Archive for March, 2012


Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

In the vestibule of a Lyndhurst house less than two weeks ago, two brothers stood chuckling. It was opening weekend of “How To Succeed…” and even before the curtain rose Hal’s review came in:

“You know,” said H, ‘You’re really not acting.”
(More chortles as our laughter grew louder).
“Yeah, ” I roared, “I do the same thing every play.”
(And we laughed some more).

It’s true though. After more than a score of roles post-divorce, I can objectively and without a hint of false modesty affirm that what my brother proclaims with penultimate love is in fact spot-on true: I cannot act. This truism I stand by and frankly, it’s a source of great strength.

It is also why, when you cut to the chase, I am cast so often.

Why else would I score comedy parts like Harry McAfee (“Bye Bye Birdie”) and Murray The Cop (“The Odd Couple”) and pop up with inexplicably sizable roles in musicals (Uncle Max, “The Sound Of Music” or Mushnik the Shopkeeper, “Little Shop Of Horrors”)?

It’s because what you see is what you get.

Time after time I sit in auditions and watch these actors. Brick-faced, clearly with more talent than this cowboy, they sing…NO, they croon. But they stand there serious as heart attacks; they bring their sheet music (and attitudes) and wait to be discovered. Me? Who’m I trying to impress. My best singing’s in the shower so I say Screw the Great White Way! I vocalize nonsense (most recently Jerry Lewis’s “The Navy Gets The Gravy”) and with attitude alone I warn musical directors that if they like how I can’t sing they’ll love how I can’t dance. (Indeed, years ago at Chagrin Valley’s Theater, sensing an immediate connection I told one to place me in the front row of the chorus so I couldn’t kick anyone else in the kalooms).

So I play myself. It’s so much easier. I try out for character roles where voice doesn’t count, weight doesn’t matter and, (as my brother so aptly notes), acting is just not a prerequisite.

I portray myself better, perhaps, on stage than in real life.

I enjoy myself. (How could I not dealing poker to Oscar and Felix or, for that matter, singing a college fight song as I did last weekend?)

There hasn’t been a show where the director didn’t at some point pull the cast aside and remind it to have fun. They’re all so serious, these wannabe actors…so afraid of not being perfect. Tense and insecure, they remind me of the uncoordinated kids in Little League that didn’t want to be there in the first place.

The fact is that no one plays me better than me. It’s a role I’ve had for years, but one that, frankly, I’ve only in recent years begun to embrace.

I like playing me. I like not having to stretch. Could I, if I really strained, be someone else? Who cares?

I like being comfortable. I like being dependable. That comes only, I have learned, from staying within my game…from not trying to be what I’m not.

So sometimes I go too far and say the wrong thing. (I’m trying to get better). And sometimes I’ll not be as funny as I think I am. (I’m a work-in-progress). Rest assured, though, that I’m staying real. And reasonably happy.

My director thanked me last week: “The audience can see you’re having fun.”
“That’s ’cause I’m not acting, Harlan. I wish I could.”
Smiling, he gazed at me, tapping my shoulder. An honorable man in his early 80’s– one of those guys that looks like he’s forgotten more than most ever learn— he smiled again.  Knowingly.
“No you don’t,” he said.  “No you don’t.”


Friday, March 23rd, 2012

       “…Ain’t no use to sit and wonder why…”

Thought perhaps that I’d hear from Tim Tebow this week. Figured perchance he’d care to speak, to seek consolation from one whom years earlier so clearly trudged his path.

My phone didn’t ring.

Many won’t see it, but I too once stood in Tebow’s shoes. Each of us, for example, celebrated NCAA National Championships while undergraduates. Mine came in ’69 (after the ’68 season); his was ’09—forty years later. Each of us, moreover, not only emerged from college highly touted, but weighing 250 as well.

That’s not, though, why I expected his call. It is, rather, the relationship thing. I get—I truly get—what happened to Tim this week. Been there–done that. There is a distinct parallel, you see, between his tenure in Denver and my long ago interaction with Rochelle.


Doubt clouded my beginnings with Rolo. There she was: sophisticated, fashionable, upscale and reasonably moneyed, and there I stood: meat ‘n potatoes. The only things we shared (perhaps) were values.

In time we morphed from friendship to “not dating” yet it served us well. In words unspoken (by me at least), we both knew it wasn’t for the long haul. Fact is I never had what she wanted…really.

Not much different, I suppose, with Tebow in Denver. In their collective hearts, did Bronco fans ever really think he was the one? Really? Sure he’d get them beyond Kyle Orton, but the Super Bowl? Could he do it for the long haul?

Neither Rolo’s friends nor family truly bought into our nexus. I knew well they liked me, even loved me, much more than they ever did our tandem. They saw with better eyes than mine that these were but seasons in the sun.

We had a good run, we did—but when it was time, it was time. No villains.

That summer night—when she called, said to bring my playbook…it hurt. “What did I do wrong?” I thought. (And the answer was Nothing). It was the first time in my life that no one misstepped and yet shit was happening.

There were no villains

I learned long ago that anything built on a lie is doomed to failure, (especially when I lie to myself). In retrospect, the run with Rolo was what it was: a bond between friends. Maximized, sustained, it has led to loving ties with her children, mine, her grandkids… Wouldn’t trade it for a moment, and to this day would take a bullet for Brother Matthew.

Likewise, Tebow’s tenure at Mile High was built on a lie. He wasn’t then, nor would he ever be John Elway. He wasn’t then, nor would he ever be The One.

Things tend to unfold exactly as they should.

Tebow’s run with Denver, too, was a season in the sun. They never truly bought into him out there and that’s just the way it was.

And they too, were right.

Another tenet learned long ago is that though the sun does set, it also rises. And that when it rises, it shines brighter than ever.

And…oh yeah…that sometimes there just aren’t villains.

        “…Don’t think twice, it’s all right….”

                            Bob Dylan


Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

       “…When the world and I were young, just yesterday,
       Life was such a simple game, a child could play…”

My front nine was baseball, parental divorce and friends— a mosaic thread together with love and insecurity. Life was not only great, but easy. Indeed, but for a fight with Grandpa Irv now and then (he hated my father), the hits just kept on coming.

Everything was black and white…defined.

There were the good guys and the bad guys:
“You’re not allowed to play with that boy.”

There were things you did:
“Make sure you dance with each girl at least once.”

And there were things you didn’t:
“I don’t care what your friends do Bruce. I’m not their father. You are not allowed to play tackle football.”

(Not that I always obeyed—or listened, for that matter. Still, lines were drawn, and with boundaries clear, at least I knew why I never owned shoulder pads).

       “…It was easy then to tell right from wrong,
       Easy then to tell weak from strong,
       When a man should stand and fight or just go along….”

The paradigm shift came swiftly, the minute I left home. Decisions—life decisions—were not always cut and dry.

Like the first time I fell in love:

“Dad, she says she won’t marry me if I’m not a doctor or a lawyer.”
“Get rid of her,” he shot back, matter-of-factly. (It was an immediate if not easy response. My father adored Ms. Jersey, having told me countless times how well the lady played hearts).
“I can’t, Dad.”
“Then go to law school.”

Editor’s Note: I hold no regrets. At all. The marriage not only lasted from Nixon to Clinton, but bore amazing fruit. Mistakes were made, but years later, tucked safely in a hearth of neutrality, I can’t preclude that this mother of my children was not, in her own way, the love of my life. (That, I’m afraid, either says a lot for her or a lot for my life).

       “…It was easy then to know what was fair
       When to keep and when to share.
       How much to protect your heart
       And how much to care…”

In some ways, life’s journey’s been circular. The more things (should I say me?) change, the more they stay the same. How often do I still sit at a turning point, in the muck of hesitation?

Family issues…boundary issues….relationships…  The apartment? Do I stay put or move?  And then there’s Darryl and Darryl. Where will they go? And dating. Will fear ever strike out?

How can a guy with such profound confidence for the long haul have such nagging doubts, short term?  Perhaps, as Stuart says, I do “think too much”?

Not sure if it’s true or not, but doesn’t Oprah recommend if you’re not certain of doing something—if you’re stalled—-that you shouldn’t act? I do know that Snyder says that William Shatner says that if there’s something you WANT to do, just do it. Me? Too often I honor the words of the immortal Lawrence Peter Berra:  “If you come to a fork in the road,” he urged, “Take it.”

If my Dad was alive he would tell me that the hardest part about reaching decision is just making it. (If my Mom was around she would ask why I always listened to my father).  But I’d focus. I’d move forward. 

I’m in a better place than I was but days ago. Still, happy as I am, I have doubts…about family, boundaries, relationships, and life.  Perhaps, what I need to do is just give myself permission to be human.

So be it.

       “…But today there is no day or night,
       Today there is no dark or light,
       Today there is no black or white, only shades of gray,
       Only shades of gray….”

                                                            Mann, Weill


Friday, March 16th, 2012

       “…I threw a pebble in a brook
       And watched the ripples run away
       And they never made a sound…”

There’s a scene near the top of my play opening tonight which we blocked way back in January. Days after my heart catheterization, the director opted to have me bumped into rather than knocked down as originally scripted. (Assenting—I knew it was his call—I noticed it. Worse than that, I understood).

I’ve come by my physique honestly. Al Bogart was a bald, heavy-set six-footer and our Mom? She was average–in everything. (Many, I came to learn, dubbed our father “fat”. I never saw it of course—perhaps for the same reason that not once did I detect an accent from a European grandmother).

That, then, was my gene pool, and why, perhaps, I wore “husky” pants through grade school.

“You’re supposed to be big,” said my dad. “You have big bones”.
“But Hal’s not heavy,” I’d note.
(No response).

To our dad my body was always right-sized, (regardless of tonnage). At any given moment in my Little League or Pony career he’d be saying: “You’re built to catch” or “Your strength slows you down but gives you power. You should play third, maybe first”. Indeed, even in college, as Wieder put me behind the plate for good, my dad found solace.

“You know,” he told me, “The catcher is the smartest man on the field.”
“But Dad, this is SLOW pitch. I don’t signal the pitcher. And do you really think Snyder’s going to move back ‘cause I say so?”

Still, I never worried about my body. Ever. From head first slides on cement (still evidenced by chipped teeth), to a broken rib from some Pete Rose wannabe, to the ripped hamstring ultimately revealing Father Time, I never did fret. If I could field and I could hit, I could play. If I could play, I figured, I was not only vibrant, but healthy and young.

Until I wasn’t. Until I was relegated to do what I must do now: watch Michael on a New York sandlot or compete, ONCE A YEAR with a sixteen inch ball and Jason in Chicago. Trust me, ‘tis no thrill in lining a beachball sharply over second only to trip twice en route to first.

There’s a picture in my scrapbook, circa ’62. There in black and white stand The Boys, Bruce and Hal. Full White Sox regalia…smiling…youthful…looking better than they ever hit.

What happened? (you ask). I can tell you in two words. FIFTY YEARS.

Eyeing the mirror, sometimes feeling young as ever, I see the decades.

My eyes: bags surround them. My hair: gray to some—don’t say “silver”. And my nose? Don’t go there. (Hal says he never realized how big it was until I got contacts again).

Oh, the parts still work…when it matters.

I still deal cards with my left hand (it always bothered the old man).
“You’re right-handed!” he’d shout.
“Why would you care, Dad? I didn’t misdeal”.

And my knees still bend, (when I drop a card).

But I’m older now and my director? He worried.

“I can still fall down,” I promised him in run-throughs.
“You’ll get your laughs Bruce.  Relax.”
(The spill, he confirmed, stayed out).

I can imagine my son reading this. I know his thinking.

“So tell me Dad,” he’ll ask, “How much do they pay you for that stuff?” And then, before I answer, there’ll be more: “And what about the film you’re doing?”  “It’s not the money, Michael. I do it for the fun.”

Getting old and feeling old are separate matters. So too are growing up and aging.  Invisible lines get crossed.  Indeed, for this work in progress, when I ignore directors or laugh off children the lines get blurred.  

So I listen.

       “And the leaves that are green turn to brown….”

                    Paul Simon


Friday, March 9th, 2012

Tuesday was National Sportsmanship Day, an annual event urging to “Dare To Play Fair”. As the saying goes: Really? Is this really necessary?

For decades, from school bells well beyond wedding bells, we engaged in baseball, basketball and football on grass, cement and gridiron. Not once was this an issue.


This is not, by the way, euphoric recall; it is fact.

“Swift-pitching”, we called it. The chalk rectangle on a brick wall outlined a batter’s box and from sixty, maybe seventy feet we’d hurl to the plate. Ground balls past the pitcher were singles; flies to certain points were extra bases and more. Easy stuff.

What of balls n’ strikes, you ask? No problem. From first grade to puberty it was never an issue. If the pitcher said it was in—it was in. No questions asked. So honorable was our cause that indeed, even schoolyard bullies didn’t cheat. Take Bobby Stain or Jerry Wolf, for example. They might get pissed striking out; they might seize our ball, hit it on the roof and leave—but they never cheated.

Same on the back diamond. Branches of a big tree hung over the right field line. By ground rule, a batted ball hitting any or all leaves meant an automatic “take over”. And if you said it hit it—it hit it!

Lazy pop ups, just beyond first, were easy outs. Still, if that ball flicked even one leaf—no questions asked—it was a nullity. We didn’t look to the sky for falling green nor did we study grass stains on the ball. If someone saw it, he saw it.

The sport, by the way, didn’t matter. We had honor.

In basketball we called our own fouls. Always.

“You got me,” we’d announce. No foul shots, of course—just our ball out. Sure, internally, we might question a foe’s manhood. Marvin, ( the “Poor man’s Will”), always thought he was fouled. Still, calls stood and games went on…no questions asked (aloud).

Perhaps there WAS more honor, more integrity back then.

Consider the Boobus Bowl, an annual football game played across the frozen tundra of Rowland School. By collegiate times, the nucleus of players had evolved from my brother’s peers. It was the highlight each Thanksgiving weekend. My team, the foundation of which was two Bogarts, Baskin and Cutler, ran the ball. (Go figure). The bad guys had a pure passer in Mandel, who was generally accompanied by a crew of nameless but fleet receivers. Even then–with all the pride and bragging rights at stake—even then we rejected out-of-hand Steve Freedman’s suggestion that we water down the field the night before. Win, lose, or draw, we dared to play fare.

Not only did the sport not matter, but neither did the level of competition. And…
not only did we play fare, but we were good sports.

I had the privilege of playing softball, year after year, for Sol’s Boys. We were perennial champions. Nonetheless, while winning made sportsmanship easy, it should be noted that our skipper was one Alan Vernon Wieder, the fiery pitcher-manager that long before Lombardi, thought winning not to be everything, but the only thing. Alan was, in no uncertain terms, the Jewish John McGraw.

Like most teams, we weren’t immune to bad calls. Umpires are, after all, human. Wieder, though, knew more than most umps. He really did.

I was the lucky one. As catcher, I had a bird’s eye view of our leader’s reactions if things displeased him. (It wasn’t always the ump, by the way. How he’d glare—forever it seemed—when Snyder’d run in five steps before sprinting back ten to snag a fly, or as Arthur’s throw to the cutoff man hit an adjacent field). But oh…when it was the ump! First his eyes would smoke, as he eyed the plate..silently. Then, after pregnant pause, he’d look left to first or right to Pollack at third. “Absolutely miserable” we’d hear. “Ridiculous”. Then, as I’d take steps to the mound, perhaps to calm him down, he’d growl (and I mean growl): “GET BACK THERE!”

Not one word, though, directed to the plate.

Oh…he’d take his glove off and slam it to the mound. He’d even kick it now and then, and even mumble unintelligibly as he wandered from the mound to pick it up. Worst case scenario, he’d eye the ump, exclaiming “Come on!”

Stare, yes; glare, yes. He knew though, that they can’t toss you out for what you’re thinking). So he took it out on his mitt.

It’s IS arguable that we did cheat here and there. Alan didn’t think so.

Some times a player just wouldn’t show and, needing nine to start the game, we’d use a “ringer”. Quietly, Wido found a hanger-on to play under a roster name, (just to field nine bodies). Ah—but I recall his reasoning on such things:

“We’re better with eight” he once told me, pointing to our ringer, “than with him out there. He has to bat.”

So what do I conclude…from all this reverie for the past? Perhaps nothing, other than I miss them: the days when every game was for the “world championship” and every player’s word was his bond.

That’s really the way it was—when the grass was greener—at least on the playing field.


Monday, March 5th, 2012

Core friends are special. Lifelong pals—those from grade school, adolescence or college—they are deeply valued. Common denominators of history, memory and youth bind ties unscathed by time and change.

Adult friends—at least for me—are different. Those encountered in life’s real world don’t have the luxury of being grandfathered in. It’s not that they have to earn my friendship, but, absent common ground, what’s the point? Moreover, came a time when if I’d meet someone and think he was a putz, or that she, maybe, had an “air”, I just passed. (They too, perhaps, followed suit). Life is way too short and yes, ‘tis better to be alone.

Alice is one of my adult friends; we met as “grownups” in the mid-90’s. Sitting at Fairmount Temple, I saw this anything-but-shy fortyish female dominate a stage. ‘Twas only rehearsal and yet, as one of the cast, there she was directing traffic. You couldn’t not notice.

In different worlds then, I never thought we’d be friends. (It should be stated, of course, that I never thought a lot of things would happen, most of which by now have).

We met again in the rooms of recovery. It was just years later and Alice, already a veteran, greeted me with a smile and humor that remain her trademark. Kinship was born.

It’s been nearly a decade and a half. Amazing. Some good things never change.

Still directing traffic, she sits at her day job—this time at The Temple. “Bogart!” she’ll greet me with love. (Never “Bruce”, by the way. Does she even know my first name?) We talk as I pass her desk. Always she asks about Stacy and sometimes too, about me.

It would be folly, though, for one to deem our friendship but surface. Alice, more than many, knows a smile from a smile. Only catching me alone will she add “What’s the matter Bogart?” as if seeing right through me. As such, few will note by I remember that it was Alice’s counsel I sought in the darkest times with Jodi.

One scene stands out…distinctly:

January 4, 2006, about 7 PM: Serenity lost, the only peace I could find was in meetings. I was hitting two or three a day, just to get away, just to hide from the turmoil of romance Worst yet, I was beginning to doubt myself.

“Is it me?” I asked Alice by phone, en route from Lander Circle to Cedar & Coventry.
“No, schmuck.”
“Yeah,” I protested, but—“ She cut me off. “It’s not you,” she’d repeat. “You need to let go.”

Ultimately, of course, I did, and life, as it always does, went on.

As one might imagine, nothing changed with Alice. I’d see her at meetings, we’d share the camaraderie; the beat went on. We each lost mothers; we each were there. The beat went on.

Time tests friendships and ours continues to blaze. It is founded, I sense, less upon the outward warmth and shtik we share than by heart—mutual heart. What a blessing to have friends you can both laugh and cry with!

I love knowing Alice is there. I get a kick getting called out as “Bogart”, safely secure that she truly knows ME, if not my name. Most of all, though, I warm when she speaks, always in reverence, of being “Milt Licker’s daughter”.

On the grayest of winter days (like today) I sometimes fret in solitude. Kids out of town—no great agenda—I tend to get flat.

I’ve learned, though, that regardless of where the children be, regardless of what is or isn’t in my bank account, I’m a damn rich man. I’m grateful today, knowing full well that with family and friends—indeed friends like Alice, I’ll never walk alone. 

If you don’t believe me, go ask Alice.