Star of the award-winning feature film documentary, '"Holes In My Shoes"' , Jack Beers (1910–2009) was known as "New York City's Strongest Boy". Jack turned out to be a real Jack of all trades - a strongman, a self-taught structural engineer (working on most of NYC's iconic buildings), built Radio City Music Hall, indirectly shortened WW2 through an invention of his, put the spire on the Empire State Building, trained show boxers, and acted in over 200 films. He grew up in extreme poverty in the Lower East Side of New York City, born in his parents cold water apartment on East 6th Street. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Austria. He sold newspapers on the corner of Avenue B and 10th Street and played in Tompkins Square Park. Jack and his siblings took many jobs as kids to support the starving family. They had potatoes and potato soup every day. The gathered fallen coal from the coal truck to keep the house warm. He had 3 brothers - Manny, Julius and Hy, and one sister, Lilian. Jack's journey was incredible. He was blessed with unique strength and trained from a young boy in Tompkins Square Park on his body. He soon got a job working for a weight training company and met one of its board members, Jack Dempsey. He went to Coney Island as a teenager and studied under Warren Lincoln Travis. At 17, he was performing shows to clubs and theaters, most famously at The Lambs Club near Times Square, performing to film stars of the time. He was on the cover of New York City newspapers and was labelled as New York City's Strongest Boy. After a fight in the pool hall over an antisemitic remark, Jack's hand was broken and he decided to go into the ironwork trade at Fasslers Ironworks in the Lower East Side, near his house. Jack's boss was the Buildings Commissioner of New York City at that time, Sam Fassler. Jack ended up working on NYC's most famous buildings, notably the erection of Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall, where he personally erected the famous marquee and stairs inside. He was at the opening night, viewing it from the projection booth. The show was over 5 hours long. He kept the program his whole life. He taught himself to walk the steel beams at great heights. Then, Jack went on to become a self-taught structural engineer. He became so accomplished that he was asked to be one of the general foreman on the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He worked for Stone & Webster. After the war, in 1950, Jack was responsible for erecting the famous spire on top of The Empire State Building, for General Sarnoff and RCA. It was to be their radio tower. In the 1950s, because he couldn't have children with his wife, he put all his energy into training boxers and showed them at the Westminster Dog Shows throughout the 50s. In the 1960s, Jack continued his structural engineering work and worked on the erection of Lincoln Center. Over his career he worked on NYU, City Hall, The Museum of Modern Art, every Con Edison building, Macy's, Gimbles, George Washington Bridge, The World's Fair, and many more. In the 1960s, Jack decided to audition for a role in George Segal's film "Loving". He got the role, acted on the film for 12 days, and proceeded to have minor roles in over 200 films (including 7 Woody Allen films and 5 Arthur Hiller films). His biggest role was in a NYU film school short called "Rosey & Jonesy", directed by David Wachs (director of "Holes In My Shoes"). That ended up on PBS American Playhouse (1984). As Jack entered his 80s and 90s, he became a little less active, but continued to drive, clean and cook for himself, ride a stationary bike up to 3 miles per day, do his own taxes, wash and iron his clothes, mow his 5 acres (20,000 m2) of lawn with a tractor, cut down trees, you name it. He made the film "Holes In My Shoes" when he was 94. He made a music video of "When You're Smiling" when he was 97. Jack Beers died just before his 99th birthday. Mayor Bloomberg has recognized him and he has had a day named after him in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Jack Beers On 10th Street
It's called Holes In My Shoes We've posted about Jack before. Once we thought he might be related to the Buellers. This time I found him in the census living at 357 East 10th Street in 1920. The building is still there. It was just around the corner from my mother who lived on 9th Street at the same time. For more about Jack, who has since passed away two years ago.