A Meeting at the Iguana
He sat there so quietly with a sweet smile on his face at his table in the Iguana in New York City. He welcomed the attention. Most folks came over, at the least, to say hello. I was one of them but I don’t think many knew that he joined a small list of EGOT. Huh? Translation:
He won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. Whew! He received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2008, a Hollywood Walk of Fame star in 1910, and even more, when it came to comedy films. Blazing Saddles, The Producers and Young Frankenstein topped the list. Enough!
Mel Brooks was born Melvin Kaminsky some 90 years ago in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up there. His father’s family were German Jews; his mother’s family were Jews from Kiev. Brooks grew up in tenement housing. After seeing his first Broadway show at age 9 (he managed to get free tickets), he declared that he was “absolutely going into show business.” And boy, did he go! He said of his father’s death at age 34 (from kidney disease), “There’s an outrage there. I may be angry at God, or at the world, for that. And I’m sure a lot of my comedy is based on anger and hostility. Growing up in Williamsburg, I learned to clothe it in comedy to spare myself problems – like a punch in the face.” In addition to all of the above, he served in the U.S. Army in World War II as a Corporal defusing land mines as the Allies advanced into Germany. So the small, sickly boy who was bruised and teased because of his size was and is truly gifted and much to admire. Mel Brooks married Anne Bancroft (also much to admire). In 1964, Brooks credited her with having been “the guiding force” behind developing The Producers and Young Frankenstein for the musical theater. Saying of an early meeting with her, “From that day until her death, we were glued together.” Their son, Max Brooks, was born in 1972, and their grandson, Henry Michael Brooks, was born in 2005. They were sitting with Mel at the Iguana the night I was there and were obviously enjoying his company. Frankly, I was thrilled when he smiled at me even with his long list of admirers present.
More than a Dummy’s Sister
How would you feel if you were described as “Charlie McCarthy’s little sister?” If you are Candace Bergen you certainly would be irritated especially since folks were referring to her father’s star dummy. At age 11, she began appearing on her father’s radio program (ah yes I remember watching those programs regularly). When she grew up she thought she would like to design clothes. That ambition disappeared and was replaced by her working as a fashion model. That was before she took up acting. She also was featured on the covers of Vogue. Finally grown up she starred in several movies. I became a fan when in 1988 she took the lead role in the sitcom, Murphy Brown. In that series Candace Bergen played a tough television reporter. She won Emmy awards and Golden Globe awards for her ten seasons as the title character. Although she began her career as a fashion model, she made her screen debut in the 1966 film “The Group”. Many other film roles followed. Bergen was born in Beverly Hills, CA. Her mother, Frances Bergen, was a Powers model. We know that her father, Edgar Bergen, was a famous ventriloquist, comedian and actor. Her paternal grandparents were Swedish born immigrants who anglicized their surname which was originally Berggren. When she took the lead role in the sitcom Murphy Brown, she played a tough television reporter. The series provided her with the opportunity to show her little seen comic talent and although primarily a conventional sitcom the show did tackle important issues. I clearly remember what happened in 1992. Vice President Dan Quayle criticized her for showing the Murphy Brown character “mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it another lifestyle choice”. Quayle’s disparaging remarks were subsequently written into the show with Murphy shown watching Quayle’s speech in disbelief at his insensitivity and ignorance of the reality of the lives of single mothers. Bergen’s run on Murphy Brown was extremely successful. A frequent host on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, she was the first woman to host the show and the first host to do a second one. She also made guest appearances on many other TV shows. I recently enjoyed her work in the movie “Book Club”. Do you find it an interesting fact that since she was a political activist Bergen accepted a date with Henry Kissinger? She married French film director, Louis Malle. They had one child. After Malle’s death, Bergen travelled extensively. It helped that she spoke French fluently. She is currently married to NY real estate magnate and philanthropist, Marshall Rose. With all of the above plus, the more I learned about this lady the more I admired her.
How I Got In Tune
I grew up in a house that was filled with music! And it was the music of the 1920’s and the 1930’s. On my 16th birthday, my mom and dad gave me a wonderful gift – a baby grand piano (a Hardman Peck – a detail for the music aficionados). So, we moved over my mom’s upright to make room for that beautiful instrument. The result of having two nicely tuned pianos – duets! And guess who our audience was (a man nicely tuned in himself) – my grandfather sending lots of applause after each number (of course, I would stand up and take a bow!). And what kind of music did we play – the music of the 20’s and 30’s! I got lucky – I met Vince Giordano. And what was his favorite genre– jazz, early jazz. Giordano is a music historian and collector. And when I say collector – that’s for sure! He’s collected more than 60,000 scores and he’s not even an older man. He’s in his 60’s (that sounds younger to me every day). We became friends, and I learned that when he was five he listened to the music of the 1920’s on a wind-up Victrola. (I’m hoping my readers know what that is!) When he was fifteen he played string bass and bass saxophone professionally and took lessons from the best to learn about writing arrangements such as (you guessed it) the dance bands of the 1920’s and 30’s. I was lucky enough to go every Tuesday night to the Iguana, a dance club on West 54th Street in NYC. There, I became acquainted with Vince and his 11 piece Nighthawks Orchestra. But wait – there’s more! I was invited to sing with those marvelous musicians. Their favorite song for me and the band’s, too (and the waiters at the Iguana) was “Pennies from Heaven.” They even joined in – of course, always “In Tune with June!” What a joy! What a wonderful group of musicians. How lucky for me!
You can e-mail June Sturz at firstname.lastname@example.org.