Friday, December 3, 2010

We Three Tonys

by Dave the Spazz

Today, on this, the third day of Hanukkah, we once again pay tribute to a very special can of olive oil--one that fueled the consecrated flame in the 2nd Temple of Jerusalem back in 165 BC. Judah Maccabee and his followers, fresh from kicking some Syrian ass in the desert, returned to their temple to find it desecrated and littered with false idols. Only one can of olive oil could be found to light the ceremonial menorah, and while it was a very good brand (blessed by the High Priest of Yochanan, no less) it still was not expected to last more than one night. Judah and his followers naturally were stunned when the olive oil lasted for seven additional nights. Dreidels twirled, latkes sizzled and the "miracle of the container of oil" inspired solidarity and thriftiness amongst the tribes.

Two thousand years later, three exemplary Hebrews rose forth from the land, each one fated to enjoy success way past their own Semitic expiration dates. Each one, as a way to cloak his Jewish identity to better assimilate into society, reinvented himself as a "Tony." There have been other pop culture Jews that dwelt in the Olive Garden of life (think Chico Marx and Jay Black) but none soared as high or lasted as long as this Tony trifecta.

Born Christmas Day, 1912, singer Alvin Morris coasted along the heights of success that spanned the musical tastes of the 20th century. Not long after forming his first band in high school ("The Red Peppers"), Alvin changed his name to Tony Martin, signed with Decca Records and subsequently burned up pop charts nationwide. Tony's fondness for Mediterranean ballads soiled the collective panties of the record buying public and his triumphs in radio, motion pictures and TV proved that his faux-Italian schtick was no flash in the saucepan. Still crooning cantatas as recently as 2009, Tony's career might be considered a twist on the old Italian adage: "Meglio un giorno da Tony che cento da Alvin--Better one day as a Tony than a hundred as an Alvin."

In the summer of 1935, Arthur Rosenberg of Tulsa, Oklahoma removed himself from his place of residence at Northwestern University and traveled to New York City for a complete do-over. Arthur picked up serious chops studying with noted acting teacher Sanford Meisner, who as the creator of the highly regarded Meisner Technique emphasized an emotional realness in his work. Actors were encouraged to "live truthfully under imaginary circumstances" and the newly christened Anthony Randall took that lesson to heart. For the next five decades Mr. Randall channeled his inner fussiness into a lucrative and very funny livelihood that spanned radio, motion pictures and television. His role as Felix Unger in the TV version of The Odd Couple was a master stroke and one which entertainingly defined the second half of his career. Randall's candle burned bright to the end--the acting jobs never dried up and at age 75 he married a woman fifty years his junior who bore him two children. His last film was released one year after his death--2005's It's About Time where he played a character named "Mr. Rosenberg."

In the late 1940s Bronx born Bernard Schwartz had a lot of nothing going for him. Killing time with neighborhood kid Joey Fortgang (the future Joe Franklin) wasn't cutting it, so he slicked back his hair and flew west to destiny land. His good looks brought him some work at the studios and soon bit parts in melodramas led to better roles, eventual matinee idol status, well-deserved critical acclaim and finally a bewigged psychotronic career acting in any piece of crap that was hurled at him. From Spartacus to Lobster Man from Mars, Tony Curtis approached every job with an impassioned gusto that might be described as the Hungarian Jew version of La Dolce Vida. The self-knighted "American Prince" lived hard and fast while his bilious private life kept tabloids and gossipers in business for more than five decades. When Curtis passed away at the age of 85 in September 2010, he took a big chunk of old time Hollywood with him (along with an iphone, an Armani scarf, driving gloves, a Stetson hat and a copy of his favorite novel "Anthony Adverse.")

And so it is, on this, the third day of Hanukkah we pay tribute to three improbable journeys by three Jews named Tony. There's still no explanation as to why that can of Yochanan olive oil lasted so long. Perhaps it was a miracle, a sign from above--one that confirmed that His people were now under His protection. Or maybe there was a Tony Maccabee who passed by the temple to drop off a can of olive oil on his way to getting his chariot tuned up.


"On Moonlight Bay" mp3
by Tony Martin, date unknown.
available on Harbor Lights & Other Favorites

"You're So Vain" mp3
by Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, 1973.
from The Odd Couple Sings
out of print
can be found at WFMU's Beware of the Blog


This is the third of eight posts at the Boogie Woogie Flu, in which eight Jewish writers will discuss the works of other Jewish artists for eight consecutive days in celebration of Hanukkah.

No comments: