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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


Click here to buy the book on Amazon.

It is also available as an ebook.



Phyllis Diller


Like many fans that grew up watching Phyllis Diller perform her funny schtick on national television over the years, I was saddened to learn of her death last month.  She was a remarkable comedienne with a rock-solid memory that I found astonishing.

You see, I had the pleasure of being in her company twice.

The first time I met Phyllis was in 1969, after her show in Las Vegas.  I was taken to her dressing room by a mutual friend, Marty Heim, who was a well-known musical director.

The dressing room was large and laid out like the living room of a house.  There were about a dozen people there, including Phyllis McGuire of the famed McGuire Sisters.  She had a very handsome male “companion” on her arm and was wearing a skirt that had about two inches of fur running around the bottom edge.

Phyllis McGuire’s skirt looked a bit odd with all that fur.  It reminded me of the old movies I had seen of Sonja Henie, a Norwegian figure skater and film star who had monopolized that look on ice.

Fast Forward to the early 1990’s when Phyllis Diller came to West Palm Beach to play The Kravis Center.  I happened to be Anchoring the Noon News for WPEC on the day that Phyllis showed up to plug her Kravis appearance.  We chatted for about 5 minutes on camera at the end of the newscast.

As I walked Phyllis to the door, I told her that we had met before… more than 20 YEARS BEFORE… in her Las Vegas dressing room.  I also mentioned that Phyllis McGuire was there that night.  Her eyes lit up as she recounted the experience by saying, “That was the night she had that studly gigolo at her side… and she was dressed like Sonja Henie.”

Phyllis Diller was a star for many years and I am sure she had thousands of people visit her in her dressing room.  So to this day, I cannot fathom how she could have remembered that ONE night that was etched in my 25-year-old mind.

Phyllis Diller – R.I.P.


Henry Flagler's Over-Sea Railroad

One of my great pleasures in life is creating historical documentaries for The Education Network of the Palm Beach County School District.  Last year, I was asked by the Flagler Museum on Palm Beach to create a documentary to commemorate the Centennial of Henry Flagler's railroad that connected Miami to Key West.

Anyone who has driven down US One to Key West has, no doubt, seen the remnants of the railroad bridges that were built between the years 1905 and 1912.  During those seven years, the Keys were hit by three hurricanes, which made the monumental task of completing the railroad so much more difficult for the 4,000 workers.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the project centered around Mr. Flagler himself.  I learned that he was not the uncaring "stuffed shirt" that I had been taught he was.  Certainly, he was no saint.  But he cared passionately about the State of Florida and about the workers who made his dreams come true.

It is also interesting to note that skeptics of Mr. Flagler's ambitious plan to connect Miami and Key West initially called it "Flagler's Folly."  But after Mr. Flagler succeeded, the project was then dubbed "The Eighth Wonder of the World."

You can watch the documentary by clicking below.




Jason Mraz

My wife, Ronni, is a huge fan of Jason Mraz.  She hauled me to SunFest last year to see him, and then got royally pissed when I insisted we leave early to avoid the exiting crowd.  (She missed  her favorite Mraz song:  “Butterfly" which, it turns out, we could hear in the distance as we were headed to our car.) 

So when I saw Jason was coming to the Coral Sky Amphitheatre in suburban West Palm Beach, I knew I had to get tickets to appease her for my previous indiscretion AND I had to stay until the very end of the concert to be sure Ronni got a FULL dose of Jason.

Turns out… It was worth it!!  Jason sang for more than two hours and put on a terrific show. 

But there was one song that stood out… even more so when I listened to his CD later on.  It’s called “Living in the Moment” and it has had a profound effect on me!  So I have included it here.  I chose this version because you can read the lyrics.  I hope it has the same positive outlook on your psyche as it has had on mine.


I Made It!


If you have been following my blog, then you know that I turned 68 yesterday (August 11, 2012).  It’s a milestone for many reasons… i.e. I can’t believe I am this frigging old… yet I don’t FEEL old (my mind is stuck in my hippie years when I was under 30.)

But my age is also a milestone because I have overcome the curse that plagued BOTH my fathers. 

My birth father, Louis Prima died in 1978 at the age of 67.  AND my adopted father died only four months earlier in 1978 at the same age!  What are the odds?

So, for the past several months, I have been thinking about my upcoming birthday and thinking about how I will have outlived both my fathers.

I don’t ascribe any special meaning to this turn of events.  But I am certainly glad I made it to 68.




My new car is a convertible I have named "Alice."  It's a 2007 Toyota Solara... jet black with a tan top and tan interior.  Alice is fun to drive with the top up or down.

It was apparently owned by Florida "snow birds" who kept it garaged in the Sunshine State even when they went north for the summer.  Alice is 5 years old, but she only has 30,000 miles on her.  She is also pristine inside and out.  When my mechanic lifted the hood to check her out, he remarked that the engine looked like it was brand-new!

I have developed the "five-minute rule" for Alice.  If I am planning to drive LESS than five minutes, the top stays up.  BUT if I will be driving MORE than 5 minutes, the top must be down.  And that's as it should be.

I admit, though, that the severe summer temperatures keep the top up… and the A.C. on a lot more than they have over the past few months.

So why do I call my car "Alice"?  If you are old enough to remember Arlo Guthrie's song "Alice's Restaurant", then you know that "you can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant... excepting Alice."  And now, I have her.  Thanks, Arlo.



It pays to be nice!


Back in my college days at Boston University, I had the opportunity to see dozens of Broadway shows that tested their audience appeal in Boston before heading to the bright lights of New York.

One night, I bought a single ticket for Richard Burton’s “Hamlet” which was directed by Sir John Gielgud.  The seat was on the very left side of the balcony in the second row behind an aisle that ran from side to side.  A pretty crummy seat, but I didn’t really care.  I just wanted to see what Richard Burton was going to do with the Shakespearean classic.

About 15 minutes before “curtain”, the usher came over and asked if I wouldn’t mind trading seats with one of two girls standing nearby.  She had a ticket for the identical seat on the very right side of the balcony.  Her friend had the seat next to mine, and by switching, the girls could sit together.  It was no a big deal.  I was nice.  I agreed to relocate.

So I was now sitting one seat in from the right aisle and one row up from the cross aisle.  A man and woman sat in front of me with a large “picture” program on their laps.  The seat to their right… diagonally one row down from me… was empty…. until the house lights dimmed and I made out a figure coming from a nearby curtained arch.  The man sat down in the near darkness and took out a small notepad and pen.

It was Sir John Gielgud.

I had seen Sir John perform in “School for Scandal” at a nearby theatre the year before and, as an acting student, was gaga over the legendary actor.  I confess I watched him during the show as much as I looked at the stage.  I spotted him taking notes.  “I wonder what flaw piqued his interest,” I would ask myself each time Sir John began to scribble.

At intermission, I walked through the curtained arch to a lounge area where a number of people were chatting amongst themselves.  In one corner, I saw Sir John… unrecognized and alone.

I was incredibly intimidated but I managed to walk over to Sir John and introduce myself as a Theatre student at Boston University.  Then I began gushing over Sir John’s considerable talents.  I don’t remember quite what I said, but he referred to me as "Dear boy" and tolerated me as well as he could.  Exhilarated and quite embarrassed, I finally bowed off and returned to my seat.

At the end of the show, after the curtain calls, just as the house lights were coming up, the man and woman in front of me were looking through their picture program.  Simultaneously, they saw Sir John’s picture… and realized they had been sitting next to the Knighted actor/director all evening.  In unison, their heads snapped to the right!  But… poof… just like a magician in a disappearing act... Sir John Gielgud was gone!


Arsenic and Old Lace

What a difference a half-century can make!

I recently performed in a production of the classic comedy "Arsenic and Old Lace."  The role I played, that of Dr. Herman Einstein, was deliciously portrayed in the 1944 movie of the same name by Peter Lorre.  It's a great character role that requires some sort of German or Slavic accent.  That's evident by the way the lines are written.  For instance, my character’s traveling companion (and serial murderer) is named Johnny.  But the script always refers to him as "Chonny."

I relished the opportunity to play such a rich, complex character that had a litany of funny lines throughout the play.

Roll the clock back 50 years.  I was then a senior in high school and I snagged the lead role of Mortimer in the same play.  Mortimer was played by Cary Grant in the movie version.  So it is sobering to realize that I have gone from Cary Grant to Peter Lorre in a mere 50 years!





MacBeth is one of Shakespeare's most well-known plays.  It is performed regularly at Shakespeare Festivals and on school campuses.  It's a dark, dreary play... so Shakespeare was wise enough to include some comic relief after a gory stabbing scene.  The comic relief was played out in the form of the Drunken Porter.

The role is fraught with risque humor, but when I was cast in the role, my Director encouraged me to take it even further.  He wanted me to ad-lib and react with the audience for additional comic effect.  This was the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival which utilizes an outdoor amphitheater for its July performances.  And it was hot.

One of my written lines was:  "This place is too cold for hell.  I'll devil-porter it no further."  Taking my cue from the heat, I broke from character and walked downstage to the audience, where I ad-libbed:  "Did any of you believe that line I just said?  Too cold for hell?  Would that it were too cold for hell for your sake as well as mine.  I can't imagine what sort of playwright would write those lines for me to say on a hot night like this.  He's probably a one-hit wonder.  We'll never hear from him again."

Then I would weave my dialog back into the scripted version and continue... knowing all along that I had just ad-libbed a scene in a Shakespeare play!!  Blasphemy or balls?  I still can't figure out which.

The next post:  Comments on the current production of “Twelfth Night” by the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival.



Shakespeare and The News

I am an actor.  I am also a former newscaster.  Some would say they are one and the same.  And there's a lot that can be said to bolster that argument.  In fact, for several years running I managed to act AND anchor the news on the same night!

I was the weekend News Anchor for WPEC, the CBS affiliate in West Palm Beach, Florida.  I anchored the 6 and 11 PM newscasts.  But one year I was also cast as Brabantio, Desdemona's father in the Shakespeare play "Othello."  Brabantio only appears in the first 22 minutes of the play, so I figured out the logistics of squeezing in a performance between newscasts.

When I finished the 6PM news... I got into my car and drove the half-hour to the outdoor amphitheater in Jupiter, Florida's Carlin Park.  I got into costume and was ready to go.  At 8:22, I made my last exit. (I could never stick around for Curtain Calls.)  Then I would quickly get out of costume... rush to my car... drive the half-hour back to the news studio... and change back into my suit for the 11PM news.

The next day, I had people calling me to say that they watched me in "Othello" and got home in time to catch the 11:00 news.  They couldn't help but wonder if we hadn't taped the news earlier (a cardinal sin in the news business.)  But I assured them that we hadn't... and that, like a magician, I had managed to pull off this sleight of hand. 

I am currently performing in “Twelfth Night” for two long weekends, but no longer have to deal with the “nooz.”  So I could accept the substantial role of “Sir Toby Belch” and not have to worry about leaving the show early.  More on “Twelfth Night” in the weeks to come.


Martha Raye


For those of you too young to remember, Martha Raye was a singer who morphed into a comedic actress starting back in the 1930’s.  As a child, I remember seeing her on television, usually performing some slapstick routine that cracked everyone up.

One particularly funny bit was during the Academy Awards presentation years ago, when she was a “presenter.”  She was supposed to walk across the stage dressed very regally in a gown.  Instead, she took several steps and then appeared to “trip” on something left onstage.  That phony stumble broke the solemnity of the occasion and had the audience in stitches.

I got to know Maggie (as her friends knew her) when I worked in Summer Stock.

We spent several weeks together on different shows in different summers.  She also contacted me when I was serving in Vietnam and she was touring to entertain the troops.  (The full story is in my book "SWING.")

I found out after she passed away that she and my birth father, Louis Prima, had an affair back in the 1930’s.   Maggie and I had such an affinity and shared so much in common that I have often wondered if she somehow “sensed” my connection to my birth father.

This video is from a REHEARSAL of "The Red Skelton Show" in 1963.