This interview is for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society and is being recorded on August 20, 2013, as part of the Oral History Project. Today is August 15, 2013. The interview is being recorded at 645 Parkview Avenue in Columbus, Ohio. My name is Flo Gurwin and I am interviewing Burton Louis.
Interviewer: Burton, would you tell us your full name, please.
Louis: Burton Merle Louis.
Interviewer: Do you have a Jewish name?
Louis: Yes. I have a Yiddish name, Beryl Mendel. And I have a Hebrew name, Dov, which means bear in Yiddish and in Hebrew.
Interviewer: Who were you named for?
Louis: I was named after some relative in my father’s family whose name was Mendel. They used that as my middle name but not my first name. I don’t know where the first name came from.
Interviewer: How far back can you trace your family?
Louis: Not that far back. My father was born in Lithuania _________ ____________ in _________ and my grandmother was born there also. But my father’s father was born in Russia, and he was in the Russian Army and they were stationed in Lithuania. So he used to walk back and forth where my grandmother lived, and he got to know her. So when he mustered out, he ended up marrying her, living there. My aunt was born, and my grandmother was pregnant with my father and my grandfather was conscripted to go back in the Russian Army in (I think) the Russian-Japanese War. I’m not positive. Well, he got upset at that, and his brother was leaving to come to the United States. So he came with his brother to the United States, saved up money, and then sent for my grandmother who came with a girl. By this time my father was born and was about one year old. They came over on the boat. From what I remember, my father telling me, they had enough money for a regular passage but my grandmother, who only spoke Yiddish, no Russian, no Polish, ended up kind of in stewardship or something like that. Anyway, they got there and they moved to Cleveland, Ohio. The rest is history.
Interviewer: Do you know any legends or stories of the past which have been told and retold in your family?
Louis: I have one that is very typical of a lot of people. My grandmother’s father, before my grandmother was born, was married to, of course, his wife, and he heard that the streets of New York were paved with gold. So he got on a ship, comes to New York, is going to make his fortune and then send for his wife. Now remember, my grandmother wasn’t born at that point. So he does this and he hates it. In a year he writes his wife “I cannot stay here anymore. Everybody’s a goyim. I’m getting out of here.” So he goes back, and then they have a child. Had he not gone back, I wouldn’t be here. So that’s one of the funny stories that my father tells me. The other story was that my father always said he was born on the 31st. But they didn’t know when he was born. They knew he was born so many days after a holiday or so many days before a holiday. That’s how they did it. We found out many years later that he wasn’t born on the 31st. He just picked that date because he had a sister that was born on the 31st. He was born sometime in December, but we don’t know when. And he came over and they lived in Cleveland. As a little boy, all the languages flowed. There were a lot of immigrants – Italians, Jewish people. My grandmother was working in a chicken store. I remember this story. He was reading the comic books in English. An Italian lady would come in and would ask for something. He would understand her, so he would tell my grandmother in Yiddish. She would answer him in Yiddish, and still reading the paper, he would talk to this woman. That’s how things were in those days. Then he went to school. In school his name was Malach – a Yiddish name. So the kids are calling him Mikey. So he said that Mikey was his name. While he’s got this name of Mikey, one teacher in one year (maybe he was about fifteen) starting calling role. She says “Michael.” He doesn’t answer. Finally she says “Your name is Michael Louis.” He said, “No, it’s not. It’s Mikey.” She said there is no such thing as Mikey. It is Michael, after St. Michael. Well, that upset my dad, so the next year he went to school he wrote down Martin, and his name became Marty after that. The last name, Louis, we don’t know what it was. My grandfather came over from Europe. They asked him something and wrote down Louis, spelled Lewis. So we were spelling our name Lewis. I was born Lewis. I’m ten years old, Lewis. My grandfather dies. Now in those days, my grandfather was a naturalized citizen. My father was only a year old, therefore he became a citizen under my grandfather’s papers. So when my grandfather died, they gave my dad the papers. I don’t even know where they are. On the papers it said Louis, so my father had two choices – change the name or change the papers. He didn’t want to change any papers. People were afraid then, so he changed our name. So our name became Louis. That’s the only old stories I remember.
Interviewer: What are your mother and father’s full name?
Louis: My father’s full name in English would be Martin Louis, no middle name. My mother’s name was Dorothy Singer Louis, no middle name. I think that really was their name. My grandfather wasn’t a Schneider, he wasn’t a tailor, but he was a shoemaker. I don’t really know where the name singer came from, but that was their name.
Interviewer: In what countries were they born?
Louis: My grandfather on my mother’s side was born in Galitziana, part of a suburb of Russia. He was really a brilliant man. He spoke Polish and Yiddish and Russian. I remember he used to read The Jewish Forward all the time. He would read Dostayevsky and Tolstoy and Cervantes in Yiddish. He would be after him all the time to read it in English so we could sit and discuss it. He was a big man, over six feet, which was very unusual, and he was a husky man. He worked for the Democratic Party in Cleveland speaking Yiddish to the people trying to get them to vote. He wasn’t a politican, and I really think he was a very, very, very strong Socialist. Very strong. A lot of Jews were in Russia. The whole Revolution was strong Socialist Jews, which was typical of that. It was Communist, but the pure ones, not the terrible Communists. He knew all the prayers. He was raised that way. But he never went to temple or anything like that. But I remember later on in life he wanted a job and got one from a friend of his where they killed animals kosher-style, and he would say the prayers because he knew how to do it. Another funny story about my grandfather – he had diabetes and lived with us in his later years. He lost a leg and had a false leg. He would tell me, “You know, people always ask me questions. They would ask me how I was, and I would say, ‘Eh, how should I be? I’ve got one foot in the grave already.’” Because you had to bury the limb. You couldn’t just get rid of it. I forgot about what else you asked. My grandmother, my father’s mother, was from _________ in Lithuania.
Interviewer: Do you know which port of entry they came in?
Louis: I know my father and his mother and my aunt came into Baltimore. My wife and I went to Ellis Island and couldn’t find them. I don’t know what port my mother’s father came from. My mother was born in Lorain, Ohio.
Interviewer: Did they have family in this country already when they came?
Louis: Yes. My grandfather on my mother’s side had a brother. I don’t remember his name, and he lived in Lorain. Believe it or not, he had a son who raised minks. In the Second World War, they used to keep the male and female minks separate. But during the war they didn’t have the cages so they put them together. Lo and behold, they didn’t hurt each other. My father’s father came over either with his brother or his brother was already in New York. But he ended up in Cleveland. And I don’t know how that worked. His name was Lakin, because that’s the name they gave him. So we don’t know what our real name was in Europe.
Interviewer: Have you ever tried to find the naturalization papers?
Louis: You know, that’s kind of funny because I thought I saw them when my father was living. After he died, I had access to all of his papers, and I got hold of all these papers, and I can’t find them. But you know what, I’m going to ask my brother because I would love to see them.
Interviewer: You’ll find out what their name was when they came over.
Louis: Oh, that would be interesting. I would like to do that.
Interviewer: Do you know the names of your mother and father’s sisters and/or brothers?
Louis: My father was one of eight, I think. Lil was his oldest, and she was married to a man whose name was Morrey Jacober. They had a business in Cleveland candling eggs. When the chicken laid eggs, you didn’t know if it had blood in it or not. They used to hold a candle and look. My father was born then and did all kinds of stuff. He planted grass on the EPA programs, and he worked in a coal truck delivering coal. He worked on beer trucks delivering beer. He had a rough life. They never owned a home until they were much, much older. My mother worked a little bit as a secretary, but not very long. My father’s next sibling was Sam. I don’t know what Samuel Louis did, but he was married and had a couple of kids. Rosie was another one. I can’t remember her new last name, but her husband’s name was Hyman, similar to her father. Then there was Dashi. She lived in New York. I don’t know how she ended up there, but she married a guy and went to New York. And then he died and she married another guy and he died. She married another guy and he died. She had two children, Eddie and Leslie. Leonard never got married and got killed in World War II in the Army. Then there was Shirley, who used to babysit for me. Shirley had four children. She had twins, Arnie and Allan, and she had Howard, the oldest and Aydie, the youngest, a girl. Then there was Addie, my favorite. She was 22 years younger than my father, so she was a pretty cool old lady. Her first husband got killed in World War II. He was a paratrooper and fought. People made fun that the Jews didn’t have to fight and all that. So he went, he fought and he died. So then she married an English man, Cyril Shapers. They had a bunch of kids. They had, Emil, Harlan, (I can’t remember the third) and Nadine. Every one of the siblings were dead. My father outlived all of them. He lived to be 98-1/2.
Interviewer: Do you know of any relatives who still live in your mother’s or father’s country of origin?
Interviewer: Do you know the names of your grandparents or great grandparents or those from earlier generations?
Louis: I know the names of my grandparents. There was Louie Singer and his wife Chana. And there was Hyman Louis and his wife Sarah (or Sheva). But I don’t know further back than that. I might have known at one time but I don’t know now.
Interviewer: Did your parents tell you how they met?
Louis: My parents mentioned something about my dad went to a dance. He loved to dance. And he was dancing with one of my mom’s sisters but he kept going back to talk to her. I think that’s how they met, but I’m not positive.
Interviewer: What year were they married and where did the wedding take place?
Louis: It was in Cleveland and it took place five years before I was born, so I was born in 1934, so in 1929, in the height of the Depression, which I wouldn’t wish on anybody.
Interviewer: If your parents were born outside of this country, which they were, why did they come here?
Louis: Well, my father was one year old so he didn’t have any choice. It was his mom who wanted to come to be with her husband who was now living here. I think I told you why he came in the first place. He was in the Russian Army and was from Russia. He was bivouacked in _____ in Lithuania. So he walked as an infantryman. He would walk by this house where this lovely young woman lived. And he would talk to her sometimes. She was very shy. He talked to her in Yiddish because she couldn’t understand Lithuanian or Russian or Polish. Eventually they got together, and when he was mustered out, instead of going home, he stayed there and married her. Then they had a daughter. Then she was pregnant with a son and the Russian Army came and told him he was going to go back in because we need you for the Russian-Japanese War. He said to himself that he wasn’t going back in, so he moved to the United States to send for my grandmother. Well, he saved up money and sent her a passage. She had enough money for the ticket but she only spoke Yiddish, not Russian or Polish or Lithuanian. So therefore she just didn’t use the ticket but came over as steerage and came into Baltimore, where he picked them up. I still don’t know how he got to Cleveland, but that’s where he ended up.
Interviewer: How did your parents earn a living when they were young?
Louis: My mother graduated from high school and then went to a secretarial school and worked there for a short period of time, maybe until she got pregnant with me. My father just did jobs. I thought he was a brilliant man. He had a great memory. As a child, he worked for my grandfather, who was a rag picker. He had a horse and wagon and would collect stuff and then sell it at the markets. My dad would help take care of the horses. He was a little boy. His father had a wonderful memory. He couldn’t really read or write English, but he knew what he was doing. My father had that same kind of memory. Mathematically, he was a genius, I think. But he and his friends started out doing labor work and then he worked on the coal trucks. He planted grass for the EPA during the Depression. Then he worked on the beer trucks as a helper and then a driver. And then at Carling’s Black Label Beer, he became a supervisor and then a salesman. And then when they sold the company, he was up for a vice-presidency at one time many years ago. But they sold the company, so they gave him a distributorship of Carling’s Black Label Beer in Medina, Ohio. It didn’t work out that well, and he ended up owning a restaurant; first a restaurant in downtown Cleveland in the old Arcade, and then from there on Shaker Square. He had two partners, and then eventually he just worked there until he retired and sold his share off. The he and my mom moved to Florida.
Interviewer: Do you remember his partners’ names?
Louis: Sam Segal and Nate Segal. Nate was the distributor for all movies in Ohio to the theaters. So he was very wealthy. And Sam, his younger brother, was his partner. My father had this small restaurant in the old Arcade but he wasn’t really making any money. The food was delicious. I worked there washing dishes. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to go into the restaurant business. But my brother went into the restaurant business. My mother then bumped into Nate Segal, who she knew from high school. He asked about Marty, and she told him what he was doing. She told him, and he said “Well, you know, I have a chance to buy this restaurant in Shaker Square, but I need someone to run it. So they got my dad to run it. But my dad didn’t have any money, so they fronted his money, and he paid them back with his share of the profits until he was a full partner. They were very good to him. When he wanted to leave, they just bought his share back. They had the best blintzes in Cleveland.
Interviewer: Do you have brothers or sisters?
Louis: I have a brother, thirteen months younger than I am. His name is David Neil Louis. His Jewish name was Nochem Yehudi, which has nothing to do with it. I don’t know why they didn’t name him Dovid, but anyway, he and I were very different. I was very dark, very Lithuanian, pitch black hair. I almost looked Asian when I was a kid. I have pictures of myself – dark skin, dark hair, black eyes. You couldn’t see the pupils. My brother was fair-skinned, fair-eyed and his hair was kind of sandy colored. He was more, chubby. I was really skinny and he was husky. We used to fight all the time. I mean fun fight – boxing and stuff like that. We were very close. A lot of times we slept in the same bed, but he wasn’t like me. I was interested in everything in the world and he wasn’t. He just followed me and did whatever I did. If I played football, he played football. To this day, we still talk once or twice every week and have been for as long as I can remember. He lives in Cleveland. I lived in Cleveland until I graduated from high school, and then I came to Ohio State University and stayed there until I graduated college. Then I went back to Cleveland for one year and really didn’t like it, so I came back to Columbus and opened a practice here – a tiny little practice of optometry and eventually got married and moved to a better place and started opening bigger stores and stuff like that and stayed here.
Interviewer: You belonged to a fraternity at OSU, didn’t you?
Louis: Yes, Phi Sigma Delta. It doesn’t exist anymore. It was right next door to the DPhiE house and down the street from the ZBT house and next door to the SAM house. The SAM house’s claim to fame was that Jean Peters used to date somebody there. Phi Sigma Delta was great. I had a lot of fun. I used to serve at the DPhiE house. In those days, most parents couldn’t put you through school so you had to work. They could help. Even though it wasn’t as expensive room and board, you still had to pay. So I worked next door doing that and then worked at the stadium selling programs, selling my football tickets, and worked at Schottenstein’s on Sundays selling clothes, which I loved. It is a whole lot different than you sell now. You’d run around. Say it was a coat. You’d run to the register, pluck in your number, pluck in the coat. They would pay you and you would give them the change and the coat. Then you would run and find another person. There were a lot of students doing that. You would just run around the store finding people.
Interviewer: What were you like as a teenager?
Louis: Terrible. I was rotten. All my teachers would write on the report cards “very intelligent but talks too much;doesn’t pay attention, daydreaming all the time.” I remember they used to have paper drives to get paper for the war and stuff. I would raise my hand to go to the bathroom. I would walk out of the school, get the comic books, hide the comic books somewhere, and go back to school. After school was over, I would go back and get the comic books. That’s the kind of person I was. The last half of the eighth grade I was sitting in class with an English teacher who was in World War II and lost a couple of fingers. His name was Albert Martin. I was tilting back on my chair, and all of a sudden the chair slammed to the ground. He said “You’ve been messing around too much, Louis. You stay after school and we’re going to talk.” So I stayed after school, and he said to me “You can’t keep going the way you’re going. I know you have to go to college.” Nobody had mentioned college to me, ever. “But you have to go to college, and you have to get grades. And in the ninth grade it starts to count. Elementary they don’t pay attention to you. The first couple years of junior high they don’t pay attention to you. But once you start getting good grades in the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades, you’ll have a chance. But because you did what you did, you have to work after school.” I asked what I had to do. He said “I am the head of the drama department. You are going to have to make and help me with sets – painting, ____.” I said “OK.” I mean what could I say? He told me I have to do it, so I have to do it. And I did it and I loved it. I kept doing it and doing it even after I didn’t have to. I would go after school and do it. He said one day “How would you like to be on stage?” And I said, “Well, I’ve been thinking about it since my bar mitzvah, but I don’t know.” He said, “Well, we’re going to do something called “Picture Windows. And all you’ll have to do is put on makeup, and you’ll be Louis Pasteur. You won’t talk. You’ll just be sitting in there and other people will be talking.” I said that okay, I’ll do it. So they put _____ on me, they put this beard on me, and mustache and whatnot, and after it was over, he said we will take it off. I said “No, I want to take it home and show my mom.” I went on the bus that way. I’m sure I looked ridiculous, and my mom laughed and thought it was cute. And then in the ninth grade, they were doing a school play because the ninth grade in junior high was basically seniors. They did a play and he asked me if I wanted to be in it. I asked who was in it. He mentioned all these girls who I thought were gorgeous, so I said that I would be in it. So he made me be Mr. Inkwell, which was the villain. When you see this guy on the rocks chasing this girl and they’re yelling in all of the old movies. This was basically the same thing. I had a little thin mustache that I had to twirl. I loved it. And then when I went to high school, I thought about being in plays, but I didn’t like the kids that were in the plays, and I was in a fraternity, and we hung around together, and we were in sports. I was playing football and tennis and swimming on the team, and I always thought in the back of my mind that I wanted to do acting. But I never did. Then I went to college and, of course I didn’t have time for anything. The minute I graduated from college and I was back in Cleveland, I went to Shaker Players and got a small part in a play. When I came to Columbus I really changed. That was really what I wanted to do.
Interviewer: So what did you do when you came to Columbus?
Louis: I joined the Jewish Center right away and I joined Temple Israel right away because that was part of my nature and I believed in it. And then I heard they had this place called Gallery Players. There was a guy there named Harold Eisenstein. So I auditioned and didn’t get a part (twice). Then I auditioned and he said “Well, you can work backstage on a play.” I think it was “Guys and Dolls.” I wasn’t in it. There was one part dancing or something that I might have done, but I wasn’t in it. And then “Heaven Can Wait.” I was in it with a very small part. Then there was “Gideon.” That might have been my first play that he put me in. I had one line where I come in holding these heads and I said “Behold, the heads of the princes of Ephram.” Then as time went on, he started me into other plays. The one that I remember the best was _________. By this time I was getting gray in my hair and he had to rinse it. He took me aside and said he wasn’t going to audition this part. He was going to give it to me. But I want you to know that I played this part years ago when I was young. It is a very good role by Clifford Odetz, and I want to see you really work at it, and man, did I work at it. He would give me reams and reams of notes – how to walk, how to talk, where to move, how to move your head first because your head moves before your feet. Don’t face the audience. Face the actor. Listen to what he says even though you know his words, listen to him. Make sure you’re really listening to him. Don’t memorize the lines. Make the lines you. You become the lines. He was an amazing teacher. And then I just did plays after plays after plays after plays at Gallery Players at the Jewish Center, at Ohio State in the summer session under the stadium theater, at Players’ Theater, at Capital University Theater. It was amazing the stuff I did. One thing after another and I loved it. I still do but I don’t do it anymore.
Interviewer: Did you ever do professional theater?
Louis: Yes, I did dinner theater. This was at Capital. We got paid very little. Linda Dorf was in it with me. And then, when I was doing a play called “Guys and Dolls” at Players’ Theater, I was playing Nathan Detroit, which was the lead. The guy that played Benny Softstreet said to me “I have a student about nineteen or twenty years old. His name is David Sams and he is looking to do a television show for channel 6. Would you be interested? And I said that I would be interested to do that. So I went to the audition at channel 6. It was a strange audition. David was there, a guy named Mike Miller was there. There was another guy there and there were a few people. And we had to do an audition, we had to sell a product, we had to do a bunch of stuff. The product was like a Hostess cupcake that they took out of a machine. The guy before me ate it. So when I went to do it, I had to sell something that didn’t exist. So I pretended that it existed and I pretended to eat it. And there was a girl there who also did some stuff. Then you had to interview a guy. Well, the guy who had the interview turned out to be the guy that I was in the play with. They didn’t tell people that, but of course I knew it because he was in the play with me. And after it was all over, they said “Okay, we want you and we want this girl to be in it. We are going to do a pilot, and when we do the pilot, we will then present it to the station and see if they will take it on the air.” Well, they didn’t have a camera so they had to borrow it from the Catholic diocese. We called it the Jesus cam. That was the camera man, and David, who was brilliant at nineteen, already had a column somewhere, and he had to write them stuff for advertising. That was the deal he made. So we went all over town and they called the show “Hey, Look.” And they shot us (I don’t even know if I have a copy of that.) But we made the pilot and after it was over, channel 6 which belonged to Taft, said that they don’t really want the show, but we want David (not me) as a producer from a show we are already doing. It was some local show. By the way, I’m going to tell you who the girl was. Her name is Erin Moriarty, who does “48 Hours” for CBS. That’s the girl who started. She was a graduate lawyer. Her father was a judge in Upper Arlington. But she wanted to be in television and she has done extremely well over the years. She has a son who is in film school. He may have graduated. I still keep in touch with her every once in awhile. And so, it was all over and David went to work for channel 6. Well, he was a co-producer but he kept changing the show until the producer left. Then he called me up and he asked if I wanted to be in the show. In the meantime, he wanted to use Erin. But the powers that be said it wasn’t going to be called “Hey, Look.” It was going to be called “Pulse” He said that I was going to be the entertainment reporter and to think about it. I said okay. Meanwhile, I was practicing optometry all this time but I wasn’t doing plays. They said that you have to use Terry Blair because she is available and we don’t have to pay her anymore. And you have to use Earl Green. So there would be three people on the show – one hard news, one kind of social and I would be entertainment. So David and I went through what we should do, and I said, “You know, I don’t want to be Burton M. Louis. I want to be Burt Louis, and I want to develop a character if I’m going to do this entertainment thing because I don’t want people to misconstrue my doctor or me. So I wore a big bow tie, had a mustache, and I called myself Burt Louis. To this day, some people don’t even know I did the show. Anyway, we did the show and I would interview movie stars and Terry would interview others and Earl would do stuff, and the show was a huge success. Numbers came pouring in. David won an Emmy, Michael won an Emmy and I won an Emmy. And I also was the host of the Emmys that year for regional, which would be Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Athens. I hosted it but didn’t know I won an Emmy. I knew I was nominated but they surprised me on stage which was kind of cool because my son was there. Then we went on to do that show for quite awhile. I traveled all over the country and interviewed everyone from Anthony Hopkins to anybody you can think of. And then David Sames left the show and went to channel 10 and did a new show. The show he did there was “Front Page Saturday Night” and he hired me to go with him. And then he had to hire other people and we did that show for awhile. That show I did with Jack Hanna and his daughter and Janet somebody or other. That was really a great show. And then we did two shows of “State Fair Tonight.” And then David was hired by Cain World to go to California. So I drove with him to California. There was no office. Michael Cain was there. David worked for Cain World and he helped develop Jeopardy and Oprah. They already had Wheel of Fortune. Then he would call me to come to California to do advertising for Cain World, I would say from Chicago, because that’s where Oprah was. We would go downtown and I would say “This is Burt Louis in Chicago.” And then I would talk about Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune. Jeopardy I would do from their set, and Wheel of Fortune I would do with those people. We did that for many, many years until he left Cain World.
Interviewer: Interesting early life.
Louis: Yeah. There were other things I haven’t told you. I once went with my wife to New York to watch “Price Is Right” – way before I did this television. It was raining and she didn’t want to wait, so she went back to the hotel and I went to the show. After the show was over, they asked who wants to be on the show. Of course, I am waving my hand as was everybody. Then they said “Well, we picked him.” And we’ll interview you. And I was one of the ten. We were sitting in the back, and they were sitting in the front interviewing. There was a woman from Massapequa, New York. I said to her “They are interviewing people, but I don’t see how they can figure out who to take. Why don’t we pretend we are telling jokes and be loud and laugh.” She said they would throw us out. I said they wouldn’t throw us out. So we did that and they would turn around and look at us, and when it was all over, he picked the two of us and another person. Bill Cullen was the host. We were sitting up there and this person would bid, then this person would bid, and I would bid one dollar more. I ended up winning all these fur coats and furniture. And I was the biggest daytime winner, so I was going to go on again. So the next day I didn’t win anything. Then they said to me that because I was the biggest daytime winner, they wanted to put me on the Jack Paar Show. I said that was great and asked if I got money. They said no, that I wasn’t actually going to be on the show. I would be on the aisle and he would come down if he has time and interview me because they want to give the show some publicity. And that’s what happened.
Interviewer: Very interesting.
Louis: Thank you.
Interviewer: Let’s digress a little bit. You have children?
Louis: Yes, I have three natural and one child that’s not a step-child because I never adopted her, but very close. I consider her my fourth child. My oldest one is named Paige Thomas and she has a son who is twenty-three named Morgan Thomas. I have a daughter sixteen months younger than the first daughter, Toni Nobil. She has two children, Sophie Simon. Her husband is from Nottingham, England, but he is a citizen of the United States. And I have a son, Steven, who is a musician and owns a business selling vinyl records. And then Nicole _______ who is married to Eric _______ who is of Filipino descent. They have three children. The oldest one is Jack, then Alana and James. So it is a great big happy family.
Interviewer: Your wife’s name is Deborah?
Louis: Yes, my wife’s name is Deborah. She is trained actually. She used to be a model for Lazarus and other places. She is the one who used to model all those fur coats in Columbus Monthly and all that.
Interviewer: How did you meet?
Louis: When I was doing television, I met her. She is a beautiful tall woman. Taller than I am. I was a little surprised by that because I never dated tall women, always short women. This was after I was divorced the first time. We went out a couple of times and she said that she really didn’t want to go out with me anymore. I asked why and she said I was too stuck on myself. You know, that can happen. When you are working on television and everybody knows who you are, you can go out to eat and people ask for your autograph, and you can get a little big headed. There’s no question about it in my mind. It is very, very easy to happen. She didn’t like that so we stopped dating. My son didn’t like that because he didn’t want to go to restaurants with me. After the show was over and I wasn’t doing it anymore and was just doing plays, not that many people see you and it was a community theater, it is okay. He was better. I would see her because once in awhile I would do a commercial for Huntington Bank or just a bunch of different people hired me to do commercials – Lazarus. I was doing commercials and getting paid. This was all professional. She stopped doing modeling and started working behind the scenes for advertising companies doing mainly makeup, sets, props. She even did work for PBS and work for politicians. She did a lot of work. She would do my makeup and stuff and we would talk. But we didn’t go out. We were just friendly. Then I was out of town and when I came back, there was a notice on the phone that she had called. I said I had a good idea who it was but wasn’t positive. So I called her and we talked and talked and talked. She asked me if I wanted to come over for dinner. I did and that was it. We have been together ever since.
Interviewer: You had been married before.
Louis: Yes, I was married to Gail Simon from Pittsburgh, who lived here in Bexley. She was a beautiful woman who was the true mother of my three children. She knew a lot of people in Bexley who she introduced me to. She was involved in Gallery Players also. She was in “Guys and Dolls” as one of the kit-kat girls. She did other things there too for them. We were married for twelve years. Then I was divorced for twelve years, and then I lived with Deborah for probably about twelve years because she didn’t want to get married. And then one day I was at a Jewish wedding. As we were walking away, I proposed. She asked if I was crazy. So I bought her a ring anyway, and eventually she said okay and we went to Las Vegas and got married. My family, her family, my brother and all his family – it was a nice sized wedding.
Interviewer: What was your life like the first years of your second marriage?
Louis: It was no different than living together. We had lived together for so long, and she was a very independent woman, which I like. I don’t like people who keep telling me what to do or how to do it. I don’t like people that are always asking me for something. Not that I wouldn’t give it, but my children say to this day that if you want something from dad, don’t ask for it and you’ll get it because he knows you want it. I think I am like that. I don’t know why, but I am that way a lot. Like when they went to college, no cars. As soon as they graduated, they all got cars. So it is a little different. But my marriage with Debbie was always very, very good. We are very close. We like the same things. I don’t know, it has always been good. Of course we argue, but nothing serious.
Interviewer: Can you remember something special about each of your children as they wee growing up?
Louis: Paige was very, very bright. She went to CSG, and I remember like in the first grade or the second grade, they called us in. I was married to Gail at the time. They wanted to know if we have been working with our children in mathematics. I told them no, that we don’t even read to her. I asked if she had done something wrong. They said they were teaching the kids to count from 1 to 100 by 1’s, 2’s, 5’s and 10’s. I asked if she could do it. They said that she counts by 3’s, 6’s, 7’s and nines. They asked if we taught her to do that. I told them that I can’t even do that. So we brought her in to find out why. It turns out that she had kind of a photographic memory. On the board in one of the rooms, there was 1-100. When we asked her how she did it, she said that she read it, meaning she just looks into space and just sees it. So that’s the kind of kid she was. She was very, very bright and was a good artist also. She won an award at the State Fair for a ceramic vase she made as an amateur. And she was a good athlete. She was a high diver, a swimmer, a gymnast and she was accepted at any college she applied for. She ended up going to Colorado Springs and now she runs an advertising company. Not a big one, but a very good one. My disappointment with her was when she was in college at University of Colorado and she called me up and said she wanted to major in art. Of course, I dropped the phone because I wanted her to be a doctor or a lawyer or an Indian chief but not an artist. But it worked out fine. The middle child, Toni, was absolutely beautiful. Every time someone saw her they would say she was a gorgeous child. She was much darker than Paige, more like I was. She was completely artistic and very good at it. She became an artist and art teacher. My biggest disappointment was that when she graduated college from OU with honors, three times, I wanted her to go back and get a master’s but she didn’t want to. I told her to get a job teaching and she didn’t want to. So she ended up going around the country showing her wares. She did stained glass and pottery, just a lot of lovely stuff. She never made any money and didn’t care obviously. Eventually she came back and got married and had a couple of kids and now she is teaching, thank God. My son was no student at all. He even had to take kindergarten over. This is my disappointing part. He had to go to summer school every year until he graduated. But he was a fabulous musician. He used to play gigs all over, not making much but really enjoyed it. But then the good thing was that he came to me one day and said he wanted to open a CD and tape store. I asked him if he knew how to write a check. He was about twenty-one and said that he didn’t. He had gone to Europe for a year and traveled all through Europe playing music. He went to Israel and lived for awhile, went to Egypt for awhile, Munich. So he spent time in Europe. So he opened the store and it did phenomenally and he is doing very well today and is still doing very well. Nicole went to college. This is my wife’s daughter who I raised. She went to the University of Toledo and she futzed around there, quit and then went to college again. When you do a television shoot or a movie shoot or an advertising shoot, somebody has to feed these people. It is called craft service. Debbie used to do that also. So she got Nicole to do that and then Nicole liked it so much that she went to New York to do it. When times were rough, she answered an ad at this store that sold overcoats. A big store like Schottenstein’s. She wanted to be a book buyer. There was already one. They asked her why she wanted to do that, and she said that she liked children’s books and I think I would be good at it. They liked her, so they made her assistant buyer, and then the buyer left and they made her the buyer. It was a big store in New Jersey. So she ended up being a buyer there and then got married and had three children. So everything worked out well for her too.
Interviewer: Do you have any hobbies?
Louis: Well, television. I love television and I love doing television. I got paid for it as a professional, but I could have done it without. Acting and theater I adored. I don’t do it now because I can’t see to do scripts. I played a lot of tennis, swam, and the internet and computers. I love that and do a lot with that. I have all these pictures that I have been working on, putting them all together for posterity, similar to what you are doing with this.
Interviewer: Did you travel to any other places in the world on vacations? Do you go different places?
Louis: I went to a lot of places. I went to Israel in 1967 right after war. When I was there, the Wailing Wall was just tiny because of the rubble. I traveled the Via de Rosa, went into Bethlehem and went down to the manger and went to ______ and to the Kotel. We went to Caesaria and saw the marble the Romans had brought to have sarcophagus. Went to Haifi and saw the church where Napoleon was sick and they took care of him. Went to the Holocaust Museum. Went all over Israel. I lived in Africa for six weeks and Kenya and Uganda and _____ Tanzania. I traveled all through there in the jungles and set up tents in the jungles. I’ve been to Jamaica and have been to Hawaii – all over. I really haven’t gone out to the east, but I’ve been to London two or three times, Paris a couple of times, the Caribbean, St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. _____, St. Kitt’s, Barbados, Granada. I can’t remember everything, but all over California, Nevada, Texas, Florida, New England, all the way up to Province Town. I saw plays up there. Canada, Montreal, Quebec City and I’m sure more places. But I can’t remember them all.
Interviewer: It sounds like you enjoyed that.
Louis: I loved it. There’s a Shakespeare up there by Niagara on the Lake on the Canadian side, by Stratford, that is phenomenal. Everybody should go there. They have a George Bernard Shaw Festival too.
Interviewer: A lot of your stuff is involved with acting. You really like theater.
Louis: As long as I can remember. The first time I got a taste of it I _____ on it when I was bar mitzvah’d. I can’t believe I said this to myself, but I did. After it was all over, I walked into the other room and I said “You know, I’ve got them in the palm of my hand. I felt like I knew when they were listening and when they weren’t. I don’t know why it came about. I don’t know why I even thought about it, but I always wanted to be an actor. I once had a friend in Cleveland. I was in Columbus and was married and had an office. This friend in Cleveland had a brother who was a big producer in Hollywood. He produced “Pillow Talk” with Rock Hudson. I can’t remember his name. It wasn’t his real name. He was a Jewish guy. I said I want to get a screen test from your brother. She said to call him. She gave me his number and I called him on the phone, and he asked me what I did and whatnot and all the plays I was in and stuff. He said to do myself a favor and keep being an optometrist and go out and do as much community theater as you can and some professional if you can, but don’t come to Hollywood. You’ll be better off. But I did do a couple of movies. I did a movie called “Black Beauty” where I had lines. And I did a movie called “Traffic” where I had a walk-on. Those are the only two I know of that I did.
Interviewer: Are there any deaths of loved ones you want to talk about?
Louis: My grandfather, Louie Singer, who I was very close with and who wanted me to read Cervantes and Tolstoy and other great art and discuss things with him. I had a strong affinity toward this man. I remember when he died there was a funeral. I came late to the funeral so I wasn’t dressed in a black suit or anything, so I stayed back and watched it all. Of course, my mom was upset because she thought I wasn’t there, but I was there. When she saw me, she was okay. It didn’t matter what clothes you wore. It mattered that you were there. With my father, it was bittersweet because he was 98-1/2 or 99 years old. I gave the eulogy. I started by saying that we weren’t there to mourn his death but to celebrate his life. Then I told stories about my father, who I thought was just brilliant. And then I said to the funeral people that I wanted to be a pallbearer. I asked if there was anything in Judaism that prevented me from being a pallbearer. They said no. Most people don’t, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. So my brother and I were two of the pallbearers. I felt much better that I did it rather than somebody else.
Interviewer: Is there anything unusual that has occurred in your adult life that you wish to talk about?
Louis: Well, the unusual thing was getting on “The Price Is Right.” That is really unusual. After that happened I thought I had the Midas touch. I have a cousin who lives in Columbus, Victor Krupman, who calls me Lucky Louie. No matter what happens, you seem to come up on the top side, even when things go bad. I got divorced once and all my money was gone, but everything came back to me somehow. And I don’t even know how myself. It just happened.
Interviewer: Lucky Louie.
Interviewer: What organizations do you belong to?
Louis: Now? Not really anything. I live in Florida eight months out of the year, and I live here four months. That makes twelve, doesn’t it? I am really not a joiner anymore. When I was in practice I belonged to everything. I belonged to the Lions Club and this group and that group. I used to give lectures at CSG, like I went to Israel I made slides and gave lectures there, and to the regular school. I belonged to all the optometry associations. In college I was in Phi Sigma Delta but was also in a fraternity in optometry school. I was in Beta Sigma Kappa, which is like Phi Beta Kappa for optometry. I was chief justice of the student commission and I was president of the professional intra-fraternity council and president of the optometry school. So I did a lot of things, but as time went on, I felt that you have to focus. There are so many things that you can do, but you stretch yourself out. So you must focus on certain things that are important like your children, your business, theater, things like that. I always belong as an alumni to Ohio State. Every year I give the optometry school something. But I don’t join a lot of organizations anymore. That is beyond me. I try to focus very strongly, especially now that I am going to be 80 in a couple of months.
Interviewer: Do you belong to a synagogue now?
Louis: No, I don’t belong to a synagogue. When I come to Columbus, I do go with Victor sometimes for the minyan in the mornings over at Agudas Achim. But I belonged to Temple Israel for years and years and years and eventually I dropped out.
Interviewer: Do you have favorite holidays that you celebrate with your kids perhaps or your family?
Louis: Well, you know, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are very, very important. We definitely do Passover and also my wife is not Jewish. We used to celebrate Christmas a lot. We don’t do it as much anymore because there is just the two of us there. So if her children don’t come and my children don’t come, I light the lights of Chanukah and she lights the Christmas tree. And the ornaments on the tree are things we have done. So if we go to England, we will bring back a pencil from England. When we went to Italy, we went the Vatican. Across the street a lady was selling a keychain that we bought to remind us that we went through the Vatican. Different places that we go we bring back a souvenir and then we dress the tree, we can remember what we did at these things. And then she has a bunch of ornaments that were her grandmother’s and mother’s that she puts on the tree. But when we lived in Columbus and I was married to Deborah, we would have Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and my kids would come. We would do Chanukah for sure and Passover for sure, except sometimes we would go to Cleveland where we have a huge family. We would do a 50-person Passover there. Just normal stuff, you know.
Interviewer: Are there any stories you would like to tell that I have not asked you?
Louis: I think I really told you almost everything. In Africa once I got chased by an elephant. I swam the butterfly in high school and we won every meet we were ever in except that state. I had a scholarship in swimming but didn’t take it. I went to Ohio State instead. I can’t think of anything.
Interviewer: If you could give a message about life and love to your children, grandchildren and the generations to come, what would that be?
Louis: I’m going to say something that every single person that has ever flown on an airplane has heard. When you are in an airplane, they tell you that if you need oxygen, it will fall in front of you. You should put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your child. And I lead that to believe that in life all kinds of adversity and different things happen. Before you run around like a crazy person trying to solve all of your children’s, parents and friends problems, make sure you have solved the problem in you. Nobody can hurt you but yourself. Nobody. When you get in an argument with somebody, you are hurting yourself. They are not hurting you. If you take care of yourself, if you love yourself, everything else will happen no matter what it is. There was a person that I met in my life who came up with a saying “Living is loving and learning.” Never forget that. Even if you are just loving yourself, try to love and try to learn constantly, whether it is a computer, a script, a book you read, it doesn’t matter what learning is, how to work a toaster oven. It doesn’t matter. You just can’t stop learning and loving.
Interviewer: Anything else you want to add?
Louis: I can’t think of anything except that you were a wonderful interviewer.
Interviewer: On behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, I want to thank you for contributing to the Oral History Project. This concludes our interview.
Transcribed by Phyllis Komerofsky
November 10, 2013