California is full of a lot of things. For years it was known as the land of the fruits and the nuts. Whether that statement referred to its abundant agricultural bounty or to the population mix, I will leave for you to decide. One thing is for sure, California always had an eclectic jumble of people. It was once said that the United States must be on an incline with California at the lowest end, which would explain why anything that is loose in the rest of the country seems to slip right down into California.
We have everything you could possibly want here in California, and more than a few things you wouldn’t want. Take our climate for example. We have four fabulous seasons: the mudslide season, the earthquake season, the Santa Ana winds season, and the fire season. We have vast deserts, a beautiful coastline, sparkling beaches, majestic mountains, and unspoiled forests – all within easy shopping distance to factory outlet malls.
And what we don’t have indigenously (do you like that word?) we take from other places. We didn’t have major league baseball clubs, so we took the Dodgers and the Giants. We can do these things, you see, because we’re California – and anything is possible here. Except maybe getting a decent egg cream.
Yes, California is full of a lot of things. One thing that California is certainly full of is New Yorkers. This brings me to the topic of today’s column, the New York Alumni Association. (They don’t call me the king of blends for nothing, folks.)
The New York Alumni Association (NYAA) organizes reunions for transplanted New Yorkers here in Southern California every year, and this year (its 24th) is no exception. The event is comprised of two parts; the meet and greet “schmooze” part, and the presentations and stage show. The NYAA is the brain child of Lou Zigman, who along with his wife Fran, devotes their time and energy into this yearly reunion. The reunion this year will take place in Beverly Hills on October 10th. Lou tells me that although he is a proud New Yorker originally, he loves Southern California. As he says, “We love California and we cherish New York.”
The NYAA started about 30 years ago when Lou, along with Dr. Mel Goodman and Dr. Steve Matlin, organized the first west coast Lincoln High School reunion. Soon after that, other high school groups started holding their own west coast reunions, and then in 1985 Lou and Fran created the NYAA in an effort to gather together all those who enjoy a bit of nostalgia and who share common pride in their New York roots.
As part of the reunion, each year the NYAA honors a famous alumnus and “adopts,” as an honorary New Yorker, a person they would love to have in their “family.” Previous honorees have included Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Ruby Keeler, Steve Allen, Joe Bologna, Renee Taylor, Martin Landau, Tony Orlando, Charles Durning, Jerry Vale, Connie Stevens, Neil Sedaka, Dick Van Patten, and Mickey Rooney. For many years, Milton Berle played a major role in the event, serving as Chairman of the Board. The honorary chairs today are Jon Voight and Lou Gossett, Jr.
Last year the group honored funnyman Jerry Stiller, and adopted veteran actor Jack Klugman. This year, two singers will be venerated: Bronx bombshell Melissa Manchester will be the honored New Yorker with Ed Ames being the “adopted” one. Ed originally hails from Malden, Mass. The ceremony will be part of a larger entertainment show, which in past years has featured some of the biggest stars in show business. Friars Club comedians Freddie Roman and Sal Richards will be serving as masters of ceremonies.
So what’s a nice boy from Burbank, California doing writing a column about the New York Alumni Association? Believe it or not, even though I was born in Los Angeles and raised in Burbank, I do have some creds in that department. To begin with, both of my parents came from New York – my father from upstate (Syracuse) and my mother from Brooklyn.
Add to that the fact that my wife is also from Brooklyn. I can safely say after 31 years of marriage, traveling back and forth between coasts, I’ve come to know that borough quite well. Besides, it seems almost everyone we know has their roots on the east coast. To put it another way, to quote a title from a Liza Minnelli tune, I happen to like New York.
If you’d like information on the event (reservations required to attend) call (310) 276-2754 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.