Uncle Miltie

by Artie Richard

Once upon the time in Gerritsen Beach there was a unique TV set. It belonged to the Leone family who lived on Aster Court near Channel Ave. What made it unique was the time frame.

Joe and Jimmy Leone were two friends of mine and they used to say that they were the first Italo-American family in the Beach. I don't know about that, but I do know that their's was the first TV in the neighborhood. We got ours in 1950 and they had us beat by about two years.

berle.gif (11784 bytes) Think back to 1948. Tuesday night. Eight o'clock. NBC. The Texaco Star Theater right after 15 minutes of news and right before Mary Margaret McBride. Anybody who could get near a TV at that hour was watching Uncle Miltie, soon to be crowned "Mr. Television." You really had to be there to appreciate how the man dominated the medium.

The Opening: "We're the merry men of Texaco, we work from Maine to Mexico…" Miltie with the blackened teeth, old, revamped vaudeville skits, pitchman Sid Stone-- "Tell ya what I'm gonna do. Friends, you're gonna thank me." The outrageous costumes. Lipstick smeared all over Berle's mouth. The little dwarf who ran out and smacked him in the face with the bag of flour every time he said "makeup." The closing theme--"Near You" sung with heart by Berle. The Leones literally ran an open house every Tuesday night. Since I had an in with both Joe and Jimmy I was always right there in the front row. I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor and there was Uncle Miltie--"What the hey" As if that weren't enough, Mrs Leone would be busy in the kitchen cooking up piles of spaghetti, sauce, and bread. During commercials--"tonight we may be showmen, tomorrow we'll be servicing your car." It was "Eat. Eat."

Next in importance, after Berle, was wrestling. Gene Stanley, Gorgeous George, Antonino Rocca and a host of others. Joe and Jimmy seemed to have opposite views on just about everything, especially baseball. Jimmy, like me and all other sensible people, was a Dodger fan. Joe was a Yankee fan. Possibly they had lived in the Bronx and that would explain this heresy.

baseball.jpg (9320 bytes)

I remember one day when both teams were on the tube at the same time. Jimmy and I were ready to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers when in walked Joe. He flipped on the Yankee game. Instant World War III. I tried to stay out of the way. Suddenly Mrs. Leone, a powerful woman, was there. Probably used to these battles, she tossed Jimmy one way and Joe the other. Each lay in a crumpled heap. "Aw ma. It was Joe's fault." What could you expect, Jimmy was younger. "Now listen, there will be no baseball and no TV." That was that. No TV. What a blow. "Does that go for me too Mrs. Leone? I wasn't fighting." She glared in my direction. "Yes it goes for you too. Who are you anyway? What's your name?" So many people were always coming and going she had forgotten me. The Leone cousins alone could have filled a small stadium. "My name is Artie, from Bevy Court. I come here every Tuesday night." I didn't want to screw up because it was Friday and at 9PM was wrestling from Jamaica Arena. By the way, wrestling was the one area where the brothers saw eye to eye. There happened to be a professional wrestler at that time named Michele Leone.

Speaking of wrestling, when we got our own 10" Philco in 1950 this strange mixture of sport, entertainment, and assault and battery was at the height of its popularity. My mom and dad and me saw through it right away. Even Molly's brother, Uncle Jim, that maker of black cherry wine without equal, was suspicious about the authenticity of the thing. But my grandmother was totally hooked. Sure, it was violent.

Since our house was a matriarchal society, wrestling it was. But the old man figured he could at least spoil it for her a little. "Aw Moll, this stuff is as crooked as Bergen and McCarthy." Now my grandmother was an ex speakeasy manager during Prohibition. She was used to dealing with unsavory characters and crooked cops, in short, nobody to mess with. "Then what about that blood? You gonna tell me that ain't blood?" My father had his own arsenal of experience. He had grown up in Coney Island and sat down each morning to breakfast with the Wild Man of Borneo. That worthy would later muss up his hair, put on rags for clothes, and descend into his pit to put on a show for the gullible. Pop tried to tell Molly about blood capsules but his words fell on deaf, hostile ears.

Since both my parents worked I was under the absolute authority of my grandmother. When asked my opinion, naturally I sided with whoever was asking. Hell, they all had rank on me. "Imagine that man trying to tell me some nonsense about blood pills or some such crap." All I could do was nod my head and ponder the warring Leone brothers, and the pitched battles in my own home. Uncle Miltie was a haven of simplicity. You knew as soon as he uttered the words "make up" the little guy was going to run out and belt him right in the kisser with the bag of flour. You could take that to the bank.

Time 1948 and after.


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