Farewell To My Irish Oys Co-Star

Farewell To My Irish Oys Co-Star

Ivan Boesky, the Wall Street strike it rich arbitrageur titan of the 1980s died May 20th at his home in La Jolla, California. Borrowing from an earlier column and a chapter in my J. Press Threading The Needle, Book II, here’s a contemporary remembrance of a friend from time past who appeared with me as fellow cast member of an Off-Off Broadway play that preceded by several years his conviction and jail term for securities fraud.

“Oy, dot muzt be de texxis cab,” was my stage character’s opening line responding to the honking car offstage as the curtain rose on the 1976 Van Dam Theatre production of 1920s vintage classic “Abie’s Irish Rose. ” The Off-Broadway showcase was sold out for all eight performances.

One of the demands of my leading role as well-to-do immigrant widower Solomon Levy was affecting a Yiddisher dialect, a chore for which I was eminently prepared through memories of dear grandmother Jenny Press and her struggle with the English language that drove me and my cousin David into hysterics, prompting a slap in the face from his angry mother, my Aunt Marion.

I met him in the early ’70s, a fellow member of my beloved and now long demised City Athletic Club that during its 90-year existence was the respected West 54th Street Jewish equivalent of the New York Athletic Club. Ivan haunted the four squash courts, often spending hours playing against the club pro. I also discovered he had an eccentric wit nurtured in childhood at several of his father’s Detroit delicatessens.

I also valued the munificence of his extensive J.Press wardrobe collection, consisting of lookalike charcoal grey suits, stiffly starched white broadcloth 3 3/4-inch, straight-collar shirts conservatively garnished by a range of semi-formal English Macclesfield, Spitalsfield and Swiss Grenadine lace silk ties.

One day after a “shvitz” and swim in the club’s fifth floor lap pool, he tossed me a question, “Hey, you doing any theatre lately? ”I told him indeed I was about to begin rehearsals for a downtown revival of “Abie’s Irish Rose.” Ivan’s face lit up. “I love acting. Anything in it for me?” I gave him the name of the director who called me shortly thereafter. “Hey, this guy Boesky is a scream. I gave him the role as your nosy neighbor Isaac Cohen.”

Rehearsals took place after hours at the 16 East 44th Street J.Press retail emporium a block from the Yale Club and around the corner from the Ivy Clock at the Biltmore hangout. While we rehearsed stage business and read lines on the mezzanine floor Outerwear Department, Clifford White, senior J.Press shipping clerk, was busily packing suits in the adjacent stock room for the next day’s UPS pickup.

Limousines blocked Van Dam Street as they disgorged Ivan F. Boesky & Co. customers into the shabby 120-seat venue that defined off-off-Broadway in the 1970s. My interlude from J.Press was well received in the trade papers. Show Business gave a favorable notice headlining “Irish Oys” calling Ivan Boesky’s performance “amusing.” The review’s laudatory commentary ended, “Richard Press has a magnetic and endearing quality as Solomon Levy.”

Shortly after his release from prison he showed up at J. Press. “Richard, If you don’t care to associate with me, I’ll more than understand.”

I hugged him telling him, “You served your time, let’s go back in time.” He hugged me back saying, “Time to replenish my wardrobe.”

The song has ended but the memory lingers on—RIP Ivan


Bravo to friendship, empathy and forgiveness.

Mark Wilson

Dear Mr. Press,
Although, and it’s too bad, you never hit the big time as an actor, you accomplished something much more contributive than that: You excelled as a human being. (And you continue to do so!)
Thank you for this uplifting anecdote.

Don Quixote

I hugged him telling him, “You served your time, let’s go back in time.”

Probably the kindest words he ever heard.

Jesse Livermore