Sunday, August 8, 2010

Another Argument

Last week, after it was revealed Mitch Miller died at 99, I noted his Sing Along With Mitch show prompted one of my biggest arguments when growing up in the early 1960s (for those who don’t remember, I wanted to watch The Untouchables, but my brother and father preferred Mitch and his gang. Little known fact---one of the stars of Sing Along With Mitch was Bob McGrath who became one of the original cast members of Sesame Street).

Another major argument of my early teen-time transpired one Saturday night in early September. Sadly, I was reminded of it because of another prominent person’s passing. Robert F. Doyle died last Sunday, one day after Mitch Miller. He was 100. Boyle was, in the words of the NY Times obituary, “the eminent Hollywood production designer who created some of the most memorable scenes and images in cinematic history,” in movies ranging from North by Northwest, The Birds and Shadow of a Doubt ( He collaborated often with Alfred Hitchcock.

It was their first work together that got me in trouble. The Saturday night before the Jewish New Year, there’s a midnight service called Selichot (prayers of repentance). Having been bar-mitzvah’ed the previous winter, I was no longer exempt from attending, at least as far as my father was concerned. I, on the other hand, was nearly 30 minutes into CBS’s The Late Show presentation of Saboteur, the World War II thriller starring Robert Cummings that ends with a deadly tangle on the torch of the Statue of Liberty (of course, at the time I knew nothing of the climactic scene. I only knew that going to Selichot would sabotage my enjoyment that night). We argued, loudly. My father left for synagogue, without me, but with a strong admonition that I had better be standing by his side within 10 minutes. I appealed to my mother. Why did I have to go and my older sister did not? (I can’t remember where our even older brother was that night.) It was unfair. Mom could usually be counted on to run interference, but not this time. Reluctantly, I turned off the TV and trudged the four blocks to synagogue.

Eventually, I got to see Saboteur. A good, not great movie. But one that always has special meaning to me. As does Selichot. Gilda and I go most years. It’s one of the most musical and inspiring services of the year.

More Miller Time: My sister Lee reminds me not only did our brother Bernie like Mitch Miller, he used his quota of Columbia Record Club membership initiation albums to secure three Sing Along LPs.

She chose the greatest hits of The Platters, one of Johnny Mathis and a third she can’t remember. I picked Frankie Laine and some Broadway shows. We all agreed on a Ferrante and Teicher instrumental album of movie themes (such as Exodus, The Apartment, The Vikings).

Into the Water: My sister and husband David separately pointed out I fulfilled a parent’s obligation, according to the Talmud, by having my children learn to swim. I don’t hold it against my parents that I never learned. They did, after all, send me to summer camp for 14 years. You’d think I would have learned. I suspect I have a deep-seated, early trauma I cannot overcome.

Of course, I gave the same reason as to why I never learned to ride a bicycle. That phobia vanished when I was 40 when Gilda forced me to learn (a story for another day). If I could learn to ride at 40, perhaps I could learn to swim at 61?

Lee says I should try hypnosis. She even “volunteered” one of her friends who recently became a hypnotist to put me under a spell. And my friend Ken has offered his pool for lessons. All I need now is the gumption to just do it.