Lenny was one of the most fascinating people Ive ever met. I cant remember the exact date that I first met Lenny, but it was approximately 1992. I do remember it was a Saturday and it was at Rubens deli. If memory serves me correctly, I probably heard an eruption of laughter coming from the table where Lenny was holding court. After only a short while of observing Lenny in his inimitable style I was convinced I was in the company of greatness. As I grew to know Lenny, it became abundantly clear I was in the company of a uniquely talented man.
I have always been a person who marveled at individuals who were my senior, and for me Lenny was a never-ending source of knowledge, experience, and practical advice. His razor-sharp sense of humor was often imitated but never duplicated. I had the privilege of getting to know Lenny very well. Many of you did. For those who didnt, I thought Id take a minute to mention a few other talents of my friend Lenny that you may not be aware of.
Apart from being an excellent card man, Lenny was a jeweler with an expertise in diamonds as well as a master watchmaker. Not just a watch repairman (which he often did at no charge for friends), but actually worked as an assemblyman for a leading watch manufacturing firm in New York. During the war, Lenny was stationed in Las Vegas, when it was just a small burgeoning town in the desert. There he got to know some of the top magicians of the day who were booked in town. He once built a magicians entire act in miniature, composed entirely of sculpted playing cards. The magician was so touched he befriended Lenny and shared many of his effects. Another magician showed him a brilliant card effect. Everyone was baffled, and Lenny went home and the next day came back and duplicated the effect for him. The magician was amazed that he could reconstruct it so accurately.
If you knew Lenny during these years, youd know that he hobnobbed with many of Hollywoods greats. He knew Robert Alda (Alan Aldas father) when he was too poor to afford his own suits, and often wore wardrobe from whatever film he was shooting at the time when they went out for dinner. He was a houseguest of singer Martha Raye, who took a liking to Lenny and extended her home to him while stationed in Hollywood.
One day Lenny received a phone call from his cousin, who informed him he was dating Lucille Ball or Lucy as she was known throughout the world. Through the years Lenny and Lucy became very close. Years ago Lucy was a guest on David Frosts show, Headliners taped in the early 70s at NBC studios in Rockefeller Plaza. She made a special announcement and introduced Lenny to both the studio and television audiences. He rose from the crowd as the follow spotlight found him and graciously acknowledged her with a smile and a wave. Whats really strange about this is that this is a major dj vu moment for me. As a kid I can remember being in the audience for a Headliners taping, and would practically swear that I was in the audience for this very taping, but I cant confirm it.
For me Lenny was a source of invaluable knowledge. For years Lennys sister worked at a hospital. This gained him access to the hospital libraries where he would often sit for hours reading the medical journalsfor fun! If I had a medical question I could always call Lenny to get the best advice and information.
A cardiologist tried to dismiss his questioning about the reading of an EKG tape. Smugly the doctor said, Well what do you know anyway? To which Lenny gave him a rather thorough and complete dissertation on ALL the subtleties and nuances of the systolic, diastolic, and each turn and curve the EKG machine produced. Dumbfounded the doctor apologized profusely. Lenny had taken him to school.
He was a truly fascinating individual who could converse on almost any subject. Part of his magic was that he always gave the impression that he was sincerely interested if he didnt know a given area and would question until he did. And he remembered everything. It was pretty hard to pull one over on him. If you tried he would query you with pinpoint precision until you realized the error of your ways.
When I was leaving New York for what would ultimately lead to my moving to San Diego, I wrote Lenny telling him how much I admired him, respected him, and would miss seeing him on a regular basis. I mentioned in that letter, a person once told me, When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. For those of you who were ready you know what a great teacher Lenny was. He would never b.s. or stroke you. If you did a move poorly, he would let you know. I remember him watching my Hammond count a hundred times before it was even close to presentable. After I had achieved an expected level of frustration I handed him the cards, and demanded that he do it! Totally in stride he then proceeded to demonstrate a flawless count. It is a quality that many dont like at times, but one that Ive taken into my profession. Its sound advice because its based on the concept that honesty is the best policy. I also told Lenny that I firmly believed he was a person who could have excelled at any walk of life. He would have been an excellent surgeon, a great lawyer, or a fine teacher.
As fate would have it Lennys vocation would be law enforcement. Im sure he was great at that too. I know I wouldnt want to be on the receiving end of a citation he was handing out. But he was a fair cop too. He once starred death in the face and talked a guy out of a shooting in Harlem. It was a wrong time at the wrong place situation for the perpetrator and the guy was obviously caught up in the moment. After the arrest the suspect told Lenny about trouble at home, etc. and after some inquiry Lenny surmised the man hadnt intended for the level of trouble in was now in. He went out of his way, and let the judge know he could be somewhat lenient as he believed the man truly hadnt intended to do what he had done. The judge took this into account and the suspect was grateful and he thanked Lenny later for going the extra mile for him.
Lenny is someone I wish I would have met earlier in life, or in HIS heyday. Could you imagine what a BLAST it would have been to hang around Hollywood or Vegas with Lenny back in the day??? I have so many fond memories of Lenny. Ill never forget the time he and Seymour took me home to my aunts in Yonkers weathering blizzard conditions and Seymour got lost on the way home. I took them over an hour to go 15 minutes away to Co-op city. I can only imagine the kibitzing that must have taken place between the two of them before Seymour got Lenny home.
There was also the time we went to Macys looking for perfume for my girlfriend. Lenny started to joke with the girl behind the counter. Before you knew it, the safety pins were out and he was doing Slydinis linking pins for the woman. She was thrilled. He told her, ya know youre kinda cuteif I was just 6 months younger. I still use the line, and it never fails to get a laugh. In fact, the older I get the funnier the line is.
His abilities as an auctioneer will never be matched. Who can forget all the laughs we had when he was in his prime.
I will miss Lenny all the days of my life, but am truly grateful for every moment I had to spend with him. Although he was somewhat estranged from his magic family in most recent years, I know that in his heart he loved magic, and loved the New York group.
Lenny is in my prayers. Please keep him in yours.