Just went mad for the luminous performance by Billy Crystal starring in the terrific Broadway musical version of his 1992 film Mr. Saturday Night, charting an up and down comedian’s journey to fame and back that began as a Catskill Mountain hotel Tummler, a Yiddish word for someone who stirs up tumult or excitement.
Billy Crystal’s tragicomic performance brings to mind legendary York Street Tummler George Feen, who touted his own New Haven Borscht Belt comic shtick on the Yale campus.
In an earlier column I described George Feen’s engaging jazz great Duke Ellington’s enthusiasm for Dupioni silk tuxedos. Feen’s underground enterprises serving time at J. Press took place more on York Street than Harlem befriending Duke Ellington. Seeing Mr. Saturday Night rekindled my perhaps not so quaint memory of past times that in its unique way might also make a great musical with maybe Josh Gadd playing George Feen.
“Little Georgie Feen” as he was known around town operated in a Rashomon of hyperbolic deviltry. Insinuating himself with female pulchritude in the Yale Drama School, he once attached himself to a Lauren Bacall lookalike who was hip to his evil deeds. Feen criminally fostered the libel she was sexually liberated and longed to be hooked up with an Eli football player. She was in on the gag. Feen arranged a match for her with a Yale halfback.
The thankful gridder returned the favor by giving Feen his tickets to the Harvard game. George then offered the 50-yard-line Yale Bowl Portal #16 tickets to the box office manager of the Shubert Theatre in exchange for sold out opening night seats for the ensuing tryout of “South Pacific.”
Those, he funneled to a New Haven cop who completed the ticket farrago giving them to a Chapel Street liquor dealer he protected selling booze under the table to Yale patrician fraternities, also meaning pledge masters steer his fraternity brothers back to Feen who took over draping them in J. Squeeze tweed. The penultimate Heyday of Ivy roundelay.
A belt in the back meant more to Yalies than rear trouser construction. It signaled partaking from a pint of Canadian Club in the back of J. Squeeze with “Little Georgie Feen.”
Seventy years later I still haven’t recovered from the risqué Lauren Bacall look-a-like pic he gifted me for my Bar Mitzvah.