Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Jew and the Irishman

In 1949, Joe Crosby was a thin and good-looking young Irish-American. He was also a shrewd and talented showman. Lou Brandt was a stocky, middle-aged man from a Brooklyn immigrant Jewish family. He was also an honest and shrewd businessman. Lou and his brother started selling goods from two pushcarts on the streets of Brooklyn and built their business into one of the largest chain of theatres on the East Coast. Expanding their interests, they bought the beautiful Sagamore Hotel on Lake George at Bolton Landing in which Lou and his family took up residence during the summer season. Among other improvements he made to the old hotel, Lou added an outdoor theatre on the hotel property in which only the stage was covered and protected from the weather. The audience sat under the open sky.

Knowing the Barn Playhouse was closed on Monday night, Lou offered Joe a goodly sum to move the closing show to the hotel stage for a one-night performance while the scenery for the coming week’s show was setup on the Playhouse’s stage. However, because of the possibility of rain, Lou insisted on a “no play/no pay” clause in the contract. The terms of the contract stated, in effect, that if the curtain had gone up and play begun, then Joe was entitled to full pay for the evening even if the audience had to leave and the performance halted because of rain.

When the weather was threatening rain, Joe would hurry the last minute adjustment to the scenery and props, while the audience took their seats. My job was to stand in the back of the audience and watch for Lou coming across the lawn from the hotel.

On several occasions, rain drops would start falling and the audience would start to leave. As soon as I saw Lou start out for the theatre, I would hustle backstage and tell Joe, standing beside the Stage Manager whose hands were on the rope that raised the curtain. Joe would peer around the edge of the curtain and watch Lou approach. By now a soaking rain was falling, and the audience was running out of the seating area for the hotel, covering their heads with playbills.

As Lou approached the back of the seating area, we could hear him shouting in his thick New York Yiddish accent: “Crosby, it’s rrraining. It’s rrraining.”

Just before Lou reach the audience area, Joe would quietly announce to the cast: “Places everybody” and to the Stage Manager: “Curtain Up?.

The stage lights came on, the curtain went up, and the actors began speaking their lines.

Lou would stop dead in his tracks in the back of the now empty audience area and shout at the top of his voice: “Crosby, You Irish son-of-a-bitch. It’s rrraining.”

Joe would step out from the wings and down to the edge of stage where the rain fell. With a huge grin he would hold his arms out from his sides with palms turned forward and shrug his shoulders as if to say, “So what?”

Lou’s reaction was to roar with laughter.

The two men, the Jew and the Irishman, stood there in the warm, summer rain laughing until Joe jumped down from stage and they walked arm-in-arm to the hotel, where Joe would buy Lou a drink in Lou’s own bar.

It was a game that Joe always won, but only because Lou let him.

From this experience I learned one of the most important lessons of my life: People with honest and open hearts can bridge any cultural gap with effortless ease.


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