When I skim the “birthdays” column in the morning newspaper, I start at the top where the names are familiar. Mmm, Andy Williams is 82, Elizabeth Taylor is 78, Ozzy Osbourne is 61. As I scan down the column the names become less and less recognizable. Actor Royale Watkins is 40. Who? Bruno Campos is 36. Is that the guy on Dancing with the Stars? And Michael Angarano is 22. I doubt even my adult children know who he is.
The other day I saw that Conrad Janis turned 82. If you know the name at all, it’s probably from his role on “Mork and Mindy.”
(His website http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0417641/ contains a long list of credits on stage, television and the movies.) But Carolyn and I don’t care about that. We remember Conrad Janis long before he hit the big time.
(I’ve mentioned Carolyn several times before. She was my best friend and to this day, we can still laugh about some of our adventures growing up in Brooklyn way back when. On Saturdays in the 1950s, you’d often find us in Manhattan, exploring different neighborhoods, sometimes hanging around the theatre district.)
To us, Conrad Janis will always be the great jazz trombone player. One time, when we found out that his band was playing at Childs Restaurant in Times Square, we were tempted to venture down the stairs to hear him. But we knew we were too young at the age of 15, just as we knew we were too young to enter the famous Sardi’s or to follow Ralph Meeker into a bar between the matinee and evening performances of Picnic at the Music Box Theatre.
I cannot imagine allowing 15-year-old girls today to go some of the places Carolyn and I went. Like taking the elevator in the Brill Building to see if our favorite singer, Guy Mitchell, was at his agent’s office. Instead, the Four Lads, a singing group famous at the time, thought we were members of their fan club and asked us if we wanted to help with their fan mail. Or the time the two of us went to the premiere of On the Waterfront at the Astor Theatre and sat near Eva Marie Saint and her husband and got a nod and a wink from Karl Malden.
Often, we’d head for Cromwell’s Drug Store in the lobby of the RCA Building (now the GE Building or whatever corporation owns it). In the so-called “golden age of television,” many live TV dramas were aired from the NBC studios upstairs. So it wasn’t unusual to see some of the actors having lunch at Cromwell’s.
One afternoon after the lunch crowd had gone, Carolyn and I sat at the soda fountain and ordered cokes. The place was empty except for two guys sitting at the end of the counter. Oh, my gosh! It was James Dean and Nick Adams. And they were smiling at us! We tried to act cool but we couldn’t help giggling, especially when James Dean took out his camera and started to (or pretended to) take our picture!
Around that time a singer named Julius Larose was a big hit on the Arthur Godfrey Show. One night, Carolyn and I walked to the corner drug store, closed the door of the phone booth and called Julius LaRosa at his home in Ridgewood. When his father answered, he was pleased to put his son on the phone for two giggling girls. Just a few years ago when I was living in Albany, I read that Julius LaRosa would be making an appearance at the Colonie Center Mall. It seems he was friends with the owner of the new Boscov’s Department Store and had agreed to be part of the opening celebration.
My sister Nan and I decided to go. As we were headed toward Boscov’s auditorium, passing displays of towels and sheets, I spotted a short, white-haired man coming toward us. “That’s Julius LaRosa,” I said to Nan. Sure enough, he had aged just as we had.
When I read the birthdays column or see the obituary of some famous person from the past, I cannot help but remember the innocent days when a trip on a subway to Manhattan was not only safe but to Carolyn and me, quite an adventure.