From a archives: Comedian Billy Crystal’s Long Beach roots

November 29, 2015 - accent chair

Editor’s note: Comedian Billy Crystal’s initial entrance on “The Tonight Show” in 1975 burst started a career in television, cinema and theater, not to discuss a dozen turns as Oscar host. But it all began here on Long Island, in his parents’ home on Park Avenue in Long Beach, where he grew adult with dual brothers and extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins who after became provender for his stand-up routines. In 1991, a few weeks after the recover of his movie, “City Slickers,” Crystal common his memories of his hometown.

This story was creatively published in Newsday on Jun 18, 1991


Billy Crystal and his brothers — a Crystal Boys, as they became famous — were like a comedy organisation that always played to a packaged house.

GRANDMA Susie, a matriarch, was not in good health, so she and Grandpa Julius motionless to pierce from a Bronx out to a Island. The place they picked was Long Beach, that was some-more like a review than anybody’s hometown. It was a Healthiest City in America — during slightest that’s what a pointer said.

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So a Gablers, whose roots were in a Ukrainian seaside, came out in ’48, followed by Susie’s sisters, Hilda, Mildred and Bertie, and a integrate of years after that she sent for her children. She helped buy one small cedar residence on Park Avenue for her son Danny and his family. And right subsequent door, alongside Max and Harry Kimmelman’s candy store, she found one for her daughter Helen and her husband, Jack Crystal, and their 3 sons, Joel, Richie and a lovable small one, Billy.

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Long Beach became a reversion to a aged nation — family everywhere and a sea on a environment — and a Crystal Boys, as they became known, were like a comedy organisation that always played to a packaged house.

“It wasn’t like going to Grandma’s house, it was like going to a retard party, 40 or 50 people always for dinner,” Billy Crystal says now. “I’d get adult on a coffee list and embrace my relatives. That’s how we started to perform. And Cousin Edith would give us remuneration in dimes. ‘Now don’t remove it,’ she’d say. ‘OK, I’ll put it right here,’ and I’d hang it to my forehead, and when my conduct was filled adult with coins a uncover was over. When they came to a house, my room, that we common with my hermit Richie, was a cloak room, and that became a habit room. We’d put on their coats, get on a list and do stuff. we was always a one regulating to a lavatory perplexing to get divided from somebody who was insane during me.”

They are, for Billy Crystal, honeyed memories, and not only given he got a lot of good element out of it. By now, of course, a cloak room is a Bit, and Cousin Edith’s dimes are a Routine, and all a mishpocheh have melted into a general Old Jewish Relative. He is, on-screen, what he fundamentally is in life: a sentimental, unglamorous though unequivocally humorous baby boomer from a suburbs. With his Long Island cadences and his trusting smirk, it’s easy to go behind about 30 years and suppose a small wisenheimer shower adult a comic possibilities of a kin from a Bronx and a sun-gooped ladies during a beach bar and a levity of being a child in a suburbs in a ’50s.

But unconditionally detached from a mega-career innate in a small residence subsequent to Kimmelman’s candy store, Crystal, now 43, loves to polish sentimental when he talks about his hometown and a 26 years he spent there. Not one of those suburban kids in a precipitate to escape, Crystal didn’t leave Long Beach until he was 28, married with a child and during a indicate in his fledgling career when a unavoidable Hollywood undercurrent was pulling his VW bug onto a relocating outpost in front of his final Long Beach home, a second-floor unit a retard from a beach.

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“It was a unequivocally gentle place that we consider about a lot,” Crystal pronounced during a new revisit to New York. “It’s where we grew up, it’s where we developed, it’s where we fell in love, it’s where my initial child was born, it’s where so many of what has finished me has happened. You can’t take that out of you. we consider that’s given I’ve been means to continue some storms in my life, given we had this clarity of myself that has to do with being home.”

Crystal remembers his girl with an adore we can’t always count on from children of a postwar suburbs. Maybe it was given Long Beach was a opposite kind of suburb. “It had this unequivocally good setting. You had a brook on one side and a sea on a other. During a football diversion there was Reynolds Channel and a marshlands behind we and birds drifting and cranes and stuff. It was a unequivocally balmy place. You’d go to nap during night, and you’d hear a ocean. Wintertime was roughly better. Something about a 4 o’clock sun, something unequivocally beautiful.”

Now when he thinks about Long Beach, Crystal thinks of a football games he and his brothers and friends played on their knees during midnight snowstorms on a grassy malls in a core of Park Avenue — even a cops stopped to watch. He thinks of summers on a beach and how cold it was underneath a boardwalk. He thinks of unresolved out in a aged World War II submarine watchtower, rising from a boardwalk, where he gagged on his initial cigarette when he was 12. He thinks of Central School, that has given left condo, and of Long Beach High: of being a “band geek” and a four-letter male who played second bottom and initial clarinet and who was voted Best Personality of a Class of ’65.

He thinks of his idols: Long Beach’s high propagandize basketball hero, Larry Brown, and, of course, Mickey Mantle — “All a times we spent in a backyard being Mickey Mantle, walking like him, meditative my knees hurt. we was a small Jewish child with an Oklahoma accent.” He thinks of Gino’s Pizza and a Laurel museum and Beachburger. He thinks of wearing out sneakers. He thinks of a time when Nikes were missiles and a silos came out of a belligerent subsequent to a high propagandize any day during noon, indicating east, and nobody suspicion too many about it. He thinks of a friends who are still his friends, and of a characters who finished his family a cast. He thinks of a night his mom and father went out bowling and his mom came home a widow.

The Long Beach of his childhood is still in pointy concentration in his mind’s eye. “When we initial changed there,” Crystal says, “Long Beach had wire cars and cobblestone streets, Spanish design and a beach. No matter where we were we could see a ocean. There was a boardwalk filled with rides and Skee-Ball, and there was horseback roving on a beach. It was like Santa Barbara. It was a final stop on a Long Island Rail Road, and we felt like we were going into a small review community. There weren’t that many people there until a summer, when all of a remarkable everybody was there.”

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The Crystals changed to Long Beach in 1950, when Billy was 2, Richie (nicknamed Rip) was 4 and Joel was 8. By a mid-50s, when a family had changed to a two-family residence a integrate of miles easterly on Park Avenue, a Crystal Boys were famous in a family for their living-room routines. “I got 3 sons,” their father would say, “and not one of them is a true man.”

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Jack Crystal was a wiry, cooperative male clinging to his mom and sons. He had left into a Gabler family business, Commodore Records, a store and a record tag specializing in jazz. Besides handling a store in Manhattan, Jack Crystal also constructed jazz shows, giving his sons a consummate jazz preparation and populating their universe with a biggest names in Dixieland, some of whom brought their instruments with them to a boys’ bar mitzvahs. “Our house,” Billy Crystal says, “always smelled of brisket and bourbon.”

But Jack Crystal saw it was comedy that appealed many to his sons, generally Billy, who as a youngest and smallest was always struggling for attention. “My father famous how humorous we were and how many we favourite it,” Crystal recalls. “He’d pierce all a comedy albums home with him from a store, and we’d memorize them: Bill Dana’s Jose Jimenez, Ernie Kovacs’ Nairobi Trio. The 3 of us couldn’t wait to get over to somebody’s residence to put something humorous on a faces. If we knew there was a Passover or something happening, we’d prepare. You can’t go out cold. Pass a sour herbs, though before we do, here’s a story. I’d review my territory of a Haggadah as somebody else, many to a amazement of a relatives. we would do Jessel doing a Four Questions.”

Laughter kept Crystal and his brothers close. “You had 3 unequivocally enterprising children in a unequivocally small place,” Crystal says. “It contingency have been unbelievable. Dinnertime was flattering wild. We desired creation any other laugh. It was good stuff. There was a occasional crushed potatoes and peas in a nose, though that was too easy.”

Helen Crystal, an generous woman, would egg a boys on. One Valentine’s Day, before their father came home, she grabbed a hang of red lipstick, flashy a boys’ faces and drew Cupid’s arrows opposite their unclothed chests — Happy Valentine’s Day to dad. And when a Crystal Boys went on a highway — if they had a Thanksgiving gig during Grandma’s — their mom was certain to container a container with masks and costumes. Two years ago, when their mom incited 75, a Crystal Boys reunited for a warn celebration and a living-room show.

When Crystal thinks of a ’50s and early ’60s, he recalls it by a eyes of a child perplexed by a comparatively worldly things entrance out of a vast 21-inch Magnavox in a vital room. “The Honeymooners,” Bilko. Steve Allen — vast in a house. Skelton, Ernie Kovacs. The residence was filled with these guys. If Jonathan Winters was on Jack Paar, my father would let me stay adult late to watch that. And we would take my chair and put it subsequent to a set, so there’d be Paar, Jonathan Winters, Dodie Goodman and me. My initial memory was Sid Caesar, doing a famous ‘This is Your Life’ satire that they did with Howard Morris only grabbing Sid’s leg and boring him. That’s how we used to go to bed, I’d squeeze my dad’s leg, and he’d drag me to bed like Sid Caesar.”

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Despite their vicinity to a song world, a Crystals were a family of medium means. “One summer we rented out Joel’s room to dual stewardesses. We’d take turns peeking in to see them removing dressed.”

His mother, now a snowbird who winters in Miami Beach, still lives in a residence on East Park Avenue a rest of a year. The aged Magnavox is still in a garage. “My mom doesn’t chuck divided anything. There’s also dual cousins in a garage, unresolved around from Passover.”

Crystal has always been surrounded by pals. He met his best friend, David Sherman, on a softball margin in sixth grade– Billy was pitching; David was batting— and 32 years after they are still tighten friends. Sherman followed Billy out to Los Angeles and started his kidney use there; in 1988, he had a cameo as a surgeon in Crystal’s movie, “Memories of Me.” It is one of several fast friendships between Billy Crystal and people from Long Beach who knew him before he became Billy Crystal. One of them is his wife, Janice.

“We all unequivocally desired any other, and 4 or 5 of a friendships are still unequivocally strong,” Crystal says. “At a 20th reunion in ’85, we all went behind out to Laurel Beach and had a beach party, and all of a kids were a same age that we were when we met. And a kids looked like us, or during slightest had a hint of us. And here we were walking around regulating disproportion like minoxidil and prostate, some of us were in cabana suits, a genuine pointer of core age, we know black hosiery and sandals, looking like a kin from a Bronx. And we remember one of my friends, Piggy was his nickname, pursuit his son, and when his son incited around we saw Piggy’s face.”

Life in high propagandize for Crystal was a array of uniforms: from basketball to ball to soccer to marching rope to whatever he was wearing for a annual “Swing Show,” an spectacular starring your speaker again this year, Billy Crystal! There was also a “Class Night” show, that he wrote and directed, and a annual low-pitched comedy. In a ’65 propagandize yearbook, he’s seen personification a lead in a sneakers of a day — black tops, white bottoms. The annual reports, “Performances by Cheryl Straus, Billy Crystal, Cathy Tash, Lee Nelson, Steve Sabbeth and Laurie Miller were totally enjoyed by a eager audiences, zero of whom will forget a smashing presentation.”

“One year we did a Frankenstein slight and blending it for Long Beach, and a place went wild,” Crystal says. “That was a initial time we got adult in front of a vast organisation by myself in a grave setting. we always felt that was what we wanted to be. we was an OK tyro — we could have been a unequivocally good tyro though we had a opposite agenda. we wanted to be in uncover business or we wanted to be a ball player.”

He was a slick-fielding second baseman and varsity captain his comparison year, and nonetheless he competence have taken a Yankees over a Oscars had a choice existed, basketball is what he remembers most. “Friday nights were a vast thing during basketball season. There was an unimaginable hum in city about a diversion that night. And being on a organisation we felt like a celebrity, you’d travel around in your tie and coupler and your bag that pronounced Long Beach Marines on a side. It’s not distinct removing prepared for a show. You start during 5 with stretching, afterwards we get your tie on and nobody can speak to you. we wasn’t going to play, though we never know. The gym looked like a small aeroplane hangar, and it felt like it seated 25,000 people during a time. And boy, a place was electric.”

Crystal’s regretful recollections are interrupted by one terrible memory. One night in 1963, when he was 15 and a final son still during home, Billy’s relatives went to their weekly night during Long Beach Bowl. After bowling a 200 diversion on Lane 13, Jack Crystal suffered a large heart conflict and died. “I’ll never forget,” says his mother. “We watched Red Skelton, that we never missed, and afterwards we was finishing adult in a kitchen, and Billy and his father were wrestling on a daybed. And afterwards we went bowling, and that was it. we had to come behind to Billy and incite him to tell him his father didn’t come home with me.”

“He died on a Tuesday night, and a subsequent morning his automobile wouldn’t start,” Billy says. “He gathering it any day of his life.”

But during that age, life could do zero though go on. And Crystal was fascinated by a awaiting of a life in uncover business. In his hometown he could customarily confront people who lived in a universe that beckoned him. Years after many of them would turn his friends. “The initial time we saw Sammy Davis, it was during a Lido Hotel, where a lot of performers used to come. we worked there as a busboy, creation like $20 for a day. Sammy Davis was my Michael Jackson. Steve and Eydie had a residence in Lido, and Carol Burnett had a place. Alan King, a initial time we saw him was in a small Italian grill called Russo’s. He’s unequivocally tighten to me now. Al Kelly, a double-talker, used to live in a Jackson Hotel. Friday nights, he’d go to this kosher grill called Marron’s, and you’d hear him ordering, double-talk, with a waitress: “I’ll have a excellent with a drell and poimin, with a leetle cut of bleave hove.” And she’d say, ‘The usual?’ And he’d say, ‘Thank you.’ “

On Sunday mornings in summer, Billy and Rip would gold a papers during Julie Kantor’s store, a Cozy Nook, and wait on a travel with a smoke-stack for Cab Calloway, who had a place on Blackheath Road. “I’ve given told this to Cab, and he suspicion he remembered. I’d wait outside, and Cab had this vast white convertible, and he’d be entrance in from work during about 6 or 7 a.m. in a tuxedo with a tie only hanging, and he had that hair swept behind floating in a breeze.”

In those years, summer meant a Malibu Beach Club: “The people with unguent personification roughly full-contact Mah-Jongg games. The girls in bikinis. There was an coercion to saying one of a schoolmates in a bikini.”

One of a girls was Janice Goldfinger, a daughter of a Brooklyn variety-store renter who had been a year behind Billy during Long Beach High. She was a reason he motionless not to go behind for his second year during Marshall University in West Virginia. “I was in adore with her then, and I’m in adore with her now,” Crystal says.

They went to Nassau Community College together, and afterwards Billy eliminated to New York University. Commuting into a city, he saw another side of suburbia.

“I remember removing on a 7:55 out of Long Beach, with a businessmen, with a mantle core people, with a smoking, and a briefcases on a path personification solitaire and a animation and a crowding and a people and a trains and how these guys do this any day, how it was wearing people down — we could only see it. The good partial was when we left a city we were in Long Beach. Something unequivocally good about withdrawal a Oceanside station, afterwards Island Park and afterwards it was a unequivocally slow, rootless outing over Reynolds Channel, afterwards we could feel a atmosphere change, we could smell a sea, and we could hear it, afterwards we were there.”

In 1970, after his high breeze series (354) probably positive he would equivocate a Vietnam War, Billy married Janice during Leonard’s of Great Neck, and they staid into a upstairs unit of his mother’s house. Later they changed to an unit building called Crystal House — amazingly, no relation. When their initial daughter, Jenny, was innate in 1973, Janice was operative during Nassau Community and Billy was one third of a comedy organisation called 3’s Company, which, with a highway expenses, gave Crystal a disastrous income that year. He did some surrogate training and took caring of Jenny. “I was Mr. Mom before a time. we would be on a boardwalk with her, me and a women. we desired those years.”

When his manager swayed Crystal to go solo and his career started to take off with appearances on a “Tonight Show” and in “All in a Family,” he motionless to pierce west.

“I didn’t leave Long Beach until Aug. 2, 1976. It was tough leaving, unequivocally emotional. we was cleaning out my closets, and we found my four-letter sweater. To acquire 4 letters was a vast deal. You got a blue sweater with a white trim, while a plain minute sweater was a white with a blue trim. we got it, and we unequivocally wanted it bad. So we’re moving, and Janice says, ‘Get absolved of this stuff. C’mon, it’s a new beginning.’ we said, ‘But it’s my sweater.’ She says, ‘It’s a high propagandize thing, where are we going to wear it?’ So as we’re pushing away, we see this male picking by garbage, and he’s wearing my sweater. This male on Shore Road, it’s got ‘Billy’ on a side, a ‘LB,’ and he’s looking for some-more stuff. That still bothers me. we wish my sweater.”

Crystal doesn’t go behind to Long Beach often. When he’s in New York, he’s customarily on a parsimonious report and prefers to stay in a city. But sometimes, he says, he needs to go there. “When we go behind we still feel gentle walking around. Most people only contend hi like they used to. Occasionally I’ll outing in there on a Long Island Rail Road. we finished a small tip outing out there dual or 3 years ago. we only went out for a day, only walked around, went to a boardwalk, got a cut of pizza. It was a cold day in winter and we only indispensable to travel around there. we went to my aged house, we still have a key, and we walked around in there for a small while. Then we incited around and got behind on a train.”



Sitting on a bench behind Long Beach High School, Reynolds Channel as a backdrop, Joel Crystal is a design of a suburban high propagandize teacher: blue sweater and khaki slacks, a smoke-stack of papers rolled adult in his hand. It’s fifth period. “I still have about 27 minutes,” he says.

Crystal, 49, has been training art for 27 years in a propagandize district that graduated him and his dual younger brothers, Richard (known as Rip), now 45 and an executive with Hearst Publishing in California, and Billy, 43, who went into a party margin and now lives in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

“We were famous as a Crystal Boys,” Joel says roughly wistfully, recalling those golden years when a brothers achieved in vital bedrooms via a civil area.

While Billy and Rip were immature group who went west, their vast hermit never wandered distant from a universe of their youth. Joel lives 4 blocks from a residence where he and his brothers grew up, still walks a boardwalk, still hears a category bells of a propagandize that will shortly connoisseur his second child.

“I’m unequivocally happy doing what I’ve finished for 27 years,” says Joel, an easygoing, unjaded male who has never mislaid a lean, jaunty build of his youth. “I was an determined clergyman prolonged before anybody knew who Billy Crystal was. In a commencement we was unequivocally shaken for him. After all those years with him, we got that sympathetic feeling. We never inebriated in a vital room, though what did it matter? Now he does a Oscars, and he carries it off as if he’s still in a vital room.”

Billy and Joel were generally tighten flourishing up, notwithstanding a six-year disproportion in their ages. “I was ill with mono my final dual years of high propagandize and was homebound,” Joel says, “so we looked for party inside a house. We had this aged reel-to-reel and Billy, who was afterwards 10 or 11, would come home, and we’d do routines. We’d do all a routines we listened on a comedy albums. We were lip-syncing approach before Milli Vanilli.”

When their father died unexpected in 1963, Joel, afterwards 21, had to turn a family breadwinner and got a pursuit during Long Beach Junior High. He stayed tighten to home while his younger brothers followed careers in entertainment. Rip achieved off-Broadway, had brief moments in cinema and cowrote with Billy a ephemeral “Billy Crystal Comedy Hour” in 1982. Billy and Rip swayed Joel to rise a stand-up slight when he was 29. “I went to a Comic Strip one night,” Joel says. “I bombed.” He never went back.

Now, Joel has an annual gig, not distinct his brother’s on Oscar night: He’s a moderator during a yearly retirement cooking of a Long Beach Classroom Teachers Association.

Joel met his wife, Barbara, an English teacher, during a Malibu Beach Club, a same place where Billy met his wife, Janice. They all worked there as counselors in a summer.

Now Billy is in a opposite world. Joel mostly finds himself visiting Billy during some open event, like a opening of his brother’s new movie, “City Slickers,” progressing this month in New York. “You don’t have a private revisit anymore,” he says, pushing along Park Avenue during a debate of his brother’s early life. “A discerning cuddle and hello and afterwards we finish adult articulate to ‘Entertainment Tonight.’ You learn to blur into a credentials and let whatever happens in his business happen.”

He says this with some-more acceptance than regret. His brother’s success thrills him. “If anybody is vital out his dream, it’s Billy Crystal,” he says, with not a snippet of envy. “You shake your conduct — your brother’s design is on a cover of Life magazine.”

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