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Tania Grossinger’s Book and the Real Catskills

Tania Grossinger’s Book and the Real Catskills

Associate Editor

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Summer’s here and there’s a new book in the bookstores, “Growing Up At Grossinger’s” (Skyhorse Publishing), by Tania Grossinger that turns out to be an old book, a reprint of what she first published in 1976, that has almost nothing to do with the hotel that many of us remember and miss. Considering that the hotel closed after the original publication, one could have hoped for a serious autopsy, but that would be hoping for too much.

Her autobiography – awkwardly self-centered, even for the genre — is about life as a second-class Grossinger cousin, a self-described “hotel brat” in the 1950s. Summer may be timeless but Tania’s summers are more dated than most. She tells us what it was like when Eddie Fisher worked and flirted there, and when he brought Debbie Reynolds there, and then Elizabeth Taylor. Tania’s book has cameos by Kim Novak, Jackie Robinson, Rocky Marciano, Jayne Mansfield, Milton Berle, and how Tania liked one of the pool boys, and how she didn’t particularly like the guests, not that any of the guests are anything more than shadowy, stick-figures that are rarely given names, let alone life.

In other words, gentle reader, her book has nothing to do with you.

And when I think Grossinger’s I think of you, not a Cindy Adams column from the Korean War years.

I miss those Catskill venues where New York’s Jews could be with each other in a way we no longer can.

Anyone who ever spent time in the Catskills knows that the celebrities and entertainers were the sideshow; the guests, like you, were the main attraction. Any journalist who tells you otherwise probably wasn’t there, or wasn’t paying attention. The guests were the story, which is why I’d rather read a book about the Pine View Hotel, or any of a hundred other hotels, where the comedians and entertainers were less famous than Eddie Fisher or Milton Berle but were considerably more interesting and entertaining; where the staff and owner-families were socially integrated with the guests; and where a Jewish milieu was created that was as enchanting, as magical, as anything by Chagall or the best Yiddish writers – or anything found in Israel, for that matter.

I’d rather be in the Pine View tearoom one more time than in a suite at the King David or some generic seaside joint in Tel Aviv. I’d rather sit in the Grossinger’s lobby at two in the morning than listen to politicians address the Israel lobby in some D.C. ballroom.

I can watch Kim Novak and Elizabeth Taylor on late-night TV movies, but there is no channel that could show me you on the Grossinger’s lawn on Shevuous when the sky opened at midnight (K’tonton fans) in 1979. If I wanted A-list entertainment I could go to Vegas. I’d rather watch, in my mind’s eye, old men in winter coats walking around and around the empty Grossinger’s pool on a cold day on Pesach than interview Tania Grossinger about how she got to know the “stars,” but she never got to know you.

Readers wanting to see some photo and postcard galleries spanning the entire “mountains,” along with wonderful Catskills musings, may enjoy a visit to both the Catskills Institute, a project of Brown University, and Classic Catskills, photos and columns from the files of the Times Herald-Record, the upstate daily that may be the best non-urban newspaper in the country. The Times Herald-Record also is a superb source for news coverage of current Jewish life in “the country,” from Kiryas Joel to Sullivan County.

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