This is July 29, 1998. I’m Naomi Schottenstein. I’m the interviewer representing the Columbus Jewish Historical Society and today we’re interviewing Harold Eisenstein and we are doing this recording at the Federation building on College Avenue. We’re going to be talking to Harold about his past, his present . . . .
Eisenstein: Lurid past.
Interviewer: Lurid past and present and hopefully future. Harold let’s
start with you and we’re going to finish with you too. Who were you named after?
Eisenstein: I was named after a great grandfather whom I never met, who never
got to this country, who’s, I’m trying to think whether this was on my, I don’t
remember now whether it was on my mother’s side or my father’s side.But it was a great grandfather.
Interviewer: And what is your Jewish name?
Eisenstein: Herschel, Hersch, Herschel.
Eisenstein: And the Hebrew name is Tsvi.
Interviewer: And so was that your grandfather’s name? They were much more strict in those days about naming and keeping the name.
Interviewer: Now they change them around so much, it’s hard to put any
connection to it. But, so do you have any memories of any of your grandparents?
Eisenstein: Yes, my father’s parents I remember. My mother’s parents
never came to this country. My father’s parents, he was Dovid. He was David. My son is
named after him. And her name was Gittel. And my son David bears the middle initial G in honor of her. They were a typical immigrant family who were brought to this country by the oldest son, my father’s oldest brother, who had a success story in America and then went back and brought the family over. I remember my grandmother. They lived in a different part of the city than we did.
Interviewer: What city was this?
Eisenstein: Chicago.I was born in Chicago. And they, my grandparents and nine-tenths or more of my family, resided on the west side of Chicago which was the fringe of the ghetto or part of the Jewish ghetto in Chicago and we lived on the north end of the city. My father was in business in that area and I guess we were very quickly going to become Yankees, I guess, you know. But . . . .
Interviewer: That was a very acceptable title to be integrated into . . . .
Eisenstein: Yeah. I think there my parents sought to have us, without
negating their roots, because any holidays and so on, we traveled to the west
side to be with the family. But Dad I guess felt that he had better business
opportunities in that part of the city. And getting back to my grandparents, she
was a very little woman and he was also no skyscraper with a light beard and a
black hat. Not a chosid hat but a black hat, form of a bowler I guess,
and I remember, gosh, I don’t know, I couldn’t have been five years old but
I remember at one time she stayed with us. I guess it was sort of a vacation.
She stayed with my mother and father. I could never hazard a guess as to how
long it was but I remember at that time there was a fire in the building and I
remember her sitting out in the back yard with all the excitement going around,
the turmoil and so on, getting it under control. It wasn’t terribly
destructive. And I always remember her with this little sheitel on top of
her head and a tiny wart at the corner of her chin. Whenever we came over to
visit, you know, she made it a point – spoke no English, no English whatsoever –
Interviewer: Excuse me for interrupting. Do you know when they came to this
Eisenstein: It has to be, I’m trying to think. My parents came to this
country in 1909 and I assume that just about that time, ’cause I think my dad
came with his parents and his brothers, you know, brought them over, so I would
say, you know, somewhere in the 1909 timing. And getting back to my grandmother,
Gittel Sorre, she would always manage to, you know, take me by the hand
and take me into another room and reach into her little change purse and give me
a nickel, you know, or three cents that she had squirreled away from her
domineering husband. I guess he was quite a domineer—, I remember in his room
he had like an old beat-up trunk and periodically, at group gatherings, he would
go through the trunk and take out a bottle that had white liquid in it and I
know it wasn’t water. (Laughs.)
Interviewer: Maybe vodka?
Eisenstein: Probably. But my grandmother died in the early 1930s and I
remember when she was on her deathbed and we had come to my grandparents’
home. She had lived with an aunt of mine, the grandparents lived with an aunt. And we came to see her and I remember my mother taking me and saying, “Go in, she loved you. Go into the room and see her,” you know. And the woman was lying in bed with long white hair flowing down to her shoulders that I had never seen, you know.
Interviewer: Oh ’cause she always kept it tied.
Eisenstein: Yeah, it was all underneath the . . . .
Interviewer: Under the sheitel.
Eisenstein: And she looked completely different and very serene, you know.
Interviewer: Uh huh. So you have a real stark memory of that.
Eisenstein: Yeah. And then, I don’t know, within a year or so he went back
to Europe. Now he owned some property there and I don’t know how and then
several months later, we heard by a letter that he had married a young woman of
about 68 or so, you know.
Eisenstein: . . . . was at least in his 80s then . . . . And . . . .
Interviewer: That’s interesting, an interesting touch. Because very seldom
do you hear of people of that era going back to Europe.
Eisenstein: Yeah he went back and as I say, he remarried there.
Interviewer: Did you ever see him after that?
Eisenstein: No, no. He never came back to this country. I don’t, you say
where did my parents come from, where did they emanate from? I can remember a
town called Yanova and I think there’s a member of this community whose family
comes from the same town. It was on a river. I always thought it was it was the
Kneiper River but I’m not quite sure whether, what my mother filled me in
with, I’m not sure whether that’s 100% true. But it was sort of like a small
port town. And my mother’s family supplied, in a small way I imagine, some of the ships, you know, cargo or at least nourishment for the crew that came in and they had some land there which actually didn’t belong to them. But, you know, Jews could not own land. Where was this? This was somewhere in the Pale and I remember getting, I would see the stamps when mother would get a letter from her mother. Sometimes it had a Polish stamp on it. Sometimes it had a Russian stamp. So it was one of those territories that kept shifting back and forth.
Interviewer: That’s what geography was like in that time.
Eisenstein: Yeah, yeah. And evidently they lived in, my father lived in a
different shtetl which was maybe if I can remember, maybe less than 15
miles away. And although they had known one another in the Poles country,
nothing stirred between them of a serious nature until they got to this country.
Interviewer: Oh so they remet here and . . . .
Eisenstein: Yes, yes. And both branches of the family settled in Chicago. Yes
they all settled in Chicago because that’s where the older brother, my father’s
older brother, had settled, who was a banker or real estate man, a person who
had owned coal yards or one of those things. Very wealthy. Lost it all in ’29. Made it all back again. Millions or whatever. A million at least ’cause money was different in those days.
Eisenstein: And then gave the second million away to his first wife so that
he could have a divorce you know, and then married for a second time and made it
all back again. So he was just one of those . . . .
Eisenstein: And then in the end, when he passed on, he gave his remaining
millions to the Jewish charities and the Talmud Torahs and the yeshivas
in the Chicago area. Gave it all. And though he provided well for his second wife, she had no control over the wealth that he left at the time of his death. She was well taken care of but she had no money that could say was her own.
Interviewer: Well that’s kind of a European . . . .
Interviewer: thing too, of that era. We’re going to talk more about your
relatives later on in the interview. But I want to get the background here. So
what year were you born?
Eisenstein: In 1917, December.
Interviewer: And you were born in Chicago?
Eisenstein: Right, uh huh. Lakeview Hospital, which no longer exists.
Interviewer: Did you live in that area most of your life or until you got
Eisenstein: Yes I lived in, we had at least one, two, three, four, five, a
half a dozen different domiciles in the course of my growing up. But it was
basically on the north end of town and Rogers Park, which was fairly exclusive
in those days. Although we were never of the moneyed class, I assure you. Following 1929, my dad struggled to make a living for his family.
Interviewer: What did your dad do for a living?
Eisenstein: He was a tailor-furrier. But always farmed the work out. He didn’t do it himself. He was the entrepreneur. He would bring in a tailor to work for him or a furrier to work for him.
Interviewer: Oh, well that’s interesting. That was a fairly reliable
Eisenstein: Yeah, uh huh. In those days.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Fur coats are not that popular in Chicago today.
Eisenstein: No, no.
Interviewer: But they were.
Eisenstein: It’s a completely different situation now.
Interviewer: Yeah, yeah. And do you remember your grandparents talking about
Europe and about their life there or your father?
Eisenstein: Never, never. I remember, and my father was much like me, strange
as it may seem, was not much of a talker. However, my mother related
experiences. Virtually what I’m telling you is really based on things that I
had gleaned or remembered from my conversations with my mother. As I say, the
territory that they lived on, you see, actually belonged to the royal family
evidently and it was a mistress of the Czar who occupied the area and my mother
would say as a little girl, she recalled seeing the train come in, evidently to
the siding, and all this baggage and wagons of material being unloaded and then
seeing the consort or the concubine or whoever she was, coming out. And the
countess was a tall woman, you know, with her hands in the fur muff and the
caracul collar and so on. After telling the story to my wife, Anita has a,
always likes to tell the story to our children about the little peasant girl who
stands there gawking at this beautifully- dressed woman and says, “Some day
I will be tall and statuesque like that woman.” And my mother was never
more than five foot one!
Interviewer: Oh so it never would happen.
Eisenstein: She used to go ice skating in her bare feet on the frozen pond or
lake or whatever it was in their domicile which did have an Aron Kodesh I
guess on the eastern wall you know and frequently their minyans and so on
of the immediate group that resided there would have, you know, the services in
my grandparents’ house.
Interviewer: You can make a service or a synagogue wherever you are really .
Eisenstein: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
Interviewer: If there are enough, if you have at least ten men I guess.
Eisenstein: And mother had two cats, Rentsis and Sorki.
Interviewer: Oh the cats’ names?
Eisenstein: . . . . the names.
Interviewer: Oh that’s good. That’s good. Harold do you have siblings,
Eisenstein: I had one brother. The Eisenstein families were notorious for
having four or five sons before a daughter appeared and after two sons, I guess
my mother said, “That’s enough.” She spent her time raising her two
sons. Unfortunately, my brother who was really a saint, I wish I could say I
was, or am, as wonderful a human being as he was, died when he was 48 years old,
Interviewer: What year was that? Or do you remember when he was born, what
Eisenstein: He was born in 1914, 1913. 1913 because he was four years and
eleven months older than I was and he was really like a second father to me. You know, we had our fights but . . . .
Interviewer: Even with that . . . .
Interviewer: …that wasn’t very many years apart.
Eisenstein: But he.
Interviewer: But he was a wise person then.
Eisenstein: In fact he was the one who led me astray. I mean got me into the
theater business . . . . we might say.
Interviewer: Is that right? What was your brother’s name?
Eisenstein: My brother’s name was Walter, Walter Sheldon Eisenstein. And he was interested in the theater and had, in high school, had been in the plays and in the junior college that he attended which was closed. We’re talking now about depression times. It was a two year, you know, community college and when he graduated, then the college closed. You know, it was closed for ten years or more before the city regrouped or revamped and then opened three junior colleges in different sections of the city.
Interviewer: What was the name of the junior college?
Eisenstein: Crane College. It was a tack-on to a Crane Technical High Schoolthat was somewhere on the west side. And my brother continued his interest in theater there at Crane College where it was strictly an extra-curricular activity. But the English instructor who was the head, the director of this activity, happened to be a fine, fine theater man. He had an image, a vision of theater and my brother learned tremendously from him, as did his friend, a yuoung man by the name of Sherman Marks. They got out of Senn High School just about the same time and went on to Crane College. And when the college closed, they got the brilliant idea of going through the school files and collecting the names of the past ten years of students who had been members of the theater club, you know, which was called “The Mummers”. And they were going to start a community theater in Chicago called “The Mummers”, using as its initial source of talent those students who had participated in The Mummers Club. I had no interest in theater whatsoever. I was more interested in being a baseball player and a football player. I was much more interested in athletics.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Now let’s get back to The Mummers. Is this where they
originated? Is that what I understand that they originated, the organization
called The Mummers?
Eisenstein: Well you see there’s a St. Louis Mummers and there’s a
Philadelphia Mummers. The Philadelphia Mummers, I don’t know if these
organizations still exist but they used to do notorious parades in Philadelphia
much like we associate with the Mardi Gras and so on in . . . .
Interviewer: New Orleans.
Eisenstein: New Orleans. But see the word “mummer” itself means
“actor”. It was a term used during Shakespeare’s time. Actors were sometimes called mummers. Maybe it came from the word “mime” . I don’t know. But that was the name. And they got all these group of talented people together and then my mother said to my brother, “Take him along with you. Maybe he’ll talk more.”
Interviewer: Oh you were too quiet, huh?
Eisenstein: Yeah. And I came and I met some of these men and they were not
the will-of-the-wisps that I associated with dramatics in junior high school or high school, you know. And they were basketball players, played on the basketball teams at Crane College and they were wrestlers and so on and so it was a completely different thing. And really without any formal training whatsoever, although I did have some in ensuing years, I became a director. I mean I did some acting but I was much more interested in directing from the very beginning, you know, once I got in, got the touch, you know, got bitten.
Interviewer: And your brother, is that, that’s what he did all his life
then? He was interested in . . . .
Eisenstein: Well yes he was interested in theater and he and Sherman started
this Mummers Theater with the hope that it would build into an organization from
which the individuals could begin to get paid, you know. It didn’t, the
director, that was Sherman Marks, went on salary but eventually nobody else
really did ever get to that point. It was a point in Chicago’s theatrical
history completely different from the way it is today. The critics, well let me
say that the Chicago Tribune, which is the most powerful paper in
the Chicago area and especially in those years, had a drama critic who had
stated, somewhere I remember hearing, “That the com- munity theater
continues to be a cancer on the life of the theater in Chicago.” So you
know what this critic’s attitude was at that time and how it affected the
fledgling groups trying to establish themselves and become a theater in Chicago.
You see, Chicago had been a great theater town before the depression.There were many theaters and there were stock companies. A lot of, well you would remember Ralph Bellamy for one, and Melvin Douglas. They got their starts in stock companies in the Chicago area. But then, one by one, the theaters all closed down and the theater was all New York. It was all New York. And New York would send out some road companies to the four or five theaters that remained open in Chicago and they were poor carbon copies because nobody wanted to leave New York so they would be inferior productions. And we wanted to do something coming out of the grass roots of the community that would match it and be even better. And when I left Chicago in 1949, 1950, ’49-’50 . . .you know, there were maybe a couple groups around and there was some Summer theater in the area and that was it. Now today there is more off-Broadway theater in Chicago than there is in New York.
Interviewer: That’s what I understand: it’s quite a theater . . . .
Eisenstein: It’s a great theater town now — now that I’m a little past
my prime, you know, and . . . .
Interviewer: Uh huh. Yeah. ‘Cause we, I think we just kind of, our first
thought is that New York is where all the theater is. But I know that, I’m
aware of many theater groups . . . .
Eisenstein: Yeah well it’s still, you know, it’s still more and there’s
still the chances of getting faster to the second run as far as, you know,
monetary subsistence is concerned. But you can’t negate what Chicago has
produced great talent, you know, play- wrights like David Mamet, you know, and
Sam Shepard, you know, all worked out of Chicago and many actors that are now
making their names in movies, like Gary Sinise and oh Karl Malden came out of
Chicago. A whole bunch. There was a school called The Goodman Theater School and
it was not very good at all but it was the only such place. But physically it
was a beautiful laboratory. And many talented people went to the Goodman but
despite their training, they remained talented and then went on to careers in
New York and in Hollywood. But not necessarily of what they got out of the
Goodman as students at that time. The Goodman Theater had originally been built
to house a repertory theater as well as a drama school. It was staffed by a very
talented group of actors from New York City. But it was evidently the wrong time
for such an art form because Chicago remained indifferent to the efforts of
these young theatrical pioneers. So after two years the venture folded and
practically the entire company left and returned to New York. All that was left
was a mediocre drama school limping along while operating in a beautiful theater
space. Then along came the war and its successful conclusion.
Interviewer: Yeah we’re talking about World War II?
Eisenstein: Yes, yes. Oh God, yes. You read about it in the papers? (Joke)
Interviewer: Yes I certainly have. I certainly have!
Eisenstein: Now the G. I. Bill of Rights emerged. Suddenly men could go to a
theater school, at government expense. Before that all the men at the Goodman
were on scholar- ship because the school needed men to be with the women for
parts in plays and so on.
Eisenstein: Now they were getting in and paying tuition! There was a
rejuvenation of the school. And then in later years, they hired a couple of
excellent teacher-directors and the Goodman Theater became what is now a Chicago
fixture that does excellent creative work and is a fine contributor to the
Interviewer: Uh huh. So your brother was able to make a living then in the
Eisenstein: Not really, no. He always had another job.
Interviewer: Keep your day job.
Eisenstein: Yeah exactly, exactly, until, you know, I really, he really got
his first paid theater job through me in the reverse of procedures years later.
I stayed with The Mummers until it folded but we did have, we did run a Summer
theater up in Charlevoix, Michigan. This was before the war. In 1940, the Chicago Mummers Theater had a summer theater in Eagle, Wisconsin. And the following Summer we were in Charlevoix, Michigan. At Eagle, I went up as an apprentice. That year there was a business manager who was paid and the director, Sherman Marks, was paid and that was it. And all the others, no one else got paid. Again the men were hired as students, you know, room and board.And the women basically paid tuition to participate and that’s how that existed. When we, the next year in Charlevoix, where we brought several radio stars up to Charlevoix, who wanted to get back into the theater, participated and of course they were paid very modest sums, you know, because they wanted to do theater and they knew that the direction was good. Sherman Marks had beginning to make a name in Chicago in radio at that time and they knew that he was the head of it. That would be a, you know, they would trust themselves.
Eisenstein: And I had been very helpful to him and I had been in several of
the shows and when they had a school in Chicago prior to that in the Auditorium
Theater Building, I was like an assistant to him. Anyway, so he hired me, the
first money I really made. Although I’d done some other free lance theater
jobs directing. And I was hired for $20 a week to be in the theater. And it was a fabulous experience, you know. And I directed. Sherman let me direct about three shows.
Interviewer: So your interest really was in directing?
Eisenstein: Yes it was. I acted in the shows up there and I also directed. As
I say, I was always more interested in directing. And then, I didn’t get paid
the last two weeks of the Summer because the money ran out . . .But I remember the first show, we had Les Tremayne. Do you remember the name Les Tremayne? “First Nighter,” in radio?
Interviewer: Oh yeah.
Eisenstein: Yeah he was the “First Nighter” and Audrey Totter who
later went on to films. She was in several of the plays. I remember she was in
the film “Lady in The Lake”. Remember that Montgomery film? Robert
Montgomery? You never saw him. He was the camera. And it was some mystery thing. And later she was the first gal in “Gunsmoke” who was James Arness’ girlfriend or she ran a rooming house or something like that. But then I lost track of her. I don’t know what happened. But anyway there was a company of about a dozen people plus the apprentices and so we were able to rent the place and so on. But it didn’t, it didn’t, we didn’t draw the crowds in the first year. So it folded.
Interviewer: Tough . . . .
Eisenstein: And the next year came the war.
Interviewer: And that blew the theater out of perspective . . . .
Eisenstein: Yeah and . . . .
Interviewer: Was your brother married? Did he have . . . .
Eisenstein: Yes my brother married. My brother, we both, here’s the thing,
as a parent, that you might understand. My brother and I were drafted at the
same time and so you can imagine, you know, my parents’ reaction. Although
they were very stoic about it. And we went into the service together. Because of
our theatrical back-ground we were, we knew that films were being made in Astoria on Long Island, training films and so on we had heard. And so we asked to be, you know, if we could, when you’re first inducted and you go through all this orientation. They say, “Well what do you want to, what branch of service are you interested in?” You know, what branch of the army.
Interviewer: Those choices?
Eisenstein: Yeah, yeah. So anyway, to make a long story short, training films
were part of the Signal Corps. They sent us to the Signal Corps but I never saw
the first bit of that Astoria. The North African Campaign had started and we
lost a lot of radio repair and receiving men and radio operators. And everybody who came in there, “What do you want to do?” “I want to do training films.” “Okay you’re going to radio school.” They just threw them all in and . . . .
Interviewer: That’s where they were needed?
Eisenstein: Yes, yeah. And I transferred later on, I was able to transfer out
and go to Officer Candidate School in North Carolina. It was on the coast. My
brother stayed in Fort Monmouth and became an instructor as an enlisted man and
then went overseas with a unit that did, you know, photography, combat
photograph and . . . . and so on. But I never got out of the country, no. And anyway, after the war I did some odd jobs. During the war I couldn’t get a job in a defense plant, and here they were running full-page ads for the Studebaker plant, the Buick plant, you know, all running full blast while the war was still going on. And I went to a cousin of mine who had big political ins. He was a bailiff to one of the outstanding judges.
Interviewer: Wait, why couldn’t you get a job in one of the plants?
Eisenstein: Well I don’t know. At that time I didn’t know and I thought,
“My God. Is this anti-Semitism?” You know. So I asked him, you know, and through the judge and through the prosecutors that he was hand-in-glove with because, strange to say, I saw that sometimes justice doesn’t really prevail and it has to do with the person’s pocketbook and what they could do. And that was my cousin’s job as the bailiff. So the judge was never tainted, you know. He would make the deals evidently. In the, you know, the few times I was in the courtroom watching and then I would go back into the judge’s chambers and I would witness some of these operations. At any rate, he had inquiries made for me and they said, “Well no. . . . . not anti-Semitic but they’re not really interested in artists because they feel that they don’t fit in an assembly line, you know, that they’re not the right type of temperament. So.
Interviewer: There was no place for you?
Eisenstein: Yeah, yeah. There was . . . . I did a couple of odd jobs and then
I found out that the, oh, I had taught fencing and diction in the Mummer’s
school and of course, now that had folded and, oh, and I’d also taught in a
modeling school. Naomi, you’re bringing things back into my mind. And I went
back to the modeling school and said, “Hey, I can open a whole department
for you as far as, you know, theater is concerned,” and I did. As I say, I
taught fencing, I taught voice and diction to all these model aspirants and
later on, through the help of a friend I bought, oh, and then I opened a model
Interviewer: Oh you did?
Eisenstein: Yeah. The school had always promised, although they didn’t, you
know, they weren’t, it wasn’t a real strong heavy promise to get employment
for the models, you know.
Interviewer: What was the year that you started the modeling school?
Eisenstein: Well I, this was, the war was 19–, see I came back, went in ’42;
came back late in ’43. It must have been ’44-’45. Actually I bought the
school . . . . and with this operation, this agency. But it was very tough going
and finally I was not success- ful because there were three, one, two, three
very strong agencies and they went out of their way to stifle competition. And I did not have the money to compete.
Interviewer: Kind of got squeezed out of it then?
Eisenstein: Yeah, right, right. And then I heard that, now the Jewish People’s
Institute, which was a Jewish community center in Chicago, a big, actually it
opened in I think, in the 30s. The building had opened in the 30s in the heart
of the Jewish ghetto and was used to assimilate immigrants. It had an accredited
high school so that people, while learning the language, could also learn and
take their citizenship training and so on and also learn grammatical
construction and so on.
Interviewer: Now these were immigrants that came over after World War II.
They were . . . .
Eisenstein: No this was before. I’m talking about before World War II.
Interviewer: Oh okay.
Eisenstein: I’m talking about 1930 that the building cane into existence .
Interviewer: But they’re leaving Europe in great numbers?
Eisenstein: Yeah uh huh, uh huh. There had been a Hebrew Institute which was
smack dab into the Maxwell Street-Taylor Street center and then this social
agency moved to this big building, this huge building. I remember it even had
laboratories, school laboratories in it for teaching chemistry and so on. Well
when I became associated with it in 1946, this period had all finished, you
know. And now it was servicing the neighborhood membership. But it had a
theater, a 750-seat theater in the building. And it really was a place where
many people who later on went on to Broadway, you know, got their original
training or I should say experience in theater in that building. And in 1946
there was some incompetent woman who had been running it for a year or so and
they finally let her go and it was floundering and in chaos and I had been told
by a group of west side residents whom I had used in some single-shot
enterprises of theater that there was an opening and I went and applied and I
remember, oh was the . . . . that dragged on and on and on but really, but
really, was the only paid theater directorial position in the city of Chicago
that was not a one-shot radio deal or if you had a running part. But by that
time also, radio began to dwindle in Chicago and move to both coasts but there
still was a radio field.
Interviewer: So you lucked into a position then?
Eisenstein: Well I wouldn’t say I lucked in. I really became a savior. I
turned the theatre activity back into, you know, a strong operation. I was there
for about three years. And again, my dates are a little hazy. Three or three and
a half years, but anyway it was in 1949 and I left in 1949 because I was offered
a six week contract in New York to do television. We never had a television set
in our house. But again, this Sherman Marks had gone on to a very high position
in one of the television agencies and . . . .
Interviewer: That was a new, exciting era . . . .
Eisenstein: Yeah, this was the days of live television and Anita and I talked
it over (laughter) . . . . I can relate the humorous situation. I don’t know
whether we’re going to finish today but . . . .
Interviewer: No we’re okay. I’ll give you time signals.
Eisenstein: Yeah. After we were married in 1949, we moved into Anita’s
residence on the south side. Anita had twin boys when I married her. She was a
war widow. And I moved in with her but the neighborhood was a changing
neighborhood. You know, every night there would be another robbery on the block.
It was a lovely, lovely apartment and I would be out, you know, I’d be
rehearsing at the JPI and she’d be home alone. So it . . . .
Interviewer: What’s the JPI?
Eisenstein: Jewish People’s Institute.
Interviewer: Oh okay. We had talked about that.
Eisenstein: Uh huh. And so in the Summer we, I had a month off, and we took a
cottage in Michiana Shores which was right around, up on the boundary line
between Michigan and Indiana, see. And it was an area where many Chicago-ans would go to for Summer, you know, vacations and so on. And we got this place and we liked it so much and we found out that the neighboring, the house that was virtually next door, there was great separation and across the street was a forest, you know, one of those things. It was great for two kids, two boys to run around and not have to worry about them, that it was available on a rental basis and it was an all-year-’round house, that it could be lived in. So we made a deal and we rented that house. We closed up the apartment in Chicago and we lived out there in Michiana Shores. It was a two hour, it was a two hour and ten minute commuting thing for me.
Interviewer: Each way?
Eisenstein: Each way! And I say, we think now, “My God were you
Interviewer: How did you commute? How did you . . . .
Eisenstein: Well, I would drive or Anita would drive me to the train station
and then I would take, I think it was the Illinois Central which would take me
into Chicago which, see, we were 65 miles out of Chicago . . . In Chicago, I would get on a Roosevelt Avenue street car, go the rest of the way.
Interviewer: You’re talking every day?
Eisenstein: Well not every day but virtually every day. Not on Saturday. But
on Saturday nights if there was a production . . . .
Eisenstein: Well when it got to production time, the last week or so when I’d
be there, you know, maybe ’till maybe 2:00 in the morning, you know, I stayed
at my parents’ house, see. My parents’ apartment and sometimes Anita’s sister would come up and stay with her for those couple of weeks or her mother might come out, or she might be alone. But it was wonderful out there. And this went on . . . .
Interviewer: It sounds like your family was totally in approval of your
career and were comfort- able with your life.
Eisenstein: Yeah, or else there was . . . .
Interviewer: They pitched in and helped.
Eisenstein: I couldn’t have done it without them. Let me put it that way.
And it was, I submitted them to some tortures I guess. It was, that I, some of which I was.
Interviewer: Harold, before we go too much further, we just have a little bit of time on this. Let’s go back to your school and tell us where you were, where you started to school.
Eisenstein: Well I went to grammar schools in Chicago and I went to junior
high school in Chicago. I was at Stockton Junior High School and my dad then
purchased a place of business in Rogers Park and so we moved up into a building
that was owned by my uncle, the wealthy man. And I transferred to Sullivan High School. And I had to take some kind of an entrance examination and you know, I.Q. and all that jazz and I got placed in the top, 8 A class. But there were 51 kids in the room and there was only 48 desks, even then, you know. And I was in that room and I stayed along with them except in Latin. They would rattle off these declensions and I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.
Eisenstein: And then, because of overcrowding, they transferred me to another
8A class, the next one. They had room for methere and I remember all the boys
petitioning that I should stay in the original class because I could throw a
baseball further than anyone else in that class.
Interviewer: Oh you were valuable then?
Eisenstein: Yes, yes.
Interviewer: I’m going to bring this to a close so we can turn over on the
other side. This is ending Tape l and we’ll just stop for a moment here. All
right, we’re on Side B now Harold. We’re in grade 8A. Let’s continue with
your school . . . .
Eisenstein: So I graduated from Sullivan Junior High School and went to Senn
Interviewer: How do you spell that?
Eisenstein: S-E-N-N, Nicholas Senn High School.
Eisenstein: Which if I remember correctly, there were 4000 students. That’s
the size of the, you know, it was not overcrowded. With one black student who
was a post- graduate. He didn’t quite make it. He was a phenomenal athlete and
later partici- pated in the Olympics. It must have been 1936 or, yeah, I guess
the 1936 Olympics.
Interviewer: What was his name?
Eisenstein: Freddy Pollard. Fred Pollard. I can’t forget that. He was a
lovely, lovely person and he was a hurdler and a pole vaulter. He played
fullback on the football team. And he got a scholarship. As a student I think he
was so occupied because he seemed a very intelligent young man but he probably
had to go these extra semesters to graduate, to get a diploma. And then he got a
scholarship to Brown University. And you know to get a scholarship to Brown, you know, that’s an Ivy League school . . . .
Interviewer: Sure . . . . qualify.
Eisenstein: . . . . really . . . . something. But it was, then I heard later
that he got a job there, you know, while he was at school . . . . to help him
get through school, he got a job where he was paid $25 a week and his job was to
change toilet paper in the . . . . .
Interviewer: That was his job?
Eisenstein: That was his job.
Interviewer: Wow. Did he go on to bigger and better things?
Eisenstein: Well as I say he became an, he was in the Olympics, you know.
Interviewer: So he did?
Eisenstein: Yeah he was a, now I don’t know. That was already, we were far
removed from one another by then.
Eisenstein: But I remember reading about him. From Senn High School I
graduated and went to Wright Junior College. Now in early high school, in fact
in junior high, I was already bitten by the theater, see. And of course I would
have nothing to do with the theatrical activity in the high school. I was too
busy already working with The Mummers and observing. And at Wright College there
was no theater offered. I took a Shakespeare course but it was really led by an
English teacher, but I really felt stifled. I mean I regret to say that I felt
that I could not learn about theater and learn about the craft that I wanted to
undertake in a school, see. So I graduated from Wright and I took some, a few
courses at Northwestern but that was it, you know. And I was already working in
Summer stock you know . . . .
Interviewer: You were having the experience?
Eisenstein: Yes and getting some form of remuneration. You know, I regret that I never held out for a degree, because it would have made my choices of employment much wider in the area of theater. But hell, when I went to New York and was thrown into televison, I knew what I was doing and a bunch of those dummies in high positions didn’t know what was happening! Without a television set even!
Interviewer: Well let’s continue with your New York experience.
Eisenstein: Well I went to New York to stay for six weeks and one boy went to
my folks and the other boy went to Anita’s folks and Aanita and I had a second
honeymoon in New Yorkwhere I started as an observer. I followed Sherman Marks
around. Now we worked for the Lewis G. Cowan Agency. Now the Lewis G. Cowan
Agency was known in the trade then as the fourth network. There were so many
shows that we were producing for NBC, CBS and ABC, you know, that, and Sherman
was the Executive Producer and . . . .
Interviewer: What kind of shows were you producing?
Eisenstein: Well there was “What’s My Name?”, “The Paul
Winchell Show”, “Stop the Music”, “The Bill Goodwin
Show”, “The Bert Parks Show”, “Fearless Fosdick”, which
was a cartoon show . . . .
Interviewer: All of them sound familiar.
Eisenstein: Yeah all of them . . . .
Interviewer: Very well known.
Eisenstein: We were very young. And there were a couple of shows that we did
that didn’t get on the network. They were just local in New York, you know,
“The Price is Right” type of show. I don’t even remember the titles.
And I followed Sherman around and observed and then went to his home in the
evening and we worked on run-downs as to what would make a good program for
“Stop the Music”, along with his brother whom we had brought in
really, it was really nepotism ’cause George is a very lovely man but his idea
of theater or show business was completely distracted. He had married an opera
singer and became her manager and her career went right into the toilet. They
were divorced. But that was really, his knowledge, you might say of show
business. But Sherman got him this job and he worked on the run-downs and the
continuity for the show which would be given to the M.C. to introduce whatever
was coming next. This was “Stop the Music”. But the show they were
having the most trouble was with the Paul Winchell “What’s My Name”
show because, for one reason they did not have complete control. Besides him
getting a very good star salary, he was also given I think it was $11- or $1200
over that, he would pay the comedy writers, see. So he did the hiring of the comedy writers and him coming out of vaudeville, he coming out of vaudeville was, you develop a technique, you develop a continuity, you develop material. But hen you go into television and what do you do next week, see? Paul was a very, very talented man but it was a complicated new field and so he was very unsure of himself. He would take certain guidance or certain direction from Sherman and then he would be in a corner on the telephone calling his manager and complaining bitterly that he didn’t think things were going right, one of those things. Well we had been in New York for I think about three weeks and we were out to dinner with the Markses, Sherman and his wife, Marcie, who’d come out of The Mummers too and the B’nai Zion Little Theater.
Incidentally, the B’nai Zion Little Theater, this came out of the Chicago north side synagogue before the Mummers, our Mummers, started. This was my first experience in the theater. Well we had two kids at home and this was now three weeks that we’d been away. So we were out to dinner and dinner was over and Anita says, “Well goodbye Sherman”. He said, “What do you mean goodbye?” She said, “Well I’m going back to Chicago. I have two little kids there, you know, four years old, five years old.” And he said, “Oh well, you know, if I get Harold a contract for six months, will you come back?” And she said, “Okay”. And so the next day I had six-month contract which lasted six years, you know.
Interviewer: Well that gave out some security.
Eisenstein: Yeah, right, right. Because, you know, it’s one of those, it’s
very unusual in the annals of show business. I didn’t have to knock on doors,
Interviewer: Yeah it sounds like an exciting . . . .
Eisenstein: They took me and brought me to New York. As it is, I’m very,
later on, when things got tough and I had problems knocking on doors . . . .You know, it’s why I’m in Columbus, Ohio.
Interviewer: We’re going to get to that in just a little bit but, so you
ended up being in New York another, for six years.
Eisenstein: Yeah. We ended up being in New York for nine years. But I was with the Cowan Agency for over five years. Well, at any rate, I mean, talk about a success story, shows go in 13 cycles, 13-week cycles. I think they still do. Thirteen weeks then there’s another 13 weeks and another 13. So a show’s on the air 39 weeks out of the year. Then you have the Summer replacement. Well,we were in our second cycle of 13 shows. The show had been on, I had been there maybe six or seven weeks, and I would go into the, I was most closely attuned to the Winchell show and hell, he’d say “Hello,” and that was about it.
Eisenstein: And then I got called into the Business Office with Sherman and
the business manager of the Cowan Agency and he said, “Look, we’ve had
enough of this guy Winchell! We don’t care if this show is renewed or not. We’re
not interested. All we want to do is recoup some of our losses.” So they
put the show on a very strict budget. They didn’t have to worry completely
about his salary. Oh I guess they paid part of it, but NBC also paid part of it.
But suddenly with the new budget you could only hire so many actors, you know,
as far as help on the drama spot. It was a variety show. You could only spend so
much money on the dramatic spots and they fired the line of dancers. We had a
fine line of dancers with a choreographer who was also being paid as the camera
director and they got rid of him. And Sherman took over the direction himself.
We went to a dance team instead to keep the variety. A very capable dance team.
But then the time comes and Sherman is going to be too busy; “Eisenstein,
you’re going to direct the show. You’re going to direct the show. ” And
really that amounts to being producer and director of the show. Okay, you
know, fine. And I went in and I remember the first time. We had scheduled,
normally, the first thing that was rehearsed was always the dramatic spot. Paul
wanted a lot of time on that because he was not, he had never been, he had never
acted until he was on this program. But he was like a sponge. He pulled into
this beautifully. And it’s now10:00 a.m. and he says, “Where’s Sherman?” you know. And I said, “Well, Sherman’s not coming in today.” “What do you mean he’s not coming in today?” “You know, I’m going to direct the spot, Paul.” Pause. “Oh, all right. So can we start reading?” We’d read the spot first and I got it up on its feet. We were rehearsing maybe about a half hour at the most when he says, “Uh, excuse me. I got to go.” And he goes off and he goes into the lobby, out of the rehearsal room and gets on the phone. Paul begins to scream the livin’ bejeesus out of his personal manager, Chubby Goldfarb. “You get your ass down here right now. Marks is not here. They got this guy from Chicago that’s runnin’ the joint and I don’t like it.” Well that was the start of my association with Paul Winchell.
Interviewer: But and you were “that guy from Chicago”?
Eisenstein: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It really is another guy from Chicago because
Sherman was also from Chicago. He was . . . .
Eisenstein: You know. But and . . . .
Interviewer: So how did . . . .
Eisenstein: And so he came back and begrudgingly these were the facts.
Sherman was not going to spend time on the show only on specific, you know,
moments or occasions would he come in, and Harold is your director. And very
begrudgingly Paul accepted it. Then we went into the final 13-week cycle and
before that cycle was over, we were all kissing on the lips! I’d made back all
the lost money .And Paul would not take a step without consulting me. And his wife, who took a liking to Anita, we don’t know why, we couldn’t go anyplace without them. We had to go with them to the Copacabana, we had to go with them to Bill Miller’s Riviera. So we really lived the life!
Interviewer: So that turned out to be a really good experience.
Eisenstein: Yeah. For the next three years it was a wonderful, wonderful
Interviewer: Yeah sounds like it. Let’s jump back to build a family picture
here. How did you and Anita meet?
Interviewer: Tell us about that part of your life.
Eisenstein: We met at a dude ranch.
Eisenstein: Du hearst?
Interviewer: A Jewish dude ranch? Okay.
Eisenstein: Well it was run, the man who owned it was!
Interviewer: Where was that?
Eisenstein: This was in Lake Villa, Illinois.
Eisenstein: Thirty miles, or 35 miles north of Chicago. This entreprenuer had
built this lovely operation. He had a farmhouse across the way and he built
this.wonderful lodge. And they had already scooped out an area for a swimming
pool which they would build next year. But the first year was just the lodge and
its activities. And I got a call from him. He had read something in the paper
about Institute players doing Summer stock.
Interviewer: This was in the late ’40s?
Eisenstein: Yes, yes. I’m already employed at the JPI and he said,
“How would you like to come out to the ranch and so some Summer
stock?” And I said, “Oh that sounds very interesting.” He said,
“Well let’s meet and have lunch and I’ll drive you out there and you’ll
take a look and see what can possibly be done.” And he said, “Now we’re
a fledgling operation and we can’t offer any money but we can give you people
a wonderful weekend, you know, room and board and facilities. You can ride
horses and all that.” And I said, “Well okay. Let me see.” And that was Pete Volid who owned the King Korn Stamp Company. Remember S & W stamps?
Interviewer: Yes, sure, uh huh.
Eisenstein: Well, King Korn was very big in the Midwest, you know. And . . . .
Interviewer: Tell us about S & W stamps.
Eisenstein: Well I mean King Korn Stamps was the biggest premium stamp
company next to S&W. You know, had a, they would give you premiums. You went to a gas station here or grocery stores here and you got stamps. With the amount of your purchase, you got a certain amount of stamps. And when you filled the books then you went to the catalog and you could pick out a toaster or a set of fireplace things and so on.
Eisenstein: And so I went out and saw. It was a beautiful place. And I saw
where the lodge itself, other than the room, could be turned into, and if you
got 50 chairs around it would make a nice, it could be a good theater experience
and they could see that whatever you call them – the girders – not the girders
because they’re wood, but the rafters.
Eisenstein: I could attach spotlights to it and okay. So I’ll borrow some
lights from the JPI and we’ll come out here and we’ll do Summer stock. Well
so I came out and I was setting up the lights. Oh and I brought a group. We had
just done a play at the JPI so I took the bunch of nine girls who were in the
show. The name of the show was “Nine Girls”. I changed the title so we
wouldn’t have to pay too much royalty.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Shhhhh. The secrets of theater.
Eisenstein: Yeah, yeah, and brought them, you know, out there and so it was
four rooms or whatever it is, five rooms, and a lighting person who could, must
have had a trans- former or something to dim the lights or someone just to turn
the switch off. But at any rate I was in there, you know, I was working on the
lights and this woman walks across the room. When I turned around to look at
her, she says, “Hello” and continues walking. It was a very pretty
girl in sporty black jodphurs, you know, to go horseback riding in. And I think, and once we got started, we must have come back and played two weekends. Oh I know. We did two weekends and then we did a variety show. It was about three or four times. And about the third or fourth time, oh they had a shuttle, you know, badminton court and we were playing, you know, with the guests. We were playing badminton and this gal came out and was playing badminton with us. And she was terrible at it.
Interviewer: Not an athlete, huh?
Eisenstein: But anyway that was Anita. And Anita’s friend, Ruthy, Ruthy
Volid was Ruthy Friedland in those days, was a sister to Pete. And see she and her husband ran the operation while Pete was in the city, you know, with his other activities. And there were three gals, Anita and Ruth and a third person who is gone now. I’m ashamed that I can’t get the name right now.
Interviewer: Well maybe it will come back to you.
Eisenstein: Yeah it will come back to me. Anyway they were war brides
together see. Their husbands were overseas. Annie Green was her name! Yes, Annie.! Well it wasn’t, Annie’s husband did not, was rejected because he had a bum knee but Annie and Ruth had been friends and so they became a, like a triumvirate during the war. They were very, very close to one another. And Anita being a young widow, Ruth and Pete would invite her out to the ranch on weekends.
Interviewer: So she was a guest?
Eisenstein: She was a guest, you know, a non-paying guest. She was a
Eisenstein: And that’s where we met. I took her for an ice cream cone and a
package of cigarettes. Borrowed car of another gal’s. Who was our lighting man. Our lighting woman, I should say.
Interviewer: But that started?
Eisenstein: That started it, yeah.
Interviewer: How long did you go together before you . . . .
Eisenstein: Almost a year.
Interviewer: Uh huh. So you were married in . . . .
Eisenstein: The following September. . . . .
Eisenstein: Yes, yeah.
Interviewer: Okay. Sounds like you’ll be married 50 years next year.
Eisenstein: That’s right.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Eisenstein: That’s right.
Interviewer: Okay. And she had two children?
Interviewer: Twins? And what are their names?
Eisenstein: Robert and Richard. Richard lives in Worthington, has given us
two lovely grandchildren.
Interviewer: And who is he married to?
Eisenstein: He’s married to Chris and he’s in the computer business and
he’s doing very nicely, danks God.
Interviewer: Danks God. What are the childrens’ names and the ages?
Eisenstein: Emily is going to be 17, Emily Beth, and Michael Andrew is 14. And unfortunately, Richard’s twin brother Robert is in Heritage House.
Eisenstein: He’s 53 years old now, mental problems. And David, our youngest, is a lawyer in Boulder, Colorado. And he’s married.
Eisenstein: He’s married to Mary Medicus.
Eisenstein: And they have no children but they’ve got three cats.
Interviewer: Oh okay. With names probably.
Eisenstein: Yeah. Max is one of them. I don’t remember what the other two
Interviewer: Oh, well, you’ll have to go back and revisit them again. Do
you get out to visit them very often?
Eisenstein: Not too often but they come here. So we see them once or twice a
year or we meet in Chicago or meet in St. Louis where I have a nephew and . . .
Interviewer: Let’s go back to your uncle. I want to talk about your relatives before we con- tinue on your career and how you got to Columbus. We have a lot more to learn from you. Your relatives, you were speaking specifically of your uncle.
Eisenstein: The saviour? Well as I say, it was a very closely-knit Jewish family. Two sisters married two brothers see. That’s my mother and her oldest sister married my father and next-to-the-oldest brother . . . in the Eisenstein family. My mother’s family was the Vladovski family, which in this country became the Williams family, pardon me, and my father was the youngest in his family and my mother was next-to-the-youngest in her family. So when they settled in Chicago, ’cause they knew one another, his brothers made it very difficult for anybody to date my mother because they wanted her for my father.
Interviewer: Oh she . . . .
Eisenstein: Yeah . . . . I have a lovely small picture of them in an open
touring car, remember? My mother with a hat about, you know. . . .
Interviewer: A lady.
Interviewer: A lady picture.
Eisenstein: And my father next to her. Some of the other people, I don’t
know who are in the picture. But at any rate, they were married in 1911 and,
excuse me, they were in Chicago all their lives.
Interviewer: Is this . . . .
Eisenstein: Well I can’t, I’m a little, and they’re not, they finally
came to Columbus after much imploring from me.
Interviewer: Oh they came to Columbus to be . . . .
Eisenstein: Yeah in their last years. Dad has glaucoma and Mom was having problems with her eyes, with cataracts, and she no longer could really see accurately . . . to put the drops into his eyes. Even though they were very adamant about not coming, you know.
Interviewer: It’s hard at that stage.
Eisenstein: Yeah and Dad had a few years here and . . . .
Interviewer: Let’s talk about how you got to Columbus.
Eisenstein: Well, very interesting. I struck some very lean years toward the
end and employ-ment was very spasmodic. And I had a very dear friend who I got him his first job in television, who later on went on to write for Sid Caesar and went out to the coast and produced shows for Danny Kaye and Frank Sinatra and the top level of employment. And of course he’s now older and I don’t know what Shelley is doing. We haven’t seen him in about four years. The last time we went out to the coast we had lunch together, or dinner. I originally had introduced him to his wife. She was one of my models. Remember ‘way back there I told you about?
Eisenstein: Lovely, lovely Jewish gal. And they were married. They produced
two children and they went out to the coast and (mouth noise), splitsville. Of
course they had a tragedy in their family which probably helped induce it. There
was a fire in their home and the children were home alone and the boy must have
been around, about 12 years old, I think, and the girl was maybe eight and he
got out and she got out but she was severely burned on one hand and lost two
fingers.And I have a feeling the guilt feeling that was produced because they were not home at the time and so on, led to, anyway they have since divorced.
Interviewer: Stressed them out.
Eisenstein: Yeah but . . . .
Interviewer: We’re following the track . . . .
Eisenstein: Where am I?
Interviewer: We’re following the track to how you came to Columbus.
Eisenstein: Well I, it’s, when Disneyland opened in Anaheim . . . .
Eisenstein: I did the first television show from Disneyland.
Interviewer: Did you really?
Eisenstein: From there. Actually it was a 90-minute commercial for Disney.
That was in the days of “Davy Crockett”. This was the biggest thing on
the ABC Network and it resurrected them to a position where they really were a
network that wasn’t lagging too far behind the other two networks. And so in
appreciation, ABC must have said, “Well how about the opening of the park?
Let’s do a television thing and anything to keep Mr. Disney happy.”
Interviewer: What was that year Harold?
Eisenstein: 1955. July, 1955, I think. And you know, ’cause it was recently a 40-year, only a couple of years ago, 40th anniversary of the opening of Disneyland.
Eisenstein: And I get a call from the West Coast from Sherman Marks, you
Interviewer: He keeps popping up in your life.
Eisenstein: Yeah. Who is now ensconsed out there and I go out to him and
serve as, he’s the producer and I’m the central director. We had four
directors. It was a 29-camera show. It was the biggest engineering feat on
television up to that time. I think it was the next year that a program on one
of the networks, “The Wide, Wide World of Sports”, you know, came and
was maybe bigger. But a 29-camera show is pretty good and I’m in the central
control and I’m controlling what’s going on in “Frontierland”. Then there’s was “Adventureland” and there’s the “Main Street, U.S.A.” I forgot the names of the other areas and there was a director in each one. And I had to coordinate it all. Well when the show was over, in some future time I’ll tell you stories about that. But when the show was over, at the time we were in the Beverly Hills Hotel the next morning or the next afternoon. And Sherman says, “What are you going to do?” And I says, “Well, you know, I’m going back to New York.” He says, “You should stay out here. This is where it is Harold, you know. It’s only, really, it’s only . . . .” And I said, “Well look, Sherman, I’m only 11 1/2 hours away, you know. If something comes up and well, let me, I’m going to talk to Anita.” And I called Anita. I said, “You know, Sherman would like me to stay out here.” She burst into tears. “I don’t want to go to California. I love it here in New York,” which she did and which I did despite some times like that. And well, anyway, when I parted with Sherman, I said, “Look, I’m 11 1/2 hours away, Sherm.”
Interviewer: If you need me.
Eisenstein: “If you need me, I’m there,” you know. “I’m
going back home again,” which I did. Now Sherman in a couple of years, he
wasn’t divorced and he has a very lovely wife and a very lovely brother-in-law
in Chicago. But he was almost like a two domiciles, he had his, but Shelley
Keller had divorced. Our very dear friend Jack Klugman had divorced, you know.
Also Allen Sherman had divorced . . . .
Interviewer: A lot of tension . . . .
Eisenstein: But they’d all gone out there and, you know . . . .
Interviewer: There’s a lot of time involved and it’s hard . . . .
Eisenstein: You know when you get to a certain position of adulation if I can
say, your feet leave the ground. It’s very difficult, you know. And so at any rate we stayed in New York and while I was in New York I went every so often, I would go to the Jewish Welfare Board. The Jewish Welfare Board is now called the Jewish Community Centers of America. All the centers around the country and in Canada paid a certain dues to them you might say and they furnished them with programming ideas and they sent specialists around to talk about programs to the staff, you know, things like that. And at any rate, I went in once to try to help them, purely as a volunteer, on plays which had Jewish content, that would be interesting for Jewish Community Centers to do. And they kept saying, “When are you going to come back in the field? Want you back in the field,” you know, they’d say, because of my being at the JPI . . . .
Eisenstein: No, no. I’m doing too well. But in television I was working
with dummies in some of the shows. I would go across the Hudson River to Union
City, New Jersey. There was a Jewish Community Center there and for free, I
would produce plays for them and I would bring a lot of actors from New York who
were unemployed actors and would appear with some of the community people. We
did some very nice shows. No theater. We did it in the round with coffee cans
for lights and, I mean, you remember Joseph Sternberg, the man who brought
Marlene Dietrich to Hollywood? He was then living in Jersey and he sent me a fan
letter saying what a wonderful production of “Detective Story” I’d
done in Union City. And you know, it was a good release for me especially when I’d
be working one week and then not be working two weeks, one of those things. So I
said to the Jewish Welfare Board, “All right, put my name around. I think
it’s better to bring up the kids in a setting different than urban New York,
possibly. And so I immediately got a call from Hartford, Connecticut and from
Baltimore and Columbus. Oh I got the call first from Columbus and I said,
“Well all right, I’m interested. What have you got to offer?” And
about a month later or so on, I got a letter from Mayer Rosenfeld saying,
“I’m sorry, the United Fund would not fund the position. Then I got, as I
say, Hartford, Connecticut and . . . .
Interviewer: Now Mayer Rosenfeld was the . . . .
Eisenstein: Mayer was the Director . . . .
Interviewer: Director of the Jewish Center?
Eisenstein: Yeah. And in Hartford I was rejected. Why I was rejected was probably because a member of their board was a Broadway producer. Her last name was Wolfe, Mary Wolfe I think, because in the interview I got along famously with the executive director and I got along famously with the half a dozen women on their Arts Committee that interviewed me. And when I did say things like, “If I’m,” you know, “going back into the amateur field then I wanted control over the shows that would be done,”. . . . . and that I would cast the shows, you know. I benevolently added words to the effect that I would be the dictator. And I don’t think it set right with her. So anyway I got a very nice letter and a follow-up phone call from the executive director and he wouldn’t say why, but.
Interviewer: It was their loss.
Eisenstein: Yeah, yeah. And I went to Baltimore by which time I got the
second call from Columbus and anyway, I went down south to Houston, Texas, to do
a show with Gypsy Rose Lee.
Interviewer: I’ve heard of her.
Eisenstein: You’ve heard of her, okay. And you’ve heard of a woman by the
name of, oh God, Mike Todd’s first wife. The round-faced ingenue in films?
Well what’s the difference. Joan Blondell! But I got the call from George
Marks. Remember George Marks from “Stop the Music”? Well he was
opening a Summer theater in a movie house in Houston, Texas, and he was going to
run a six-week season. And he had hired a director to do the first three weeks
and I would do the second three weeks. Or it was an eight-week season. Anyway, I
was to direct the second half. And he’d made arrangements, “Happy
Hunting” which had just played on Broadway, you know, a year or so before
with Ethel Merman . . . and “Happy Birthday” by, uh, I can’t remember the playwright’s name now. And so I came to Houston . . . .
Interviewer: Now was this a move or just a temporary . . . .
Eisenstein: Well no, I went. I went by myself. No it was not a move because it was just a job, theatrical job which paid a living wage, nothing, you know, spectacular at all. And Hal March, remember Hal March from “$64,000 Question”? We flew on the same plane to Houston and he was to do “A Hole in the Head” there. And then came “Doberman”, remember from the Bilko show? Morris Gottschalk? The following week he came in and did a terrible show. Thank goodness, I can’t remember the name of the play! Well anyway, they started off the season with Diana Barrymore doing “Streetcar Named Desire” and each week unbeknownst to me, the attendance got smaller and smaller. And here I’m directing, I was there for two weeks to direct the home talent and to hire, Houston already had Equity actors and I selected a few. And before I left New York, I hired a few in New York to round out the company. Gypsy Rose Lee was playing “Happy Hunting” all along the east coast, see. She would go, you know, from one Summer theater to the other and there were an entourage of maybe four or five actors that traveled with her in the key roles, you know. And so this is what we were going to finish in Houston. And then as I say, I hired some other actors in New York and I began working, worked for two, maybe it was three weeks but, with a choreographer from the American Ballet Theater down from New York City and he worked with the dancers or the would-be dancers and I was really very pleased with what was beginning to assemble, you know, getting a good community theater experience in a professional setting, among these people. And Gypsy was supposed to come in on a Monday and we would have two days of rehearsal with her and the other five leads and then on Wednesday we would open, see. One New York actor whom I had hired came in on the weekend. He was not part of the five coming in with Gypsy originally. Oh incidentally, before all this, I had flown down there to see whether it was possible actually possible to do a very bawdy huge Broadway musical in a little morie house with a little stage like a stage at the old Center, if you remember, a little 12 X 24 feet area. Houston was even smaller. I said, “Well okay, this isa problem so why don’t we build a runway around the small orchestra pit even though this misocal has nothing to do with burlesque,” . . .”people are going to remember and associate Gypsy Rose Lee with it, a real under- standable ‘inside joke’ and when we start, she’ll have additional space to walk around,” you know. “It will be a real,” you know, “it will provide a real different approach to this play.” And I worked with the scene designer and the technical director I think for about 10-12 hours and figured out how we could do the show there, you know. And I said to George, “Okay we can do it.” You know, he paid for my transportation . . . . “I’ll be back,” you know, “whenever it was.” Then I went down there, rehearsed for two weeks. The Doberman show was still playing while we were rehearsing in the rehearsal place which was in the back of a tavern about two blocks from the movie theater.. Oy was it hot in July. Oh God it was hot down there.
Interviewer: It’s hot this year in July.
Eisenstein: Yeah, yeah. Anyway on Saturday night I’m in rehearsal in back
of the tavern and George walks into the room and he says, “Excuse me
Harold, can you stop . . . . I have to talk to you.” I said,
“Okay”. I said, “Take five,” and I walked into the other
room with him. He takes out of his pocket $150 in one-dollar bills and he says,
“Here, grab a plane tomorrow and get out of here! This place is blowing
Interviewer: Oh goodness, that was your . . . .
Eisenstein: Yeah, you know, so, you know . . . .
Interviewer: That was your exit
Eisenstein: . . . . About Thursday or Friday of that week I get a call from
Anita saying, “Mayer Rosenfeld called again and he’s very much
interested, he wants to know whether you’ll come to Columbus for an
interview.” And I said, “Well I don’t know. Let’s, you know, there’s
no rush, I don’t think, you know.” Anyway . . . .
Interviewer: It was good timing.
Eisenstein: Yeah. So I talked to him and said . . . . That was it. And the
fact that there were a couple of shows that I helped create and never sold, the
disappointments and the thousands of dollars that you didn’t have to spend . So I settled for Columbus, you know . . . .
Interviewer: The time was right.
Eisenstein: For a, yeah, for a salary that was so small compared to what I
had been earning when I worked.
Eisenstein: That it was, and I don’t regret it. Still would love to, you
know, spend more time in New York but . . . .
Interviewer: Of course. Harold you said something about your appointment.
Eisenstein: Oh yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: Is this going to be, can you, I think what we’re going to do
is cut off here and we’ll resume at another time.
Eisenstein: Sure. I’m sorry, I . . . .
Interviewer: Well it’s been absolutely fascinating. You’ve had a really
Eisenstein: This is a little boy whose mother said, “Take him along
because he doesn’t talk.”
Interviewer: Yeah well you’ve learned to talk, thank goodness and thank
goodness you had, well I’m not glad you had to accept the job in Columbus but
. . . .
Eisenstein: I don’t regret it. It’s been a wonderful community in which
to raise, to be a part of.
Interviewer: Well we’re happy that you’re here. We’re going to continue
at another time and we’ll talk further. We’re going to conclude the end of Side B, of Tape l, the interview with Harold Eisenstein. This is Naomi Schottenstein. We will continue on Tape 2, Side A. Thank you.
This is August 5, 1998. We’re continuing our interview with Harold
Eisenstein and we’re back at our same location at the Federation Building at
1175 College Avenue in Columbus, Ohio. And Harold, when we last finished
talking, you were leaving New York. You had gotten a call from Mayer Rosenfeld.
Eisenstein: That’s right.
Interviewer: Okay. Things were slowing down at that point in your career.
Eisenstein: Yeah, uh huh. And I’m just trying to, there were a couple shows
for which I was engaged as director and we were trying to get sold but they didn’t
work out. Oh also I was, I don’t think I mentioned this, but I had spent a
Summer in Chicago in the late 50s doing a TV project with Don McNeil. Remember
“The Breakfast Club” on radio? They wanted to get Don into television and we had a format that w’d worked up. I got this job through Allen Sherman, you know, you know, the folk singer who had that smash album. This wonderfully, wonderfully talented man who was asked to do this show, this Don McNeil pilot, you know. But he was busy with too many shows and he recommended that I do it and I did. So the whole family went to Chicago for the Summer and had a great time. I did the pilot and it seemed to go pretty well although Mr. McNeil was a man of very limited talents. However he did have his radio show which was so successful for so many years. He had a folksy quality that was easy to listen to. Evidently he had a strong radio listenership and was very successful but he could not make the switch into live television. The contracts I signed, the figures were so astronomical that I won’t even mention. them! But the show never sold. The NBC Network people were never were able to sell the show and so that was another strong disappointment to me.
Alas, oh, the vagaries of show business! So when opportunities back in the
community theater field or the Jewish community arts programs began to manifest
themselves, I began to look around. And Columbus, I think I mentioned that when
I was first called by Mayer Rosenfeld it turned out that the funding was not
available from the United Way and then they got the funding and so I came here
for an interview and I’ve been here ever since.
Interviewer: What was that year?
Eisenstein: That was the Summer of 1958. Yeah. September of ’58 is when I
began at The Jewish Center. And moved my family here
Interviewer: Did you come out for some interviews before and . . . .
Eisenstein: Yeah I came out for an interview and Mayer drove me around. Very
interesting though, the day that I came for my interview, the controller or the
auditor or the man who handled finances at the Center left town and absconded a
lot of money from the Center.You know. And so, you know, Mayer was, you know, he was in a tizzy and trying to find out and so on that I was, I spent time with the Assistant Director, a man by the name of Mike Schwartz. Do you remember him?
Interviewer: Yeah that name sounds familiar.
Eisenstein: Uh huh. Yeah, Mike was the Assistant Director at that time. And I
had my inter- view that night and then I flew back. No I drove back to New York
the next day and then in a couple of days I got a call saying they would like
very much to have me here and so here I am, as they say.
Interviewer: Uh huh. You got your family here?
Eisenstien: Yeah, uh huh.
Interviewer: How did that go? How did . . . .
Eisenstein: Well the family adjusted pretty well. Anita is a lover, she’s
an urbanite, you know. She loves big cities and the fact that she can get lost.
She can be just by herself in a big city when she wants to and not run into a
hundred people who know her and so on.
Interviewer: That doesn’t happen in Columbus too easily.
Eisenstein: No, no it doesn’t we have found out. But to us, Columbus is
people and that’s why our existence here has been a very good one. We lacked
certain things from the cultural standpoints that are available in the metropoli
but . . . .
Interviewer: Especially in 1958.
Eisenstein: Yeah, exactly ’cause Columbus has grown a big way since then
and I guess I’m conceited enough to think that I made a contribution in that
area. I recall some, there was an editorial that appeared in the, now I don’t
remember now whether it was the Dispatch or the Citizen-Journal. .
. . .
Interviewer: Journal. I remember the Journal.
Eisenstein: Of blessed memory.
Interviewer: Right. Citizen-Journal was the morning paper.
Eisenstein: Yes. And there was an editorial in which a man was quoted. He was
at the time the head of one of the arts organizations in the area. He was a very
successful lawyer. Richard Oman I think was his name. He was either a lawyer or
an architect. But, you know, he was one of the strong people, one of the strong
professionals in the community and he said, “Unfortunately, Columbus is a
cultural wasteland.” And I don’t know if this is a bad quote, but what he
said was that, “. . . . if it weren’t for the University and The Jewish
Center out east with it’s theater we would really be in bad trouble.”
Interviewer: Give us a picture of what was available culturally if you can
recall back then.
Eisenstein: Well for example the only theater in town was a closed
corporation. It was a club, Players Club if you recall, which later became
Players Theater and then got too big for its britches, turned professional and,
you know, fell apart. And there may have been, oh there was The Strollers which
was a University organization. But there was really no community theater at the
time. And in the visual arts, there was the Columbus Art League that was already
in existence. But . . . .
Interviewer: What was the Columbus Art League?
Eisenstein: Well this was a group of people, basically artists, who were
interested in present- ing their works to the public. And they really had, there
was just very few places in which to exhibit. There was one gallery I remember
in the Bryson Building that was on the corner of Parsons and Bryden Road and it
was owned by the woman who was the supposed art critic of the Dispatch at
the time. And she tried in her own way but as I say, exhibition space was very
limited. Of course the University had its own department and did its exhibitions
of faculty and student work up at the University. But it seemed to me that in
those days it was like an ivory tower, that the University was really separate
from the community and thank goodness it has now become more entrenched in the
community and extends its programming into the community and is definitely a
part of the City of Columbus, not just, you know, isolated in its current area.
Interviewer: Didn’t they have theater at that time too? They had . . . .
Eisenstein: Yes the University had a theater but it was a very poor one.
Physically they operated out of a little theater that was in University Hall, if
I remember correctly. It was the name of the building and it was a building that
was old and musty. It had been put up, you know, in the late 19th Century, I
believe, and the department and the caliber of the shows were not really of the
level that they have become now when the department has grown. It has had some
very fine directors of the department since then and, you know, it’s a
Interviewer: Well it was an exciting period of time for you to happen to be
Eisenstein: Yeah. It was the talent pool, you know, and I had to really
explore and explore to find the talent pool as far as theater is concerned. But
as we were talking a moment ago there were people that were interested and
especially on the part of the Jewish community who did not have any opportunity
to perform elsewhere because as I said, Players Theater was a closed
corporation. They did not allow Jews and they did not allow blacks. Although I
should say about that time was when the first Jewish person, either Rhea Kaplan
or Edie Mendelson participated in a Players Theater show. But that was the
extent of it. And so a group of women, this was in 1948, well I tell you this
was before I got here in 1958, a group of Hadassah women got together and said,
“Let’s form a theater that will be part of the Jewish community and
Jewish people can comfortably, you know, participate in this activity and we’ll
try and get some of the people from the fledgling television stations to direct
and we’ll see what we can do.” And the result is, oh, and Florence Melton
. . . .
Interviewer: Now let me understand this. This is before you got here?
Eisenstein: Yes, this was about nine years before I arrived on the scene.
Interviewer: Uh huh. So this was part of the Jewish Center activity?
Eisenstein: No it started as just an activity in the Jewish community. And the first year they presented, through Florence Melton who was Florence Zacks at the time, they got space at the top of the R. G. Barry Building that was on Third and Gay I think. And they got the loft space up there and that’s where the name “Gallery” came from. And that’s how Gallery Players, you know, got the name and that’s where they started. They did one show there in 1949 and among the players were Marv Bonowitz and Bea Roth and a few others I think that are still around in the community.
Interviewer: Do you remember what the show was?
Eisenstein: Yes it was “Hay Fever” by Noel Coward. And when Gallery
Players ten years ago had a special show which opened the season but just played
for one weekend. It was called “Flash Back – The First 40 Years”. We
opened the evening with a three-minute bit from “Hay Fever” with Bea
Roth and Marv Bonowitz . . . .
Interviewer: Oh great.
Eisenstein: . . . . playing the roles that they had played, you know, 40
years prior to that. And then the following year the new Jewish Center was being
built on College Avenue . . . which was ’49-’50.
Interviewer: At the present location?
Eisenstein: Yeah well the basic location. You realize we now have our new
building which was built in 1983, but in the general location on College Avenue.
It was the switch from the old place on East Rich Street, the Schonthal . . . .
Interviewer: Schonthal Center.
Eisenstein: That’s right. And the Center invited Gallery Players to become part of the Center programming which I believe was accepted with alacrity. So the result was that within the next year, Gallery Players did two or three shows and they were done in the Center Auditorium. From that time they remained in the Center. However there was no, there was no person on staff that really was more than just a liaison to the drama group. And so it floundered. It lived from year to year and finally, as I say, it was in existence for about nine years and then it virtually fell apart and that’s why when they had the position open of an adult activities director with a strong knowledge of theater. This is how they were able to get the position and get me, see.
Interviewer: So actually you were the first director then of the . . . .
Eisenstein: Well of the new group. Yeah I mean, no, there were directors,
Reuben Silver, Dr. Reuben Silver when he was here at the University going for
his doctorate one year, directed the Players. And as I say there was a Richard
Fall who was at one of the local stations. I don’t know . . . .
Interviewer: But they weren’t full time?
Eisenstein: No, no, no, no. It was strictly, you know, a part-time thing. And they finally reached a climax by doing a musical which was “Finian’s Rainbow”. And I know that Magda Blue was the choreographer and I don’t know who directed it although I know Magda had her hand in the staging of the show. But so much effort twas expended in the mounting of the show that there were no energies left. Then almost for a year there were no other presentations until I got here. The first show I did was a comedy called “The Tender Trap” and in the show was Eddy Kaye, Henry Grinfelter and Ethel Shapiro and a very beautiful young woman named Lenore Schottenstein — Lenny Schottenstein. Shelley Sokol, Blossom Zitron and Larry Kent each had a small role. Larry had been in a couple of the Gallery Players prior to that and then for the next couple of years I sought shows, because he was a very talented man, that would fit his talents and would be right. And that’s when we really jumped up to a very high level and Norman Nadell or Nadel who was the Citizen-Journal critic at the time came and reviewed our shows and said things like, “This was like having a road company coming in from New York”.
Interviewer: What a treasure of talent.
Eisenstein: Yes. Marilyn Samuelson. We did a production of “The
Flowering Peach” and all these shows had never been done in Columbus
before. And “The Flowering Peach,” we had a strong Jewish connection
written by Clifford Odets and was the story of Noah told in terms of a Jewish
Bronx family. And it was a very successful play and Bea was in that show too and
Bob Kurtzman who at that time was head of the local ADL organization and, you
know, as well as Larry Kent and Marilyn Samuelson and Blossom Zitron. And then
we went and we did shows like “Ondine” by Giraudoux and we did shows
by George Bernard Shaw: “Major Barbara”. I was very pleased to do a
show like “Major Barbara” because even though it was written by an
Irish-English playwright and it was about, dealt with the Salvation Army, really
the theory behind the play was tsadakah which I was, you know, so it was
really a good educational experience for us and I remember when I went, I
attended a meeting of the Jewish Center Board and I was very pleased, you know,
to tell them for example why we would select a show like that. Or in the
following year, a show like “Rhinoceros” written by Ionesco and which
was a play against dictatorship. And you could see the relationships there in
that show about, you know, what happens when a government is taken over by a
dictator and what happens to minorities, etcetera.
So we always, you know, looked whenever possible to get shows
which had Jewish content or written by a Jewish playwright so it reflected an
American- Jewish status you might say or culture that was prevalent at the time
and as the years went by there was a stronger inclination to do just the shows
that contained Jewish artists and Jewish characters or a strong reflection of
Jewish culture or, you know, as I say by American Jewish playwrights.
Interviewer: Were most of the productions attended by Jewish people?
Eisenstein: Yeah the basic audience was always the Jewish community. But then
as the years went by and our fame spread and people began to realize that they
would be allowed inside of a Jewish Center . . . .
Interviewer: Without limitations?
Eisenstein: That’s right. They felt that, you know. Because it said
“Jewish,” that they weren’t allowed in the building. Then we got
more and more of a non-Jewish audience also and the fact that since we were
determined to do these plays at the best level that we could, realistically
speaking, because I did not have people that I could rehearse eight hours a day.
They had to be evenings. That we would try to do them as well as possible in
order to reflect really what the playwright was doing or was creating or asking
in his play that we would open, you know, casting to the general community if it
would help us. But we’ve always maintained the fact that if two people, you
know, compete for a role and in the director’s mind they’re pretty much on
the same level, if one of them is from the Jewish community or a member of the
Jewish Center, automatically the role must go to this individual and we’ve
maintained that ever since.
Interviewer: Well that was pretty legitimate.
Eisenstein: Yeah I think so although it’s, you know, in recent years there’s
been less participa- tion on the part of the Jewish community.
Interviewer: So you’ve had to extend it?
Eisenstein: Yeah. We just wish that we could find the talented Jewish people
who could make a commitment to this type of activity. There are certainly some
talented people locally but they don’t have the commitment of tying themselves
down to seven, you know, or eight weeks of rehearsal time before the
presentation or production.
Interviewer: Sure. It’s a big time commitment.
Eisenstein: Yeah it is.
Interviewer: And there are so many other things competing for our time now.
Eisenstein: Right, exactly. Talk about volunteers, as I said before, maybe I
created a Franken- stein with Gallery Players because it was a one-man operation
and but the reason as I look back and try to analyze as to why it was
successful, is that there were always one or two key people in the volunteers,
of volunteers, who really were like part-time workers for the Center in how they
aided the activity. And there were other people that were, that flocked to the
organization to be of help in front of the house, backstage and so on, besides
being on stage. But, you know, the volunteer, the age of the volunteer is much
different today than it was then. Which any organization can attest to. You know, talented women today who want to get away from the home, are looking for part-time jobs, you know.
Interviewer: Money-paying situations.
Eisenstein: Yes and whether they really need it, you know, but we do know
that this is the era of the two-income families in order to, you know, keep up
with the Joneses as they say.
Interviewer: Let’s get a little more picture about what was going on at the
Jewish Center, the original Jewish Center.
Eisenstein: Well, as I say, we had a room which was called the Adult Lounge
and again, with the help of a very strong Arts Committee, we were able to have
exhibitions there with regularity and we gave first-time exhibitions to many, to
local talent who got their first one-man show at the Center. And of course we
always looked for, again, somebody that might, most of the local artists at the
time were not Jewish but we still always, look I brought some things in from New
York for Jewish Center exhibitions so that there, you know, would be work that
the community might be interested in buying and we also had art classes. We had
art classes and ceramic classes then and classes for children which in recent
years, like we have a jewelry-making class, a very successful one at the Center
now. But with the advent of the new arts program through the Recreation
Department here in Columbus, you know when they bought the old Armory or
whatever it was then and established a unique art center as far as the country
Interviewer: The Columbus Cultural Art Center?
Eisenstein: Yeah the Columbus Cultural Art Center . . . .
Interviewer: On West Main Street.
Eisenstein: Yeah that’s right. And so this, you know, was very, very strong
competition to us because they could, you know, it was tax supported and we’re
not tax supported and we have to get an income from any of these
extra-curricular activities that we maintain at the Center and the result is
that many people from the community went there.
Interviewer: Do you remember when the Cultural Art Center opened?
Eisenstein: The Cultural Art Center was originally in a fire house on Oak
Street, Oak and Parsons and then moved to West Main Street. Gosh, must have been
in the late 60s or early . . . .
Interviewer: Yeah I would say it’s about thirty, at least thirty years ago.
Eisenstein: Yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: That’s kind of what I feel.
Eisenstein: Yeah somewhere in that area. Yeah.
Interviewer: It is a unique building.
Eisenstein: It is. Yes, yes.
Interviewer: And they certainly have developed it into a fine center.
Eisenstein: Uh huh.
Interviewer: So your responsibilities went beyond theater?
Eisenstein: Oh yes, that’s right. And the fact is, I was originally hired
as the Adult Activities Department and I built up a cultural arts department.
The Jewish Center in Columbus was one of the first Jewish centers in the country
to have a cultural arts department in which we dealt with not only theater and
art but also music. And we had, you know, piano lessons and guitar lessons which
. . . . at the time was very, very hot. And we sponsored a Jewish Community
Center Orchetra. We had an orchestra which was open to the general community but
it gave our local, you know, Jewish musicians who were doctors or lawyers a
chance to participate in a musical activity. And this orchestra activity went
from, I mean, it came into the new building in 1983 and we were there at least a
couple of years so I would say it was almost 20 years that we had sponsored this
orchestra. But again it just became too expensive for us to operate and . . . .
Interviewer: What was the nature of the programs that the orchestra
Eisenstein: We did all the classics but again with special instructors, let’s
use a Bernstein in this, you know, let’s use something by Bloch, you know,
always featured a Jewish composer even though, you know, we did some Beethoven
Interviewer: But so you actually had concerts?
Eisenstein: Yeah there were concerts. There were I think two or three
concerts a year that we did at the Center. And since we brought in some union musicians to augment our group at the time of the concerts and they were through the courtesy of the Musician’s Union and we didn’t have to pay them, but by the same token, we couldn’t charge admission. So as I say, it became an expense later that we just couldn’t bear. But really it was through the efforts of people like Ruth Edelstein and Ruth Quinn, Mrs. Leonard Quinn . . . .
Interviewer: Ruth Quinn?
Eisenstein: Ruth Quinn, yes and Richard Fisher, you know were really the backbone of this organization.
Interviewer: They were musicians as well?
Eisenstein: Yes that’s right. And it gave them an opportunity to participate in a musical activity. Ruth Quinn had been part of a group at the old Schonthal Center that really spread the seeds for what turned eventually into the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.
Eisenstein: She and Norman Nadel who was a would-be musician. Of course this
was before my time . . . .
Interviewer: Now was Ruth a violinist?
Eisenstein: Yes, yes Ruth was a vary fine violinist and this little group
then became, I forgot the name but a man by the name of Izler Solomon came in
and was the first conductor of this Columbus Musical Society or, I don’t even
remember the title now. But then this group turned into the Columbus Symphony
Orchestra . . . .
Interviewer: Oh that’s exciting.
Eisenstein: and, you know, limped along, was nothing spectacular or a great
orchestra. And even though Evan Whalon was the conductor and was a fine
gentleman, he wasn’t of the stature of Christian Badea . . . . who came in or
the man who we have now . . . . .
Eisenstein: yeah, who have elevated the orchestra to a point where it is a
very, you know, commendable orchestra and it’s no longer just a would-be
professional orchestra. It’s developed quality, a very strong quality. It may
not be the New York Phil- harmonic at the moment or a Cleveland orchestra, but
it’s high up among the communities of our size.
Interviewer: Sure, yeah. We’ve got a lot to be proud of.
Eisenstein: I guess it’s one of the, certainly one of the half a dozen or
eight orchestras in the country that are top flight.
Interviewer: Uh huh. So you’ve seen that develop.
Eisenstein: Yes, yes, uh huh. And which is completely different from when I
first got here.
Interviewer: Can you tell us about some of the people you’ve worked with at
the Jewish Center through the years, the staff people. I kind of want to bring
them into the picture a little bit.
Eisenstein: Well let me see.
Interviewer: ‘Course Mayer was there a number of years.
Eisenstein: Yeah Mayer was there for 27 years. He opened the building in 1950
and I guess it must have been around 1977 when he retired and a man by the name
of Bob Schachter from Denver came and was the head of the Center for the next
five years or so as they made the fund-raising start for a new building. And he
was a Pittsburgh boy and he had the opportunity to go back home and to be the
Execu- tive Director of the Pittsburgh Jewish Community Center and so he left
and Allen Finkelstein came in. And Allen did a fine job and Allen was with the
Center for — gee, I’m trying to think — well almost ten years I think and
then went to Los Angeles and from Los Angeles he went to New York and he now
holds the top job in the Jewish Community Center field. There was, it used to be
called the Jewish Welfare Board which was the central focus of all the community
centers around the country and Canada and supplied materials to the various
community centers in the way of programming that was successful and was the
communication, center of communication for community centers and also sent out
consultants to the various centers that were, you know, having problems in
membership or, you know, problems in certain types of programming and it’s now
known as the Jewish Community Centers of America and Allen is the Executive
Director of the organization.
Interviewer: And who’s the present Columbus Jewish Community Center
Eisenstein: The present Director is Joel Dinkin who was the Assistant to Allen and when Allen left there was a search made but they decided to go with Joel. And he’s been the Director ever since.
Interviewer: How did your department develop, you know, in terms of staff and…
Eisenstein: Well again, as I say, it was me. I hired technical help, you know, to design and build scenery for the shows. I hired teachers for the Art Department. I hired conductors for the orchestra, things like that. And then for a very short time I had an assistant and that was a man by the name of Phil Wilson. Phil Wilson who had been in the English Department, head of the Theater Department at Eastmoor High School, and was burned out. He wanted a change with the changing demography and personnel in the high school picture of Eastmoor. He wanted to get away for a while and he came over to the Center and worked with me as an assistant for a year and then when the Fort Hayes program opened up, which was a vocational school supposedly for the theater and music, as well as beauty parlor people and so on. Phil went back into the school system as the head of the theater department for the Fort Hayes . . . .
Interviewer: . . . .Career Center.
Eisenstein: . . . . Career Center. Right, exactly.
Interviewer: Uh huh. So you continued in your capacity at the Jewish Center?
Eisenstein: Yeah as the Cultural Arts Director and also the Director of
Theater and then I, as I say, I began to hire directors to do some of the shows,
since I couldn’t do all of them now with these added responsibility and I’d
get a director from the Univer- sity, you know, who was a faculty member there
or someone with a strong back- ground in theater who came out of the community
theater field which was building up in Columbus nicely. Now there is an
organization known as the Theater Roundtable of Central Ohio which has roughly
about 20 organizations. These are 20 community theaters that are in the area now
whereas there was one, two, or maybe three at the most when we first got here. And they all are trying very strongly to maintain a semi-professional, you know, status and one has now come forward, and that’s CATCO which is a professional- level theater and, you know, it has a professional staff and is going through the growing pains slowly, and I think they’re doing it in the correct manner that bodes well for a professional theater here in Columbus and . . . .
Interviewer: What are some of the other professional theaters presently?
Eisenstein: Well there’s, I wouldn’t really call them professional
theaters but like there’s the Red Herring Company, there is the Ardent
Shakespeare Company. There’s a new theater that just did its first show in the
past year called the Irish-American Theater that I guess will be dedicated to
doing the works of Irish playwrights, which they did the first one and it was a
very successful venture. And ‘course, I would say that there were probably a
hundred groups that have sprung up since I came to the picture but they all fell
by the wayside. But now we’re in a little healthier situation, you know, where they’re remaining at least at a longer period. They’re not in 50 years like Gallery Players but now CATCO is close to 20 years old and it’s building very nicely, is centrally located, has been able to attract good funding and the others that are operating close to the downtown area.
But, for example, the last year or certainly within the past two years the Metropol- itan Music Theater with Bob Tolin, they don’t even have a place to operate, you know. They went through one show in which they lost lots and lots of money so I don’t know what their future contains.
Interviewer: And what about theater at the Riffe Center?
Eisenstein: Well that’s CATCO.
Interviewer: That’s CATCO?
Eisenstein: See Players Club was defunct. You know, when they folded, they
folded with sub- scription money, people who had paid for subscriptions and so
on. And we were one of the theaters that said we would honor those. If they
would come to a Gallery Players production with a Players Theater ticket . . . you know, we would admit them. And because that was one of the things that the Theatre Roundtable wanted to be sure that theater in this community did not suffer a black eye, which it did for a very short time and we were trying to say that theater is still available to people in the community and not to think that the wool was going to be pulled over their eyes.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Now Harold, you are retired aren’t you?
Eisenstein: Well I’m semi-retired but this is the final year. The 50th year
is the final year. Yeah, I still — what I have done in the past several years
is I’ve worked more or less like a consultant and I’ve done promotion and
publicity for the group. I’ve hired the directors. I’ve helped them with the
casting. I’ve been with the members of the Gallery Players theater committee
to determine the shows that we’re going to do. But we have no Theater Director
per se on staff now. The only full-time theatre staff worker is the
technical director and he has other responsibilities, you know, in Center
program- ming. And I, on a very limited basis. It’s just too difficult, you
know . . . . but it’s my baby.
Interviewer: Yeah it sure is.
Eisenstein: And I’m loath to give it up. I think I developed it to such a
wonderful level and very pleased with the three shows that we did last season.
All very well done.
Interviewer: Are you still going under the same name, Gallery Players?
Eisenstein: Oh yeah it’s Gallery Players — I don’t know whether you’d
call it a step forward, it supposedly is a very high step forward in the eyes of
the general community, that we’ve gotten small grants, a small grant from the
Greater Columbus Arts Council to pay performers. You know, now they’re not
going to make a living out of this, but at least it takes care of their gas and
oil, you might say.
Eisenstein: And the talent pool has dried up because some of these now 20
theaters immedi- ately think of themselves as professional and they take in
X-amount of money and they split it among the cast and so on and a person who
might get $5 a perform- ance now considers himself a professional and may not
come to a tryout at Gallery Players which is a community theater and we’ll
always be a community theater. As I say, we had, you know, a couple of years
where we’ve been able to entice some people from the general community that we
need badly, to complete casting, and been able to also give some token payments
to backstage personnel who work so hard, you know, and are not on stage and don’t
Interviewer: And get the satisfaction . . . .
Eisenstein: Yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: . . . . kind of satisfaction.
Eisenstein: Right, that a performer might get.
Interviewer: Sure. Would you dare to project what the future of Gallery
Players might be?
Eisenstein: It’s very, very difficult. I just don’t know. I think that it
will not go forward to the next step until the Center can provide funding to
hire a theater director who also has skills as a theater managing-director, a
full-time person of artistic ability who can also manage as a first step and . .
Interviewer: Is that in the works or is that . . . .
Eisenstein: Well we talk about it but, as I say, it was cut out of the budget
because, you know, we don’t, the Center does not, the complete Center does not
enjoy the program income that it did ten years ago. And the thing isn’t how
much subsidy can you extend to individual departments. The Pre-School pretty
much pays for itself. Physical Education pretty much pays for itself or I’m
under that impression. Not being a full-time person I don’t attend staff
meetings any more and so some of the machinations and the problems I’m not
heir to. But any other programs, they really, that’s why the Center engages in
many fund-raising activities, to help augment general income. The Center doesn’t
get the same amount of funding, for example, from the United Way that it used
Interviewer: I’m going to end this tape and continue where we are
(indistinct). We’re going to wind up Side A of Tape 2.
Interviewer: We’re on Side B now of Tape 2. Before we get too far away,
Harold, I wanted to know about the physical structure of the Gallery Theater as
we know it now. Before the present Jewish Center was built, you just had kind of
Eisenstein: It was a multi-purpose room . . . .
Eisenstein: . . . . for banquets, they had style shows there, and the place
where you could contain small audiences and a “2X4” stage, you know.
God rest his soul, Leo Yassenoff who built the original building on College
Avenue, did the best he could. I think he said, “Don’t bother me and I’ll
build you a building for the money that you have.” He did his best but he
had really only built movie houses.
Interviewer: That’s right.
Eisenstein: And what was the necessity for a stage? And with a dramatic
activity, it was very limited. When I got on the scene I changed the situation
and I built platforms in front of the stage so that we did more acting in front
of the stage than we did on the stage. And also built movable platforms so that
you could elevate the audience. It was a flat-floor auditorium and say you did
have a successful presentation and you had ten rows of chairs, when the people
in the eighth and ninth rows, you know, or tenth row had a tough problem seeing
what was on the stage. So I built this movable platform in which, well there was a level platform this we, this was from the old, the platforms that we used for style shows, I assembled those together so that we could get two rows of chairs on that and then we built a movable platform which was quite high and could get another two rows of chairs on that so the result is that we are now a hundred seats in the back from which you could see the show nicely and there were only, you know, five or six rows on the floor itself.
Interviewer: Took a lot of creativity to come up with all this.
Eisenstein: Well I guess so, I guess so. And then the activity became so
important in the com- munity and so successful that when they laid plans for a
new building they said, “We must have a theater,” which was against
the advice of the Jewish Welfare Board at that time who had said, “What do
you need a theater for?” you know. “Use a multi-purpose room. You’re
just going to need an expense that’s not necessary? And a community of 14,000,
what do you need this for?” But thank goodness it prevailed and of course
it was not the theater that I envisioned or talked about because immediately
certain things were cut.
Interviewer: Cut back?
Eisenstein: Yeah because of the total picture of the building. But it still
is the finest theater in the area. Now with the opening of the Southern Theater
this fall, you know, there’ll be the first theater that is now available that
is really built for a comfort- able theater experience. I got into hot water in
an interview. I said, “We have two theaters downtown, the Ohio Theater and
the Palace Theater, wonderful, beautiful movie houses but they’re mausoleums
as far as, you know, living theater is concerned . . . .”
Eisenstein: . . . . “unless it’s a spectacle, unless it’s a musical
that’s a spectacle, it’s really very difficult for people who want a
theatrical experience, who want to see live theater and have to see things that
come from New York that cannot play in smaller theaters because they couldn’t
do it and cover the expense of traveling and touring. It has to go into a big
theater and all sense of intimacy is lost,” and, you know, wonderful plays
over the years like “Equus” and “Falsettos”. I’m just trying to think, you know, of some of the, which were plays that were done in thousand- seat theaters or 800-seat theaters in New York, come in here and play in these 2000-seat plus movie houses and the audience accepts them or doesn’t accept them. But they’re cheated, really on what the experience could be, you know.
Interviewer: ’cause physical . . . .
Eisenstein: Right, right. On being so far away from the area that it’s
lost. And at the Jewish Center, we were able to supply that.
Interviewer: What year was that new Center built?
Eisenstein: It was built in 1983 and opened “Fiddler on the Roof”.
We did another production of “Fiddler on the Roof” to open the Center
and we brought in Paul Lipson the Broadway actor who had, of all the Fiddlers on
Broadway had played it the most but he had a Columbus connection becauses he
came here with Harry Kaplan. Remember Rabbi Harry Kaplan . . .with Hillel? Came from the east, from Massachusetts, and when he came here, I guess he had said to Paul, “Why don’t you come with me? I’ll find a place in the Hillel set-up for you. You can go to school here,” you know. And so Paul came out with him. And he was like the janitor at Hillel and he had a cot someplace in the building where he slept.
Interviewer: How old a person was he?
Eisenstein: Well he must have been in his early 20s, you know.
Interviewer: But Rabbi Kaplan recognized his talent?
Eisenstein: Yeah, you know, and I guess his personality, see. And, you know,
he was able to get a good education here. I don’t know whether he actually
graduated from OSU or not. But then he taught classes at the Schonthal Center in
theater when he was here and then left and went back to New York and had a
wonderful theatrical, career which was capped by “Fiddler” and once he
was in “Fiddler,” he spent the rest of his life playing Tevye here,
there, I mean, you know, it was wonderful for him.
Interviewer: What’s the capacity of the theater at the . . . .
Eisenstein: Jewish Center? Three hundred and twenty-nine seats. Yeah. Which is a fine, you know, there was some talk in the building . . . . “Well why don’t we build a 700-seat theater?” and I said, “Well if it’s a theater that’s going to be used basically by a resident group, that is a community theater, that already is getting a little too big. You have to work much harder.”
Eisenstein: As it is, you know, psychologically speaking, when people come
into the Roth- Resler Theater, they expect more than what they saw, the fine
work that they saw, you know, on those platforms, you know, in the old Jewish
Interviewer: From years ago.
Eisenstein: Yeah. So but now that they’re seated comfortably and it’s a
beautiful theater and, you know, beautiful curtain . . . ., the expectations
grow higher. But I think we’ve met them.
Interviewer: Yeah. True.
Eisenstein: But it’s tougher.
Interviewer: Yeah. But it is tougher.
Eisenstein: And personally, there is an interim. I had been here 11 years in
1969 and I, there were several, well there were conferences that were held in
Columbus of national executive directors of different centers around, who would
keep dangling a carrot in front of me. You know, say, “Why don’t you come
to a bigger community,” you know. Now it must have been at the end of 1968,
a new center was built in Minneapolis which boasted that it was providing as
much space for the cultural arts as it was for physical education, you know,
which was unique in the Jewish Center field. And I knew the Executive Director
who was one of the workers in his youth at the Jewish Peoples Institute that I
have mentioned in the past and Barry Siegel was the Assistant Director who was
educated at Ohio State University and did his field work at the Jewish Center
here and then was on staff, oh for several years until he went off to bigger
positions elsewhere. He was now in Minneapolis and they kept saying, you know,
“This is a wonderful, live community.” So anyway I talked it over with
Anita and we said, “Okay, let’s give it a shot.” And also with my
two older boys who were in school, you know. And David was in his last year at
Eastmoor and I went and said, “David can we make the change? How do you
feel about it? I know you’re in your fourth year in Columbus.” And he
said, “Well okay, if I can play football there.” So we wrote to the
coach and at that time, Eastmoor had a tremendous reputation, having produced
Archie Griffin and had very strong recognition throughout the country as a high
school incubator of football players.
Interviewer: That’s right.
Eisenstein: And he wrote us back “we welcome him with open arms”.
And he played on the Junior Varsity here, you know, and was a kicker. And we
drove up to, Minne- apolis over the Labor Day weekend and I accepted the
position. Meantime I worked with the Columbus J.C.C. to fine a replacement for
me here. However, that didn’t work out too well. So we were up in Minneapolis
for two years and I created a bit cultural arts department up there like I had
down here but in a much shorter time. Minneapolis is a wonderfully
culturally-situated metropolis and being a member of the twin cities, it was a
wonderful experience for us. But the winters were too cold. I had already begun
to make inroads in doing work with the inter- nationally-known Guthrie Theater
up there which was the outstanding regional theater in the country.
But at any rate David came back and stayed with a family here and got a job,
gave up football and wanted to graduate with his peers. And he has maintained
that association with a half a dozen kids who are scattered all over the country
and still get together periodically. Now David is a lawyer in Boulder, Colorado,
and he will be meeting with the boys in Cooperstown the end of October, the end
of September-the end of October. But anyway they’re going to meet up there,
Jimmy Neustadt from Washington and Bruce Meizlish from Cincinnati and Mike Stan
from Columbus and Becker, the Becker kid who’s up in Toledo and they’re all
going to meet in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Interviewer: And they do this regularly, they meet?
Eisenstein: Well they . . . . Washington or they’ll come up to, yes, they
Eisenstein: Yeah just about. Yeah, yeah. And on the way there David will stop
here so David will be with us for Yom Kippur.
Interviewer: Oh how nice.
Eisenstein: His wife can’t make it because of her, you know, connections
there. But at least David will be with us.
Interviewer: Sure, how nice . . . .
Eisenstein: But anyway, we came back in ’71 because we couldn’t be away
from the family and I left in an excellent condition and came back and, I mean,
I never left the Jewish Center in Columbus because every week I would get a call
from Jerry Liebowitz who was the Chairman of the Theater Committee and had a
WATS Line, you know, where he worked so he would call me for advice or,
“What do you think, should we do this show?” and so on and so forth.
And they always kept saying, “When are you coming back?” and we
maintained a strong personal relationship with the Rosenfelds so Mayer would
call me regularly and say, “Have you been away, have you been away long
enough?” And I suggested that they get a much-younger or a younger person
than I so that they wouldn’t have to take him and compare him with me, that he
would have more of a chance, you know, to create something new or follow. But he
did not take the advice that I left with him or with a strong corps of
volunteers who were ready there to accept him and work with him. And so there
was some activity for two years but it really dwindled. When Mayer called me and
said, “Would you be interested in coming back?” I said,
Interviewer: You were ready?
Eisenstein: Yeah. So.
Interviewer: That was in ’71?
Eisenstein: That was in ’71 and that’s the season we did the first
production of “Fiddler”. I remember the Theater Committee saying,
“We must, now that the rights have been released, let’s do it.” And
I said, “No I don’t think we should do ‘Fiddler’. We’ve been
hearing it on the radio for seven years now. Aren’t people sick of it?”
“No, no, you know, do it.” And so I said, “Okay”. In other
words I maintained you might say a benevolent dictatorship. There were certain
things that I would insist on but I never, I remember, for example I submitted a
list of shows for one year and then Eddy Kaye, a membeer of the committee, came
to me and said,”Well this is great, Harold, but why don’t we substitute
something instead of this show that maybe is a little more commercially known
and will help pull at the box office?” And I said, “Okay what do you
think?” . . . . and you know, this is all in the committee’s . . . . and
I said, “Okay, fine”! “Great,” you know. “I’m not
God. I’m only his right-hand man.”
Interviewer: Right. But you were easy to work with here on earth.
Eisenstein: And, yes, very good, Naomi! So we did “Fiddler” and had
a . . . . successful production and Julian Barnett was Tevye . . . .
Interviewer: Oh, Julian?
Eisenstein: Yeah, in that first production. And it was very successful production.
Interviewer: I remember that very well. So, you’re still in Columbus . . .
Interviewer: . . . . fortunately for us.
Eisenstein: And, you know, as I say, I’ve gotten a few honors you might say
in the interim. ‘Cause the Columbus Dispatch about, I guess over
ten years ago, gave me an achievement award for having contributed so much to
the cultural level of the community. About five years ago, the Ohio Theater
Alliance which is an association of university theaters all over the state and
some community theaters and some pro- fessional theaters, also gave me a an
award for contributing to the level of theater in the State of Ohio.
Interviewer: Well you were a springboard for a lot of . . . .
Eisenstein: Two years ago, Doctor’s Hospital makes awards to senior
citizens who have contributed to the growth of the community and they awarded me
a Golden Achievement Award for contributing to the arts in the community.
Interviewer: All well deserved.
Eisenstein: So it was nice to . . . .
Interviewer: Let’s talk a little bit about some of the things that you may
be doing now that you’re semi-retired. I know you do other, you have other
interests. You and Anita are story tellers.
Eisenstein: Story tellers, yes. It’s something that Anita was interested in
and so we joined together and it’s been a very enjoyable experience and we’ve
been getting a lot of “gigs”. I don’t think we’ll ever make money
that will support us, but . . . .
Interviewer: This is a totally volunteer thing?
Eisenstein: No, no, no, no, no. It’s basically fee . . . .
Interviewer: Oh, is that right?
Eisenstein: Yeah, we get paid for our efforts.
Interviewer: Well tell us where you tell stories and what kind of stories.
Eisenstein: Well we say we do folk tales, fun tales, you know, representative
of cultures from all around the world. You know we do African folk tales, we do
Jewish folk tales, we do Indian stories and we tailor make the program for, you
know, who wants it. We had a lovely experience two years ago. We got an
invitation from the Belpre School System. You know, Belpre, Ohio, down in
Eisenstein: To come and spend the day with them, you know, telling stories
with their first to fourth grade. I don’t remember now the age level but it
was primary grades. And we went down there and we stayed overnight. We stayed in Parkersburg and then we were there for the morning session and we were a hit. You know, the kids loved it. The Marietta Views had a big picture of us on the front page. But it was a delightful experience and it paid very well.
Interviewer: It may not be Broadway but it . . . .
Eisenstein: Well you can always say it’s close to East North Broadway
Interviewer: Absolutely, absolutely. Well we’re fortunate that . . . .
Eisenstein: But at any rate, you know, they called. Again we were there in
March again the past year and we already received a letter: “we would love
to have you with us next year”. And it’s wonderful, you know. You get through and the little girls will come up to me and tug on my pants and say, “You know, you’re good.”
Interviewer: What better . . . .
Eisenstein: Yeah and . . . .
Interviewer: What kind of places do you speak to here in Columbus?
Eisenstein: Well women’s clubs. Let’s see now, we’ve, the Worthngton
Women’s, at the, oh gosh, the Thurber Center, we’ve done shows. We’ve done
Hanukkah programs at Temple Israel and . . . .
Interviewer: Now this is you and Anita?
Eisenstein: Yes we do it, yeah, we do it together. And then occasionally
maybe we’ll step forward and do one of our own stories. We call it reader’s
theater. We bring music stands, we have our scripts there. But our whole idea is
we take the story, you know, the story, basically to get as much of the
narrative as possible and throw it into dialogue form. So we become the
characters in the story. And it’s been a very successful format, you know, and
if we advertised ourselves, I’m sure we could really do more than we could
handle. But it’s word- of-mouth, you know. One tells the other and of course
we do some pro bono. We did pro bono work at, for example,
Broadleigh School. We lived on Broadleigh. Our kids, David, went to Broadleigh.
The kids that he’s meeting all over the country, you know, came out of
Broadleigh School so we have a new reason. And it’s really like an inner-city
Interviewer: Yeah, sure.
Eisenstein: But it’s, you know, it’s very nice when the little black
children come and give us a hug at the end, you know.
Interviewer: Yeah. Show their appreciation.
Eisenstein: Right, right.
Interviewer: So how long have you been doing this?
Eisenstein: Oh God, it’s really a recent, I would say about seven or eight
Interviewer: Oh, uh huh. Sounds like you’re enjoying it.
Eisenstein: Yes we are and as I say, the Worthington Women’s Club we’ve
got a gig in Sep- tember. For several years we appeared at the Cover to Cover
Book Store. Do you know that store on North High Street?
Interviewer: Oh yeah. North High. Uh huh.
Eisenstein: The store is now moving to a new location a couple or blocks
Interviewer: It was a little hole-in-the-wall . . . .
Eisenstein: Yeah but you know, that took over store after store and then it
was about five stores. Now they have, ‘course their big money making is the
wholesale book business. They deal with the schools directly. Sally Oddy who is
the entrepreneur, lovely lady, and we did Hanukkah stories there last Hanukkah
and I know she’s interested in our coming back and doing some- thing in the
Fall. But periodically, we appeared there for several years every Saturday
morning. But now she gets much more representation from authors who come in and are anxious to appear to sell, you know, their books.
Interviewer: Sure. Well that changes . . . .
Eisenstein: We’ve performed at bridal showers. We prepared some material
that brides should telling certain stories that lend themselves to the occasion.
Like for example, I remember an African folk tale which we told at that time
because it was climaxed with a wedding. It’s a very funny story. We try
basically to keep a lot of humor in our stories. We had a wonderful experience
last season in Newark. We appeared before a, I forgot the title, oh Monday
Morning Club or Monday Club in Newark which was started there by a couple of
wealthy women who had gone on world cruises and then came back and called their
associates together and told them what they had seen and they liked the idea and
they thought, “Well maybe we should bring people in on several Mondays
during the year that can, you know, give us certain experiences or certain
authorities,” and it must be 40-50 years that group has been together for
about a dozen Mondays in the course of the year, see, at a church that has a
suitable space, you know, a social hall, and they have a guest of honor. Well we
were there and we did an hour program that knocked their socks off.
Interviewer: It sounds to me like your heart and soul and every part of your
being is theater from beginning to end
Eisenstein: Well it’s been part of my life all those years and it’s part
of Anita’s life too.
Interviewer: And we’ve all been enriched by it as well.
Eisenstein: Well that’s very sweet of you.
Interviewer: I don’t know if there’s any more time in your life for any
other interest. Do you do any other . . . .
Eisenstein: Well that basically, well you know we read for the blind on
Mondays. On Monday mornings we go to the Central Ohio Radio Reading Service
which operates a closed-circuit radio network that . . . . and you have a
receiver in your home and you can turn it on and you get programs directly from
the Central Ohio Radio Reading Service. And we do, we read the columns and
editorials of the Columbus Dispatch on Monday mornings and there
are other programs where there are people who are reading from the Ohio
Jewish Chronicle, you know. I think there’s some reader at 2
o’clock in the morning, ‘course it’s on tape, you know, who reads from Penthouse
Interviewer: Oh. We’ll have to tune in some time.
Eisenstein: Yeah. But we have, for example, about three or four receivers at
Heritage House, you know, and there’s about 2,500 outlets throughout the
county that are tuned into this station and it’s . . . .
Interviewer: Well there certainly is a need for something like that.
Eisenstein: Yeah. And we’ve been doing this over ten years and . . . .
Interviewer: You and Anita?
Eisenstein: Yeah, we do it together. I did it originally ’cause it was
about a little over ten years ago when I cut down on my work here at the Center
and so I went and did that for about a year and I would read with Rose Blue.
Then Anita and I talked it over and she said, “Well maybe I can do
it,” and so she went down and took her test, her audition, and she’s been
reading from different magazines, special stories, you know. But now Rose Blue
has left the community. Did you know Rose?
Eisenstein: Very lovely lady. She was here a couple of weeks ago. Her husband’s
gone now and she left Columbus. So Anita has stepped in and we read together . .
Interviewer: Nice. You have some nice . . . .
Eisenstein: And then of course you know, Anita’s a volunteer. She’s the
Secretary-Treasurer of the Ladies Auxiliary of Heritage House. That’s where
she is now. Every Wednesday she’s over there going over the books and making
the deposit from the Gift Shop and the sweet shop upstairs and is very vitally
interested in the organization.
Interviewer: Well it certainly is healthy to keep involved in the community
like you both have.
Eisenstein: Well, thank you. We . . . .
Interviewer: I think we’re about ready to start wrapping this up.
Eisenstein: Okay. I know that I will go home and say, “Oh my goodness.
There’s a whole interesting sequence that I forgot to talk to you about. But I
think I’ve talked enough.
Interviewer: You know what, Harold. Will you keep your notes and we have some
more tape and . . . .
Interviewer: . . . . we’d be really happy to . . . .
Eisenstein: All right. If I go over it in my mind and if I think of something
that would be of use and interest to the community, I’ll certainly be happy to
be with you, Naomi.
Interviewer: I want to make sure that we do have this on tape. Maybe we’ve
talked about it before but you are working on a production?
Eisenstein: Yeah, again we are doing a production of “Fiddler on the
Roof”. We’ve just had tryouts over the past weekend and we’re still
looking for a few more people. We are bringing in an actor who has appeared on
Broadway, in the role of Tevye, by the name of Marty Ross who’s going to play
Tevye. He’ll be here at the end of September and rehearse through October and
the show will open on October 24 and I think we’re assembling a pretty strong
cast for it.
Interviewer: Is this in commemoration of a special . . . .
Eisenstein: Yes, thank you for reminding me because my mind went blank as we
talked. This is the 50th year of Gallery Players.
Interviewer: Okay. All right.
Eisenstein: And the administration of the Center, not necessarily the Theater
Committee, felt that, you know, what could be a better way of opening or, you
know, highlighting a 50th anniversary but to do a show like that that’s so
entwined in all of our lives. And another thing that we’re doing that I’ve
been saving in the back of my mind and almost forgot, we are bringing back
Michael Feinstein this year.
Interviewer: Are you really?
Eisenstein: Yes. Last week Michael finally cleared the date that gave us a
date and when I was in Florida last January, he was appearing at Florida State
University in Boca Raton and Anita and I went to see him and we went backstage
and I said, “Okay, Michael, 1987 was the last time you came to the Center,
you know, to do a wonderful job for us and fund raising.” And he said,
“Well,” you know, he said, “Call me tomorrow”. And I called
him tomorrow and I said, “Can I con you into coming back to Columbus?”
He said, “Harold you don’t have to con me,” you know. And he’s
going to come back, he’s going to do it. You know, see Michael came out of
Interviewer: Yeah, give us, we’re trying to wind up . . . .
Eisenstein: In the 70s, Michael would be . . . .
Interviewer: Tell us who Michael Feinstein is. You and I know who he is but
for people who . . . .
Eisenstein: He in the No. 1 cabaret act in America. Michael Feinstein plays
the piano and sings. He was in a couple of our musicals in the 70s. He worked
backstage. He assembled music for the production for me. He acted in some of the
shows. He’s a wonderful young man who was in high school at the time.
Interviewer: Native son of Columbus.
Eisenstein: Yeah. Just graduated from high school and, let’s see what, oh
well anyway his, oh what I wanted to say was in 1976 the Federation did a
special program, the Columbus Jewish Federation, which I wrote and arranged for
and got the different actors to tape in, so it was a half-hour, you know, slide
show production. And Michael worked with me on that to get the right music, you
know, behind the certain sequences and then Anita and I went off to Israel and
Michael was the producer in my stead. But the thing is that a year or so later
his father accepted a job in Los Angeles see, and Michael moved with the family
there and began playing piano in some bars, you know, like he had done here. He
played at the Dell here, you know, constantly. And he was playing someplace in
L.A.when Liza Minelli walked in the room and he stopped what he was doing and
started to play “Liza,” you know the Gershwin “Liza”. And
anyway he attracted her and she became a staunch supporter of Michael and really
introduced him to some of the right people and the right management and he
became a performer. Now, when he went there, he was a record collector, you
know, and very interested in the early ASCAP musicians, composers you know, the
Gershwins and Harold Arlen and all the people, Irving Berlin. And he happened to
be in a record store, I believe, if I remember the story correctly and was going
through some records and there was a woman standing next to him and somehow a
conversation struck up between them. This was Oscar Levant’s widow. And he
said, “You know I’ve got some acetates of Oscar Levant playing the piano
that I think nobody knows about.” And she says, “You have!”.
“Well could you bring them over to my house and play them?” Anyway,
through this connection, she introduced him to Ira Gershwin and his wife. Now
Ira Gershwin was already, you know, elderly and they’d never had any children.
He became like a son to Gershwin and he became the Gershwin librarian. You know,
he went through all of Ira Gershwin’s material. He worked there at cataloging
all the works and, you know, talking with Ira. They would exchange stories and
Michael would play, you know, some records for him, then he would play on the
piano some other Gershwin material. It became a wonderful association.
And that’s really from where he branched out and became a performer out on
the West Coast and he became very well known there and then he came to New York
and played at the Oak Room which was in the Algonquin Hotel and he was a smash.
And Anita was there on an opera tour with her sister and went to see Michael and
enjoyed the show tremendously and Michael came over and picked up their tab, you
know, because of the association we had with him. And we’ve seen him perform
in Washington and always, you know, we’ve corresponded and kept, certainly in
those years, a very close association.
I asked him if he would come back and do something for the Center and he did.
As I say, it was in 1987. We did it at the Center and we raised over $50,000.
And I think two or three years later, Jerry Cohen was then head of Heritage
House and came to me and said, “Is there any possibility that we could get
Michael to come back and do something for Heritage House? His grandmother’s
here,” and so on. And so I contacted him again and he said,
“Sure”. And one of the loveliest things that I can remember, for his
grandmother was still alive there, of him being in a room with her. This was a
woman who no longer communicated, you know, she was in her 90s I think. And
Michael really, I have difficulty saying this, kneeling next to her and singing
in her ear very quietly . . . .
Interviewer: She probably couldn’t hear well.
Eisenstein: and the beautiful smile of her face and the family in the, you
know, mother and father in the background just qvelling, you know.
Interviewer: Well he’s a mensch. He’s a real mensch.
Eisenstein: Yeah he is. He is a wonderful guy. And he’s comin’ back
Interviewer: All right.
Interviewer: We’re going to put that on our calendar. Yeah. Well you’ve
added so much interest to what I’m doing in my retirement and and makes this
all so enjoyable. And I really appreciate the time, Harold, we’ve spent. I
know that we’ve taken a couple of hours today and the other day and I really
appreciate your valuable time.
Eisenstein: Well it’s been a pleasure.
Interviewer: The Jewish community and the Columbus Jewish Historical Society
appreciate these efforts and with this we’re going to sign off and wish you
Eisenstein: Thank you very much Naomi.