Sunday, October 27, 2013


By Henry C. Parke

September 3rd, 2013


            I love being on movie sets, especially Western movie sets, where the boardwalks and wooden store-fronts, horses, costumed actors, and guns make you feel like you’re time-traveling.  The last time I had the privilege, writing for the Round-up, the wardrobe mistress said, “Next time, I’ll dress you, and you can be an extra.”  It sounded like fun.  I’d been an extra here and there in friends’ movies.  I was one, or actually did a small ‘bit’, in a picture I co-wrote the original story for, SPEEDTRAP (1977).   When detective Joe Don Baker is dodging gangster Timothy Carey in the sleazy block of Phoenix (which we had to manufacture), he zips by me and a hooker, and if you strain your ears, you can hear me say, “Gee, a hundred dollars is a lot of money,” and her responding, “Well I’m a lot of woman.”

            I got a call from my wardrobe lady friend that she was dressing a Western at Paramount Ranch, and I was invited!  I was all psyched at my return to the screen, so you can imagine my disappointment when I got a call back that they couldn’t use me: only S.A.G. extras.  Oh, well.

            Then I recalled that I actually had played a small, costumed role in a period picture.  It was back when I attended NYU Film School in the 1970s, and in addition to making your own films, you were crew, and sometimes cast, in other people’s films.  A friend was directing a comedy, a faux documentary about a fake poverty row movie studio of Hollywood’s golden age.  He needed clips from nonexistent films, and I acted in a few.  One was a World War II ‘Battle of the Bulge’ epic.  The gag was that, being a poverty row studio making a war movie during the war, all the big studios had rented the proper uniforms for their war movies.  So we had to make do: the Nazis dressed in Confederate uniforms, and the U.S. Army in Salvation Army uniforms.

            I was delighted to find myself, at dawn, in Morningside Park, dressed in a well-tailored Confederate Captain’s uniform, complete with hat and sword.  We were going to start with a big battle scene, involving both armies.  But just as the camera was about to roll, it couldn’t.  The director of photography had forgotten to charge the power-pack that ran the camera.  He hurried off to plug it in.  We would have at least a two-hour delay before we could begin.  As this shoot was destined to run late, and I had made plans for the afternoon, I needed to find a payphone.  It was awfully early, but if I didn’t call then, I might not have a chance for hours.

            There were no payphones in the park, so I walked out of the park, onto the streets.  Did I mention that Morningside Park is in the middle of Harlem?  Harlem, the home of the Apollo Theatre, the Black Panthers, and in those days, zero white people?  So I started walking along the streets of Harlem, at dawn, wearing a Confederate Captain’s uniform, complete with hat and sword. 

            There was not a soul on the street.  The first phone booth I came to had a phone, but no receiver.  The second had no phone at all, and the booth had been converted into a make-shift urinal.  The third one had a complete phone, and I made my call.  As I talked, I noticed an older sedan parked across the street from me.   There were about a dozen Miller High Life  bottles lined up on the sidewalk beside it.  The engine was off, but the headlights were on, dim, like they’d been on all night.  A few figures lounged around inside. 

            I finished my call, and left the booth, starting my long walk back to the park.  The sword slapped against my left leg with each step. 

            From behind me, from the direction of the lone car, I heard a voice.  “Hey!”  I kept walking.  “Hey you!”  I kept walking.  “Hey you!  Soldier boy!  Come ‘ere!”  The voice was accompanied by laughter.

            “Yeah!” another voice joined in.  “Johnny Reb!  We want to talk to you!”  

            I heard the engine cough.  I thought maybe the headlights had drained the battery.  I hoped so.  Then I heard the engine start up strong.  I reached a corner.  A right turn would bring me closer to the park, but a left would be the wrong way on a one-way street for the car I could hear gaining on me.  I turned left. 

            They turned left anyway.  I thought it was time to start running.  Try running while wearing a sword – no wonder the officers rode horses. 

            I heard a shattering smash as a Miller bottle hit the sidewalk a distance behind me.  The next one was closer.  I changed direction at every corner, but of course I didn’t lose them, not in their car.  I heard a lot of laughter and hooting and hostile comments.  Even as I was ducking bottles, I couldn’t help admiring the ‘Johnny Reb’ reference – I don’t think I could have come up with anything that good that quickly.   The next catcall truly amazed me – someone in the sedan was calling him and his friends Buffalo Soldiers!

            Finally I reached the street with the entrance to Morningside Park.  As I bolted for the winding downward path, I saw three iron posts jutting up from the ground, across the entrance, perhaps to prevent carloads of Buffalo Soldiers from driving down.

            As the car screeched to a halt across the street, and young men began to pile out, I faced them, drew my sword, and shouted, “F#ck you and Abe Lincoln!”  Then I turned and ran like Hell down into the park.

            I ran into camp, screaming for help, and as the Buffalo Soldiers appeared at the bottom of the path, they faced twenty armed, uniformed Confederate soldiers, and a cannon was being swung into position.  I don’t know what they thought, but was grateful that they ran back up and drove away, perhaps never to drink Miller High Life again.    
Copyright October 27, 2013 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


By Henry C. Parke

(Pearle Vision used to be Unisex Haircutters)

August 14th, 2013

            “BERK’S” was a candy store and newsstand on 7th Avenue, one store from the corner of Union Street.  It was a place to pick up sodas and candy bars, comics, big pieces of sidewalk chalk, and the pink rubber balls we used for all of the stoop games.  They were Spaldings, but for some reason we called them Spaldeens.  By the phone booth in back there was a big Mission Soda cooler, and you’d reach into the cold water up to your elbow and pull out a Coke or 7-Up if you were flush, or an actual Mission Soda if you wanted to save a few pennies.  There were small yellow boxes of salt-coated pumpkin seeds and sun-flower seeds to chew and spit.  If you were an adult you could buy The New York Times, The Herald Tribune, The Mirror, The Telegram, The Journal American, The Amsterdam News, and in the afternoon, The New York Post.  If you were a horse-player you could buy The Daily Telegraph.  If you were a smoker, there were cigarettes, open boxes of cigars behind the counter, and Tiparillos and White Owl Demi-Tips in packs of five.

            Mr. and Mrs. Berk were a cheerful couple, patient with indecisive kids and adults alike.  I guess they were in their 60s, but they could have been in their 70s or 50s – when you’re ten or eleven, it’s all the same.  They were both a bit chubby, she a little taller, with red hair and glasses with, I think, blue frames.  I don’t remember her first name because, as a polite kid of that era, I called her Mrs. Berk.  Mr. Berk, whose name was Harry – it was also my father’s name, so I wasn’t likely to forget that – had black hair, and usually wore a small black hat of the type we now call a Sinatra hat. 

            I know they had a son, maybe more than one, whom they had sent to college, and he had done very well.  There was probably a wife and kids, but I don’t recall – what kid cares about someone else’s grandkids?
            Harry was crazy about his wife, maybe all the more because he had to put up a stiff fight to win her.  It was the 1920s, and the future Mrs. Berk was dating one on the top singers and vaudeville stars of the era, Arthur Tracy, known as ‘The Street Singer.’  He’d come out onstage with his accordion, singing ‘Marta, Rambling Rose of the Wildwood,’ and the ladies would swoon.  He was playing ‘The Palace,’ the pinnacle of vaudeville in the United States.  I never heard the details of how Harry defeated Arthur – these things are usually a matter of one personality or heart winning out over another.  Arthur Tracy must have recovered from his loss, because he lived to be 98, and was performing almost to the very end, in 1997.

            But back in the 1920s, Harry Berk had a different business, which I think was also called ‘Berk’s’, and was located in Times Square.  This ‘Berk’s’ was an elegant men’s haberdashery.  “A lot of stars came there, especially dancers.  I had dance shoes made of calf-skin.  They shined like patent leather, but they were much lighter, and dancers loved them.  Fred and Adele Astaire were regular customers.”

            One day Harry heard shouting coming from the shoe department.  He hurried in to find a regular customer screaming at a salesman, and slapping him around.  “I said, ‘You stop that!’  He said, ‘Do you know who I am?’  I said, ‘Yes, I know you’re a good customer, Mr. Flegenheimer, but I won’t have you abusing my employees: get out of my store and don’t come back!’ 

            “So, he’s mad, but he leaves.  My salesman says, ‘We’re good as dead now.  He’s gonna kill us.’  I say, ‘Don’t talk nonsense!  He knows he was wrong.  Who is he to kill us?’ 

            “‘He’s Dutch Schultz.’

            “‘What?  He’s Mr. Flegenheimer.

            “‘Arthur Flegenheimer is Dutch Schultz, the bootlegger.  He’s going to kill us.’”

            Harry stopped to get himself a Mission Soda, grape, I think.   He told me he started to wait for a bullet.  When he was in his store, and he passed by the plate-glass window, he waited for a bullet.  When he walked along Broadway, and a car slowed down beside him, he waited for a bullet.  When he missed his subway, and was suddenly alone on the platform, waiting for Times Square to Grand Central Shuttle, he waited for a bullet. 

            After a couple of weeks, he started to wonder if maybe the bullet wasn’t going to come.  It never came.  He never heard from Dutch Schultz, who died in 1935, killed by the Syndicate to prevent him from murdering New York D.A. Thomas Dewey.

            “But I’ve got one thing to remember Mr. Flegenheimer by.”  He took off his hat, and tilted the top of his head to me.  His hair was jet black, except at the roots, where it was white.  “That first morning, I looked in the mirror to shave.  And I saw my hair was white at the roots.  It grew in all white.  I’ve been dying it ever since.”    

Arthur Flegenheimer in a contemplative mood.

To hear and see Arthur Tracy sing 'Marta' and 'Trees', click the link below.

The Story 'BERK'S - A 7TH AVENUE STORY' is copyright August 27th, 2013 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved


By Henry C. Parke

Pictures of Things That Aren’t There - An Introduction

August 13, 2013

            I was born in 1954, in a hospital in Brooklyn Heights, on Henry Street, and for years my parents had me convinced that the street had been named after me.  After living briefly in an apartment in Bay Ridge, we moved to a beautiful house in beautiful Bellmore, Long Island.  Although Bellmore would later be best-known as the home of Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco, my strongest memory is of the brook that ran through our back yard, and the wild ducks that swam through it and nested along it. 
            My Dad worked in Brooklyn, and after a few years, the commute to and from Bellmore, whether by train or car, became unbearably long, and we moved back to Brooklyn.   We arrived just in time for me to start kindergarten, and I spent the balance of the first twenty-five years of my life in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.  It’s very chic now.  It was always nice, always elegant, but it wasn’t chic when I was a kid.  The chic place in Brooklyn back then was Brooklyn Heights, but the Heights priced itself out of the running, and Park Slope became ‘it’.  

            That’s not the sort of thing that matters to a kid, of course.  One of my many memories of growing up there centered not on local concerns, but rather with world events.  On November 22nd, 1963, I was nine, my sister was twelve.  Our parents were on a trip, and we were being ‘sat’ by our favorite relatives, great aunt Sadie and great uncle Abe.  My sister and I were upstairs, watching TV, when news broke in to say that President Kennedy had just been shot in Dallas.  When we ran downstairs to tell Sadie and Abe, they were cross.  “That’s not funny!  Don’t make jokes like that!”  That it was the truth was inconceivable to them.

            I cut the portrait of JFK off the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, and taped it to my bedroom wall, along with tiny crossed flags and tiny plastic roses.  On the day of his funeral, I went to the shopping area of Park Slope, 7th Avenue.  The store windows were filled with pictures of the late president and Jackie.  And in a vain attempt to record what was already irretrievably gone, I brought my Brownie Starmite box camera, and took pictures of the pictures in the windows. 

            Today, maybe fifty years later, I was back on 7th Avenue, taking pictures of things irretrievably lost.  I told my sister where I’d been.  “I’ll bet you saw nothing you remember, and no one you knew.”  She was right.  But at least I remember what used to be there. 

Copyright August 27, 2013 by Henry C. Parke - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 31, 2013


I’m sad to say I haven’t seen or spoken to her in decades, but when I was in college, that titanic redhead, that Eiffel eye-full, Tempest Storm, was a friend of mine.  For those not familiar with that hour-glass beauty, this story will illustrate how attractive she was: Frank Sinatra insisted she be cast as one of the showgirls in his movie PAL JOEY, and top-billed Rita Hayworth had her fired, because they looked too much alike. 


I went to NYU film school in the mid 1970s, and while writing for their literary magazine, COLD DUCK, I managed to interview Tempest at Times Square’s SHOW WORLD CENTER, a porno emporium with the atmosphere of a Howard Johnson’s, where she was then performing her famous striptease.  I’d turned on my tape-recorder, and said, “It’s a long way from Annie Banks of Eastman, Georgia to Tempest Storm – ”


And she stopped me, saying with astonishment, “Oh my goodness, you’ve actually done research!”   She was a charming and funny Southern belle, and it was a great interview.  I pulled out some pressbooks and lobby cards from burlesque films she’d been in, and she told me that her scrapbooks had been stolen from her dressing room not long ago.  I gave her my Tempest Storm files, and that sealed the friendship.


It became a habit after then that, whenever she was performing in New York City, I’d drop by the theatre with her favorite drink, a glass of carrot and celery juice, and take her to lunch.  She was headlining at The Star and Garter, which was on the corner of Broadway and I think 46th Street, up on the second floor.  I gave my name to the lady in the booth, she checked her list, and she let me through the turnstile without taking my ten dollars.  I went backstage to Tempest’s dressing room which, while not luxurious, was much bigger than the two shoebox-sized rooms the other six girls on the bill had to share.  I brought Tempest her carrot and celery juice, and after chatting a few minutes, she had to change into her ‘taking off’ clothes, so I went into the theatre auditorium to watch the rest of the show, waiting until Tempest had done her set so we could go out to lunch. 


Today, striptease has gained, if not respectability, an aura of cool edginess, but in the 1970s that was not the case.  Burlesque, the musical comedy entertainment that spawned Abbott & Costello, Ed Wynn, Phil Silvers and so many other stars, is remembered mostly for striptease, ironic considering that striptease is what actually killed the form.  As comic Rags Ragland replied, when asked why he left burlesque: “How do you follow an act where a woman takes off all her clothes?”


The showroom had a small stage, with a runway that jutted past the first three or four rows of seats.  It could seat about a hundred, but these early shows were never very full.  When I’d gone in to see Tempest, I’d heard an amplified man’s voice announce, “And now, the management of the Star and Garter is proud to present the lovely and sensual Desiree!”  Desiree was still on when I found a seat.   She’d gone on, dressed in her show-girl clothes, then teased and peeled, and danced her set, working to records.  The pay was not great.   The headliner, if she was a name, like Tempest, or Blaze Starr, made a thousand dollars a seven-day week, four or more shows a day, and the non-stars made far less.  Most made more money from tips, and in these pre-lap-dance days a stripper would often work the length of the runway, bald head by bald head, showing special attention, and letting the men slip the money under the elastic of her g-string.  


Desiree had been working the tiny crowd so long that her music had ended, and they’d had to start it again.  A few voices called out, “Tempest!  We want Tempest!”  The girl in the black garters clung tenaciously to the curtain.  “Listen,” she told the audience through her teeth, “I’m not leaving the stage until I get fifteen more dollars!” A collection was taken up among the front-row denizens, and Desiree was bought off the stage. 


With the stage empty, I glanced around at the audience: that afternoon the clientele was all male, subdivided by servicemen with nowhere to go, groups of guys going as a goof, and the usual collection of chronic masturbators.  Overall, that was always the audience, which is why I did a double-take to see a genuine movie star, Peter Boyle, sitting in the back row.   


Younger folks probably only know the late Peter Boyle as Ray Romano’s father on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, but he was a major star in the 1970s.  He’d done films as dark as TAXI DRIVER and JOE, and as light and funny as YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, where he played the monster.  And hip?  He hung out with Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland, and when he got married later on, John Lennon was his best man.  Which is a long way of saying I would have been less surprised to see a zebra in the next row than I was to see Peter Boyle. 


Next the management of the Star & Garter was proud to introduce the lovely and sensuous Roberta Redford (she was a peach, and would never go out with me), and finally it was showtime!    The curtains parted slightly, revealing a set of drums.  All of the dancers performed to records or tapes, but Tempest was a headliner in a field where you could count all the headliners on the fingers of one hand, so she got one live musician, a drummer, to do the rim-shots for the bumps and drum-rolls for the grinds. 

“The management of the Star & Garter is proud to introduce the star of our show.  She’s performed all over the world!  The Queen of burlesque!  Miss Tempest Storm!” 

Tempest had the sort of truly hour-glass figure that you will rarely see in a lifetime, and she knew how to slowly reveal it in a manner that was breathtaking.  Literally, it seemed like no one in the audience was breathing for some time.  When Tempest had taken her bows, following a standing ovation, she slipped backstage.  I slipped into the lobby to wait for her.


Tempest came into the lobby ten minutes later, wearing a stylish pin-stripe suit, and said, “Okay Henry, let’s get lunch.”  Just as we were crossing the lobby, a man stepped out of the showroom.  It was Peter Boyle.  “Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” she said in return, and kept walking.

He moved to catch up with us.  “I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your show.”

“Thanks,” she said as we kept walking.  Being a tall, beautiful woman who makes her living by taking her clothes off to music in front of strange men, Tempest has perfect tunnel-vision – you cannot make eye contact with her if she doesn’t want to.

“My name’s Pete.”

“Nice to meet you, Pete,” she said without slowing.

“I’m Peter Boyle,” he clarified.


By now we were through the lobby and passing the ticket booth.  “I’m an actor,” he told the back of her head.  “I starred in JOE.  I’m in STEELYARD BLUES…”

I understood exactly what was going on in Peter Boyle’s head.  He was a big star; he had dropped into a dive, a strip show, and was going to give the star the thrill of her life when he told her he enjoyed her performance.  Only it wasn’t working out like that. 

Tempest and I were hurrying down the stairs to the street while Peter Boyle stayed on the top step, shouting his credits.  “I’m in THE CANDIDATE!  I’m in TAIL-GUNNER JOE!  I’m in DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE!”

And Tempest turned back and called, loudly enough that he couldn’t miss it, “Henry, get me away from this nut!”

I yelled, “Taxi!”  And as the cab raced us away to a deli, Peter Boyle was left on the curb, shouting, “MEDIUM COOL!  T.R. BASKIN!”

Tempest turned to me.  “What is wrong with that man?”

“Tempest, that really is Peter Boyle, and he really is a big star.”


“Yes.  He starred in JOE.  He starred in CRAZY JOE.  He starred in TAIL-GUNNER JOE…”

She looked at me quizzically.  “He only does movies with ‘Joe’ in the title?”

I only saw Peter Boyle in person one more time, when I was at JFK Airport maybe ten years later.  Our eyes met – I don’t have tunnel-vision like Tempest – and we sort of acknowledged each other.  But I didn’t remind him of the afternoon we spent together at the Star & Garter.  I might want to give him a script one day, and I figured it was better if he didn’t know we had a history.