An Ode to Brooklyn
The incredible story of Sid Ganis in the movie business is not only about how much he accomplished in one lifetime (literally a Forrest Gump saga—a movie he green lighted—of how he worked with and met practically everybody who was anybody in Hollywood)–but also how far he came and how much of his taste as a moviemaker comes from his background in Brooklyn.
“Emotional stories with good solid emotional lines is what I gravitate to,” he says, “and honest-to-God it comes from (my upbringing): my family was that way. We all lived in Brooklyn as kids, really in the neighborhood close by, not walking distance, but a short bus ride, car ride, to grandma and grandpa’s house, who spoke only a little bit of English. My grandparents lived on Avenue P and W. 6th Street and it was the safety of the family that I loved. Yeah, like Big Fat Greek Wedding we yelled and screamed at each other, but we loved each other. I didn’t really understand about family conflict until much, much later in my life. I thought that all families were like my family: loving and beautiful.”
Woody Allen, another Brooklyn kid who grew up not far from Sid Ganis, is synonymous with Manhattan, but his humor is pure Brooklyn Jewish and his most resonant characters and movies come from Brooklyn. I remember Woody Allen actually being on location and shooting his sweetest and probably most personal movie. Radio Days, about a kid growing up by the sea (in Rockaway, just over the bridge from Brooklyn) and both the funny and sad in their lives and the bonds of family that kept them whole and kept them together.
Barbra Streisand lived not too far from where I live now.
Neil Diamond went to the same high school Barbra went to: Erasmus Hall High School on Flatbush Avenue. You can drive by on the Bedford Avenue side and look into the courtyard by the main gate where they all entered in the morning—including Mae West, and Eli Wallach, and Moe Howard (of The Three Stooges), and Clive Davis, and Al Davis (of the Oakland Raiders), and chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, and opera singer Beverly Sills.
Sid Ganis went to James Madison High in Brooklyn, whose other alumni include director Joel Zwick (who directed Big Fat Greek Wedding), actor Martin Landau, writer Garson Kanin, comedian Chris Rock, as well as writer Irwin Shaw and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Ganis, whose father was Greek, but his mother was American, remembers going to temple with his grandfather in Brooklyn and going to the fourth floor, which was the Greek section.
“We were Romanite Jews,” he says. “My grandfather would take me to his temple which was a combination of all of the Sephardic sects-–the Spanish, the Italian, the Greeks, and it might have been the Turkish. They were all using the various sanctuaries. And on the Sabbath, on Saturdays, my grandfather would walk up the four flights to the Greek portion of the temple and I would be in there with him.”
He still remembers that, as most of the notables remember their old days in Brooklyn, and I certainly will, after nearly fifty years of living here and having my own lifetime of memories of one of the most vibrant places on earth—a place that has nourished countless and forever replenishes itself.