Thursday, October 4, 2012

Allan Sherman, Jewishness, and the NYTimes

Can there be such a thing as a charming obituary?

If so, then it appeared in today's New York Times about Irving Cohen, who for decades worked as a maitre d' and served as matchmaker at the Concord Hotel in New York's Catskill Mountains. Because of my Sherman research, I read a number of NYT articles from 1963, and boy, have things changed. 

Fifty years ago, the Times managed to write a feature on Sherman that never mentioned the word Jewish. Today it reveled in it. The Times touted Cohen's "canny ability to seat just the right nice Jewish boy next to just the right nice Jewish girl." 

The difference is a revealing barometer between today's world and Sherman's. When the 1960s began, Jewishness was seen as "at best marginal or exotic and at worst grubby and rather shameful," remembered Norman Podhoretz. In songs like Sherman's 1962 "Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max" his unembarrassed Jewish comedy broke new ground. 
Meet Meyerowitz Berowitz Handleman Shandleman Sperber and Gerber and Steiner and Stone
Moskowitz Lupowitz Aaronson Berenson Fineman and Fierman and Friedman and Cohen
Smalowitz Wallowitz Teitlebaum Mandelbaum Levin Levinsky Levine and Levi
Brumberger Shlumberger Mincus and Pincus and Stein with an ei and Styne with a y

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