My Grandfather

My grandfather, Sol Drelich at work in his Brooklyn lunchenonette

My folks are doing some minor redecorating down in Florida. They had a closet rebuilt with shelves.

Of course rebuilding a closet also means cleaning a closet. Everything came out and my folks started to sift through things they hadn’t seen in years. That’s what takes the most time, because you really want to savor every bit of history you find.

As is so often the case, my mom kept a lot of memorabilia┬╣. I’m glad she did. The picture attached to this entry is part of the haul. It’s my grandfather, Sol Drelich, taken in the restaurant he owned, probably sometime in the pre-war 1940s.

The prices jump out first. Imagine paying that today!

What’s not so obvious is my grandfather. He came here from Poland. He chose to leave Poland rather than serve in the army.

When he came to the United States he had nothing. He spoke no English, only Polish and Yiddish. In New York City, that was OK. There were thriving communities where Polish or Yiddish were all you needed.

He worked hard as a waiter, learned English, met my grandmother, Rose, and started a family – my mother, Betty, and her sister, Norma.

As time went on, Grandpa bought his own restaurants. With his partner Nat (always referred to simply as “Spiegel” – his last name), he owned a series of luncheonettes. By the time I was old enough to know what was going on, they owned a little place right at the foot of the stairs of the Rutland Road Station of the IRT.

I loved that little restaurant. When I’d go, taking the subway all the way from Queens, Grandpa would show me off like a trophy. I didn’t realize that at the time – though I do now.

He also let me work behind the counter, where I’d pour coffee, get Cokes and generally slow things down. From time-to-time I also worked the register.

I remember being at the cash register, at the front of the store, when a policeman came to pay his bill. There were always policemen there. Grandpa ran to move me out of the way.

It was only later I found out, police officers ate for half price. Captains, lieutenants and other supervisors ate free. Coffee was always free for anyone in uniform, police or fire.

Was that illegal? I’m sure it was.

I know why Grandpa did that. Having cops in his restaurant in this very tough neighborhood was good for business. If it were my business, I might do the same thing.

There’s a lot of me that comes from Grandpa. My quick temper – unfortunately – is one part.

He always talked to me as if he knew I would be a success, even though he didn’t know at what. There was never any doubt that I’d go to college and make something of myself. He wanted me to be more successful than he was.

As a little kid Grandpa took me aside more than once to tell me about the Nazis and their concentration camps. That’s where his entire family was killed. He knew his stories scared me, but that was the point.

I can close my eyes right now and see him, in front of his little Cape Cod in Laurelton, Queens, telling me. We stood face-to-face as he went through it piece-by-piece; how the Nazis would herd the Jews and send them to “take a shower.”

Grandpa has been gone a long time now. He never got to see me on TV. I wish he had. I know he would have been very proud, even though he would have preferred me becoming a doctor.

I wish you could have met my grandfather. You would have liked him.

┬╣ – As long as I’m mentioning my parents memories, I should give a plug to the little video I produced about how my parents met.

Quizzzzzzz-master

I was speaking to someone tonight about game show hosts. I’ll let you in on a poorly kept secret – I’ve always wanted to be a game show host.

I remember the classic Mary Tyler Moore Show episode when Ted is asked to host a game show. Lou, trying to stop him from making the move says, “Ted… is that what you want to be… a quizzzzzz-master?” The “z” in quiz prolonged, to make the point.

That night I yelled at my TV – “YES! I do.”

I’m not sure when or why the job started to appeal to me. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that as host you always knew the answer to questions, even when the contestants didn’t. Maybe it’s because, as a kid growing up in New York City, most of my local TV heroes also hosted game shows.

Back, sometime in the early sixties, I actually went to a live broadcast at 30 Rock. I don’t remember the show, or who the host was. I remember Wayne Howell, the announcer.

Wayne warmed up the audience. Considering my age at the time, it was probably my first experience seeing standup. He was very funny. The jokes were very corny. There is one joke Wayne did that day that I have stolen as my own.

The floor director counted down the time to air, saying “one minute,” “30 seconds,” and finally “10 seconds to go.” At which time without missing a beat, Wayne Howell said, “If you have to.”

The audience screamed, and we were on our way. Forty years later that cheap, little joke still has significance to me. He pulled it off so well.

There have been some excellent hosts. Looking back at the old tapes on Game Show Network, I can see why I loved Match Game’s Gene Rayburn. He was so fast on his feet and always listening, making him topically funny.

Even when he used a contestant’s flub as the butt of his joke, he never came off as anything but nice. It’s easy to make a joke at someone else’s expense and look mean. He was masterful in avoiding that trap.

Bill Cullen was another great host, but in a different way. He was more of a bright everyman. I don’t remember him throwing one liners, but as with Rayburn, he was always listening and responding.

The most important on-air quality for a host to possess is his/her ability to make the audience believe he’s rooting for the contestant. Watch Pat Sajack spin the wheel in the final round – always finding big money. It’s no accident. I think viewers sense Pat is consciously doing that, and subconsciously they like it and him.

Bert Convey was that way too. Though he did a number of shows, I think his best work was on Tattletales. Tattletales was a show where celebrity husbands and their (now divorced or deceased) wives would be quizzed on what they knew about each other. It was similar to, but less low brow, smarmy or sexual than the Newlywed Game. Convery was everyone’s friend, always helping.

I’d like to throw Chuck Barris into this mix for his work on the Gong Show, but I suspect I was watching one very stoned individual who would be incapable to duplicating his performance while straight. I really don’t know that, but it’s my assumption.

And there’s Chuck Woolery, Allen Ludden, Bob Barker, Tom Bergeron, Ken Ober, Regis, and a host of others who’d be offended if they ever came across this site and saw I left out their name. That’s life – get over it.

Without game shows I wouldn’t know about the Michael C. Fina Company or Spiegel – Chicago 60601 or that it was McCormick in the east and Schilling in the west (or was it the other way around) or remember Kathy Lee Gifford as Kathy Lee Johnson, when she was adorable and sang 5 seconds at a time on Name That Tune..

As is often the case in the performing arts, it’s not just the game ,or just the host, but a plethora of interlocking imponderables that make for a success or failure. Chuck Woolery never had the success with Wheel that Pat Sajack does. A number of different hosts tried doing syndicated, nighttime versions of the Price is Right – without success.

I’ve seen Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, from Singapore, hosted by The Flying Dutchman (a morning disk jockey there). Same set, same music, same game. It needed Regis.

Who knows if I’ll ever get the chance? I’d move heaven and Earth. It’s a crap shoot, I suppose. Whether I’m talented or not, being the weatherman in New Haven is probably not a huge selling point. Though I’m immature for my age, it might be said that I’m too old.

I hope I’d be good at it. It would be fun to find out. I think I already know how to play the game.