On Tuesday,November 26.2012, a great Bronx-born but Brooklyn-bred American Jewish hero, Marvin Miller died. The Malach Hamoves (Angel of Death) claimed him at age 95. His daughter Susan cited liver cancer as the cause but, denied elevation to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, Miller, an outstanding economist and labor leader, may have succumbed to a broken heart.
Several years prior, at the Workmen’s Circle building, I shared a podium with this protean figure. Deeply honored and almost speechless, I greeted him in Yiddish. Why? According to my late mother, at the Workmen’s Circle — home of mame loshen (mother tongue) –one must speak Yiddish. Moreover, I pointed out that baseball’s peerless union leader, Marvin Miller owes his success to the Golden rule, that is to say the Harry Golden rule. Dress British. Think Yiddish.
To this paradigm, add a social conscience, rooted in trade union culture, grounded in prophetic tradition, and leavened with core values — and you have an unbeatable force. Marvin Miller recalled that his father worked in lower Manhattan dispensing tsadaka (charity) and wisdom in Chinese, English, and Yiddish.
by Joe Dorinson I grew up in the Williamsburg Housing Projects and lived there from 1939 to 1960. To qualify for residence in this FDR crafted New Deal experiment in public housing, you had to be poor. That didn’t bother my lifelong friends, Irving, Ivan, Mike, Vinny, Bernie, Richie, Leslie, Barbara, Howie and me because we were all poor. Fineshmecker snobbery did not appeal and we thought everyone was in the… Read More »Growing up in the Williamsburg Housing Projects
The ‘mouth that roared’ is silent, but in her life Rivers gave voice to outsiders and women.
by Joseph Dorinson, published in The Jewish Week, Fri, 09/05/2014
Born in Brooklyn in 1933 to Russian immigrant parents, Dr. Meyer and Beatrice Molinsky, Joan grew up in the shadow of an older sister and with many complexes. “I was so fat; I was my own buddy in camp.” Despite her carefully crafted comic persona, she actually was a brilliant student, a graduate of Barnard College with high honors in 1954.
Ignoring her parents’ pleas, Joan pursued a career as an actress, dancer, and singer. But comedy provided a better fit. A long apprenticeship that included performing in the Catskill hotels (because she had a car and agreed to drive her male peers there and back), a stint with Chicago’s Second City ensemble, many night clubs, and some “toilets” ultimately led to success capped by a brilliant ten minutes on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in 1965.
Billed as a writer, Rivers, who changed her last name at her agent’s suggestion when she entered show business, was 32 when she vaulted into stardom. Her early shtick, with shades of traditional Jewish humor, featured self-deprecation, especially about her allegedly “ugly duckling” appearance. In fact, before multiple cosmetic surgeries, she was actually quite pretty if not drop-dead gorgeous. For example (from critic Sarah Blacher Cohen’s essay “Unkosher Comediennes”):
“On our wedding night, my husband said: ‘Can I help with the buttons?’ I was naked at the time.”“You’ve heard of A Cup, B Cup and C Cup. Well, you’re looking at demitasse.”“Dress by Oscar de la Rental; body by Oscar Meyer.”
Coney Island, a special place for “R and R,” beckoned to moviemakers. In many ways a freak show in the early years of mass entertainment, it became a vital part of popular culture–and, of course, fodder for the movies. A 20th Century Fox movie starring Betty Grable capitalized on both name and association. Perhaps, the best film inspired by Coney was a semi-documentary, The Little Fugitive about a little Bensonhurst boy, Richie Andrusco who runs away from home and school. Made in 1953, it won rave reviews among the cognoscenti.
Coney’s Brooklyn neighbors invited cinematic treatment too. The Brooklyn character answered deep-rooted needs in the kaleidoscope that is American culture. Often pegged to the lowest common denominator, shades of Phineas T. Barnum, Hollywood moguls offered national audiences a proliferation of dumb blondes, laconic cowboys, precocious children, refined Englishmen, and a host of other gargoyles. They took certain recognizable traits and magnified them as the Brooklyn New York type.
When Walter O’Malley—author Pete Hamill’s choice for the third most evil man in history—pulled the Dodgers out of Brooklyn with the bibulous Horace Stoneham in tow, this baseball tycoon drove a dagger deep into our city’s heart. Our borough minus the Dodgers is like Romeo bereft of Juliet, corned beef on white bread, Abbott less Costello, and Steve Lawrence sans Edye Gorme. As the poet wrote: “After such knowledge, what forgiveness?” Who, besides a brainless Supreme Court, argued that baseball was a sport, not a business?
Since 1957, despite the resurgence of Yankee power and the birth of the Mets, there has been a void in New York, New York. That vacuum, which Mother Nature abhors, will be filled when HBO Productions in conjunction with major league baseball airs a documentary film, Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush. This wonderful voyage back in time to our “Glory Days” (the title and the subject of an excellent exhibit that once “played” at the Museum of the City of New York as well) under the aegis of executive producers, Ross Greenburg and Rich Bernstein with able assistance from Brian Hyland, Amani Martin, Ezra Edelman, and Caroline Waterlow evokes another time and a revered place in New York City, no, American history.
Narrated by Liev Schreiber, currently starring in Donovan, this engrossing film opens with a splendid view of Brooklyn’s Great Bridge, which couples art and technology in high fidelity. The camera eye fixes on Manhattan; then retreats into Brooklyn, where the film’s principal narrative charts the heroic odyssey of Jack Roosevelt Robinson and his pilgrim’s progress into mainstream America by way of Brooklyn. Fortified with “talking head” testimony from Dodger teammates Duke Snider, Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, Clem Labine, and Ralph Branca and enriched by the recollections of Rachel Robinson, his beautiful, articulate, and courageous wife, the film features amazing footage of this “American Samurai,” re: David Halberstam, in action. Before Jackie’s advent into major league baseball, black athletes projected either brute force: Jack Johnson and Joe Louis or gifted clowns like the Harlem Globetrotters. Black stereotypes pervaded film, radio, and graphic arts.
Our house, the Bible teaches, is one of many mansions. Frank Sinatra whose 100th birthday we celebrate this Saturday, December 12, 2015 began his great ascent to the room at the top in 1935 when he broke into show business on Major Bowes’s Amateur Hour. His rise, over Judy Garland’s rainbow, personifies the American Dream. His achievements have earned this self-styled saloon singer a permanent perch among the icons in our pantheon. Most studies of Sinatra, however, pay little attention to his politics; hence this effort to shed some light on a neglected but important subject.
Sinatra’s political education started at home in Hoboken, New Jersey where his mother, Dolly Graventi Sinatra functioned as a ward-heeler. In return for favors extended to recent immigrants who flocked to Hudson County, she garnered votes for the Democratic machine. Realizing that politics is the art of accommodation, Dolly filled a vacuum that our Founding Fathers and their progressive children in rigid deference to their waspish values had created. Thus, when semi-literate indigent newcomers needed coal to heat their cold-water flats, turkeys to feed their hungry children at Thanksgiving or jobs for family survival they turned to the urban bosses. High-minded sentiment and lofty sermons on rugged individualism, moral responsibility and civic duty did not suffice. Following in the wake of Irish politicians, Dolly Sinatra was always there: to help as well as to reap rewards. She got her husband Marty a job in the local fire department and opened a saloon during the era of prohibition. And in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, she bought a four-story house.
by Joe Dorinson In song, Bob Dylan declared: “The times–they are [were] a-changing.” Joe Louis fell out of favor in the 1960s, a turbulent period of jangling discord and generational conflict. Images collided in this decade: love beads, miniskirts, Beatlemania, bombing in Birmingham, marching to Selma, setting sun in Alabama; rising sun in Japan. Out of these cultural collisions came a hero who was both black and beautiful: Cassius Clay.… Read More »Muhammad Ali
By Joe Dorinson The recent death of civil rights lawyer Jack Greenberg as reported in the New York Times (Obit, Oct. 13, 2016) recalls the once close, though later frayed link between American Jews and African-Americans in the common quest for social justice. After our successful second induction ceremony into the BJHI Hall of Fame, attention must be paid to this one-time Brooklyn resident for posthumous induction for his exemplary… Read More »Samuel Leibowitz: A Mentsch for All Seasons
By Joe Dorinson Contact with Henry Foner, an outstanding union leader, political activist, and talented musician, resulted from my bid to honor Jackie Robinson with a major conference at LIU Brooklyn, then my home away from home for thirty years. With a modest budget, I tried to get a galaxy of baseball luminaries, journalists, writers, broadcasters, historians, students, and fans to attend. Someone—I forget who—suggested that I contact Henry Foner.… Read More »In Remembrance of Henry Foner
The technical storage or access is strictly necessary for the legitimate purpose of enabling the use of a specific service explicitly requested by the subscriber or user, or for the sole purpose of carrying out the transmission of a communication over an electronic communications network.
The technical storage or access is necessary for the legitimate purpose of storing preferences that are not requested by the subscriber or user.
The technical storage or access that is used exclusively for statistical purposes.The technical storage or access that is used exclusively for anonymous statistical purposes. Without a subpoena, voluntary compliance on the part of your Internet Service Provider, or additional records from a third party, information stored or retrieved for this purpose alone cannot usually be used to identify you.
The technical storage or access is required to create user profiles to send advertising, or to track the user on a website or across several websites for similar marketing purposes.