Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Who's Almost Who In Knickerbocker Village History: Al Lewis

I'm pretty confident I found Al in the 1930 census. He was 8 year old Alex Meister and he lived at 117 Liberty Avenue. I hereby grant him "who's almost who status by virtue of his:
1. Connection to the Rosenbergs
2. The fact that this address was four blocks away from Sue Schumer (Sider)and her family
3. The fact that he could have attended Thomas Jefferson High School at the same time as Moe Nathanson.
Part 2 of the Al Lewis Interview:
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: I armed myself with facts and figures. You know what I mean? You know, but that’s how my mother was. My mother, you know, a little lady and fearless.
AMY GOODMAN: “Grandpa” Al Lewis on Democracy Now!, April 10, 1997. He died this past Friday in Roosevelt Island at his home. We will come back to the interview that Bernard White and I did with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: The theme of The Munsters. “Grandpa” Al Lewis was one of its stars. He died this past Friday in Roosevelt Island. We’re going to go back to the interview that I did with him with my colleague at WBAI, Bernard White, on Democracy Now! It was April 10, 1997.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to W. E. B. DuBois for a minute. As you, a few years later—
AMY GOODMAN:—a few decades later when you met him, from the story you are telling about your mother. What was he like? And how did you find his concerns and what he talked about similar to what your mother cared about?
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: My meetings with the good doctor were not social meetings. I never—pardon me, I think I was once in his house at Grace Court, when he lived at that beautiful house.
AMY GOODMAN: In New York City?
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: By the river. Near Hick’s Pine, Orange, Pineapple, you know, in that area. I think I may have been there once, and that was some kind of a party—I don’t remember. Arthur Miller had a house there, Norman Rosten had a house there. I don’t know. It was some kind of a party or something. My conversations were never lengthy conversations. I would meet him at certain situations where he needed protection, you know, all kinds of crazies in this world. You know what I mean? And I was there to trump an ace. You know what I mean?
And so we talked five, six, seven, eight minutes and, you know, and as again, I would say the good doctor, as far as I can remember, never participated like—tonight is a demonstration, you know, in the killing, you know, of this young man Cedeno. Now the good doctor wouldn’t be in the crowd. He would address the crowd if they asked—you understand what I’m saying? And so, if he had to go there to address the crowd, me, guy named Popeye and a few other guys would make sure that there ain’t no crazies around, you know, and if they are, you pay the price. That’s it.
AMY GOODMAN: So he didn’t join demonstrations?
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: I’m sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: He didn’t join demonstrations?
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: Well, I don’t know what you mean by joining them.
AMY GOODMAN: He didn’t march.
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: You mean, did he march with a picket sign? I never knew of him to do that. I knew him even before he married Shirley, you know, Shirley Graham. In his later years he married Shirley, and then they both went to Tanzania, because of the trial—you know, arrested and handcuffed—embarrassing
AMY GOODMAN: Why was he arrested?
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: So-called Smith Act communist. Why was Paul Robeson? They took his passport away. You know, it’s like Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
AMY GOODMAN: You knew Paul Robeson?
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: Oh very well, very well, very well. Knew him very well. Oh, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you get to know—
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: Knew him first as a football player. Yessiree, All-American, and it’s a damn shame—you are not supposed to say “God damn.” Can’t say that, because a lot of these Christian people listening are going to jump up in the air. But it’s a damn shame that he’s not in the football hall of fame. That’s right. He was a great, great football player. Besides, most people don’t know he was an LLB. He was a lawyer. Had his law degree. Didn’t practice but he had a law degree. Yeah. Brilliant man. Brilliant linguist. Great singer. Great actor.
BERNARD WHITE: So how—you used to hang around with him also?
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: Yeah. You know, hey, you know, with the boys. Boys in the hood.
AMY GOODMAN: Remember this one?
BERNARD WHITE: I think I hear you clapping.
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: Yeah, that’s me.
AMY GOODMAN: 1965, Paul Robeson.
PAUL ROBESON: [singing] When Israel was in Egypt’s land / Let my people go / Oppressed so hard they could not stand / Let my people go / Go down, Moses, way down Egypt’s land / Tell old Pharaoh / Let my people go.
BERNARD WHITE: I’m really glad that you went into acting.
BERNARD WHITE: I’m glad that you went into acting.
BERNARD WHITE: Because singing is not your thing.
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: No. But you don’t understand. You see, you don’t understand. I have been in musicals on Broadway, and they asked me, “Do you sing?” I said, “Yes, I sing poorly, but passionately.”
BERNARD WHITE: That you do.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you sing on Broadway?
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: Last thing I did on Broadway was Do Re Mi, a musical, Comden and Green, Jule Styne, Phil Silvers, Nancy Walker.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you sing?
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: 1960—let’s see. We opened Christmas week. David Merritt was the producer. Garson Kanin was the director.
AMY GOODMAN: But what did you sing?
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: What did I sing?
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: What did I sing? Oh I sang—I didn’t have a solo, obviously. It was white backlash, I think. Great—there was one great song in there that Julie wrote, may rest in peace. [singing] Make someone happy / Make just one someone happy / And you will be happy, too.
I sing better than you, Bernard. You know that?
BERNARD WHITE: Oh, come on now. We’re going to have to have a contest.
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: I agree. You know me.
BERNARD WHITE: You still say that, and you’ve heard me?
“GRANDPA” AL LEWIS: Yeah, you know why? Because you don’t sing with feeling. You know, funny thing. I was—years and years ago, what’s his name—first name, Wilson, the black band leader. He had a jazz show in L.A. on KGOL, I think it was, and he was interviewing the conductor, Zubin Mehta, you know, famous, world-famous conductor, and Zubin said a very interesting thing. They were talking about—they had played a record or something, a gospel song. And he said, “For me, it’s not judging whether the singers are great or spectacular or just okay, but when I hear them sing, I believe them.” Hear that? Now when I sing, they believe me!
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Al Lewis. In a few weeks, he’s going to be celebrating his birthday on April 30. He’s going to be 88, and what a life he’s led through this 20th century. When he finished up the Broadway run of Do Re Mi with Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker, he was summoned, along with Fred Gwynne, to test for The Munsters, and we’re going to talk about that with him when we come back. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: And that was “Grandpa” Al Lewis, interviewed April 10, 1997. His age—well, there are different stories about his age. While he was alive, we thought he now was 95. But it turns out, according to his son, in fact, he died at the age of 82. He died on Friday at Roosevelt Island where he lived. Our condolences to the Lewis family.

No comments: