It was the first time I attended the New York High School Annual Reunion put on by the New York Alumni Association and what a blast it was! My wife, a graduate of Midwood High in Brooklyn, and I arrived with friend and New York alumnus Lee Delano. Guests dined on gourmet New York cuisine such as hot dogs, deli sandwiches, knishes, pizza, Chinese food, and Carvel ice cream. Now if they could fly in New York egg salad and tuna fish sandwiches they’d really have something.
Walking around the patio area, it is hysterical how everyone stares at everyone else searching for their old school mates. People looking into the faces of those passing by, and wondering if that fat, old, bald guy could be the handsome curly-headed football star of New Utrecht back in 1967. Or if this little gray-haired lady eating the knish in the corner is the same cute co-ed from Madison drama class in 1959.
After the reunion came the award show, which was an absolute knockout. New York Friars Club comics Sal Richards and Freddie Roman were masters of ceremonies and absolutely killed the audience. I can’t tell you when I laughed as much as I did that night. Norm Crosby, Steve Solomon and Scott Record contributed to the laughs and I must tell you, this is what stand-up is all about. Young comics today could take lessons from these pros, and should.
Watching these guys perform brought back memories for me of the great stand-up comedians that I used to see on the Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson and Steve Allen shows. Guys like Henny Youngman, Jan Murray, Danny Thomas, Myron Cohen and Alan King. Freddie Roman of course is a legend among stand-up comedians. One of the last of the Borscht Belt comics, he was a regular in the Catskills and, as a matter of fact, had a very successful Broadway show called Catskills on Broadway a few years back. And Sal Richards got his start in the Catskills too. Most of those comics back then were Jewish. Richards is Italian but he’s funny enough to be Jewish.
In addition to laughter we had great music filling the room. New York Alumni Co-Chairs Louis Gossett, Jr. and Jon Voight presented the awards along with Connie Stevens and Monty Hall. Honorees Ed Ames and Melissa Manchester performed their hits. Ed Ames, who at over 80 looks and sounds better than ever, sang “They Call the Wind Mariah,” “My Cup Runneth Over” and “Old Man River.” Melissa did the wonderful Cole Porter tune “I Just Love New York” a cappella followed by “Midnight Blue,” “Come in from the Rain” and “Don‘t Cry Out Loud.”
Also performing was Lainie Kazan and British star Toni Morrell. There simply is nowhere else on Earth that you could possibly see a show of the caliber that was put on that night. The talent on stage was phenomenal—it had to be because there was as much talent in the audience as there was on stage. Among the audience members were Mitzi Gaynor, Jack Carter, Rose Marie, Charlotte Rae, Theodore Bikel and Martin Landau.
Lou and Fran Zigman are to be congratulated for putting together the greatest show of the year that most people don’t even know about. It’s the best kept secret in show business. Fortunately for me, I was introduced to it by my friend Lee Delano who put me on to Lou a few months ago. Now, after attending the event, I feel like an honorary New Yorker myself. Must be something in the food. I only wish they had filmed the entire show and made it available to buy on DVD. I know an awful lot of people who would love to have a record of that night (probably everyone in the audience for starters).
I’m told that plans are already in the works for next year, which will be the 25th Annual New York Alumni Reunion. Let me tell you this, if it’s only half the show this one was, it will be tremendous. Bringing New York to L.A.—what a concept. The only things missing are the bridges, tunnels, the Oak Bar at the Plaza Hotel and Bemelmans’ paintings from the Carlyle. I’ll suggest those to Lou for next year.