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About The Book

Click For More Informationcover of book Swing, the Search for my Father - Louis Prima

 Available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle

Reviews and News

The latest review of SWING is by Yahoo! Contributor Mary Beth Magee.

If you have Amazon Prime you can now 'borrow' the Kindle version of SWING for FREE!

Here's another book review, by Scott Eyman of the Palm Beach Post.  

The list of positive reviews for SWING continues:

I highly recommend this book. I usually listen to audio books, but this is one book in print that I couldn't put down. Don't even think about it. Just read it! This is a good one.  

"SWING" is a great read, and a more than impressive, heartfelt, first novel from this author. Bravo!  

A great read about perseverance and acceptance and a trip to the world of Swing.

Here is my recommendation...buy it for your IPad or eReader, download some Louis Prima songs, put your earphones in, turn up the volume and enjoy it.

Alan Gerstel's Blog
headshot of Alan Gerstel, author
Saturday
Jul132013

THIS WAS BURLESQUE

 

I was able to take every teenage boy’s fantasy and turn it into reality.  Naked women… they have been the focus of lust by young men since earliest recorded history.  But I didn’t just experience their seductive bodies in the pages of “Playboy.”  I had the chance to work with them up close and personal.

It was my first summer working in Summer Stock.  And one of the shows that played a week of performances at Storrowton Music Fair in West Springfield, Massachusetts where I worked was Ann Corio’s “This Was Burlesque.”  It was back in the 1960’s and many decades removed from the heyday of Burlesque and Vaudeville… but the show retained all the charm, wit and sexuality of its original incarnation.

First off… there was Ann Corio herself.  Back in the day, Ms. Corio rivaled Gypsy Rose Lee as the Queen of Burlesque… and even decades later in the 1960’s, she retained a dynamite body that could make men salivate.

During the Overture to the show, I secreted myself in the orchestra pit, just below a runway that crossed over the pit.  Toward the end of the overture, Ms. Corio would step up onto the runway in the dark.  The orchestra would then play the first elongated three notes of the song “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody.” On the third note, I would squeeze the handle of an industrial fire extinguisher, which would send a cloud of smoke up into the air above the runway.  The lights would then come up on Ms. Corio as the smoke dropped to the floor, revealing her body for all to see. 

Note: The only attempts at “modesty” in the show were “pasties” and a G-string.

Then, there was Gloria LeRoy. (I can still remember her name a half century later.)  Gloria was a “tassel-twirler.”  This gifted young lady had tassels connected to her pasties and could swivel the tassels around in time with music.  To accomplish that feat, Gloria had to shake her shoulders which, in turn, made her breasts bobble back and forth. 

But there’s more.  Gloria had two tassels attached to her butt cheeks.  And this fine young specimen could rotate BOTH her breast tassels and her tush tassels at the same time!!!  Ah…such talent!!!  And believe me, it did not go unnoticed by the male members of the audience.

Yes… there were also the baggy-pants comics that Burlesque was noted for.  And there were ribald sketches about men’s shoe sizes as compared to their sexual endowments… or lack thereof.

But my favorite memories from the show were the mammaries… and the lovely ladies who displayed them with such abandon!!

The clip below is dated nearly 15 years after my involvement with the show.  There is no "fog" upon Ms. Corio's entrance... and the girls you'll see are way overdressed...but you'll get the idea.

Wednesday
Jul102013

BUDDY HACKETT

 

As I reflect on my life, I find that I have been blessed on so many different levels.  I have a wonderful, loving family.  I have had a series of satisfying careers.  And just a few weeks ago, my doctor told me, “you know, Alan, you are in excellent health.”

If you have read my other blogs, you also know that I have worked and rubbed shoulders with a cornucopia of stage and screen stars.  One of my favorite occasions was the bar mitzvah of Buddy Hackett’s son, Sandy.

I was living in Los Angeles in 1970 and working for CBS Television City.  My aunt and uncle lived close by and directly across the hall from Esther Cohen, Buddy Hackett’s mother-in-law.  I knew her quite well from my many visits to my aunt and uncle.  And one day, she told me that her grandson, Sandy, was being bar mitzvahed.  She also told me that she had a niece named Helene who lived in Brooklyn and was flying in for the bar mitzvah.  The problem was… Helene didn’t have a date.  Would I be willing to be her date?

It was an offer that was too good to be true.  How could I refuse?  I wasn’t invited to the actual bar mitzvah at the Temple.  But I WAS invited to the gala party that Buddy was throwing for his friends and the bar mitzvah boy wasn’t even going to be there!

I was woefully unprepared for the event.  Being somewhat of a child of the 60’s, I had no real “dress” clothes, so I had to rent a tuxedo for the occasion.  I made an appointment with a hair stylist. I also bought flowers for my blind date, and was pleasantly surprised when I picked her up.  Helene was a very attractive young lady and we seemed to hit it off right away.

The bar mitzvah gala was like no other party I had attended before or have attended since.  Helene and I sat at a small table in a private room above a Beverly Hills restaurant as we watched Hollywood’s A-List stars celebrate with their host.  I cannot remember everyone who was there, but I do remember that I was in the presence of Lucille Ball, Milton Berle, Don Rickles, Joey Bishop, Phyllis Diller, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior and a host of other big names.  I even recall that while he was making moves on the dance floor, Joey Bishop ripped his pants from his crotch to his knee to the glee of all the comedians in the room.

For hours, I was dazzled by all the luminaries… but then, like Cinderella, the party was over, and so was my taste of Hollywood star power.  I took Helene back to her hotel.  We said good night.  And I never saw her again.

But the memory of that night lingers on.  And since we know this is such a small world…wouldn’t you know that my sister, Lena, is friends with Sandy Hackett?  Some things are just meant to be.

If you have never seen Buddy perform… take a look at this classic clip.

Saturday
Jun082013

JUST LIKE YOU SEE IN THE MOVIES

I am blessed to have married the love of my life almost 36 years ago...on October 24, 1976.  But we still also celebrate the day that we met... June 13, 1974!!  

When we first laid eyes on each other, I was developing an original musical comedy called "To Bed A Fortune."  I was the writer and the producer of the project and I brought together two separate friends, Harvey Edelman (a lyricist) and Neil Fishman (a composer.)  The show was based on a Restoration Comedy called "The Beaux' Strategem."

Ronni and I enjoyed a magical courtship!  We both fell madly in love and became the "poster children" for all the romantic souls who yearn for the kind of love affair that's just like you see in the movies.  The connection we had and the passion we exhibited did not go unnoticed by our friends, Harvey and Neil.

So when we set our wedding date, Harvey and Neil decided to write a song about us... a song called "Just Like You See In The Movies"... with lyrics like "I'm your Ginger Rogers and you're my Fred Astaire."

To top it off, they played it at our wedding with our mutual friend, Susan Lovell, singing the romantic lyrics!!  Trust me... It doesn't get any better than this.  And after 39 years... the lyrics still ring true for us.  So, take a listen at the song that's been our anthem for almost 40 years.

Just Like Ya See In The Movies

Sunday
Jun022013

Jean Stapleton

Jean Stapleton (Edith Bunker) passed away at the age of 90.  For me, it is the end of an era because I am proud to say that I knew her well.

The first Broadway show my mother took me to when I was about 10 years old was "The Bells Are Ringing" starring Judy Holiday.  The plot revolved around a telephone answering service.  (For those too young to remember the days before Voice Mail, these services took phone messages for you.)  In the show, the plot revolved around a company known as "Susansa-phone."   Jean played one of the operators, and I can still hear her shrill voice as she sat at the switchboard and answered: "Susansa-phone."

That show exposed me to the magic of theatre and forever changed my life.

Fast Forward to the late 60's.  I got a job at CBS Television City in Los Angeles and was working in an office near the four sound stages where shows like "Carol Burnett", "Glen Campbell" and "Jim Nabors" were taped. One of the perks of employment there was the opportunity to sit in on studio rehearsals and even the taping of shows.

Jean Stapleton and I exchanged greetings several times in the hallway outside my office and eventually Jean (being the sweetheart that she was) began to tell me about this new show she was in called "All in the Family."  She told me that CBS had only ordered THREE episodes of the show, and that she believed that it would NEVER be aired.  CBS, after all, was the very conservative network that had cancelled the controversial Smothers Brothers show several years before.

I was so intrigued by what Jean told me that I made it my business to attend the very first taping of "All in the Family."  As the first scene played out, the audience members... who were initially blissfully unaware of the content of the show... began to howl in disbelief!!!  They had never heard any dialog like this on television.  Neither had I.  And I began to reflect on what Jean had said about the show never making it into viewers' living rooms.

It WAS aired, though.  But at the beginning of the first several episodes, CBS put up a full-screen disclaimer warning viewers of the sensitive subject matter to come.  The rest is history.

As the show continued over the next weeks and months, Jean and I cemented our relationship.  She even helped me try to get other work in the entertainment business.  I eventually moved back to New Jersey, but we never lost touch.  

Jean and her late husband, Bill Putch, operated the Totem Pole Playhouse (a Summer Stock theatre in Pennsylvania) and Jean invited me and my then-fiance' Ronni, to visit.  And we did.  We watched a performance of "Butterflies are Free" starring an unknown actor named John Ritter and we had dinner and spent some wonderful time with Jean and Bill.

I saw Jean last in West Palm Beach in 2000, when she was touring in a play about Eleanor Roosevelt.  And all those years later, she still remembered our conversations at Television City.  And I can honestly say she remained the same gracious, down-to-earth human being I had come to know and love.  R.I.P.

Monday
May272013

The Rascals

What a treat!!!  A performance by the 60's group... The Rascals!!!   My wife, Ronni, and I headed to the Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Florida for an evening of exciting musical nostalgia.

Founding member Eddie Brigati's wife, Susan Lovell-Brigati, has been a friend for three decades.  In fact, she sang a song, written especially for Ronni and me, at our wedding 36 years ago.  It's called "Just Like You See in the Movies."  We haven't seen Susan since we moved to Florida almost 25 years ago, but Ronni's Facebook friendship with Susan led us to see the show.

And oddly enough, Ronni and I had attended a Passover Seder at the home of one of our friends more than 30 years ago.  Susan and Eddie Brigati were there too as invited guests.  And Ronni remembers sitting next to Eddie, the performer she had a teenage crush on.

The Hard Rock show... billed "Once Upon a Dream"... played a limited, though wildly successful Broadway run before going on tour.  It's the first time The Rascals have played together since 1970.  And they certainly didn't disappoint.  Highlights were their huge hits like "Good Lovin"... "Lonely Too Long"... and "It's a Beautiful Morning."

Due to the temendous response from fans... the show will be on tour for months.  All this from a group of self-described "Italian kids from New Jersey" who haven't performed together in more than 40 years!!!

Of course, I too was an "Italian kid from New Jersey" though I didn't know it until I learned that Louis Prima was my birth father.  I left Susan and Eddie a copy of my book:  "SWING - the search for my father, Louis Prima."

Take a look at Eddie singing his classic hit "How Can I Be Sure".......

 

 

 

Monday
Feb182013

CORTONA

Anyone who has read my book “SWING” knows that I am Italian by birth.  Perhaps that can (somewhat) explain my fascination and adoration for the Tuscan town of Cortona.  Cortona was made famous by author Frances Mayes who wrote “Under the Tuscan Sun” and by the movie of the same name.

My family and I came across Cortona quite by accident a few years ago.  We were going to Italy for a family vacation that began in London.  I went to the TripAdvisor website to find a Bed and Breakfast in Tuscany and came across Casa Portagioia, the highest-rated B and B in the Tuscan region.

Casa Portagioia is nestled in a Tuscan valley miles off the beaten path.  During our stay there, we made the 25-minute trek to Cortona on the advice of our proprietors, Terry and Marcello.  Cortona is near the top of a Tuscan hillside and overlooks a beautiful valley below.  Warm and inviting, it welcomes tourists but is not on the list of most popular tourist destinations.  We fell in love.

The following year, I learned of the Tuscan Sun Festival, which was celebrating its 9th year in Cortona.  It was an 8-day event that featured classical music performances each night in the charming Teatro Signorelli, an ornate 160-year-old theatre.  I made reservations for the performances and for another stay at Casa Portagioia… this time just for my wife Ronni and me.

There is much to be said about being a “tourist” and experiencing new places.  But we found it even more satisfying to find a place like Cortona and immersing ourselves in the culture, the food, the drink and the people… not to mention the wonderful music.

The festival’s schedule included an Italian cooking class… winery tours… tours of Cortona’s museums… and even a yoga class with Sting's wife, Trudy Styler.  (By the way, Ronni was most impressed that I could last and hour and a half of twists and contortions in that class.)

The evenings were heavenly! Pincus Zuckerman and his quartet performed one evening.  Another night was devoted to the composer Frederic Chopin.  While a brilliant pianist played Chopin compositions, Jeremy Irons (taking on the role of Chopin) and his wife, Sinead Cusack (playing the writer George Sand) read their character's love letters to each other with Chopin’s music filling the 350-seat theatre..  It was magical.

Of course, Frances Mayes was in the audience as was Colin Firth and Neve Campbell, who could enjoy the program far from the glare of the paparazzi.

Ronni and I vowed to return for the 10th anniversary of the Tuscan Sun Festival the next year only to find that a rift had developed between the festival and the town of Cortona.  The Tuscan Sun Festival chose to move its venue to Florence (about an hour north of Cortona) rather than remain in Cortona for its 10th anniversary.

Florence is one of Italy’s treasures.  It is home to some of the greatest artists of the Renaissance.  It is also a city bustling with tourists, and so it’s not a venue for relaxation and bonding with the locals.

We love Cortona so much that we were devastated at the turn of events.

Fortunately, Cortona fired back with the Cortona Mix Festival.  It doesn’t rely as heavily on music but includes art, photography, and literature along with musical performances AND that Italian cooking class!   So Ronni and I are hoping to return this summer and we hope, once again, to experience the charm of Cortona and its people.  But please don’t spread this story around too liberally.  We don’t want to see hordes of tourists descending on Cortona and turning our beloved Tuscan hillside town into a proverbial tourist trap.

 http://ven.cdn-hotels.com/hotels/5000000/4620000/4617400/4617316/4617316_15_b.jpg

Sunday
Feb032013

Sidney Poitier Up Close and Personal

My previous post discussed my meeting with Bill Cosby while I was on tour with the musical "No Strings" starring Diahann Carroll during the summer of 1964.

A few weeks after being entertained my Mr. Cosby, I was supervising the "strike" of the sets for "No Strings" at Shady Grove Music Fair just outside of Washington, D.C.  Shady Grove was a tent theatre in the round that seated several thousand people.  I was standing about half-way up an aisle and shouting out orders to the stagehands who were dismantling "set pieces" and packing them in the truck to be driven to the next theatre in our schedule.

As I was focusing on the scenery, I became aware that someone was standing alongside me.  I looked to my left... and then looked up to note this gentleman's face who stood much taller than me at 6' 2".  It was Sidney Poitier!!!  As was the case with Bill Cosby, Mr. Poitier was there to take Ms. Carroll to dinner after the show... and he was passing time as he waited for her.

I was AGOG!!!  Sidney Poitier had just won an Academy Award for "Lilies of the Field."  I was in the presence of this great actor, a veritable God-like figure to me and to legions of fans, and I was unable to formulate a coherent sentence.  I wanted to heap praise on him and ask him about his incredible talent, but I was reduced to jello.

No problem.  Mr. Poitier was truly fascinated by what I was doing and he began asking me questions about how we created the scenery and moved it about the stage at the right times, and how I coordinated all the tricky scene changes.  Here was this magnificent award-winning actor quizzing ME about MY job!!  What a turnabout!!  What an exciting moment!!  I answered his questions over and over again and he seemed genuinely interested in everything I told him.  But then Miss Carroll was ready for dinner and the two of them headed out, but not before Mr. Poitier thanked me for educating him about the backstage workings of live theatre.

Sunday
Jan272013

Bill Cosby and Me

I think Bill Cosby is one of the funniest men alive.  And if you have ever seen him perform one of his many stand-up routines, I think you will agree.  Certainly, he was funny on his TV show, and was a groundbreaking actor on "I Spy", but I have some very early memories of Mr. Cosby.

I was working as a Technical Director at Storrowton Music Fair in West Springfield, Massachusetts in the summer of 1963.  Near the end of the summer season, the theatre booked a traveling Hootenanny Show.  I don't remember much about the show, but I DO remember the featured comedian:  Bill Cosby.  He was practically unknown to the audience, but his routine brought the house down!  It was the first time I saw him do his "Superman" bit with Clark Kent trying to change into Superman in a phone booth, and is spotted by a cop.  VERY funny stuff.

Fast-Forward one year..... Bill Cosby had become a household name.  He was performing at that time, at the Latin Casino, a nightclub in Philadelphia.  I was the touring (as the Technical Director) with the show "No Strings" starring Diahann Carroll.  We played one week at Valley Forge Music Fair... not too far from Philadelphia.

One night, Bill Cosby showed up to take Miss Carroll to dinner after her show.  I re-introduced myself to Mr. Cosby as having worked with him the previous summer.  The night air was a bit chilly even in the heart of the summer, and Miss Carroll took her time preparing for her dinner date.  I suggested to Mr. Cosby that we go into the lighting booth which was still warm from the show.

And there... in this small lighting booth backstage at Valley Forge Music Fair... Bill Cosby had me in stitches for at least 20 minutes!  He told jokes.  He told me about his routines.  And he made me laugh again and again.  It was an amazing one-on-one experience that remains with me to this day.

Thank you, Mr. Cosby... for a "performance" I will never forget.

Wednesday
Oct032012

"The Doctors"

 

In my younger days, I pursued a career as a professional actor.  In fact, at one time I held memberships in Actors Equity Association, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Screen Actors Guild.

One day in 1981, I got a call from the Casting Director of the television soap opera “The Doctors.”  She asked me to be an “Extra” during the taping of an episode where the show's fictional town was hit by a tornado which sent dozens of people to the Emergency Room.  “Extras” have no lines and are usually seen in the background of various shots.  So I presumed that I would portray a wounded “victim” of the storm or some hospital employee.

I arrived in the rehearsal hall to find dozens of other actors (“Extras”) also there for the tornado scene.  We were told to stand along one wall as the regular cast members went through their lines.  Eventually, all of the “Extras” would be added to the scenes as the Director moved the actors from one position to another.  This went on for about a half-hour until the rehearsal came to a halt.  After a few quizzical glances to the cast members, the Director mumbled, “Oh, we forgot to cast that part.”

The Director then looked over in the direction of all the Extras and, after a few moments of pondering, looked squarely at me and said, “You… pick up a script.  You’ll be reading the part of the “Laconic Aide.”  I almost crapped my pants!  I had never done anything like this before.  The “Laconic Aide” had about seven or eight lines which boosted me to the status of a “Day Player,” and added up to a few hundred additional bucks and national exposure!

Embarrassingly, I didn’t know what “laconic” even meant.

But I plunged into the role, reading the lines aloud during the rehearsal with the regular cast members.  The Director then said, “You’ve got the part.  Memorize it because we’re taping it this afternoon."

The scene took place in the Emergency Room where a character played by soap opera veteran Kim Zimmer was highly emotional as she watched the father of her unborn baby dying on a gurney.   One of my lines to an emotionally-distraught Kim (incredibly) was, “No, he’ll never make it.  It looks like an elephant stepped on his chest.”

Despite my nerves, the scene went off without a hitch and the Producers liked it enough that they repeated it in a dream sequence later in that week.  It remains one of the highlights of my fledgling acting career.

Sunday
Sep232012

Lenny Kravitz

I have never met Lenny Kravitz.  But I know his music... and I also worked with his father.

Lenny is the son of Sy Kravitz, a white Jewish-American News producer and Roxie Roker, a black actress best known for her role on “The Jeffersons.”  Lenny was coming into his own in the late 1980’s, when I was working as a TV News Anchor and Reporter for News 12 Long Island.

Our Assignment Manager, a TV News veteran named Hardy Mintzer, assigned me to cover a story about a flea market located at Republic Airport, a private aviation airport on Long Island.  Hardy told me to be sure I asked for Sy Kravitz, a friend of his who had been a news producer for NBC in New York. Sy Kravitz, I assumed, was no longer working in News as he was now managing this flea market.

I interviewed Sy about the flea market without knowing his connection to an up-and-coming performer named Lenny Kravitz.  All went well and I found Sy to be warm and gracious.

While I was putting together the flea market story, Hardy told me about Sy Kravitz's history.  He had married a black actress, Roxie Roker, and they had a son who was just making a name for himself in the music business.

Several months later, Sy Kravitz was hired to be on the Assignment Desk where he could work alongside his old buddy, Hardy Mintzer.  We would often talk about his days at the flea market where we first met.  And he was generous in his comments and critique of my work as a Reporter... and later as an Anchor.

When I left News12 Long Island in 1990, both Hardy Mintzer and Sy Kravitz were still toiling at the Assignment Desk.  Over time, the fond memories of them faded into the abyss inside my head, even as Sy’s son became a legendary rock star.