, I thought he meant he and I would do this thing together. Because where I come from, that’s what “we” means. I was delusional.

“Why can’t we just do something in Boston? New York is 250 miles away. You haven’t lived there in 30 years. Everyone you know except your parents live in Boston or some other part of the country.”

Garry’s face was set and stony. He wanted a hometown wedding in the church he attended as a child. With the Pastor who ran the church when he was a kid. Who was very retired.

Did I mention my husband is stubborn? He is very stubborn.

“This is going to be a lot of work. It’s hard to plan a wedding long distance,” I point out. “And I have a full-time job. in case you’ve forgotten.” Garry is unfazed.

“We can,” he repeats, “Work it out.” There was that we again.

“Fine,” I eventually agree. “We’ll have a wedding. In New York. At your church.”

There were caterers to hire. Music to be arranged. A bagpiper (don’t ask). Battles over the guest list. A cake to be designed. The cake was my favorite part. It went like this. Having settled on a vanilla cake with lemon filling, we needed to decide on decorations.

“Do you want the bride and groom in white or black?”

“Can we have one of each?” No, we could not. In 1990, they do not have a mixed couple cake topper. I offered to take a marker and paint the groom black, but inexplicably, Garry found this objectionable. I suggested they take two sets and cut them in half, but it was deemed too complicated. In the end, I opted for wedding bells, the DMZ of wedding cake toppers.

So, Garry got his wedding. It was (for him) as simple as simple could be. Marilyn arranged the wedding. Garry showed up in a tux.

You see? We worked it out.

P.S. I eventually learned that “we’ll work it out” always meant “you’ll take care of it for me.” That included moving, packing, unpacking, cooking, arranging vacations, airline tickets, mortgages, and car loans. For Garry, it meant “show up nicely dressed and smile.”

TOO LATE LEGAL – Marilyn Armstrong

“Have you considered marijuana?” floated past me on the conversational breeze. It was my previous cardiologist speaking. Was I in the Twilight Zone? No, he was merely suggesting pot might be a good drug. For me. It would deal with a variety of issues. He wasn’t suggesting “medical marijuana” because though theoretically we have it, insurance won’t pay for it and almost no doctors are certified to prescribe it. But don’t worry, now we can buy it recreationally — and legally — at a local shop.

“Uh, yes,” I said. “The downside, other than the price tag, is coughing. Coughing hurts.”

“Take in more air when you inhale,” he said. “You’ll cough less.”

Right. Like I didn’t know that already. He forgets that mine is the generation that made it popular. The biggest users of legalized pot are —  you guessed it — senior citizens.

I grew up in a world where getting busted for having a couple of joints in your pocket could land you in jail for a long time. A world in which marijuana supposedly was the gateway drug to a life of dissipation and degradation which would end with you lying face down in a gutter in a part of town where the cops won’t go.

Now I live in a world where the cardiologist recommends smoking pot.

My mother was born in 1910 and passed in 1982. Growing up, horse-drawn carts were far more common than automobiles. She was a child during World War I, a married woman and a mother in World War II. She survived — somehow — the Great Depression and marched with friends and family in a spontaneous parade of celebration when the New Deal passed. Even though the Depression didn’t really end until World War 2 and brought employment to everyone who wasn’t fighting.

By the time she passed, there was cable television, home computers, and two cars in every driveway. One day (I was a kid) I shouted: “Oh look, a horse and cart!”

She looked bemused. “When I was your age,” she said, “We used to shout “Look, a motor car!”

And today, my cardiologist suggested pot. Okay. I think I see a motor car.

Our local cannabis shop is at the edge of town, close to the main road that goes to Rhode Island. Convenient. It also has a parking lot.

I was afraid they’d put the shop in the middle of town and we’d have a permanent traffic jam.

Massachusetts, in its infinite wisdom, has so heavily taxed cannabis that it’s more expensive to buy it legally than to get it from ye olde dealer. In fact, it’s a lot cheaper to buy it from the same guy you bought it from before they made it legal. Competition lowered his prices while the state upped theirs. Figures, doesn’t it?

As it turns out, pot has no particular medical advantages for me.  The cannabutter I made was so strong, I didn’t feel better. Mostly, I just passed out.

I wish it did work medicinally. I wish something would work. The company that made the medication that always worked for me stopped making it a few months ago. It was cheap to buy and it helped. But it wasn’t profitable. Now we are searching for something else that won’t make me sick, make my heart stop, or give me ulcers while reducing the pain enough to allow me to function.

Pity the pot didn’t do it.

THE LAST OF THE SILVER SCREEN COWBOYS – Garry Armstrong

A Nostalgic Spoof of Those Great Old Westerns

We watched “Rustler’s Rhapsody” again last night, this time with Rich Paschall who had never seen it before.

We love this movie. It’s an affectionate spoof of the B-Westerns of the 1940s starring Tom Berenger, Patrick Wayne, G.W. Baily (“Major Crimes” on which Berenger has a recurring guest role), Andy Griffith, and Fernando Rey.

The women include Sela Ward, a solid dramatic actress perhaps best remembered as Dr. Richard Kimble’s slain wife in the movie version of “The Fugitive.” There’s also Marilu Henner who riffs on all the “Miss Kitty/Miss Lily” saloon ladies of our favorite TV westerns.

Andy Griffith and Fernando Rey both play power-mad cattle barons. Fernando usually plays an international drug czar and you probably remember him in “The French Connection”. He is slimy sinister personified. Rey and Griffith make a very odd couple. Check out the scene where they argue about who gets to do the countdown for killing the hero. They are hilarious, but Andy Griffith steals the show.

We love the movie so much we owned three identical copies of it on DVD, one of which now belongs to Rich. It wasn’t going to be available for long, so we bought extras. Just in case.


rustler's rhapsody dvd cover

Tom Berenger is The Hero who shoots the bad guys in the hand. Pat Wayne is the other good guy, but he used to be a lawyer, so be warned. Casting Pat Wayne was an inspiration. “Rustler’s Rhapsody” could easily be an homage to his Dad’s ‘poverty row’ westerns of the 1930s. Pat even nails Duke’s acting range of that period.

My heroes have always been cowboys, even the stalwarts of those budget-challenged B movies. I had the good fortune to spend time with two legends of the genre. Buster Crabbe and Jack “Jock” Mahoney.

Crabbe, most famous for his “Flash Gordon” days, contends he had more fun playing the lead in the oaters where the line between good and bad is always clear and you get to wear nice costumes. He considers his westerns as “small classics” not B movies. (Crabbe continued his career into the late ’60s when producer A.C. Lyles revived the B cowboy movie with over the hill actors including Johnny Mack Brown, Rod Cameron, Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson and Richard Arlen among others).

Jack “Jock” Mahoney, known to many as TV’s “Range Rider,” is a former stuntman who graduated to supporting roles as nimble villains and finally established a following at Universal-International, playing literate good guys in lean, well-written westerns. Mahoney clearly is proud of his work in the B movies. I remember the smile on his face as he recalled the fun of being recognized as a cowboy hero.

I think all the cowboy actors I’ve met (Including John Wayne) would heartily approve of “Rustler’s Rhapsody”. It’s an affectionate tribute to their work.

This is the song they play at the end of the movie when the credits are rolling. I love the song and the memories it brings because I’m of the generation that went to the movies and watched those B movies as part of the afternoon doubleheader at the Carlton or Laurelton, the second or third-run movies houses where you could see two movies and a cartoon for a dime. Eleven cents if you were considered an adult. Which turned out to be any child older than 10, but they still made you sit in the kid’s section — which I firmly believed (and still believe) was unconstitutional.

Warner Brothers, 1982. “Last Of The Silver Screen Cowboys” by Rex Allen Jr. and Rex Allen Sr. Be sure to listen for Roy Rogers in the final commentary and chorus!