Moon Over Bensonhurst

Give Me The Moon Over Brooklyn by Jason Matthews and Terry Shand

During and just after World War Two, Brooklyn became America’s surrogate home town. In the war movies, every tank and submarine crew included a much-loved, wise-crackin’, skirt chasin’ guy from Flatbush. The comic Phil Foster carried this tradition into outer space as the most unlikely astronaut in history. In the 1955 low-budge flick Conquest of Space, “Flatbush Phil” stares out the space ship porthole as it circles the Earth and shouts, “Hey, deres Brooklyn. How ‘re da Dodgers doin’?”

Film poster for Conquest of Space (1955)

I think Brooklyn’s much loved and easily imitated Brooklynese accent helped make the borough a shared joke that bonded military units and the folks back home. Do you remember when anytime someone announced on a radio or TV program that they were from Brooklyn the audience would break into instant laughter and applause? I’m not sure anyone even knew why they did that. But, it might have been down to a shared folk memory. After all, this was a time when 1-in-4 Americans could trace their family back to Brooklyn! (Probably 3-in-4 wanted to chase them back there!)

Meanwhile, the tunesmiths of Tin Pan Alley, always on the lookout for a hit, mined the instant folksiness, humor and sentimentality of Brooklyn. Whipping out their “June – Moon” rhyming dictionary they produced delightful ditties like Give Me The Moon Over Brooklyn by Matthews & Shand. (Believe it or not, Guy Lombardo did a very catchy version of it.) And, Same Moon Shines In Brooklyn by Felsen & Peters.

Welcome to Brooklyn - 4th largest city in America.
Hey, whataya talkin’ about? It’s the THIRD largest!

Another sweet, nostalgic tune is In Brooklyn by John Benson Brooks and Stanley Adams. Benson Brooks later composed the brilliant jazz-blues piece Alabama Concerto. Adams wrote lyrics for Hoagy Carmichael and Victor Herbert. All the songs mentioned above were written in the midst or the shadow of WW2.

45rpm cover for Brooklyn Roads by Neil Diamond
The Brill Building does Brooklyn

The centre of pop music songwriting in New York moved uptown from Tin Pan Alley on W. 28th st. to midtown’s Brill Building. But, so many of the composers and lyricists who worked there were from Brooklyn that it should have been called the Brooklyn Building. Just read the list below and you’ll see that the “Sound of Brooklyn” became the “Sound of America.”

Neil Diamond, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Hal David, Howard Greenfield, Neil Sedaka, Mort Shuman, Doc Pomus, Barry Mann.

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as an eBook and paperback
And as an eBook here

Simon and Garfinkel

Harold Gary in the musical Oklahoma
Harold Garfinkel, er…. I mean Gary

Then there was Harold Gary – real name Harold Garfinkel. Art Garfunkel was his nephew so it should have been Simon and Garfinkel. Harold was an excellent character-actor who first appeared on Broadway in the 1920s. (Remember the wealthy heroin dealer in The French Connection who looked like a Jewish orangutan? That was Harold.) We shared a dressing room and since we were both sports-fans, we became fast friends. And, since I was a theater buff, I was a perfect audience for his showbiz war stories. Harold claimed to have fucked every woman in show business and to have told every man in show business to go fuck himself

I’d be doing my pre-show warm-ups while Harold reclined pasha-like on the union- mandated cot and cast his pearls-of-wisdom my way – 

  • “Stop with the stretching already. The best warm-up for a show is a good bowel movement just before curtain.  
  • “So, I gave Jayne Mansfield a dozen chicks for Easter, all different colors – red, blue, purple – but she rolled over on top of them while she was sleeping and killed ’em all. She was too upset to fuck so I took her bowling instead.
  • “Mae West’s sister used to give blowjobs in the basement of the Brill Building.
  • “So, I’m sitting in the steam room with little Larry Hart. Ya know – Rodgers & Hart? He was almost a midget. Who comes in but Joe Louis and I’m tellin’ ya his prick reaches down to his knees. And, Larry Hart sez to him – ‘Joe, that thing’s bigger than I am. Aren’t you afraid it’ll turn on ya?’
  • “Joe Louis told me that Sonja Henie was the best pussy he ever had next to Fanny Brice. 
  • “So, I walks up to Mike Todd an’ I sez to him – Mike, that’s the kind of guy I am and if you don’t like it step outside.
  • “1929, I was in the original Diamond Lil with Clark Gable. No one knew who he was. I take him down to Coney Island one day – we swim, we box, we play handball, we ride bikes, we play basketball, we play tennis. On the way home on the subway he sez to me, ‘Harold,’ he sez, ‘I feel like I’ve spent a month in the country.’ I sez to him – Clark, I do this ev’y day. 
  • “’Nother time, I’m down Coney and I’m swimmin’ way out. I was very ath-a-letic, see. A guy swims up and sez, ‘You mind if I swim along with ya?’ I sez, Fine. When we get back to the beach he sticks out his mitt and sez, ‘I’m Roy Cohn.’ I sez – Why didn’t you tell me out there, I woulda drowned ya, ya bastard. 
  • “Ya know my brother Sid Gary was the tenor on the Bing Crosby radio show.
  • “You ever hear of Harry Greb the boxer with one glass eye. Forget about these faggot boxers today. Harry Greb… 
  • “I ever tell you about the time I fucked Helen Twelvetrees?” 
Helen Twelvetrees
The beautiful Helen Twelvetrees. Hmmmnnn… maybe in Harold’s dreams
Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as a paperback and eBook
And as an eBook here