|All interviews were taped and documented. They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library. The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.|
|INTERVIEWER:||Clifton B. Cox|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||May 9, 1985|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (9/1985)|
(N) The federation, I don't know the exact title, I think it is the Federation of Jewish Women, were very instrumenta1 in putting all of that together. Another project I got involved in some years ago was the Magnet School. I think funds have dried up so I don't think that exists as it did at that time but a lot of people, that was put together with the board of education and again those funds became available, federal funds, because Teaneck had been so integrated and it was almost a reward to continue bringing kids together, all different kinds of kids and Joan Stein and Mary Topolsky and Richard Cabezas, Dr. Cabezas, were heavily involved and Lynn Janiker and we had meetings up in Tenafly and that did take a great amount of time.
We spent five, six, seven hours a day on quite a number of weekends putting all of that together. It was a terrific idea and if funds ever became available again, I think it would be a wonderful thing to put back in place. I've gotten, we've been a member of St. Anastasia's Parish ever since we've lived here and I've been active in a few different respects over there. When a lot of the changes came with Vatican II, the music was one of the things that changed from some of the things that had gone on before to folk masses and guitar masses and I helped organize one of the first folk choirs and so forth there and that was kind of interesting. Also, we worked over there with the senior citizens. Bernie Brook and Rita Hall had committees and we got quite involved with senior citizens and helping to, we were a representative group for the senior citizen home that now exists down near the public golf course and I've done quite a few programs for senior citizens during some of their get togethers over there.
I've gotten involved in some of the summer park programs with Fred Strekfus (?) who does a fantastic job with the bands over at Benjamin Franklin. We've had one good evening and got rained out on the second number on the second one over there but that was great fun putting together and that's a great activity for kids in the summer. They work very hard and again it is another very worthwhile musical project that goes on in the summer. People enjoy going. Robbie Wedeen with the Folk Festival, I've done one or two things with her. I seem to draw rain. We were meant to have that out in Votee Park and that got rained out also. We took it over into the new little gym that is right across there so that was handy. The work in the schools with Sarah Clatworthy (?) a few times who was one of our terrific music teachers here in town. She is just a real dynamo in terms of getting kids to sing together and have a wonderful time. I've gone to the special ed classes and performed for them at times. I've worked at the Jewish community center a few times for special programs.
When one of my children was very small, they brought me in and I didn't know it was for me. I thought I was going to observe, but I ended up going in for Show and Tell. TAP (Teaneck Artists Perform) is another wonderful organization that Joan Stein and a number of people have worked very hard putting together. I did one of those first programs of I guess almost ten years ago with Joan and Gwen Mansfield who lives nearby here and Paul Trudowsky who is also from Teaneck and we put quite a nice classical program together and that's still going very strongly. In fact, they just called and said they're going to try and do a retrospective kind of concert season next year and I may go back and do some things. Again, all of these things, you know, by having such a large musical community here, at last count I think there were maybe ten, twelve, fifteen members of the New York Philharmonic and a lot of people that play Broadway shows and so forth so it is a very active town for all kinds of things and that is one of the things that I think makes this town so really terrific is the fact that it's got, it is like a micro New York City, it has got all of these influences coming, from a musical, a racial and different nationalities and so forth, which gives the town real life. I'd hate to be in an isolated kind of town that didn't have all of those things going. One of the most recent things was there was a fund raiser for a couple and one of their children who were killed in the Korean Airline crash. The name escapes me and you can probably
(I) Is that the plane that was shot down by the Russians?
(N) And there was a husband, wife and one of their little children you can fill in the name, the name escapes me right at the moment, but some of their neighbors, Eleanor Ran and Roberta Forseeny, who live next door to them, decided they wanted to do something in their memory and so they asked if I would do a benefit of some sort around as part of their fund raising. They had a number of fund raising events and that turned into not only did we raise money and they wanted the money to go towards the special educational material for the Teaneck Library because the lady who was shot down was quite interested in that area and so we had a terrific concert. It was wonderful for many respects.
First of all, it came off musically and everything, but even more so, it was a tremendous coming together. I had some great help from Bob Rogers who was the conductor of CHORUS LINE for several years. A wonderful musician, my backyard neighbor, Pete Hyde, who is a trumpet player, has played in BARNUM and a lot of Broadway shows and several other people helped me organize a wonderful fifteen, seventeen piece band. All players from Broadway shows. Of course they did it all voluntarily which is an unusual thing because they get called upon to do a tremendous effort.
We had to time the show very carefully because most of the band, as the second hand went by one o'clock, would have had to get up out of their seats and get in their cars because they had matinees that day and so they got up early that morning and we had about an eight o'clock rehearsal and it turned out very well. They made several thousand dollars and they've supplied the library with all of the special, a whole special section of materials for kids with reading or learning disabilities to be able to bring these materials home. They had them in the schools but they weren't for circulation so that worked out very well and I think again it was another indication of how, what a terrific town Teaneck really is to be able to come together. Everybody volunteered everything from the hotdogs and the drinks and the school and all the custodians, everybody. I even went to New York and got a complete new sound system and when the guy heard what it was for, he donated probably $4/5,000 worth of material. $10,000 worth of material that he would have charged well over $1,000/$1,500 to rent, for nothing. So that was sort of my last major project going here in the town of Teaneck and I'm sure there will be a lot more. Our kids have gotten involved when they were younger with a lot of the recreational things, Little League and some of the gymnastics and the art courses. All of our children have gone through the full public school system, They all went to Eugene Field, they all went to Thomas Jefferson and to Teaneck High and our youngest is now a sophomore at Teaneck High so we have a couple more years and we have gone to about four and one half thousand BACK TO SCHOOL NIGHTS I think.
(I) Has any of your youngsters planned to go into show business?
(N) Well they've all worked with me a great deal on the road for years and years. Quite a number of them, not my oldest boy so much, Liam, he was with us for about a year, but Robbie, Lillian and Alison all have toured with me for five, six or seven years when I did my pop symphony concerts. Of course when they finished high school or when they went to college, they finished and now just my youngest, 15, who is Kathlyn, travels with me, Lily, my oldest daughter, probably would really enjoy being in the music business and is a double major in geography and music at Rutgers, would like to sing professionally but is well aware of the difficulties of doing that and so she is giving herself a lot of other options in terms of (END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2)
Lily, I could see her being very closely related, if not performing, probably being around the arts organizations whether she's involved with symphonies or whatever. My oldest son enjoys music very much. He plays for his own enjoyment guitar and he is a sound engineer among other things, has worked at ABC and done some of the news things there and also is at the moment is working as a contractor/construction person in New York City. Sort of forming his own business there. My second son is Robbie. He is an interior designer for an architect firm and seems to like that very much. Lily, as I say, is just graduating from college as a combination geography and music major and I am not sure what she is going to do with that combination but she is open to a lot of different areas. Alison is a junior at Rutgers and has just gone into the school of business and will probably end up, she likes the world of business very, very much and has worked managing hotels up in Block Island every summer and worked down with Chuck Ravine at the Cheese Gourmet for several years and enjoys that part.
So of all of them, I would say at this point Kathlyn, the youngest, seems to show the most interest. She is 15. She has worked with me a lot. She has an enormous amount of very natural stage presence, She has quite a good voice, loves the theater, loves being on stage and performing and she just played the part of Barnum's wife in the class production and I think she did quite a good job. I'm prejudiced. But she had a very, very good time doing it and in fact they're down with Bucks County doing a play tour today so I think there is a very good possibility, I've encouraged them all to probably learn something else in addition to getting a good basic education in college if they can and if they still want to go into music or something, then they will always have that option. And another three or four years isn't going to change the world at that point ,in time and I would just as soon have them have some basic skills along with that because it is a very competitive business. I've not regretted it one day that I've been in it and I think I'm one of the rather more fortunate, In a sense, I've really never been out of a job in twenty five years. There have been periods of weeks or months, when I say out of a job, I mean for any length of time. And I've never really had to do anything except be involved with the music business.
I came to New York in 1956 after getting out of the Army. I graduate Michigan in '54 and spent a couple of years in Special Services in Germany and then came to New York to get a masters degree and I started teaching part time while I was getting a masters and then started freelancing, mostly symphonic choral work in New York during that time and it was wonderful. It didn't pay much money but I had a chance to record under and do concerts with Igor Stravinsky, the great Russian composer under the Cassals Festival in San Juan, Puerto Rico and many, many concerts under Leonard Bernstein on Metropolis and almost everybody that came to the New York Philharmonic. DeGrove for two or three years there, as I say, I was working twenty five hours a day and bringing home not very much money but it, in the long range, it helped me enormously with the kinds of things that I am doing with symphony orchestras now.
It gave me, besides having degrees in music which is very helpful, just the fact of having worked in and around symphony orchestras was not a threatening thing and when I decided to do my own programs, so I did that a couple of years. Then I started doing more professional television in small group works. When I first started doing that, there was an enormous amount of television going on like the Perry Como Show and The Bell Telephone Hour and NBC TV Opera and so I freelanced all of those kinds of things, The Ray Charles Singers, I was with the Robert Shaw Chorale. Fred Waring Pennsylvanians. So I toured and recorded with all of those people and then my first sort of major breakthrough really was when in 1959 when Mitch Miller asked me to join his Sing Along with Mitch Group so I became one of the twenty five, I was the youngest person on that group at that time and the next fellow was just a couple of years older but the bulk of the guys had been working together for fifteen, twenty years around New York so I joined that group and that was a very lucky break for me in a sense because it gave a lot of national exposure and after about a year and a half or two, he invited me to be the only regular featured male soloist which was also very, very helpful and that ran until about 1965 when the show went off the air and then as a result of a tour in Japan, the show was very big in Japan, it was called Sing Along With Michie Mirror over there, we toured over there for a month and as a result of that tour, I got heavily involved going back to Japan, I was invited back by myself and spent the better part of the next three years from 65 until about 69 about three times a year for about six weeks at a time going back and forth to Japan doing, making records and pops concerts and night clubs and television commercials.
(I) Quite a background.
(N) And then that lead right into Sesame Street so I've been very fortunate to go from a good three or four years of freelancing to four or five years with a fantastic group, all the guys from Mitch Miller, and then three years in Japan and sixteen years in Sesame Street so but it is a strange mixture because there are a tremendous number of very, very talented people, much more talented than myself in many, many areas, who found it very difficult getting employment so it is a lot of hustle.
(I) A special chemistry?
(N) I don't know. Yes, that could be. I mean I can't really talk about it because it sound presumptuous to talk about what makes things work but sometimes just the fact of being able to work with people and get along with people because sometimes people decide to take the path of least resistance. So I've just had a wonderful, wonderful, I mean if I never had another day's work in this business, I would feel I was way ahead of my odds in the business.
(I) Could I ask you a personal question?
(I) How did you find time to do all of this?
(N) All of what?
(I) You had five nice children, and a lovely wife, success. And everything seems to have been so easy.
(N) Easy, no. Tremendous amount of work.
(I) To hear you talk about it.
(N) I try and talk about it easy but the days are long and the weeks are long and this particular year has been probably one on my busiest years that I've ever had. Generally, two or three months ease off at least, since I've started doing Sesame Street that May, June, July and August or June, July and August seem to ease up. This year has gotten heavier. But without my wife, Ann, involved in this whole project, very little of all of this would have been possible. First of all, she's an extremely capable person as a mother and is very, very bright. She was an English major in college which also has helped me enormously in putting all of these programs together in terms of writing material for me. From that point of view, she's there is no way I could have done most of the things that I do without her help, input there. She writes all kinds of things that I use in my musical programs all of the time. The straight physical work in terms of taking care of a family, that has been, she's done the absolute bulk of that. Particularly like the times I was going to Japan. We had at least four small children, some of them babies at that point, and I'd be gone six weeks at a time. That's an enormous amount of work and looking back, I keep thinking, I don't really know how she handled all of that by herself.
We never really had any full time help except one time when she was quite ill after the last baby with an inner ear infection so that's what keeps the home fires burning and the home base from rocking. And on the other side, I put an enormous amount of effort and energy into everything that I do. I mean these series of concerts that we just finished have taken me months and months to put together. I have also the other parts of my life which doesn't involve Teaneck but which are very important, I have a wonderful friend and co-worker Lee Norris who is my conductor and arranger and so he handles together we create and develop up all of the musical portion of the show and the other part that keeps my life together and is absolutely indispensable, fortunately I found some terrific personal management about thirteen years ago. My wife calls them our Hertz Rent a Mother because they take care of all of the arranging and putting together of the concerts and negotiating fees and working out all of the kinds of things that I tried to do myself when I was with Mitch and when I was going to Japan and it was extremely difficult. It was nearly impossible. You simply can't negotiate for yourself or talk about yourself in terms of putting those things together so Phil Lawrence is his name.
(I) It takes that pressure away too.
(N) I mean simply there are not enough hours in the day, he puts in several hours a day negotiating things that may not happen for a year or a year and a half from now and so he keeps all of that together and all of the physical things of booking airlines and hotels and getting me in and out so in the last couple of years, just putting together my symphony concert, the library work for all of the music is a horrendous job and Ann has taken over most all of that because it has gotten to the point where I almost don't have time. Every time before I go out on the road, there is probably two or three or four days worth of solid work of just rearranging all of the music because I have to bring all of these arrangements for an orchestra of up to 70, 80, 90 pieces and the programs are constantly changing.
(I) Have you ever thought about trying to write a book?
(N) No, I don't know when I would have time to do it. I don't think it would be that interesting quite frankly. Maybe
(I.) The story of your life would make a terrific movie. It would make a terrific story.
(N) I wouldn't want to go through that. Some of the things I have thought I should put down some thoughts occasionally, things related to Sesame Street, because some of those things I think are fairly important in terms of the children and some of the things that have happened there but I am not sure my personal life would be that interesting.
(I) If you will permit me to say this, you are a terrific asset to the Teaneck, to the world, to the children, to the people. It is really gratifying.
(N) Thank you very, very much. That's very nice. It is a, I can't think, as a matter of fact, there are a couple of things, it is always quite surprising when we've won quite a number of awards. and we've gone out to California to accept People's Choice Awards and Oscars and Emmys and that kind of thing and it is always very surprising, it never fails to be surprising, when really major stars of the world come up to anyone of us on the show and say, this is our favorite show on television, and you don't know what you've meant to all of us and our family. Somehow we tend to forget that it really extends to that level of people, but it particularly working with Sesame Street, it has been tremendously personally rewarding on all kinds of levels, both from a straight professional acting, singing point of view, but and the people we work with, but more importantly, we do have a pretty good feeling now that the impact has been pretty strong. We have nine and a half million kids daily watching the show just in this country alone. So those are very, very rewarding feelings to get back and it is a very different thing than just going up and having a half million teenagers screaming at a hit song and while that would be very nice and the money would be terrific and all of that kind of thing to be in that strata, I think, in terms of personal gratification, this is probably much more rewarding.
(I) I am sure there are so many more things that you could talk about but I don't want to take up too much more of your time. The Teaneck Historical Project, I know, will be proud of this tape and we all wish you travel with good health.
(N) Thank you very, very much. I appreciate it. This is something I just remembered after the interview and you can fit it in with the public school system here and the fact that Teaneck is so well integrated. We've had a cute story that has been one of our favorite stories in our family for quite a number of years. As I say, I have five children. When one of our youngest, I think it was Kathlyn or maybe Alison, our second daughter, second to last daughter, went to kindergarten, she came home and all her older brothers and sisters wanted to know who her teacher was and she couldn't remember her name and so, she, they said, well, you know, is it Miss So-and-So, Miss So-and-So, no, I don't remember who it is. Is she tall? She said, no, I don't think so. Is she fat? No, she is not really fut. Is she young or old? She's kind of young. And they still weren't getting anywhere and finally one of them said, well, is she black or white and she looked at them and she said, I don't know. And really at that point in time, I think most of our kids and a lot of people in this town really are color blind. I mean because you are so accustomed to having such a good racial balance, she literally had been there several days and she was not aware whether the person was black or white which I think says a lot for a school system and for kids.
(I) That's marvelous. Isn't that great? It takes a youngster to really zero in on the idea. It is a marvelous story.
(N) It is a wonderful way for kids to grow up.
(I) Really great. Thank you.