This interview is for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society and is being recorded on August 9, 2013, as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project. The interview is being recorded at 283 S. Kellner Road, Columbus, OH 43209. My name is Flo Gurwin and I am interviewing Irene Braverman.
Interviewer: Irene, tell me something about how you happened to come to Columbus.
Braverman: I came here in 1948 after my parents died. I lived in a little town outside of Chicago called Elgin. I came to live with my brother, Leon Seligson, who lived here and was married here in Columbus.
Interviewer: Is that where you met your husband?
Braverman: I met him at a B’nai B’rith dance shortly after I came here.
Interviewer: Tell me about that.
Braverman: I chased him until he caught me!
Interviewer: How long were you married?
Braverman: We were married in 1950 and Al died April 16, 1979. He sold insurance for Wolf Insurance Agency.
Interviewer: Had he been a resident here for a length of time?
Braverman: Yes, he was here longer than I was. He came with an aunt and uncle of his from Brooklyn, NY.
Interviewer: And you had two children.
Braverman: Yes, I have a son, Loren Braverman, who is now an attorney. And Becky Braverman is my daughter. They both live here and are married. Each has two children. My daughter has a son and a daughter, and my son has two daughters. My daughter’s children are Ben Shedler, and he is a photographer and lives in northern California. Her daughter is Carrie Shedler, and she is on the staff of the Columbus Monthly Magazine. Larry’s two children are Elizabether Braverman, and she is an attorney with Baker Hostettler here in Columbus. His other daughter works for an on-line non-profit agency. She is in San Francisco, CA.
Interviewer: Irene, would you give us your full name for the record?
Braverman: Irene Bernice Seligson Braverman. My Jewish name is Chaya Bluma. My father named me that. Literally it means a living flower. I was named for my father’s sister Ida, whom I never met. She never came to America.
Interviewer: Irene, how far back can you trace your family?
Braverman: Not far enough really. Just my parents’ generation and they never talked very much about where they came from. I know that my mother came from Ziezmarial, Lithuania. My father was from Warsaw, Poland. I know he had brothers and sisters, but I never was told how many. My mother had two sisters and a brother. My father had one sister that he brought over from Europe that lived in Chicago. My mother’s brother ended up in Elgin because her brother owned this little store there. My parents bought the store from him and he moved to Michigan to do other business. That’s how my family wound up in Elgin. He called himself Jack Ellins. It was Jacob Eliansky but he changed it to Ellins. When I was about six years old, I can remember when he died. We lived in Elgin until I moved to live with my brother, Leon, who was an architect.
Interviewer: Do you have any legends or stories of the past that were told to you by your family?
Braverman: They never spoke too much about where they came from. I know my father was supposed to go into the Polish Army, and his father and a friend of his snuck out of Warsaw because living there wasn’t such a wonderful thing. They went to Denmark, and from Denmark they were on a ship that came here. My mother came here to New York and worked for this coat factory in the garment district where they sewed fur on collars. I can remember her telling me that her boss tried to get fresh with her one day and she took a pile of coats and threw them at him. She was a very feisty woman. She made $2.50 per week. With that money she took care of her brother and her sisters who were not working. They all three came together. Her sponsor was an uncle who lived in Hammond, so eventually they went to Hammond, and I think that’s where she met my father in the Chicago area. They were married in Chicago and then moved out. They were married in 1913. My brother was born in 1914, and I was born in 1923.
Interviewer: What was your mother’s full name?
Braverman: Becky Eliansky Seligson – no middle name. She was born in Ziezmarial, Lithuania. It isn’t far from Vilna.
Interviewer: And your father’s full name?
Braverman: Max (Mendel) Seligson who came from Warsaw, Poland.
Interviewer: Do you know what port of entry they came into?
Braverman: Both my mother and father came to Ellis Island. I know that for a fact.
Interviewer: Do you know the names of your father and mother’s brothers and sisters?
Braverman: They each had a sister Sarah. I knew Sarah on my father’s side, but I didn’t know any of his other relatives. My mother had another sister that went from Lithuania to Israel, which was Palestine at the time. I don’t have her name.
Interviewer: Do you know of any relative that still live in Europe?
Interviewer: Did you know the names of your grandparents or great grandparents?
Braverman: No. When my mother came here, she had a mother and a father. She was sixteen. She had a grandmother and a grandfather and all sorts of relatives and never saw any of them again. She never told me their names. They were very closed-mouthed about what had happened and why they left Europe. At that time, I wasn’t interested. By the time I got interested, unfortunately they were not here.
Interviewer: When did they come to this country?
Braverman: My father came I think in 1908 or 1909. They married in 1913.
Interviewer: Do you have brothers and sisters?
Braverman: Just the brother Leon.
Interviewer: You grew up in Elgin?
Interviewer: What are some of the earliest memories you have growing up with your sibling?
Braverman: I really never grew up with him because there is ten years’ difference. When I was seven years old, he was in college. I know that if I did anything, my father would protect me under any circumstances. I remember one time Leon used to like to develop pictures. He had this dish on the steps down to the basement that had some developing fluid in it. I ran down the basement steps and spilled it all. I don’t know if I did it on purpose or not. Leon started to get very angry with me, and my father said that if you didn’t want it to spill, you shouldn’t have put it there.
Interviewer: What were you like as a teenager?
Braverman: Growing up in Elgin was very interesting. It was a good place to be from because I wasn’t allowed to go out with a non-Jewish person. There weren’t very many Jews living there, and the Jews that were there, I knew from the time I was born practically. The social life was group things during the Depression. Things were very hard. I think I was a brat. If I ever got into trouble, I just went to my father. He would get me out of trouble. I could do no wrong.
Interviewer: Where did you attend school?
Braverman: I went to a grade school called Franklin School and graduated from Elgin High School. I did go to a drama school in Chicago called Columbia College of Radio and Drama for a couple of years. We had a little train that would take an hour and twenty minutes to get from Elgin to Chicago. It connected to the El so you could go right down to the Loop where everything was in Chicago.
Interviewer: What made you get interested in drama?
Braverman: I always like to perform. My father used to transliterate Jewish stories for me, and I would perform them. I remember got $5 for performing at a bar mitzvah. We had a little theater group and I performed in that. I can never remember not wanting to be an actress. I was always performing.
Interviewer: And when you moved to Columbus?
Braverman: I got interested in Gallery Players, which had just started. The first play I was in was in 1954. It was called “Years Ago” and I played the mother. I don’t remember anyone that was in the cast with me. I have a picture, but I can’t remember names. Rhea Kaplan’s husband was in it, but I can’t remember his name. That was the one and only play he was ever in. He played my husband in that play. From then on, the rest is history.
Interviewer: Do you know how many plays you’ve been in?
Braverman: Probably close to fifty. I’ll show you my room back there. I have scripts all over the place. Theater was my first love.
Interviewer: What was your favorite role of all the roles that you played?
Braverman: I think Yenta was in “Fiddler.” I played her four times. She was an interesting woman. I don’t know if I had a real favorite because I liked the person I was playing at the time I was playing her. When the play was over, I was through with them. I think I learned something from every character.
Interviewer: How did you play Yenta differently if you played her four times?
Braverman: Well, this time I think there was more depth to her because I really knew what she was like. She wasn’t just a caricature, she had a tough life. She never had a decent husband, never had money, and she really tried to make everybody else happy. She knew everything that was going on. Basically she was a nice person but very unhappy because her life never got fulfilled the way she liked it. I think when she was going to Israel that things were going to be better for her there.
Interviewer: How did your family feel about your acting interest?
Braverman: Oh, my father encouraged it very much by helping me learn lines, by giving me readings to do and everything. When he first came to this country, he hung around the Yiddish theater in Chicago and in New York. That was really his love.
Interviewer: Did he do any of that when he was in Europe?
Braverman: I’m not sure. He never talked about that.
Interviewer: You went to college for two years?
Braverman: I was in college, but I would go back and forth on the train.
Interviewer: You knew when you were going to college that you were going to take drama?
Braverman: It was a drama school. When I came to Columbus and lived with my brother, I took some drama courses at Ohio State also.
Interviewer: Did you ever do anything else? Did you ever work?
Braverman: Oh, yes. When I graduated from high school, I got a job with the telephone company in Elgin. I was the first Jew that ever worked for the telephone company. The reason I got the job was because it was in 1941 when I graduated and the men were all being drafted and going into the Army, and they found that people were not applying for jobs because the women were getting other jobs. They needed me, so they had to take a Jew. I was the first Jew that ever worked there.
Interviewer: How did you like working there?
Braverman: It was all right.
Interviewer: How long did you work there?
Braverman: For ten years while I was going to school part-time. When I moved here, I transferred here. I worked here until I was pregnant with my son.
Interviewer: What did you do for the phone company?
Braverman: Well, at first I was actually an operator. When I came to Columbus, I was in the traffic assignee department, which gave out the phone numbers and equipment. It wasn’t on a computer but was done manually. I could only work up to six months’ pregnant, and he was born June 29, 1952. So I quit and never went back.
Interviewer: Did you work anyplace else after that?
Braverman: I worked part-time at Lazarus, but everybody worked at Lazarus. My son went to law school for this young man, and when he started his own firm, he needed somebody to answer the phones for a short time, so I started working for him and worked there for 22 years. The firm right now is Cox Koltak & Gibson. At that time it was Koltak.
Interviewer: After you retired, what did you do?
Braverman: I’m not really retired. I’m still working.
Interviewer: Tell me about that.
Braverman: I work four days a week and find it very interesting. I work for Mr. Koltak at the law firm. I go to shul on Saturday.
Interviewer: Do you remember the days of the Great Depression? You mentioned it. Tell me about that.
Braverman: I can remember that we had to conserve everything. I can remember wearing these stockings with holes in them when I walked to school in the cold weather. My mother would fix it so the holes didn’t show. We always had plenty of food, there was money for food. But when the farmers would come in to our store on Saturday, instead of paying with cash, they would pay with chickens. I can remember the shoichet, Harold Miller, coming to our house and killing these chickens. My mother would make feather pillows and perranets (like a big feather quilt) and everything out of that. We always had plenty of feathers. He would come with the lulav and etrog and say a prayer and get money from my mother because he would say a prayer. When I would see him come to the house, I would run because he scared the devil out of me. He always came to kill chickens.
Interviewer: Do you remember anything else about it?
Braverman: We had a grape arbor in the backyard. My mother would make wine. It was delicious wine because they were Concord grapes. My brother came home from college and he said that we were going to make grape juice. He set up an assembly line with bottles and grapes. We stomped the grapes and made the juice. We put the juice in these bottles and corked them. During the night there was an explosion from the fermenting. The whole basement was purple. I’ll never forget that picture. We never made grape juice again. My mother continued to make wine, but nobody made grape juice.
Interviewer: It sounds like your family coped with the depression.
Braverman: When my brother went to college, he wore the same pair of pants for two years because they couldn’t afford to buy more. The pants were so shiny that you could see your face in them. He was going to college during the ‘30’s. He graduated from high school in 1931 and then went to college at the University of Illinois in the heart of the Depression. When he got out of college in 1935, the only jobs he could get were in Chicago for experience for a firm. They would not pay him, but he could get the experience of working as an architect. He did that for a short time and then got a fellowship to come here to Ohio State. He belonged to a fraternity and could be the proctor of the fraternity, so he had his housing and his education because of the scholarship. That’s why he came here. He was in a Jewish fraternity that was later banned from the campus. I don’t remember the name.
Interviewer: If you heard the name, would you remember it? Was it AEPi or SAMMY? There was also ZBT.
Braverman: It was either ZBT or SAMMY, I can’t remember. This was in 1935 and he had a degree in architecture and he went to school for two years here and got his structural engineering degree. As soon as the war was over, he worked on Fifth Avenue as a structural engineer where they manufactured planes. He then started his own business as an architect.
Interviewer: Did he build this house?
Braverman: Yes. I moved in here in 1955.
Interviewer: How old were you when you got married?
Braverman: I was 28 or 29. I was born in 1923 and got married in 1950. My brother started calling me an old maid.
Interviewer: Tell me about your wedding day.
Braverman: We were married at the Ft. Hayes Hotel. My brother didn’t want me to have a wedding. He wanted me to elope. At that time my parents weren’t living, but I did have relatives that were living in Chicago. They came–my father’s sister and her husband and my mother’s uncle and his wife, so that was nice. I had the friends that I’d made here in Columbus. Rabbi Zelizer married us. Al’s mother was alive at that time, and he had a sister and a brother who were there. The sister was married. He had a younger brother. Al was the oldest. It was a very festive day. We went to Miami, FL on our honeymoon.
Interviewer: Tell me about some vacations you had that you particularly liked.
Braverman: We took family vacations to different resorts not very far from here. I can’t remember the names. My husband’s sister moved to Dayton and we would go there a lot. That was supposed to be a vacation but probably wasn’t. We took the kids to Niagara Falls once and went to FL a couple of times with the kids. We went to St. Petersburg. Some friends of ours had a place down there, and we went there and stayed with our kids. I did a lot of traveling after my kids were out of college. I took a couple of trips with the synagogue. I took a trip east to Japan and countries around there.
Interviewer: Tell me about that trip.
Braverman: That was exciting. I went by myself but I hooked up with the other three Jews on the trip. Somehow the Jews seem to come together. We traveled as a unit and had a wonderful time. We were in Tokyo and in Osaka and then traveled to some islands around there. It was very interesting because I was still young enough to be dumb enough to think I could take a trip like that alone. But it worked out fine. I was a widow at that time. This was a couple of years after Al died in 1979. I think the trip was in 1981 or 1982. I had always wanted to go to Japan, and I did and enjoyed it. I would like to go back to Asia. That is my favorite part of the continent. We took some great trips with the synagogue. A couple to Israel, and then we went to Warsaw and some other countries with Rabbi Ungar. We went to Budapest. There were only about 14 of us, and people got very close. It was a wonderful 10-day trip and was really fun. Then we went to Cuba which was also a great trip. I used to like to travel, but I don’t want to travel anymore. It is too hard and is not fun anymore. The airports drive me nuts.
Interviewer: If you had a favorite place to go, where would it be?
Braverman: My favorite place is Columbus. I am very happy with my house. I’ve got it the way I want it and I feel very secure here. Hopefully, my health will permit me to stay here for the rest of my time.
Interviewer: Tell me about Gallery Players. I know you got involved shortly after you came here. How have you seen it grow and what changes you’ve seen.
Braverman: The Gallery Players, as far as I’m concerned, was Harold Eisenstein. If it hadn’t been for him, Gallery Players wouldn’t be what it is today. He set the foundation of what it is today. And now there are some very good people that are taking over. But it is different now. The people that were in Gallery Players’ plays felt an affinity to the Center and Gallery Players. You were really a bond there. But now the kids that come to audition want to get paid. So we are a semi-professional theater. You are paid maybe enough to take care of gasoline while you are going to rehearsals but not a lot. And secondly, they just want an audition because they want a part. They have no loyalty to Gallery Players. It is not the organization that it was before. It will survive because that’s what every theater is now. There is a group of people who want to be in plays that go from theater to theater. They don’t go to Gallery because that is the best there is. They go to Gallery because there is a part there for them. That’s the way things have changed. But Gallery wouldn’t have lasted this long if it had not been for Harold because there is a foundation there. And the Center has the loyalty to Gallery. It will not let it die, but these are different times. The people that are in plays now are different people.
Interviewer: Do you miss the old Gallery?
Braverman: Yes. There was a bond there that will never be again. The things that happened were amazing.
Interviewer: Tell me some of the stories that you remember?
Braverman: Oh, it is hard to tell stories. Abe Green was wonderful. Gundersheimerson. And we were talking about the other day all the people that we did things with. And Lee Roth. There were so many different walks of life. It didn’t really matter if you had a lot of money or not. There was a bond there and a loyalty which is all up here.
Interviewer: Tell me some of the stories. For example, is there anything in particular that was funny during a rehearsal or during one of the plays you were doing?
Braverman: I can’t remember anything specifically. Before you leave, I can show you my room. I have bequeathed all of that to the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. I’ve got all these mementos from the plays I’ve been in.
Interviewer: You mentioned Abe Green. What particular about Abe Green was there that you remember?
Braverman: Abe Green was part of a bunch of people. Most of them were traveling salesmen that came out here. There was a bond there because they were traveling salesmen. They were so humorous–Mary Samuels, for example, and Hal Block and his partner. Trudy Green, Abe’s wife, was Harold’s secretary for a long time. He was an amazing man because he could bring out so many talents you didn’t think you had. It was just his way. You wanted to work your butt off for him. He demanded a lot of things, you know, but in a nice way. He gave up a lot of his family life because he lived at the Center when we were in a play. His wife and kids never saw him. I’ll have to take you back in my theater room.
Interviewer: What other people do you remember from the Gallery that left an impression on you?
Braverman: Lil Strauss is a force of the theater. When it comes to names, my head is blank.
Interviewer: So tell me, what makes you go for a particular part?
Braverman: I know the limits of my talent. I have always played a mother or an older woman, and I know I have a comedic talent. You have to develop into the character to find what makes her the way she is. I make up tales about what these women did before they were married. Like in “God’s Favorite,” she wanted a lot of jewels and lots of money. And her husband had to make a lot of money for her because evidently she didn’t have money when she was little before she was married. And she was very anxious to get all this money. That’s what made that character. I’ve always tried to make up a story in my head about the person and what they were before so that I know what kind of person they are.
Interviewer: And you do that in every role you play?
Braverman: I try to, yes. With Yenta it was easy because her stuff came back to me very easily.
Interviewer: Is there a role that you would have liked to have played or would look forward to playing if you had the opportunity to do it?
Braverman: Right now I’m at a stage where it has to be something like “Fiddler” or something that I know where I won’t have to put forth that much effort with it. It is a discipline. You give too much of your life to this. It used to be easy to do. For the last play it was not easy. It was hard. It was very tiring to get that discipline, rehearsals, etc. You see a finished part on the stage, but that took two months to do. Mark Mann, who was directing “Fiddler,” is a gem. He is a wonderful person to work with, just wonderful. He made that an easy thing to work. I’m not sure if I am giving you the right answer.
Interviewer: There is no right answer. Besides acting, do you have any other hobbies?
Braverman: I like to read and knit. I like children and like to go along with my children when they will take me.
Interviewer: Where do you like to go?
Braverman: I like to go out and eat at any restaurant. Just take me. I’ll go at the drop of a hat. I am very fortunate that I have both kids here in Columbus. I don’t demand a lot of their time because they have their own lives. They have kept me in their lives and I do spend a lot of time with them, which is fine. And my grandchildren which is great. Al went to bed one night and didn’t wake up, which was a blow. Our kids were just out of college and had just started working, and all of a sudden, he is not here.
Interviewer: How did you handle that?
Braverman: I told myself I wasn’t going to be defeated. I had a lifetime ahead of me and I was going to live it. I couldn’t live thinking about things being different. I had to make my own way. It was hard at first. I had a lot of support from my kids and from my family. Like my brother and his family were gems. They were wonderful. Al’s family were all in Dayton, but they were still supportive. If he had been sick, I don’t think it would have made it any easier, but it was just like that and was a shock.
Interviewer: You said you like to read; any particular kind of books?
Braverman: I like to read juicy love stories. Right now I am reading a very interesting book about Robert Oppenheimer. I can remember that he worked with Enrico Fermi. I was in Chicago at that time, about the time I got out of high school in 1941. They were working on the bomb then. I found it very interesting because I could relate to so much of that stuff. But usually I like a good fiction, juicy. I don’t have a favorite author.
Interviewer: I thought you would say Danielle Steele.
Braverman: I like her. That’s the kind of stuff I like. It is easy reading. This thing about Oppenheimer is a hard book but interesting.
Interviewer: Besides Gallery Players, are there any organizations that you belong to that you are active with?
Braverman: Not really. I used to be active in Sisterhood, but I’m not now. When my kids were in Hebrew school, I was active. I belong to Wexner and I go to plays and Broadway series and that kind of stuff. I like theater kind of things.
Interviewer: Tell me something about special holiday things that you like to do or that you do with your family?
Braverman: On erev Rosh Hashanah I always have my kids and grandkids and a few select friends over for dinner. And Thanksgiving is a big thing because my son-in-law’s family – nieces and nephews and his brother – come from New York. Usually my grandson who is in California comes for Thanksgiving. So that is a very festive holiday. Seders are always here. I don’t do all the work. I will do the brisket and the soup, and my kids do the rest. My daughter and daughter-in-law are both wonderful gourmet cooks, so I let them cook.
Interviewer: Does religion play an important part in your life?
Braverman: Yes. I know I’m Jewish and I feel proud to be Jewish. I think this was instilled in me by my parents. My mother said that no matter how little money you have, you have to belong to a shul.
Interviewer: What made you pick Tifereth Israel?
Braverman: It picked me. When Al’s family came here, they lived near Rabbi Zelizer and they were in rather dire financial straits. Al’s father died very suddenly, too. So Rabbi Zelizer helped them and took them into the shul and gave them membership into the shul. So when Al and I got married, we just normally went into Tifereth Israel. He was very kind and very good to Al’s family. Al was raised in an orthodox shul.
Interviewer: What kind of values did your family instill in you that you still live by?
Braverman: Well, my parents were very honest. I think I’m honest. I try to be kind. I always try to be on time. That was drummed into me. I get annoyed at people that are not on time. If you’re Jewish, I think you are ethical. My parents and my husband were very ethical. I think those are part of Jewish values.
Interviewer: How would you say you got through tough times?
Braverman: I try to put them behind me. That was the only way I could do it. When Al died, it was terrible that it happened, but life goes on. I don’t think that demeaned the feelings I had for him, but life goes on and you have to keep living. You can ruin it or you can make it mean something.
Interviewer: And you made your choice.
Braverman: I think so.
Interviewer: Compare the lives of your children today with when you were young. How would you compare them?
Braverman: In a way they are easier. I think our kids today have so much more to cope with than what we had. I know when I was growing up it was my own small little unit. Now these kids have the whole world that they have to think about. I think life is tough for kids today.
Interviewer: Your grandkids, for example.
Braverman: I think they are coping, but I think they have a tough way to go because things are so different now. There’s so many different concerns, especially with the economy still at a low ebb. Fortunately, they are all working. But I don’t think any of it came really easy for them. They all worked for it. They were not handed stuff on a platter.
Interviewer: In talking, it sounded like your childhood during the Depression was tough, yet you think your grandchildren have it tough.
Braverman: Well, I didn’t really know how tough it was when I went through it. I knew we never had money. I can remember “We can’t do this or that because there is no money.” I still had a mother and father that were loving parents. But we didn’t have a lot because there was no money.
Interviewer: Somehow, it kept you with a sense of humor.
Interviewer: How do you think television has influenced our society?
Braverman: I think it has made us aware that there is a big world out there. We have seen a lot of things we ordinarily wouldn’t have seen.
Interviewer: Do you think it has been a positive influence or a negative influence?
Braverman: In many ways there has been a lot of negative ways about it. I can’t specifically say it, but I think that everything is so current now. There are no surprises because you know exactly when something happens. It is so current. It is good to know what you are coping with, but sometimes it is too much already. Way too much… I don’t want to hear it all.
Interviewer: So you’re not one of the people that think television has been a bad influence.
Braverman: I don’t think so. I think it is whatever you make it. It has good things and bad things. It has done a lot. What would you do at night if you don’t feel like reading or talking?
Interviewer: If you could give a lesson about life and love to your children and grandchildren in the generation to come, what would that be?
Braverman: Enjoy it. Make the best of everything.
Interviewer: Irene, is there anything else you would like to add? Is there any story that you would like to tell that you haven’t told, anything at all, anything that I haven’t asked you about?
Braverman: You’ve asked me about a lot of stuff. I’ve had a good life. It hasn’t been a spectacular life, but I’m happy with what happened. I wish that I could have done more professionally as far as theater is concerned, but I didn’t pursue it. I was never encouraged. My father wanted me to go on and be an actress, and my mother used to say “Learn to type.”
Interviewer: Translate it for those who don’t understand.
Braverman: Type so you can get a job, you know. There’s security in being a secretary. There isn’t a lot of security in being an actress.
Interviewer: So you halfway listened to one and the other.
Braverman: I think if I’d had a lot more gumption I would have tried to pursue it professionally. But I evidently didn’t want it that badly at the time.
Interviewer: It sounds like you were happy without it.
Interviewer: Anything else you would like to add?
Braverman: You’ve been a good interviewer and my throat is dry.
Interviewer: On behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, I want to thank you for contributing to the Oral History Project. This concludes the interview.
Transcribed by Phyllis Komerofsky
October 26, 2013
(ADDENDUM) INTERVIEW WITH
Today is August 15, 2013. I am recording an addendum to the original oral history with Irene Braverman. It is being done at her home at 283 S. Kellner Road in Columbus, Ohio. I am Flo Gurwin and I am doing the interview for the Oral History Project of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
Interviewer: Irene, I understand that after our last interview, that there were some things that you would have liked to have added but you didn’t think of at the time, and therefore requested that you do this addendum so you could add those things that you wanted to add. So, tell me what it was that you wanted to tell me.
Braverman: Well, it started sometime in the 70’s. I was invited to join Cam Talent Agency in Columbus. They are still in existence. They are probably the only talent agency that is now in Columbus. There were several at the time I was with her. Through her, I did a lot of commercials and training films for different things. I did a commercial for the Ohio Lottery and Red Roof Inn and different places like that and really got quite a bit of exposure because of that. Through that, I received a call to audition for an independent film called “Bottom Feeders.” The film was a little bit raunchy, but it was well-written. This young man had a minor star in it who had been in some films that had played a very small role in it. We got a lot of exposure, and then we had a red carpet opening in the Lennox Theater off of Olentangy River Road, which was really nice. I had a byline in it and that was the beginning of the professional part because I got paid for this, not a lot, but I did get paid. I got paid for the commercials I did for Cam Talent. Also, through Cam Talent, I got a call for The American Splendor to audition for a part there. I’ve got the poster up there. I got the part. It was filmed in Cleveland, and it was about Harvey Pekar. He had a government job with all these records he kept of people in this agency where he worked. It was a very boring agency. Somehow, they got wind of him from David Letterman because he started drawing these very clever cartoons about his job – little stick people – because his job was so boring. He drew about Social Security and then about the people who had died. David Letterman heard about him because he was very famous in Cleveland. He was invited to be on the show with David Letterman. Through this show, he was very successful. He was treated royally and was asked to come back. On the second show he got into a big argument with David Letterman, and they couldn’t get him off of the show. He was mouthing him and treating him terribly. The part that I got was the grandmother of the buddy who worked with him. The part was the buddy and myself watching David Letterman on the second show when this all exploded. And that is “American Splendor.” I was treated almost like a movie star. We got there, and they met us at the airport. I went into a very large van and was costumed. Afterwards, we were driven to this house in Cleveland where this was all being filmed. It took hours and hours for them to set everything up. We were in the trailer. My son drove me up there and we were wined and dined in the trailer. It was really something. The whole thing that was shown in the film was probably half a minute or a minute long. But it took an entire day to film this. I was supposed to get a byline, but somehow it didn’t happen. It was my claim to fame, and I was a star for five or ten minutes. I have a picture I can show you.
Interviewer: So when did all this happen?
Braverman: This happened in the 80’s, but I started with Cam Talent Agency in the mid-70’s. In the 80’s is when I did “Bottom Feeders” and learned to swear and used some very raunchy words. It was fun, and you can still rent the movie on NetFlix. At the time it was okay, but I’d rather not be associated with it now. “American Splendor” was a real treat because I had such a minor part, but in the process, I had to go up and audition in Cleveland. It was really a great big deal. I auditioned for different parts, but they wanted the part that I did. That was all through Cam Talent. It was a part of my professional life. I got paid for it.
Interviewer: When did you give that professional part up?
Braverman: I didn’t really give it up, but there isn’t much available now. I’ve had a few calls from Cam Talent for different things, but some of them involved travel to different cities. I wasn’t interested in that anymore.
Interviewer: The other day when we were talking, you were trying to think of some names that you couldn’t think of, and then later you thought about Eddie Kaye and Sue Kaye. What do you want to tell me about them?
Braverman: Well, Sue Kaye was important to me the whole time we were in Gallery Players. She and I worked together beautifully. She appeared in things but had a very artistic feel about her. She could do beautiful sets and makeup and things like that. So she did a lot of that with Gallery Players. We were just very, very close friends. Eddie Kaye, her husband, was extremely talented. He directed several of the shows that I was in. He was a very funny man who could ad lib at the drop of a hat. The two of them were really an asset to Gallery Players.
Interviewer: Is there anything else that you can think of that you want to add?
Braverman: No, not really. I just wanted to tell you about my professional parts. I thought that was important at the time.
Interviewer: Yes, it was. Again, on behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, I want to thank you for contributing to the Oral History Project. This does conclude the interview.
Transcribed by Phyllis Komerofsky
October 26, 2013