Wrote this a while back for the SouthWest Manuscripter's club to which I belong. So, for your amusement, if you have time and interest.
On Stage at 'The Stage Deli'
C Donald Abrams 2016 1,998 words
Chutzpah, of the innocent type, is what I had when I ended up as a host at the world famous Stage Deli in Manhattan in the entertainment district at the tender age of 19.
Russian émigré Max Asnas, restaurateur, and his brother Hymie manned the helm, having built a following for their famous sandwiches and Max’s quips to the customers. They were in a competitive rivalry with the Carnegie Deli up the street. But long time host Paul was the iron lip and firm military-like personality that ran the show on the restaurant floor; even when either Max or Hymie was around, as they mostly schmoozed the customers and let Paul be the general domo.
Being a young romantic from upstate New York with songwriter dreams, I kowtowed to Paul’s abrupt and ferocious style of management on the floor of the deli to make sure I kept my job.
But that didn’t keep me from getting excited when surrounded by a constant stream of celebrities from many facets of the entertainment world. Or guffawing when Soupy Sales was in one time, and, sticking his head only, out from the curtains that secluded the rest rooms, he yelled, “Is this the train to Buffalo?”
Or one winter night when Ted Nugent of the Amboy Dukes came in on a break from recording their latest album, and handed me his Afghan coat. And then he tipped me five bucks when they left, for taking good care of it! That was class!
I didn’t have a chance to say anything to Pearl Bailey, or Irving Berlin, or Totie Fields, or Mitch Miller, as they took their seats at tables to enjoy the lavish piled-high corned beef or pastrami sandwiches, as they were too involved with the people they came in with then.
But I did have the ‘chutzpah’ to ask Rod Serling if he could get me in the writing school he was paid to sponsor. Well he didn’t…but instead he recommended to me to check out writing courses at New York University! Guess he wasn’t that enamored of the company that paid him to pitch their Connecticut writing school!
Of all of the autographs I got back then, (somewhere stored in a box) I was thrilled to get drummer Buddy Rich’s, because I played the drums as a teenager and he was one of the best drummers ever, especially in his era.
Then there was the time, (Oh, must I tell this? Ahggg!) that singer Ray Charles came in to eat. I was a big fan of newcomer singer back at that time, the Welsh fireball, Tom Jones.
Loved his version of the “Green, Green, Grass of Home.” Let it be known that he also did a roaring version of “Georgia” composed by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell. Now I know you all realize that Georgia was a huge hit for Ray Charles as well, and that his was the first really big seller of the song. Well I, in my enthusiasm for Tom’s singing, said to Ray with my usual enthusiasm, “Did you hear Tom Jones’ version of Georgia?” I don’t remember his answer, if any!, but I do remember being so red facedly embarrassed later on when I realized what I’d done; bringing notoriety to Tom for a song that Ray immortalized! Oy vey!
Oh, did I mention Joe the cook? He liked to come up behind me when I didn’t know he was there, and yell really loud, “YOU!” I’d always jump a mile! Still have a picture of him and of Hymie stashed away somewhere. Doesn’t the time fly?
Or Benny the Bull, the waiter who was gruffer than gruff? Or was it the tall Israeli host Izzy who was gruffer? How they loved to hover over patrons that they thought overstayed their welcome at a table. They’d keep making some kind of snide remarks, trying to get the patrons to leave and free up the table for new customers! Only in New York City!
We had one waiter, forget his name, who lived only on pure honey! He was a corker. Could carry six cups of coffee, i.e. two cups on top of the bottom ones. Talk about high strung!
One time I found a large bill on the floor. Was it a twenty, a fifty, or a hundred? Can’t remember. Too long ago. Ok, so I was poor then, just making it. I kept it. Will I go to hell?
During the World Series that year of 1968, Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals came in to eat, as many other sports figures did too, but I was a baseball fan, and excited about his stellar performance that year, and when I didn’t get a chance to wish him well and congratulate him while in the deli, I raced out to the sidewalk where he was entering his limo and congratulatory shook his hand before he left!
Then of course, the Woody Allen story. This was later on, when they promoted me to cashier. As he was paying his bill, I actually had the chutzpah to ask him if we could go to lunch someday so I could show him some of the songs I’d written, that he might like to use in one of his films. Did I really do that? Oy vey!
And then I was the first person to tell Tom Poston, the actor, that Max
had recently passed away, as Tom was paying his check and asked about Max.
I remember getting really excited when Aretha Franklin was in NYC to
record for Atlantic Records. A take-out order came in to us at the Stage
Deli for their studio, but I just couldn’t figure out for the life of me how
to get a message to her and get over there myself to let her know about
Ever run into someone who was so out of it, that they didn’t even know who they were, it seemed? Like a bull that just glares at you and you don’t know if and when he’ll charge you? That was comedian Shecky Greene, who one night came in very late in the wee hours, just before closing and simply wouldn’t leave! That was a little scary, as he was seriously drunk. I think it was senior host Paul, a tough guy himself, who got him to part company with us into a cab. Paul was all hard exterior, but on a personal level, he kind of warmed to my natural friendliness and enthusiasm at the very end of my term at the Stage Deli.
Later on, after the Ray Charles debacle, I actually got to meet Tom Jones in the wings of the Copacabana club, before his first appearance there. My lead guitar player, Ronnie, from my upstate New York days, and I had gone to the club in our band tuxedos. They were dark blue with tiny red roses. We thought they were very stylish, but Tom, being the nervous jokester type (compounded by one of the biggest opening nights of his young career), said, “What are you doing in your pajamas?” We were chagrined, of course, by the star dissing our outfits, but stayed for the show and man, what a backup band he had! The Shadows was their name and they were smokin’. A good vocalist can become even better with the right back up, whether an excellent band, or like Tony Bennett, with his superlative pianist, Ralph Sharon. They give that extra ‘juice and élan’ to the performance.
One other time, around then, at the Copacabana, I ran into Ricky Nelson somewhere in the maze of the backstage corridors. I was stunned…there was the teenage idol himself! And he was a fairly tall young man, too. I excitedly told him about my songs, and he wrote the name of his publisher on a card to give to me, politely trying to move me along as did so many who came in contact with this very enthusiastic young songwriter. Really, my middle name then could have been ‘enthusiasm’.
And Chip Taylor, who wrote, “Wild Thing”. He was working at Taylor and Blackwell publishers as an A&R man, and I got to pitch my songs to him in his office. He didn’t bite.
Tom Jones? Wasn’t over yet! When he first came to the USA, he headed straight to the Fontainebleau in Florida for his first gig.
So, somehow, I found out he was going to stay at the Warwick Hotel on 54th street in Manhattan when they left Florida to come to Manhattan and play the Copacabana. I put my KLH stereo system in a cab, took the cab to the hotel, posed as a delivery man, and put the record of my song on the turntable, so that when he and his manager, Gordon Mills, got in from Florida, they’d find my stereo and record there waiting for them.
Even later, I met at the Stage Deli, the gentleman who was Tom Jones’ musical arranger, Les Reed. Les and Tom’s manager, Gordon Mills, had co-written Tom’s hit, “It’s Not Unusual”. My enthusiasm the winning hand, Les invited me to hang out with him at his hotel for a bit, and we talked songwriting and key signatures for vocalists, and the music biz, and of course my own songs!
Did I ever get published? Well, yes, actually. On Central Park South was the east coast manager for Hank Sanicola’s west coast publishing company, a fellow named Sol Parker.
Hank was Frank Sinatra’s original manager and ‘song plugger’. Sol ran the NYC office. I ran into Sol in a coffee shop near his office and I don’t remember how the conversation started, (I talk easily), but he invited me to bring some songs to his office a few days later. I had written a song about the hippies titled, “The Loving Generation”. (Remember this was ’67-’68 and I was from near Woodstock.) Sol made a couple of changes to the song so he could get half the writer’s credit and sent it out to California where arranger Artie Butler (who arranged for a vast amount of well known performers over decades, (Andy Williams, Anne Murray, Bette Midler, Connie Francis, The Drifters, etc) had a young singer name Tony Gato record it for Capitol Records. It was a bust. Think there’s a royalty check I have stuffed in a suitcase from forever ago, worth about $2.47 cents.
I’ve included the credits for fun.
Tony Gato - I Love You And You Love Me / The Loving Generation - Capitol - USA - 2192
… 1968, Track A: I Love You And You Love Me, Composer: Harold Spina, Producer: Voyle Gilmore, Arranger Artie Butler, Track B: The Loving Generation, Composer: Sol Parker,_xxxxxx xxxxxx_________
As an aside, Sol told me back then that he and Hank wrote the song, “This Love of Mine” just for the money. They let Sinatra add a few lyrics and gave him full lyric credit as; “words by Frank Sinatra”. That’s how it’s listed on the sheet music. Still, it’s very a lovely song and I enjoy playing it on piano to this day.
During my brief few months at the Stage Deli, I had built up a very cordial relationship with Max’s brother, Hymie Asnas. Well, 1968 seems far away and long ago to me now, but to give you a sense that NYC hasn’t changed much, about four-five years ago, I was in Manhattan with old friends and we were walking past the Stage Deli, (It’s long since changed hands, was a franchise for a time, and, who knows what the status is now). But anyway, I popped my head in the door on a fairly quiet afternoon time at the deli, and asked the current host, “Whatever happened to Hymie Asnas?” His answer was as succinct as New Yorkers can be. “Dead”, he replied and walked away.