and A-Two-A Macadamia Nuts
you ever have the experience of seeing your mother go from being
your average parent who makes you grilled cheese sandwiches and
runs around the house in her girdle and dress-shields -- by the
way, do you even know what dress shields are, I ask? Show of hands
please... thank you -- to being something much more in your
thing happened when I was nine, which catapulted my mother, Esther,
from being the average nightmare parent, to dare I say it, almost
heroic in my eyes. How could this have possibly happened? Did she
tell off Mrs. Bergad, my heinous third grade math teacher, or rescue
Farfel our kitty from a burning building -- or make my annoying
sister Sally go live with some other less fortunate family?
no. For me, the life-altering change in how I saw my mother was
getting an eyeful of her for the first time, as a woman.
In a flash, she went from being a 1960s squeaky-clean Hadassah version
of Laura Petrie to a voluptuous, Sophia Loren-esque sex goddess
dripping with a sensuality that makes men weak.
accounted for that immediate thunder bolt-like transformation? I
can tell you in three simple words. Lawrence Welk, Live!
I was a little tyke
I said tyke
my mother was
an actress in Pittsburgh, doing plays and revues around our tri-state
area. She, having delusions of grandeur and a shrewdness about the
"public's curiosity for celebrity," never left home, even
to gas the car, without being perfectly and stylishly coiffed, lest
her public see her, and I don't know
try for a photo op.
Mary Tyler Moore and Bea Arthur had a love child it would be big
Es. Tall and shapely, she always wore Mary's Capri pants, and a
colorful Pucci patterned turtleneck. It was 1970 -- she had the
Mary flip behind one ear, and Bea's height, striking salt and pepper
tresses, and deadpan hysterical delivery when she wanted to.
In the '50s she had been an MC at the Concord Hotel, a big resort
in the Catskills, where she'd perform dialect stories, song parodies,
and then when she had you right where she wanted you, she'd break
your heart with a ballad. She packed 'em in at B'nai Emunah, let
me tell ya. By the '70s she was performing at the big time local
nightclub called the Holiday House.
opened for Henny Youngman, Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, The Manhattan
Transfer, Vic Damone
and it was there one night, that some
suit from WIIC-TV, channel 11, saw Esther and gave her a shot as
the "entertainment reviewer" for the nightly 6 o'clock
news. Her job was to spotlight whatever interesting show or act
was in town that week.
Dad was Willy Loman at this point, a salesman schlepping cases on
the road. He'd leave town Monday mornings with his men's shirt and
belt lines, then return each Friday for supper, traffic permitting.
My sister was away at college so during the week it was just Es
trudging home from Colfax elementary and fortifying myself with
a hearty snack of Tab and Pretzel Rods, most days I'd accompany
Esther on her trek to Channel 11, listen to her "copy"
on the drive out, rewrite and punch her up, consult on wardrobe,
then sit behind the cameras making sure they lit her flatteringly
and shot from above. I may have been ten, but I was reading Daily
Variety and preparing my own career as a network executive.
I'd watch each broadcast, and beam proudly as Es filmed her "Entertainment
Corner with Esther Lapiduss" segments.
big perk was that she got free tickets to see EVERY SHOW that came
through town and since my Dad wasn't around, and a sitter was expensive,
I got to be her date.
she had to interview Three Dog Night at Three Rivers Stadium. It
was a Saturday afternoon concert, and we were walking through all
the tie-dye and afros and anti-war posters to get to our seats.
The air was thick with an odd burning rope smell I had not known
before. We took a seat in a long row. Every unkempt, bell-bottomed
college kid took a puff off a funny cigarette then passed it down
the line, followed by what looked like a sheet of tiny candy dots
on paper. As I reached for the dots, Es politely intercepted them
from my grasp then passed the Window Pane LSD and the joint to the
teenager on her right, dragging me off in search of more appropriate
seatmates. After the show, I recall hearing one of Three Dog Night
-- I don't know if it was Three, Dog, or Night, saying how square
my mom looked in her MTM pantsuit. But the following week, boy did
Es ever look cutting edge in the same outfit as she took me to the
Civic Arena to see America's most beloved bandleader and TV superstar,
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