BITS and PIECES # 46

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May 10, 2014 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 46

Hello again from Luquillo,

Here is a story I thought might be of interest — it involves baseball and an a bigger-than-life character I was fortunate enough to have as a friend and ‘teacher’ when I was a small boy…

I hope you like it…

REMEMBERING RUDITSKY

Barney Ruditsky was the consummate tough cop of the Roaring Twenties’ prohibition era in New York City. He and his partner, detective John Broderick pursued the likes of Louis (the lip) Lepke and other ‘Murder Incorporated’ crime figures and sent them to jail…

In later years, after he had retired from law enforcement and moved to Los Angeles to work as a private investigator and restaurateur, my father and mother met and befriended him and thus he became a frequent guest at our Beverly Hills home. Barney and my father, unlikely cronies, spent hours in deep conversation in dad’s study, swapping stories about ‘the old days’ in New York City…

When he discovered that I was a hopelessly inept softball player, and knew nothing much about minor-league professional baseball, Barney took it upon himself to cure me of this unacceptable inadequacy, and swiftly taking me under his wing, convinced my mother that I would benefit immensely by accompanying him to ballgames played by our local team, the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast league on Saturday afternoons during the season. The games were played at Gilmore field located where Beverly Boulevard and Genesee Avenue crossed (where CBS Television City now stands).  Watching these games under Barney’s apposite tutelage not only introduced me to the intrinsic pleasures of America’s pastime — they also helped me to understand some of the finer points of ballpark culture and etiquette — how to properly fill-in the boxes on a scorecard, how to cup my hands around my mouth to shout instructions to batters and pitchers on our team (and conversely, to denigrate the activities of opposing players), and how to express my displeasure and contempt to umpire’s who had made incorrect decisions — and of even more importance, how to attract the attention of vendors who roamed the stands hawking tiny brown paper bags filled with unshelled roasted peanuts. It was a fascinating new world, and I couldn’t wait for each Saturday afternoon to roll around and another ballpark adventure with Barney…

I was ten years old — he was forty seven — with his craggy face, slightly mis-aligned nose and ‘tough guy’ demeanor, Barney was not the typical ‘kind and gentle uncle figure — nonetheless, we got along famously…

Among his other pursuits, Barney was owner of ‘Sherry’s’ night club, a Hollywood celebrity hang-out on Sunset boulevard that later became a favorite haunt of the southern California Mafia. In the early days, before it became a gang hangout, my father would occasionally take our family to dinner there. One night as we were just finishing the main course and were chatting with Barney as we ordered dessert – a waiter rushed up to our table and breathlessly informed Barney that a man had just robbed the cashier at gunpoint — grabbing hundreds of dollars in cash (this was before the advent of Diners Club, American Express and the credit card era — everyone paid cash), and had then escaped through the restaurant’s front door — Barney excused himself, swiftly ran to the cashier – opened the cash register, and grabbing a roll of quarters in his fist, ran out the door in hot pursuit of the robber.  He returned ten minutes later, none the worse for wear, after running a few blocks, apprehending the thief, socking him behind the ear and knocking him senseless with his roll of quarter weighted fist, disarming him and removing the miscreant’s belt to tie him up, while removing, counting and then pocketing the purloined cash — only then pausing to summon aid from a passing patrol car — all this frenzied activity from a man in his mid-fifties…

To me, Barney was like a comic book hero come to life — I was in awe of him…

In 1947, when I was a tall, skinny 12  year old, Dad took us to Slapsie Maxie’s nightclub on Wilshire Boulevard to see a new comedy duo that were getting good press from Variety and the Hollywood Reporter — two young guys called ‘Martin and Lewis’…

Maxie Rosenbloom was another old family friend — he and my father had appeared together in a couple of movies, and the night club was a recent endeavor for Maxie — so dad and mom were quite eager to check it out. They invited Barney and his lady-friend to come along to share the fun…

As I recall, I was wearing a recently acquired grey tweed suit (my mother had insisted on purchasing this uncomfortable attire for my twelfth birthday, insisting that “Every young gentleman’s wardrobe was incomplete without a ‘set of tweeds’ “,’ despite the outfit’s prickly unsuitability for the warm southern California climate) — I was underage, and technically not permitted to enter an establishment that served alcoholic beverages. As we passed through the entry, I was conspiratorially advised by Barney to “Look old, kid, they’ll never notice”…

Martin and Lewis were great fun — Dean sang while Jerry dressed as a waiter heckled him and joked with the diners, as he wandered among the club’s tables — I felt very sophisticated since this was my first supper club experience and Martin and Lewis’ antics made it even more special. As we were leaving later that evening, Barney leaned over my shoulder and said in his gravelly voice “Congratulations kid, you did OK — you had them all fooled”…

As I morphed into my teens, Barney had moved-on, spending most of his time working on cases with his small private detective firm — while I concentrated on schoolwork, tennis, writing in my journal and — yes, shyly at first, I became interested in girls…

Barney wrote me a long letter when I was serving with the Air Force in Korea in 1953 — sharing his own wartime experiences with General Pershing in the Pancho Villa Punitive expedition in Mexico in 1916, and later, in World War I on the western front and later still in Africa during World War II, where he was wounded…

In 1954, while I was still in the Air Force, I read about his involvement in the infamous ‘wrong apartment’ scandal — he had been hired by baseball legend Joe DiMaggio to spy on his ex-wife Marilyn Monroe, resulting in the infamous ‘wrong door raid’. In 1959, 20th Century Fox produced ‘The Lawless Years’, a series which lasted until 1961, starring James Gregory. It was based on Barney’s crime fighting career in New York in which he served as technical advisor…

As so often happens, our paths had diverged over the years, and I lost track of him, only to see him briefly for one last time at my father’s funeral in 1969…

Today, each time I hear a baseball game being played on the radio or TV, even if it’s just a background sound registering dimly in the periphery of my mind, I cannot help but recall our long-ago Gilmore field Saturday afternoons, and Barney’s kind and patient baseball tutelage when I was a young, wide-eyed greenhorn…

© 2014 Alan Mowbray Jr.

 

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