The Way He Wore his Hat

The Way He Wore his Hat

POSTED: May 17, 1998

The singer leans against a building, a gray snap-brim cocked high on his crown. A matching handkerchief is stuffed effortlessly in the breast pocket of his suit coat. The coat is black, of course, not brown. The tie is pulled loose and unashamedly lavender. The smoke from a Chesterfield curls toward a street lamp on a deserted corner. The singer’s eyes are downcast. Love’s gone, or at least gone wrong.

That pose, on the cover of Frank Sinatra’s first 12-inch album, In the Wee Small Hours, is more than 40 years old now. To this day, young men walk into Dietz’s hat store on South Street with photographs of the world-weary kid from Hoboken, N.J., hoping to duplicate The Look.

What Sinatra left with his death Thursday night was a legacy not only of song stylings, but of personal artistry.

He had a code of behavior with its own vocabulary – a tight, somewhat threatening world of pallies and Harveys, gassers and bunters. You were in or you were out. Most were out, but if you were in, you were golden.

Sinatra didn’t suffer tightwads or teetotalers. He duked the maitre d’ on the way out, not the way in, with a couple of big bills folded thrice into small squares. He called his Jack Daniel’s gasoline and was so single-handedly important to the distillery’s fortunes that it gave him an acre of sacred soil in Lynchburg, Tenn. He liked his Jack easy: three or four ice cubes, then two fingers of gas, finished with tap water. The flavors needed time to mix and chill. The glass was important, too. A squat old-fashioned glass pleased him. Nothing towering.

Two years ago, Esquire magazine senior writer Bill Zehme cataloged the elements of Sinatra style in a profile called “And Then There Was One.” Zehme didn’t want all the singer had learned about living to die with him.

“Men had gone soft and needed help, needed a Leader, needed Frank Sinatra,” Zehme wrote.“I wanted to ask him essential questions, the kind that could save a guy’s life. I wanted what might approximate Frank’s rules of order.” In December, Zehme expanded those rules into a full-length book, called The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin’.

Sinatra’s rules were his own. The man who owned 60 toupees never had a plastic surgeon fix the scars he bore on the left side of his neck, the results of a crude forceps delivery. “People have suggested to me I ought to hide those scars, but no,” Sinatra once said. “They’re there, and that’s that. Why bother?”

He swore like a stevedore, once calling the women of the Australian press “buck-and-a-half hookers,” but decked a press agent for referring to Judy Garland as a “broad.” He went out of his way to make a lady comfortable. Once, Gay Talese wrote in his classic 1966 profile “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” a Life reporter named Jane Hoag, who had gone to school with the singer’s daughter Nancy, accidentally knocked over an alabaster bird during a party in the home of the first Mrs. Sinatra.

“Oh, that was one of mother’s favorite . . . ” Nancy began, and before she could finish the thought, her father glared at her and walked over to the remaining alabaster bird, knocking it off the table, too. He put his arm around the young woman, telling her, “That’s OK, kid.”

He loved some of the world’s most beautiful women, but he didn’t like them to smoke, yawn, wear too much perfume, dress too casually or show too much cleavage. Mia Farrow said he was a gentle hand-holder.

To the hated press in 1965, he said, “If I had as many love affairs as you have given me credit for, I would now be speaking to you from a jar at the Harvard Medical School.”

And how did he wear his hat? Many ways. He played the angles, the higher the brim, the more vulnerable the effect. “The hat was his crown, cocked askew, as defiant as he was,” Zehme wrote in last year’s book.

Sinatra had a snap-brim for all seasons, each made by Cavanaugh. A black or gray felt would do for cool breezes. Palmettos and straws with wide, pastel bands were right for the tropics. Nancy Sinatra told Zehme that her father wore them to hide his hairline, which began heading north when he was in his late 20s.

The way he put it on was a two-handed maneuver, curling the back brim up and tugging the front down, usually a couple of inches above his right brow. There’s a portrait on the back of Zehme’s book that shows the Sinatra of the ’50s walking away from the camera in a snap-brim and raincoat, down a graceless hallway. The hat is tilted rakishly, toward 4 o’clock. That would be 4 a.m., in the wee small hours, when he was often restless and demanding company.

A new doctor once asked him how much he drank. About 36 drinks a day, Sinatra figured, measuring out a fifth of Jack Daniel’s into rounds. The doctor wondered how he felt in the mornings.

“I don’t know,” Sinatra responded. “I’m never up in the morning, and I’m not sure you’re the doctor for me.”

He and his pallies had their own way of talking – it might as well have been Chinese to the uninitiated, a Rat Pack observer told Zehme.

Sinatra once slowed down to translate a few phrases for columnist Art Buchwald. In addition to Jack Daniel’s, gas was a good situation, and a gasser was someone who got things moving. The opposite of a gasser was a bunter. A Harvey was the sort of square who would walk into a French restaurant and ask, `What’s ready?” He could be a Clyde, too – someone from Dullsville, soon to be exiled to Scramsville, on the outskirts of Endsville.

A happening affair was Mothery, leading to the pairing of couples at Ring-a-Ding-Ding time for, if fortunate, a Little Hey-Hey. A bird was, well, the essential equipment, male and female. After nearly drowning in Hawaii in 1964, Sinatra explained simply, “Oh, I just got a little water on my bird, that’s all.”

He was one rare bird himself.

Differences, yet a bond in reserve

Differences, yet a bond in reserve


By Daniel Rubin, Inquirer Columnist

POSTED: Jun 21, 2009 

It begins badly. 

“Some things never change,” Dad says, sliding into the passenger side and noticing the collection of newspapers blocking his feet. 

We’re still at the airport. We are about to spend the next three days in closer quarters than we’ve shared in decades. I’m not sure what possessed my father to want to drive 26 hours with me, sitting shotgun as I retrieve a son from college in Kalamazoo , Mich. 

But I am grateful for the company, I tell him. 

“I’m not going just to be company,” he says. “I’m going to be helpful. “

We are nothing alike. He’s the soul of practicality. I’m more of a romantic. He believes cars should be cleaned and detailed. I believe they need good speakers. 

He still has his original house key from 1949, and each time he shows it to me, he runs his fingers over its baby-soft edges. I’ve had more than a dozen addresses since I left home. 

The morning of the trip, Dad is up with the birds. “Don’t need an alarm,” he announces, his Boston brogue treating the word as alahm. He is deeply tanned and bald except for longish wicks of silver hair on the sides. His twinkling green eyes are shaded by a pair of wild black eyebrows that would have been the envy of Leonid Brezhnev. 

We share a cup of coffee, then take off, eager to beat the morning rush. I’ve brought a book on tape in case we run out of conversation: Roger Mudd interviewing historians. I thought Dad might like the part on World War II. But we get pretty far on our own stories. 

I tell him of the drive from Kosovo to Montenegro when Milosevic’s army was manning the roads and all I had for company were World Cafe tapes. I tell him of that time in the West Bank when a woman screaming in Arabic stopped a group of kids from tuning me up with a baseball bat – and how it turned out she was from Second and Girard. 

“You never told me what it was like,” he says. 

“Didn’t want you to worry,” I say. 

I haven’t heard much from him about growing up in Boston with a stubborn, immigrant father, and Dad digs down and shares all sorts of memories – how the hardware store began with a borrowed $300, how the cousin who’d come to work on Saturdays would sharpen push mowers while blasting opera. 

By lunchtime we’re out of the Big Woods and running low on licorice. It is Dad’s idea to seek out the DuBois Diner. He devours a local version of the beef sandwich stuffed with fries. As he grabs the check, he wonders whether we can stop here on our way back. 

I yield the wheel, and it is Dad’s luck to drive through two hours of pounding rain. At 83, he still has a steady hand, even if his eyes can’t make out the signs as quickly as they once could. I doze. Mom calls. I thank her for the loaner. 

I anchor the last leg, and Dad narrates the view – the immense flatness, the giant trucks and farms. We debate some of the great puzzlers: why those roadside salt sheds are conical, why barns are red, what the origin is of phrases like “Dutch uncle” and “on the fritz. “

When we finally arrive, Dad doesn’t seem to mind that his grandson Gordon is exhausted from finals and hasn’t done much packing. Or that he heads out for his last Ultimate Frisbee practice, which turns into his last dinner with the team. “I’m not saying anything,” Dad says to me, quietly. 

So I pack. The three flights of stairs to Gordon’s single are too taxing for Dad. He sits in the car, reading about the Civil War. When it’s time to load the Explorer, Dad demonstrates his spacial skills. In all the years of making deliveries for his hardware store, he crows, he never had to leave a package behind. He leaves me room to look out the rearview mirror. 

Dad and I are ready to go by 6 the next morning. Gordon’s still asleep. He’d gone to bed only two hours before. I pace. I fiddle with my phone. When Gordon emerges from his dorm, he moves as if underwater. I can imagine how impatient my dad must be. But Dad’s being cool, so I take his lead and say nothing. 

As I pull onto Interstate 94, heading into the sun, Gordon is already deep in the well, hat on backward, face buried in a pillow. Dad and I look at each other and laugh. 

We’ll have another 13 hours together, so much to talk about. 

“Do you ever use cruise control? ” I ask, fine-tuning the mirror. 

“No,” he says. “I like to control things myself. “

“Exactly. “

No, we are nothing alike. 

NPR’s Edwards will soon sleep in

NPR’s Edwards will soon sleep in

POSTED: April 25, 2004

WASHINGTON — Bob Edwards, the unflappable morning host of National Public Radio, drops his head into his hands.

“I want to die,” he announces in that coffee-and-cigarettes baritone that makes other men sound like they’re wearing short pants.

June Lockhart – Lassie’s mom – is dropping by Morning Edition within the hour. She’s a day early.

Edwards’ producer, Barry Gordemer, has poked his head in the office to explain the scheduling snafu. The veteran actress, in town to celebrate a collection of lunchpails at the Smithsonian, will arrive the same time as the new Medicare chief. And on deck is a Fast Company magazine reporter, to talk about the latest rage in airport convenience: fast-food kiosks.

“I’m not ready for her,” Edwards says.

“What do you want to do?” his producer asks, and Edwards searches through his stack of clippings until he says in a tone familiar to 13 million listeners:

“The daughter of actors Gene and Kathleen Lockhart, June Lockhart made her own acting debut at age 8 . . .”

One week from now, these sorts of worries will no longer weigh on Bob Edwards. He’ll graduate from the lobster shift, the 6 p.m. bedtimes and 1 a.m. alarms. No longer will he slip around his Arlington, Va., house, eat, grab a second cup of coffee, and drink it while driving to NPR, where his steady delivery has made it easier for people to greet the day for almost 25 years.

His reassignment at age 56 to senior correspondent, announced last month with such phrases as “natural evolution” and “changing needs of our listeners,” prompted the fiercest torrent of letters in NPR’s 34-year history.

Listeners complained about the timing, a half-year before Edwards’ silver anniversary. They complained about the thinking, likening it to the “New Coke” debacle.

They took it personally.

“At 6 a.m. I like Bob Edwards in my kitchen – I am comfortable with him,” says Bonnie Graham, 70, an administrator at Temple University’s dental school and one of 22,127 people to sign a petition on “He can see me in my ratty old bathrobe and my bed hair.”

“I feel like a family member has been wrenched from me,” says another signer, Hannah Gardner, a West Chester lawyer. “We need Bob Edwards to be the calming voice – the considered voice rather than that hysterical voice.”


“There was no good time to do this,” says Jay Kernis, NPR’s senior vice president of programming, in a corner office where he and Ken Stern, the network’s executive vice president, perform a postmortem on their public-relations disaster.

When they talk of NPR’s future, they talk of increasing news coverage, providing more context at a time when broadcasters are cutting back on world affairs. NPR, with a $200 million gift from the late Joan B. Kroc, has the ability to fill the void.

While Morning Edition (heard locally on WHYY-FM, 90.9) runs live for two hours each weekday, it repeats with updates until noon. Kernis envisions alternating voices – Rene Montagne and Steve Inskeep have been named interim hosts – and Kernis wants one on each coast, to reflect the sound of the country, not just the Beltway. He favors questioners who have been reporters, he says, so “when they are interviewing a Middle East expert, they themselves have worked in the region.”

Edwards, whom Kernis takes pains not to criticize, keeps close to the studio, leaving for fund-raising trips but feeling that listeners expect and deserve the host to be there when they wake up.

For the last six months, NPR execs had talked of a change. “Too many people knew,” Kernis says, adding that it would not have been fair to Edwards for word to have leaked.

Plus, Edwards was about to go on a several-week leave to promote his latest book, Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism.

“I’m going to give you a different answer,” Stern says. “If we were to do it again, we’d have done it differently.” By not waiting until the anniversary, he said, NPR executives looked as if “we didn’t care about Bob.”

Edwards, host of radio’s most popular morning show, a Peabody, Polk and duPont-Columbia award winner, says he is still trying to grasp what happened, although he is getting used to it. He thinks the top brass tired of hearing him talk.

“I think people have to make changes to put their stamp on programs. You’ve got your old founding pioneers, and [the bosses] figure people have heard them long enough, and it’s time to hear new people.”

Amid an overwhelming wave of support – 35,000 listeners have written in – some dissenting voices have risen. Barbara Noble, a former New York Times columnist who has taught journalism at Columbia University, describes Edwards as a soothing voice but a dismal interviewer.

“You listen to him, and he doesn’t respond to anything,” she says. “I want him to follow up and ask a real question and he doesn’t do it. It’s like he’s phoning it in.”

Jack Mitchell, who in 1974 picked Edwards to cohost All Things Considered, NPR’s afternoon show, liked having Edwards, “a very laid-back, solid guy,” play off the edgier Susan Stamberg. Mitchell, now a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin, was stumped in 1979 when Edwards was drafted to host the new morning show solo.

“But it worked out, and he became something of an institution,” Mitchell says. “You don’t mess with an institution lightly.”

His desk is clear, his bookshelves nearly empty. Edwards hasn’t had the heart to weed out the filing cabinet of letters listeners sent to Red Barber, when the longtime sportscaster fell sick in 1992 and went into the hospital for the last time.

The dozen years of Friday morning phone calls to Barber remain Edwards’ favorite Morning Edition moments, two Southern boys shooting the breeze on the front porch.

Edwards, a Louisvillian in a denim workshirt and jeans, has been at work since 2 a.m., when he fired up the computer and scanned the news wires, culling headlines for the top-of-the-hour bits that set up the day: who is testifying, who is traveling. He writes them on a yellow legal pad in one-word headlines. Then he types them up with two fingers. He still uses a Royal electric.

Then comes dessert: finding the quirky, bottom-of-the hour bits – stories like the one about the bank robber who wrote his demand note on his own deposit slip. “I probably put entirely too much time into that,” Edwards says.

He’s done with this by 4. Fueled by Starbucks French Roast and Benson & Hedges menthols, he records interviews with reporters or overseas newsmakers (by this time, it’s noon in Baghdad) and the canned parts of his program.

By 5 a.m., the show starts, and Edwards folds his 6-foot-4 frame into a studio chair, where, with headphones and reading glasses on, he intones: “This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I’m Bob Edwards.”

When he is not talking, Edwards works crossword puzzles – the Washington Post, the New York Times, and USA Today. That way he can still listen, which he does as his interview with the writer Ernest Gaines runs. Edwards leans back in his chair, hands folded behind his neck.

Off-mike, Gaines had asked him how he was doing with his change. So did IRS Commissioner Mark Everson.

Edwards concedes he cannot hear enough of that.

“I needed that, to tell you the truth. That’s why I am feeling better now. You think you are immune to hurts, and then you get it – you really get it – and it feels bad, really bad.”

On March 23, announcer Carl Kasell stepped into Edwards’ office for their customary early-morning chat. Edwards lowered his voice and asked his old friend not to say anything until the 7:30 a.m. staff meeting, when it would be official: Edwards was out as of April 30.

He brought his wife, Sharon, to the meeting, and said how there are a few stages in NPR life: host, then senior correspondent, then “person of concern” – the sort one has to call building security about.

There were some tears and testimonials, some drinking, and then a mass migration to accompany Edwards for a ceremonial cigarette break outdoors.

As senior correspondent, he will get to choose stories that interest him, and then go out and report them. He will get to share more time with his wife of nearly 25 years, a former NPR staffer. “Big break for her, huh?” he says.

As host of Morning Edition, he was invited to great debuts and parties. “The irony now is that I probably won’t be invited to these things but I am able to [go].”

And slowly his body clock will revert to its natural setting. “I like to stay up late. Left to my own devices, I’d go to bed at 1 a.m. One in the morning is the time to go to bed, not to wake up.”

And he says this last thing completely deadpan.

“I am not a morning person.”

Contact staff writer Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5958 or

Bob Edwards will speak at WHYY at 6 p.m. May 20. A $100 pledge to the station gets you two tickets to the session plus a copy of Edwards’ new book. Information: 215-351-1200 or

A Hard Life In Kosovo For The Baby Boy Named Amerika

A Hard Life In Kosovo For The Baby Boy Named Amerika

By Daniel Rubin, Inquirer Staff Writer

POSTED July 23, 2000

FERIZAJ, Yugoslavia — He arrived in the world to great fanfare, delivered from war and named for his new country.

Fourteen months later, Baby Amerikan is back home, in this heavily policed farming village about 20 miles south of Pristina. His father is out of work. His mother is seven months pregnant. And there is no more space in the four-room house that the toddling Kosovar shares with 14 relatives.

“Things here are not very good. Not very good at all,” said his mother, Lebibe Karaliju, 22, balancing the child on her hip as a dozen family members gathered barefoot in the den and told the story of Kosovo’s most heralded refugee. “We don’t have work here. We don’t have a home.”

When the first flight of ethnic Albanians landed at New Jersey’s McGuire Air Force Base in May 1999, Lebibe Karaliju was already in labor. She’d told doctors in the Macedonian refugee camp that she was seven months pregnant. She was really nine.

“I was terrified that I was going to deliver in the streets,” she said.

The next day she gave birth. Lebibe and Naim Karaliju, 28, called their first born Amerikan, an Albanian spelling, in honor of the land that lifted them from their war-ravaged home.

President Clinton welcomed the tiny U.S. citizen in a letter that spoke of the “bright opportunities” ahead. Strangers sent gifts. Scores of cameras and reporters chronicled his release from the hospital. The picture of the infant clutching a red, white and blue flag ran on front pages across the country, a symbol of America’s largesse, and a promise for a better life.

The dream didn’t last long for Baby Amerikan’s family.

Shortly after moving to Dallas, where a cousin promised to help settle the Karalijus and 25 other relatives, Naim gave an interview to the New York Post in August, complaining that their social services agency wasn’t taking care of them. Agency officials countered that in addition to free rent and food money, the family had income from Naim’s construction job, his mother’s hotel housekeeping work, and government assistance checks for his father.

Still, officials from United Parcel Service dropped by their apartment the next day, offering jobs for both Naim and his cousin. Naim quit his construction job and worked the night shift at UPS for several months in Texas.

But the seed money from the refugee agency was running out. Naim’s 64-year-old mother, Xheurie, didn’t have the energy to continue working as a maid. They knew no English, felt homesick, and worried that they would be evicted from their apartment.

Xheurie Karaliju had left three daughters behind, including one who was pregnant and hiding in the mountains. “I needed to see how they were,” she said.

Bits of news started coming back from Kosovo. The Serbs had fled the village. Naim’s house had survived. Americans had taken over the region, setting up a giant military base nearby. They’d even built a Burger King.

So the five Karalijus chose to leave their air-conditioned, two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with a kitchen full of appliances, and flew home.

Naim’s house was still standing, but that was all.

“It was completely destroyed,” said Lebibe. Serbs had ransacked the interior, then moved a tank into the first floor to hide it from NATO bombers.

Xheurie found her three daughters were safe and her daughter had delivered a healthy girl. But her husband’s brother and his wife were so not lucky.

Xheurie’s husband told this part, the 68-year-old patriarch in a navy beret and trim mustache, wearing a dusty sports coat and vest.

“When we saw them burning houses and shooting, we just left,” said Vehbi Karaliju. “Unfortunately my brother did not. He wanted to wait for his daughter who lived nearby.

Karaliju, speaking through an interpreter, recounted what people told him happened next.

“They came in this part of the town. Soldiers started shooting and burning houses. My brother lived two doors down from my house. So they kicked them out. They directed them to go to Macedonia. They just pulled them out of the convoy of people and just shot them. Serb police did that.”

Vehbi Karaliju rolled another cigarette, pinching stringy yellow tobacco leaves with his sun-burnished fingers. Above him hung a picture from Texas; in it, he is smiling, under a 10-gallon hat.

Widespread terror came relatively late to Ferizaj, according to a report on the village by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Until the bombing began March 24, 1999, ethnic Albanians, who accounted for more than 80 percent of the community of 57,000 people, filled the streets in daytime. But after dark, only Serb bars remained open. Brutal police interrogations and bloody reprisals occurred, the report stated, but in isolation.

After the NATO campaign began, Serb army, police, paramilitaries and armed civilians looted and burned Albanian-owned houses, and began forcing Albanians onto buses and trains bound for the Macedonian border, OSCE reported. The violence reached its peak in early April after NATO bombs hit the army barracks, killing 12 Yugoslav soldiers. Officers rolled through town, shooting, beating and evicting.

Today, the town has a frontier feel, with squat U.S. Humvees rolling through dusty streets, children hawking cartons of cigarettes. The sidewalks bustle with young men and women outside stores that sell Levis jeans, Nike sportswear and Nokia cell phones. There is much rebuilding.

But all of this seemed as out of reach for Lebibe and Naim Karaliju as the Dallas kitchen she still dreams about.

“Can I go back to America again?” Lebibe asked.

She asked whether she could obtain a U.S. passport for her son, because it will make travel easier for him should trouble return. She asked whether someone could take her husband – who before the war had farmed his land and harvested firewood – to see officials with KFOR, the NATO mission in Kosovo. The best jobs, she said, are with foreigners.

“I thought life would be better if I came back,” said Naim, a tall and gaunt man. “I thought at least I’d have a job in the community. If I thought I would [be without] a job for this long, I would never have come back. I thought, Americans are here. Better job opportunities. And I’ll be home.”

Maybe, he said, the fuss about his son’s birth in the United States caused him to become too optimistic. “I was totally imagining things: I would find a job. Be able to provide for my family. I’d rebuild my house.

“I didn’t rebuild anything. I haven’t worked at anything since I got here. Pretty disappointing.”

And there are added worries about his son. “It’s very sad when you cannot feed him properly. I feel bad.”

South Philly’s Illustrated Man makes his start in motion pictures

South Philly’s Illustrated Man makes his start in motion pictures


By Daniel Rubin, Inquirer Staff Writer

POSTED July 29, 1998

Joe Tartaglia, the Illustrated Man of the Italian Market, is late – 15, 20, 25 minutes – so we’re sitting with his dad in the family stand at Ninth and Ellsworth, watching two chickens peck romaine under a table of $5 straight-to-video bargains, when in saunters the man, apologizing.

“I was delayed,” Tartaglia says.

He’s been working the street, talking up his movie. It’s his first film, a short feature about the market, and its Philadelphia premiere is Saturday. In May, it was voted audience favorite at the New York Independent Film & Video Festival. Tartaglia had submitted it for the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema, as well, but he missed the deadline.

The film is called Punctuality.

“I’m always late,” he says, barking a cloud of smoke from a Kool. “That really is the inspiration. ”

He is a beefy guy in a sleeveless black T-shirt and shorts with a silver hoop piercing his left eyebrow and a good 28 tattoos. He’s Old World meets Gen X in one beautiful package. His inkings started with a caveman, who soon acquired a cavewoman to drag across Tartaglia ‘s left shin. Then they multiplied.

“It’s the only money I ever spent that I can show for,” he says.

There’s a scorpion, a dragon, Jesus, a Raphael cupid, St. Sebastian – the patron saint of his grandfather’s hometown in Sicily.

“I did it for my father to make him happy.”

“I’m so happy,” his father, also named Joe Tartaglia , says straight-faced.

And well he should be. When his younger son, Frankie, was 11, he won a national young comedians contest that got him on HBO. And now, his older boy has made his mark – a ripe, R-rated cinematic slice of the street brimming with bookmaking, loan-sharking, shakedowns, lovemaking and spaghetti.

“I wanted to give people a story about South Philly,” says the movie mogul, age 28 – give or take a couple of years. “South Philly people are one type of person. Then there’s the rest of the world. I’m not saying everyone from South Philly is like these characters. But they exist. ”

We go walking, up the street where a Tartaglia has sold food or wares since the Illustrated Man’s great-grandfather peddled parsley from a bushel basket around 1912. It’s an occasion to staple a movie poster on the few feet of South Philadelphia real estate that he’s somehow missed.

A van stops outside Pat’s Steaks and two big men hail Tartaglia . It’s King Arthur, the DJ who’s been promoting Tartaglia ‘s film on WNJC-AM. They chat a while. No one in the cars behind them cares to honk. Then it’s Joe One-Arm, a.k.a. Pony Joe, stopping his truck in the middle of busy Ninth Street to shoot the breeze.

“He’s in the movie,” Tartaglia says, jerking his thumb as some kid named Anthony walks by. “Him, too,” he says, passing another teen.

“She’s in the movie,” he says, outside his father’s place again, only there is no one there, except the two loose chickens. It turns out he’s talking about the female, Snowball. She’s in the movie.

Now we’re at his headquarters, the storefront at Ninth and Annin with the giant Sicilian armada flag and his grandfather’s bocce trophies, a few Tony Bennett and Dean Martin records, and stills of Brando from The Godfather, De Niro from Taxi Driver and Jackie Gleason from The Hustler.

This is Dronehead Productions, named for a phrase his Uncle Tar used to describe a human meatball. Seated on a giant couch is Tartaglia ‘s cousin Salvatore D’Angelo, a restaurateur, and Lou Manzotti, a variety store owner. They’re in the movie.

Manzotti is in mid-conversation, even though he’s just starting. “So the New York screening is over and we’re heading for dinner when this guy comes up to me from Warner Bros. To make a long story short, he goes, `Are you Lou Manzotti? I’m doing a film with Paul Newman and James Woods. ‘ He said, `I love your acting. Have you ever had acting lessons?’

“I said, `No, but my mother did. ‘ ”

Tartaglia used no professional talent to make his lively, rough-hewn 55-minute debut about an art student’s introduction to the local mob. Tartaglia , who never took a film course during his time at Community College of Philadelphia, put an ad in a local paper for actors. “I knew everyone who called,” he says. He gave the cast an idea of what he was looking for out of the script that he wrote with a friend of his brother’s. He encouraged improvisation.

Ron Jacobs, a neighborhood kid who moved to Atlantic City and then Las Vegas, fronted the cash, which is heading toward $100,000. Tartaglia , who supports his wife and two children by working at both his father and mother’s stores on Ninth Street, put up about $5,000 himself, including the $200 to rent the AMC Olde City at 11 a.m. Saturday for his hometown debut.

And he’s nearly got the 400 seats filled, which would help bring some return on his labors, except that he’s been giving away all the $10 tickets.

“I don’t care,” Tartaglia says as he pokes into Iannelli’s bakery, laying a VIP pass on the kid behind the counter. “It’s like a dream.”




By Daniel Rubin, Inquirer Staff Writer

POSTED Dec 07, 2003

We didn’t know about Rosa Lewinsohn when we decided to have our sons’ double bar mitzvah in our once-bombed Berlin apartment. We didn’t know about any of the old ghosts, not by name.

I had often wondered who was living in our building when it was hit. Sometimes at night, when the place was quiet and everyone tucked in, I would stand in the living room, with its mismatched pine floors and missing stucco, and try to imagine what had happened.

My landlord blamed the British, though perhaps he was just being polite. In early 1945 the British and the Americans were taking turns pounding the German capital – 84 air raids in the first three months alone. When he renovated the place after buying it a few years ago, he found he couldn’t get rid of the small, dark stains in the wood, no matter how much he sanded them. Phosphorus, he said. Firebombs.

I liked to picture that Nazis were living there when retribution thundered through the roof of Droysenstrasse 5 and into our top-floor apartment. More likely, it was ordinary Berliners. There were lots of them. Maybe they were the sort who looked down on Hitler. Maybe they hid Jews.

Maybe they did nothing.

What we did know, after three years of living in Berlin, was that our apartment, with its high ceilings and soiled past, had come to feel like home. And so it felt right to cap our stay with a coming-of-age ceremony, a benediction in a haunted space.

Berlin was where we faced our own demons, where, for the first time, I became truly aware of myself as a Jew.

Our first Hanukkah, one of the boys had worried about lighting the candles in the kitchen because everyone would know. So, together, facing our neighbors across the courtyard, we placed the menorah on the windowsill, and talked about how it had been a couple of generations since the Holocaust, and how the Germans were condemned to live with their horrific past.

When, 20 years ago, my wife-to-be invited me to visit her sister in Kaiserslautern, in hilly southwestern Germany, she sweetened the offer by saying we could borrow her sister’s Mercedes.

I couldn’t imagine it.

Growing up, my family never owned German cars or appliances.

Germany was the last place I wanted to see.

But when the opportunity arose to move there in 2000 for a posting as a foreign correspondent, I leaped. As we readied to go, my wife, by now mother of two boys named Rubin, found herself in the travel section of a Borders bookstore, frozen before a photograph of a Berlin synagogue guarded by armed police. This, I tried to assure her, was a good thing. This was progress.

My first day, I met neo-Nazis. I was riding by train to Hellersdorf, a grim suburb in the east where hundreds of skinheads were rallying. My translator and assistant, Claudia Himmelreich, brought water and clean towels in case the police used tear gas. She brought her blond 5-year-old, Martin, for protection. No one, she reasoned, would pay much attention to a family.

Scores of antiriot officers piled into the train, riding with us until the next-to-last stop. Inexplicably, when they got off, equal numbers of skinheads got on.

As I patted Martin on the head, asking how his Easter had been, we faced a carful of pale, sullen teens in white-laced Doc Marten boots and LONSDALE T-shirts (worn under an oxford shirt, the letters NSD show – the only legal way in Germany to advertise the initials of the old Nazi party).

Scores of them packed the train – standing, sitting, steeling themselves for a confrontation with the waiting antifascist protesters.

It took a few minutes to realize I was as good as invisible. I wondered if they had ever seen a Jew before.

The neo-Nazis didn’t trouble me in Germany as much as the trees did. We’d be driving on the autobahn and pass dense, dark stands of pine and birch, and my imagination would supply the dogs, the long army coats, the machine guns. In 1941, when my Russian grandfather was raising a family in America, the Jews of his old shtetl town, Vilkomir, were taken into the woods and shot.

Gradually, these night fears of mine disappeared, their places taken by a grudging admiration for a difficult people who deal with reality. I had been told that the famous German smugness would melt away in the presence of a Jew. They’d become tongue-tied, tortured.

What I found, instead, were people who were relieved I was there, and not making much of it, as if they were being given another chance. I felt like an ambassador – not particularly religious, but sharply conscious of what I was and who I came from and how it was important to be Jewish in Germany because I could, and so I had to, and so did our boys, if they wanted.

We had one slight problem in our quest to have them bar mitzvahed: The boys weren’t Jewish – at least not in the eyes of the German Jewish community.

While the Reform and Reconstructionist movements in the United States see the boys as Jews, German Jewry does not. The central organization believes a mother’s religion determines a child’s. My wife, who was raised Presbyterian, had observed Jewish traditions but hadn’t converted.

So in Berlin we were twice-a-year Jews, marking the major holidays with friends at home. The neighborhood synagogue required men and women to sit separately, which my wife found unacceptable. The one temple that permitted men and women to sit together conducted its services in German and Hebrew, which was good for the mystery but not for the meaning.

We found our solution in Walter Rothschild, a round, bearded, British-born Reform rabbi with a quick mind and a weakness for bad puns. He liked the challenge of preparing two boys who hadn’t studied Hebrew in three years, and who had only 10 weeks to prepare.

Before the service, my wife made a choice: We would stand together as a family, as Jews. We traveled to Wuppertal, a western German city, where she and our sons sat in a synagogue with bulletproof windows and talked with a panel of rabbis about being Jewish. The day ended with Mimi and the twins plunging naked, one at a time, into ritual baths. “Jesus!” my son Gordon cried as he hit the frigid water. “Hmm. Can’t help you,” replied Rabbi Rothschild, our sponsor.

Germany was officially three Jews the richer.

On a bright Monday morning in June, our scarred living room was transformed into a family synagogue, folding chairs facing a table on which the rabbi unfurled an ancient scroll. Our dog sat at our feet and barked at the doorbell. Only as the ceremony began did I realize that behind the Torah, instead of the traditional ark, was a large poster of the sleeping Groucho Marx, cigar in hand – our guardian angel.

From the Book of Numbers, the boys read their portions in Hebrew, then in English. Nicholas described how the Jews, fleeing enslavement in Egypt, bathed themselves in the ashes of a red heifer, hoping to purify themselves. Gordon told how the Jews found their faith tested when Moses’ sister, Miriam, died and their water, coincidentally, disappeared.

The rabbi, addressing an audience of Germans and Palestinians, Australians and Dutch, explained everything, and paraphrased Woody Allen: “Being Jewish is a wonderful experience that everyone should have, once. ”

We finished with the Mourner’s Kaddish, the Aramaic prayer for the dead, the several-thousand-year-old words drifting into the courtyard for all to hear.

It was a few weeks after we arrived back in America that we learned whom we had been praying for. Claudia had tracked down the paperwork about our building during the war years.

There may have been Nazis in Droysenstrasse 5 the day it was bombed. We don’t know. But the building held other horrors.

Rosa Lewinsohn had lived there. So had Alfred Gruen and Emmerich Friedmann. They were members of more than a half-dozen Jewish families who had called our building home before the war.

By 1943 there were none.

It shouldn’t have surprised me, but I never considered there would be Jews in that space. I never sensed them in my apartment. It just felt, surprisingly, comfortable.

In 1941, as the Nazis were making good on their plans to cleanse the Reich of Jews, a farmer named Arnold Kunheim bought the building under a law passed to remove property from Jewish hands.

The records suggest that many who lived in our building were able to flee in time.

By Aug. 25, 1942, it was too late for Ludwig Leo Jacobson, 75. He was deported from our building to Theresienstadt, the Czech ghetto for the elderly and the prominent, where he died three months later.

A half-year later, Elsa Kahn, 62, followed her neighbor there. She lasted two months.

And Rosa Lewinsohn ? She was 57 on Jan. 29, 1943, when she was herded onto a 1,000-person transport headed east. They killed her at Auschwitz.

I wish we had known about her and the others. All we have today are their names and a few facts, dutifully recorded by the Nazis. We would have said a prayer for them, stood as their names sounded once again in that sunny apartment with the mismatched wood and stucco, the indelible stains now accompanied by the memories of a family’s new start.




By Daniel Rubin, Inquirer Staff Writer

POSTED: Oct. 28, 1999

On the mornings he could get out of bed, Marvin Friedman liked to drive across the river, seeking the Chester of his boyhood.

Bulldozers had claimed the damp chill of the coal cellar on East 14th Street, where his older brother, Alton, built astonishing radios out of copper wire and Quaker Oats boxes. Closing his eyes, Friedman could still conjure its smell.

Gone was the closet where Mother stored the winter rug every Memorial Day, after sprinkling it with moth balls and swaddling it in newspaper. She’d shake her head when Charlie’s ice cream truck would come by every afternoon at 5:30, right as Captain Midnight signed off the radio.

Who eats ice cream at this hour? she’d ask, pouring cold borscht into tall, thick glasses. “I don’t understand goyim. “

It’s a curious tonic for clinical depression, trying to find peace by wandering a city of ghosts.

But for Friedman, 69, his visits to the place where most of his family lies brought him comforting memories of a life with “warmth, security, no migraines, no Maalox, no mortgages. “

They also brought the West Trenton artist a second career.

In the early ’90s, Friedman emerged from a decades-long funk only to find his illustrations no longer in demand. He had worked for the best – the New Yorker, Playboy, the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, the New York Times. If he wanted to draw the pilot’s view on a transatlantic flight, Boy’s Life sent him to London. Every Gourmet magazine featured three Friedman sketches from restaurants too fancy for his meat-and-potatoes palate. A new art director wanted photographs, not drawings.

Inspiration for the artist’s latest works – his reminiscences of Chester and an idiosyncratic collection of portraits he calls “Sitting Jews,” now on display at North Philadelphia’s Rodeph Shalom synagogue – came from scribblings Friedman made during that hopeless time.

He’d stay up at night, slipping desperate messages under the door to his sleeping wife and children, pleas such as: “Van Gogh cut off his ear. We’ll make it. If Jasper Johns could do it, I can. Please bear with me. “

They did. His wife, Sonny, saved the notes and they made it into collages made later and shown in Princeton – kaleidoscopic images of family weddings, vanished street signs, scenes from porn flicks and Post-its from the depths.

He soon noticed that people were spending most of their time reading his emotional words. That’s when Friedman started working in pastel watercolors and pencil, each work accompanied by a lengthy, hand-scrawled narrative, complete with misspellings and scratched-over words. The pieces preserve now-shuttered shops and the longings of his adolescence, memories of one uncle who slept in a separate room from his wife, and another whose wooden leg clicked and clomped up the back stairs.

An agent has helped Friedman secure a book deal from Algonquin Press. The Chester pieces will become the middle of Friedman’s illustrated memoir. It will start with his grandparents’ travels across Russia, Germany and Poland, bound for Ellis Island. The end will be his sickness and the way he worked his way back.

Depression first closed in on Friedman in 1972, while in Los Angeles, sketching Bonanza for NBC.

“When I’d wake up in the morning, it was like someone dropped a Baldwin locomotive on my head. It was difficult to stand. ” He searches for the words. “Ever had a spinal tap? You’re dead. You know you’re alive, but you’re dead. As many times as this happened, it still frightened me. “

Friedman is tall and duckpin-shaped, his gray trousers held up by suspenders that resemble tape measures from his father’s old hardware store. He wears a mandarin-collar shirt, buttoned at the neck. His white whiskers are short. His hair is long on the sides and wispy. The top exists only in memory. His voice is torpid, which makes the streams of profanity with which he embroiders his stories all the more effective.

His worst bouts would last three or four days. “I’d sit on the couch and couldn’t function. I couldn’t read, couldn’t watch TV. ” His four children would eat their dinner at the end of his bed. His son brought in a stereo and put on Richard Pryor records. Friedman fell out of the bed, laughing – the first levity in months. For 15 years he worked in fits and starts as his wife supported the household from her work as a receptionist. Medication and hospitalization helped, he says, but his family’s sticking with him made the biggest difference.

Lately, he’s been capturing in watercolors and words the stories of ordinary people. He calls his Rodeph Shalom show “Sitting Jews” mainly because he has captured the temple’s families on couches in their homes.

“I work in a square, which to me is the most perfect shape there is. If you have standing Jews, the figure is so small in the surroundings. [This way] I can cut them off at the knees. “

His wife would drive him to his subjects’ homes, where he’d turn on the tape recorder and ask questions.

He asked a 7-year-old girl if she was married. He asked the rabbi where he bought his suits, what kind of car his father drove. “Not rabbinical questions,” Friedman says. The rabbi had to ask the curator of the exhibit, the woman who’d seen Friedman’s work at the Cherry Hill JCC, what sort of pieces this guy was doing.

In his text, you can see Friedman comparing his models’ lives with his, trading memories of fathers’ shops and quirky relations. After talking for a few hours, he’d take their pictures, then go home, where his daughter Michele transcribed the tapes.

He did a similar exhibit at a Pittsburgh temple. Next is Hebrew Union College in New York.

“The only way I can make a living,” he says, “is to aim as casually as I can to people who might buy the paintings after the shows. Some do, some don’t.”

He says this in his converted garage amid the sycamores and pines off River Road in West Trenton. He lives with his wife and Misia, a Siamese cat.

Their cottage is filled with artwork – his and his grandchildren’s – pictures of Jack Benny and George Burns, and laminated bits of personal history, such as the announcement of his engagement to Sonya “Sonny” Grayboyes, of 5478 Berks St. She was a graduate of Pepper Laboratories at the University of Pennsylvania; he of the Philadelphia Museum School of Art, now the University of the Arts.

He remembers getting into the school on the strength of his copies of Norman Rockwell drawings. He went there for three years; then his father got colon cancer, “and I had to go back to the damned store. ” His father made him promise he’d finish.

Friedman’s done a piece on the Ridley Park hardware store that his father bought at age 50. “He taught me to make keys and to cut glass,” he wrote. “The keys never worked and the glass always broke. He tried to teach me how to put wagons and bicycles together. It took him 10 minutes. It took me three hours and then they were never right. . . . God, what patience he had with me. How I miss that little store. God, how I miss him. “

One more piece is dedicated to Dad: It shows the grille of a Cadillac, the car his father always wanted to ride in.

“I told him when I became a famous artist, I would buy him one,” the text reads. “He was a dreamer, who all of his life wanted to play the piano but was continually demeaned and discouraged by his family. He failed in so many businesses that his sisters told him he should drown himself. “

In 1939, his father bought a green Pontiac, and on Yom Kippur “he was able to buy seats near the front of the synagogue along with his sisters. I think he was finally content. In 1959 a goddamn cancer began a vicious war that decimated him in 9 horrific months. The funeral was on my 21st birthday. The hearse was a Cadillac. “