Most people think I’m from New York, especially after years of singing all of those sophisticated show tunes, in Nightclubs and on Broadway and always in a well cut suit. But truth to tell, I’m from Columbus, Ohio and I learned all the classic show tunes from afar, never dreaming I’d have a personal association with the Great White Way and experience the genuine endorphin rush of playing multiple times on Broadway.
But I did have a connection to Broadway. My maternal Grandmother’s brother was a Broadway Property Master for over 70 years who became a beloved legend whom I adored every time he visited Columbus. HIs name was Hymie Gates and you would have loved him too. He regaled me with stories that spanned the entire 20th Century history of theatre, having started in Yiddish theatre on the lower East side working with Paul Muni and other enduring icons of the stage.
Hymie was known as the Mayor of 45th street, having been the Property Master of the Morosco for over 30 years. He gave Joseph Papp his first job in the theatre and eventually became the oldest member of the Stagehand’s Union. They had to create a special 75 year pin for him at his retirement dinner. Hymie knew everybody: George Gerswhin, Al Jolson (for whom he would read the reviews from the Yiddish papers), Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Cab Calloway (“the bum owes me twenty dollars”), Julie Harris (his favorites) and Mandy Patinkin.
In 1977 I came to visit Uncle Hy and Aunt Blanche and happened to be there when a very young Mandy first appeared in “The Shadow Box” at the Morosco. He and Uncle Hy deeply bonded and Mandy was so captivated with him that he wanted to do a show about Uncle Hymie’s life. It didn’t bother him that Uncle Hymie always called him Mandy Potemkin, and he spent hours recording Unclue Hy’s delightful stories and documenting his history, but unfortunately the show never happened.
However, if you ever saw the film “The Princess Bride” you’ll know what Uncle Hymie sounded like. Mandy literally copied Uncle Hy’s Russian/Jewish accent and it turned it into the voice for his Latin character. Every time I hear it I crack up.
So even though my dear Hymie is no longer here, he will live on in the love he instilled in me for the Theatre, and his voice will endure whenever someone hears Mandy Patinkin say: “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Michael Feinstein has built a dazzling career over the last three decades bringing the music of the Great American songbook to the world. From recordings that have earned him five Grammy Award nominations to his Emmy nominated PBS-TV specials, his acclaimed NPR series and concerts spanning the globe – in addition to his appearances at iconic venues such as The White House, Buckingham Palace, Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall and Sydney Opera House – his work as an educator and archivist define Feinstein as one of the most important musical forces of our time.