Chanting and Ranting
I don’t recall my classmates’ names at this point so, if any of them were added to the list above, I wouldn’t know. But I can describe a few and attribute bits of info about them. I recall there were three Jewish boys in my class, each very interesting. Two of them were preparing for their Bar Mitzvahs for when they turned 13. They occasionally practiced together, reciting their chosen passages from the Torah. I was informed that Jesus studied and read from the Torah as a boy too. The Torah refers to the first five books of the Bible that we know as the Old Testament.
We had a lot in common regarding our commitments to our faiths. I was in training to become an altar boy and had to memorize and recite a few lines of Latin during mass. My confirmation was coming up in the spring and I would be 13 too. It was a time of passage. If I came upon them in the hallway or out in the schoolyard and heard them chanting, I would listen. They would turn, give me a look and say something in Hebrew and we’d have a laugh. They could have said: “Lech lehizdayen,” and I’d have no clue. I probably still would have laughed. One of the boys talked enthusiastically about the Six-Day War that occurred back in June. Egypt, Jordan and Syria got their collective butts kicked by the Israelis. In the process Israel tripled its size after capturing the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. The boy said Israel was his country too and hoped to pray at the Wall at the Temple Mount. He might even move there someday. Jerusalem was special to me also. Jesus had his last supper there and the Via Dolorosa “The Way of Sorrows” was depicted in the fourteen Stages of the Cross sculpted in their tortuous glory in bas-reliefs lining the walls of our church.
The third boy was a peculiar sort. He was pale, pudgy, freckled, and wore black horn rimmed glasses. Every day he sported the same black tie-shoes that he also wore in gym class. He possibly had cooties because the girls kept their distance from him. He wasn’t too friendly, and occasionally would get irritated and start cursing people. Not foul-mouthed cursing, but the hexing, jinxing type. He claimed to be a warlock.
I drew a picture of him in class and gave it to him. Okay, I exaggerated his hair height some and added bolts to his neck. All in good fun mind you. But he had no sense of humor and promptly crumpled it up, putting it in his pocket. He pointed at me and cursed me quite specifically: “YOU will die in 1976, when the Liberty bell will fall on your stupid-ass head and you’ll be crushed.”
I actually lived in Philly in 1976 and cognisant of the curse, stayed clear of the Liberty Bell that year.
Samuel S. Fleischer and Gene London
Unlike my warlock classmate, my art teacher liked my drawings and characterizations. She told me about a Saturday drawing class, also in South Philly, that I had to attend! She had friends there and helped me get registered at Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial on Catherine Street. This historic little art school that has been there since 1906. Fleisher was tuition free and managed by the Philadelphia Art Museum. It also featured a private art collection of paintings and sculptures next door in a spectacular Romanesque church. It was truly inspirational. It was a privilege to be a student there and I felt at home in this artist community. The encouragement and acknowledgement I received there bolstered my confidence that I would be an artist. The instructor talked about drawing what we see and how we interpret it. As observers, we needed to look at basic shapes, relationships, composition, shadow and form. It was a vocabulary I didn’t speak but totally understood.
The first drawing I did was of a fellow student, a lovely dark-haired girl who was a little older than me. It was a side view portrait pencil drawing on cream-colored paper. She liked it right off, and asked if she could have it to give her mom. I agreed and got a soft hug out of it, very aware of the oranges in the baskets. And you know I’m not talking about a still life set up in the room.
There was an overkill of children’s shows crammed into the morning hours of TV on the three channels available in Philadelphia throughout the 60’s. Captain Noah, Chief Halftown, Pixanne and Sally Star each featured a pretend character in a colorful costume. The Gene London Show on the other hand was the real thing. Gene (Eugene Yulish) was a wonderful storyteller and talented artist. He was quite colorful in his own right. He’d sing and cry when he told his stories and drew cartoonish characters, many from Disney stories. He had a ”Magic Window” segment where a succession of his drawings would illustrate a story with delightful musical accompaniment. I didn’t enjoy the kiddie show aspect of his show, but was impressed with his drawing ability. He would crank out an elaborate drawing on a large sketchpad and color it in a few minutes. I found out later he drew everything out so lightly ahead of time that the TV camera couldn’t pick it up. Ah HA! That’s why he was so fast. The last four lines of a song he sang went like this:
And when the story’s over And when we reach the end. We’ll live happily ever after, Where? In the land of Let’s Pretend.
In the 70’s his show disintegrated into a bizarre format featuring an old mansion, ghosts, secret tunnels and UFO’s. After he retired from TV in 1977 he worked as a dress designer in the Fashion Industry in NY. He was renowned for his private collection of 6.000 Hollywood gowns and fashion accessories worn by movie celebrities. He had an obsession for Hollywood starlets and their clothing. Joan Crawford sent him a love letter of sorts then later a two-piece silk jumpsuit with a chiffon cape for his collection. He promptly tried it on but the fit was incompatible, unfortunately. He requested and received her underwear and bra so he’d have a full ensemble.