Wednesday, November 19, 2014


When "Bajour" was revived for a limited (five performances) engagement in New York, songwriter Walter Marks was there. I asked him if Ernest Kinoy who wrote the book, was going to show up. He said that unfortunately Ernest wasn't well enough to make the long trip from his suburban home. This was back in 2007. I wish I'd written to the guy, because he made The Big Trip Home last week, dead of pneumonia.

You don't know who he is. That's common for most writers. The plus side is that writers don't have the pressure of doing interviews and being under constant scrutiny. The negative is that they (or the wife, or children or friends) have to explain who they are, and when they die, almost nobody even reads the obit, if there even is an obit.

Kinoy probably would list his Broadway work as among his lesser credits. He wrote the script for several musicals, including "Chaplin," and two shows that had scores by Walter Marks: "Golden Rainbow" (hit song: "I've Got To Be Me") and "Bajour" (no hit songs). Naturally, "Bajour" is not only my favorite from Marks, but in the Top 5 of my favorite musicals.

Kinoy contributed a joke-flecked sitcom story, and Walter Marks the songs. Walter's melodies are catchy and his lyrics are very, very clever. Like Cole Porter and later, Tom Lehrer, Marks was a fan of wordplay and inner rhyme. In a story about an anthropologist (Nancy Dussault) fascinated with a bunch of gypsy con-artists in New York, she sings about a "diatribe on why a tribe" is worth writing about. She notes that an anthropologist must discover an ethnic people, the same way "you're not an etymologist until you get the word, you're not an ornithologist until you get the bird."

In the insane Marks world, the villainess (Chita Rivera) brags to her tribeswomen, that she's "a pungent limburg cheese to you insipid camemberts."

It was a musical where a shout of "Virtue" was met with "Gezundheit," love advice was sung by Betty Boop (Mae Questel, who recorded the cartoon voice decades earlier) and two gypsy leaders (Herschel Bernardi and Herb Edelman) engage in insults about their offspring: "I hear you got a daughter so ugly, nobody would look if she was barefoot up to the neck!" "I hear you got a boy so stupid, even if he did look, he wouldn't know the difference!"

Their duet, "Honest Man" is below. The subplot of the show was the combining of the two tribes, thanks to a convenient marriage. Still, the gypsy leaders eye each other warily, and catch-phrases like "that's what you think" and "big deal" and "wise guy" take on both friendly and insulting meanings.

It might be the first time "Up Yours" was heard on Broadway.

Most Broadway shows have one obligatory comic song. This one had several. Maybe that's part of why it didn't last more than one season. The designated love songs and pop singles ("Why Must It Be Love" "Love is a Chance") were pretty good.

What did Ernest Kinoy do before and after his Broadway shows with Walter Marks? Everything. The man was a genius. But first he had to get through World War 2, which wasn't easy. Captured, he was taken to a Stalag (yes, just like Hogan and his heroes) but when the Nazis discovered Kinoy was a Jew, they hauled him to a tough, slave labor camp instead.

After the war, Kinoy wrote for sci-fi radio shows ("Dimension X" and "X Minus One"), Frank Sinatra's short-lived "Rocky Fortune," and then TV ("Studio One," "The Defenders," "Naked City," Dr. Kildare" and others). He won Emmy awards, and moved on to made-for-TV movies and theatrical films. Being a good Jewish liberal writer, he tended to write not about his people, but the other minority group, blacks. He wrote movies for Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte (including "Buck and the Preacher") and "Roots The Next Generations" and "Victory at Entebbe" about Idi Amin.

One of his last major works was "Chernobyl," a 1991 TV movie starring Jon Voight. Ernest's wife Barbara died in 2007. The next of Kin-oy are two children from the marriage. A fine writer, was Ernest Kinoy (April 1, 1925 – November 10, 2014), a versatile man, a heroic man, and an honest man. I wish I could've said or written "thanks, Ernest" to him personally.

Herschel Bernardi and Herb Edelman "Honest Man"

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