Friday, July 5, 2013

Henny Youngman - lunch at The Friar's...

I booked a show into one of the ‘summer sheds’ – amphitheater venues in upstate New York – in the summer of ’89 or so. The budget was $20K, $15K for the headliner, $5K for the opener. I put Tony Bennett in to headline, but could NOT find anyone on the roster who was open on that date and had the weight to carry the $5K. I didn’t want to lose the date for want of a package and had heard that Henny Youngman was listed in the Manhattan phone book. I dialed 411. Sure enough, they had his number.

I called. He answered. I introduced myself. “Oh, APA! Wonderful agency!  How are ya?” Fine, Henny, how are you? “Me? Very funny…” I explained the date. “Tony? We’re old friends – known him for forever. What’s the offer?” Um, $5000. ”Let me check if I’m open, (two second beat), Yes! Open!” So, you’re listed in the phone book…? “Sure – why not? I don’t owe anybody and money.”

The date played. Everybody was happy. And Henny had my phone number. I asked if he was represented. “I’m like the CIA, I’ve got a 1000 agents. I live across the street from William Morris – if things get tight, I hang a sign in my window, ‘book thy neighbor’.”  I started laying in the occasional date. We became friends.

Henny had a ‘service’ – this was pre-answering machine – and when they picked up, a heavily accented, female voice would answer, “Henny Youngman, king of the one linahs.” If I called at around noon, leaving my name, as often as not I’d hear, “Mistah Broggah – Mistah Youngman said you can reach him at the Cahrnegie Deli – you want the numbah?” No, just ask him to call me.

One day Henny called out of the blue, “You want to have lunch with me tomorrow at the Friar’s Club?” Wood eye, wood eye?!  I called Tim Sarkes, assistant to the head of the NY office, Roger Vorce,  and a stone Henny fan. Want to come along? I could hear the YES echo from down at the end of the hall.

Tim and I arrived at the Friar’s at 12:30 PM exactly. “Mr. Youngman’s table? Follow me” At the first four-top to the right as you entered the dining room, sat Henny and an old boyhood friend of his from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I told him my father was from Bay Ridge. Henny looked at me. “You a Square Head?” Yup.  A Square Heard was a street name for Norwegians (I guess they wore some strange hats, probably merchant seamen gear). Norway had the largest merchant fleet in the world in the teens and 20’s and the Norwegian Seamen’s Church was in Bay Ridge. The place was lousy with Norwegians; my father said you could walk six blocks in any direction, and hear Norwegian on the street. Henny eyed me, “You look like a Square Head.”  I am what I am…

Every comedian who walked in had to pass our table, and HAD to stop and spritz with Henny.  Joey Adams, Pat Cooper, and every guy who had ever worked Grosingers, The Concord or any room in ‘the hills’, stopped and paid homage. And traded smart remarks. I wish I could remember the exchanges; it was the stuff of lore. At one point, Henny wanted to make a call. The waiter brought a phone and plugged it into a jack under the table. Henny picked it up. It didn’t work. “Waiter… this phone is like my brother-in-law…”

I’ll never forget that afternoon. Thought I’d died and gone to show biz heaven.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Leagal writing & another nerd wigbubble (of mine)...

In the late 60’s I made a run at law school. I lasted one year. Flunked out. What can I say.  Agency Partnership did me in. But I enjoyed a great deal of it. Property Law – wherein you need a detailed diagram to figure just who owns what and when, with lots of history intertwined in the maze of ownership and bequest. And Contracts and Torts; discussions of the nature of agreements and the anatomy of liability. The study of this arcana is presented in the form of case law consisting of a statement of facts, and the presiding judge’s ruling. The student is to gleam form this piece of prose the Issue at hand (which is always stated as a question, e.g. ‘does a contract fail when based on a mutual mistake of fact?’)  In examining these cases I was often struck by the power of the prose I was reading, particularly when written by one of ‘the masters’, Hand, Holmes and (especially) Cardozo.

Benjamin Cardozo eventually sat on the US Supreme Court where he authored som 100 opinions. But the bulk of his work came, rather, on the NY Court of Appeals. His decisions there (some 700) did a great deal to define the law as it affects both Contracts (agreements) and Torts (negligence and liability). His writing in these decisions has a cadence and brings the power of concrete images, simply expressed, to the resolution of complex issues. In Palsgraf v The Long Island RR he enunciated the concept of the “zone of danger” wherein injury can occur, but that the injury must be foreseeable by the individual alleged to have caused it in order for liability to attach. - thereby giving birth to the Palsgraf Rule in tort law. “The Palsgraf Rule… means that a negligent conduct resulting in injury will result in a liability only if the actor could have reasonably foreseen that the conduct would injure the victim.” The ruling served to put a full stop to what could be an endless cascade of consequence.

I have looked in vane for the actual case decision (locked behind Nexus Lexus or some such thing) to show first hand the power of his prose.

In yesterday’s NY Times, a piece appeared on Justice Elena Kagan describing her clear and concise style of writing. She, like Cardozo, was not a career judge. They both came up through the court system as trial lawyers, use to persuading, simplifying and convincing. It shows in their writing. Below is the link to the piece on Justice Kagan.