The Oscar

January 11th, 2013

For the children and grand children of Patricia Bright Blumberg and dedicated also to my friends Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen.

The Oscar, won in 1939…it’s now stored away in a vault.

All I want is the Oscar”

That was what my husband, Eric Blumberg said after the passing of his beloved mother, Patricia Bright Blumberg, in 2009, at the age of 87.  His brother and sister in law were tasked with dividing up Patricia’s things, and Eric told them that he just wanted the statue. 

He had told me about it, but he wasn’t clear on the story.  He knew that she had entered an essay contest in her teens for film criticism and her prize was… an Oscar. When it showed up one day, I was surprised at how heavy it was.  Just to satisfy my curiosity,  I weighed it.  It was a little over 8 pounds.  According to the Academy, an Oscar weighs 8.5 pounds.  I measured it for height and instead of the 13.5 inches of today’s Oscars, it was 12 inches.  I researched this a bit more and discovered that older Oscars were indeed 12 inches.

I learned the full story later, from Patricia’s grand daughter, Niki Blumberg, “When my grandmother was in high school, in the 1930s, she won an essay contest sponsored by the MPAA.  Her essay focused on mob violence in movies and its negative impact on society. As the first-place winner, she was awarded a prop Oscar from the original 1937 version of A Star is Born.  My grandmother told me that she would often use it as a doorstop at parties.”

I did some more digging and found the image below.  There they were, and it seems, I had one of those little golden boys in my hands.

Eric’s later research revealed that is was indeed made by the same company who made the Oscars you see handed out every year.

The actual “Oscar” scene with Janet Gaynor in the original 1937 “Star is Born”

So, what about the woman who had the golden boy for so many years, I wondered?  She wasn’t famous as we might know it, though she was known.  She’s still on the IMDB, for various stints on Broadway, or on television from the late 1940’s through the 70’s, but there’s not much else out there on her. You have to dig.   She was however, a skilled, polished, and hard working professional, who loved what she did, from what I hear and what I  read.  I am new to the family, and have heard only pieces of her story.  I watched a clip of her once on the iconic 50’s series “Car 54, Where Are You?”. I also found a clip of Patricia, Kaye Ballard, and Bette Davis in 1966 on “To Tell The Truth”.  She and Ballard, a friend, obviously were the impostors, a skill she had been honing for years, and Bette thought she was dead on.   That’s most of what I knew.   A box of press clippings, head shots, playbills, and reviews told me more.

“Early days- an entertainer”

She was born Pearl Breit in 1922, on the Lower East Side of New York City, the oldest child and only daughter of Samuel and Lillian Breit.  Samuel, born Simon Bright in London, and Lillian Mandelwitz Breit, ran a stationery store on Whitehall Street.   Her son Eric was never told that her name was Pearl, and he thought her birth happened in 1925.  “Mom gave herself three years”, he says, and a new name as well, or at least her father’s original name.   Her interest in performing apparently took hold early in her life.  In her sophomore year at Hunter College, she was hired for her first acting job on radio. An audition for the John Golden Awards, which she won, while still in college, had her satirizing the judges and in her words, “they seemed to enjoy it”.

Patricia, left, entertaining World War Two troops, early 40’s.

Even as a budding performer with a good head start, it seems that first and foremost, she was a fan of all things theatrical.  Grand daughter  Niki, who works for a theater group in Los Angeles, tells me of Pat at 17 in 1939, “I often retell her grand stories of life backstage and onstage.  One of my favorites is the one where my grandmother went to see The Philadelphia Story, on Broadway, for the eighth time.   She was such a huge fan of Katherine Hepburn, that she took every chance she had to watch her play Tracy Lord from the $5 cheap seats at the Schubert theatre.  On the eighth night, she had gotten to go backstage to meet Ms. Hepburn, herself.   Shaking with nerves, in the wings, she waited to meet her acting idol.  After what seemed like ages, she finally heard Katherine’s voice, booming from backstage like a lioness who has just escaped her cage screaming, “God damn it!  Where are my goddamn shoes!”I don’t remember what my grandmother spoke to Katherine Hepburn about, once they got to meeting.  The reason I don’t remember, is probably because my grandmother has the best Katherine Hepburn impression you’ve ever heard and it took me a full ten minutes to get over how brilliant it was.”

Early supper club days, at 22, already noted for her Hepburn.

Her specialty was indeed “mimicry”, as Walter Winchell put it in a column from 1946. In the same year,  Earl Wilson called her “one of bright new acts of Cafe Society Uptown“.  By then, she had become  Patricia Bright, and had worked her way into a steady job at the swank St. Regis, by what Robert Dana called “her charm, beauty, wit, and talent“.  She had re-invented herself into what Dana called “a typical post deb in appearance”, but with a twist.  As she put it in a New York Post feature story in 1944 when she was just 22, “ I do biting satire, and expect to be found dead with four daggers in my back any day now”.  She was, in short, a funny lady with some distinctive voices.  Katherine Hepburn, according to Dana, seemed to be one of her best.  She studied her well at the Schubert, it would seem.

Earl Wilson column, 1946

Steady job, 1946, she did the cut and paste herself here.

“As herself”-late forties and fifties

When Patricia’s box of memories arrived at our door, they were carefully separated..Head shots, playbills, press clippings, television reviews, voice over…and there were others, marked for Eric, by her, of his press clippings from his radio days.  But there was more, not as carefully sorted but bulging full of…her family.  At 22, she did what young ladies did in those days, she married a young William Morris talent agent named Stephen Blumberg, the son of a Russian immigrant mother and a father who was an executive at Brooks Costumes.  Stephen later followed his father in the business.

Steven Blumberg, my late father in law.

At 25, she became the mother of Robert Blumberg, born in 1947, Eric Blumberg, 1952, and daughter Amy, born in 1957.  She didn’t stop working.   The late 4o’s brought some obscure early TV work in shows like “Draw Me a Laugh” and “The Borden Show”, prior to her first Broadway show, “Tickets Please”, which brought Ed Sullivan,Colgate Comedy Hour, Jack Paar, and the Red Buttons show… appearances as “herself”.

First time on the Great White Way, 1950 at 28

As “Herself” with daughter Amy

“Herself” again, late 50’s, now mother of three.

My favorite. “Herself” in photograph, early 50’s to comfort little Eric.

“I’m not really a single girl, I just play one on TV”

She still played the Versailles, the Cotillion Room, the Maisonette, and Bon Soir.  With television, clubs,and Broadway, and three kids, I think she earned the title “working actress”.  In those days, juggling both was rare, but juggle she did, and most likely with aplomb.  She had help, she wasn’t a super woman. Eric remembers housekeepers.  He also remembered her cooking dinner and then leaving for work.

There was a brief stint in Hollywood, on a short lived series called “It’s Always Jan” with Janis Paige.  From what I can tell, there’s Janis Paige, a Marilyn Monroe clone, and Patricia, who undoubtedly played the wisecracking friend. I would guess that became more and more common as she grew older.  She was lovely, but like Lucille Ball, you heard the funny before you saw the looks.   They were cast as “single girls”, but Patricia had her two children with her in a rented house.  Eric remembers the stories of those studio days, and rubbing up against the greats, as she did though she never became a movie actress.  She was still a fan, still loved the stars, and according to her family, never missed an Oscar broadcast, and watched it yearly, champagne and all.   I find it comforting that she still had something some of those greats never had, that golden thing,  even if it wasn’t for the usual things, even if it wasn’t made for her.  It was still heavy and solid and must have been a great conversation starter for new guests.

TV guide, 1955

The show didn’t last longer than a season, and they were back in New York, her third child to follow.  The Oscar may have gone with her, but returned to it’s place on the family mantle.  Eric confirms the “Oscar” as doorstop story.  She soldiered on. Patricia returned to Broadway in 1961 in James Thurber’s “A Thurber Carnival”, directed by Burgess Meredith, with Thurber playing himself.  I wish I had heard that story from her.  Her playbills show her still headlining at the Cotillion Room at the Pierre, but she also had a stint on what Leonard Maltin calls “one of the funniest TV shows of all time”.   I was a bit young to remember the iconic early 1960’s  series “Car 54, Where Are You?” headlined by Fred Gwynne, Al Lewis and Paul Reed.  My husband, a fan, asked me to watch a few episodes one night, particularly one he calls “some of the best comedy ever done on TV”, called “I Hate Captain Block”.  Almost vaudevillian, it was hilarious.  Patricia, who had a few episodes from  ’62-’63 was a blip on the screen, playing Captain Block’s wife Claire, but she has a presence, even in that bit.

The Ghost and the Voice

I notice as she moves into her fifties, she’s now billed as Pat Bright. In 1972-73, she showed up on “The Edge of Night”, as “Edith Berman”, the dead wife of one of the leading characters.  Eric said, “She played a ghost”.

Edge of Night cast photo, Pat in plaid, the ghost.

She wasn’t a disembodied voice, but the distinctive voice ( and voices) she had now came in handy.  For years, she supplemented the mercurial business of show business with one of  the tools that got her started. There is a wonderful piece in the  December 13,1982 New York magazine she kept called the “Hidden Persuaders”, the story of the nameless, faceless voice-over talents we hear every day.  It featured her, and I loved her comments about the perks of having this specific talent, particularly in fighting the “age curse” faced by so many in her business, particularly women. By then she’d been doing “voice over” for 24 years, and could still do “13 year olds”.  “Voice work affords longevity that on- camera work doesn’t”, she said.  “A model’s career peaks in eight years, we, however, can go on as long as our voice lasts and a wheelchair can get us there.  And, darling, your voice is the last thing to go.”  Take that, darling.  She also recalls a story when she left a recording studio furious about a bad audition.  In the days of pay phones, she “picked up the receiver, deposited a dime, intending to call her agent and chew him out, and was startled to hear her own voice, telling her to deposit more money.  Bright had done the recording for the phone company. The 60 year old Patricia also told the interviewer “Ever wonder why so many gorgeous models sound alike?  Often it’s my voice.”

The voice…December 13, 1982, New York Magazine

The fan and the diva

Patricia’s children and grand children relish her stories of the more well known members of her business. I wish I’d heard them too, so I rely on the memories her descendants have provided.  Eric just e-mailed me this story, ”

Here’s one –Like any sensible woman of her day, my mother was enamored by Paul Newman.  When she finally got her chance to meet him, he came up to her to greet her and announced (to this day, no one knows why he felt it necessary):  Hello, I’m Paul Newman.  All my starstruck mother could do when gazing into his light, blue eyes was say: Goddamn right you are.  This caused him to crack up and give her an unforgettable hug, and from then on you knew they would be buds.  Although I must admit, I don’t believe they ever met again.

Oh, Patricia, when I meet the famous, as I occasionally get to do, can I steal that from you? The stories from the descendants tell me that Pat now moves into the “grande dame” phase of her life.  Eric has used the word “diva”, and I think, “Damn, I missed that”.  She saved a few snippets…

Bette Davis Part One- I have no idea what year this would have been.

Bette Davis Part Two…Looks like 1959…

When I watched the clip of the two, Bette kept patting Patricia’s arm… she must have liked her or at least her imitation of her.  Here’s my favorite of the snippets:


I hope she didn’t either..

“Wherever she ways, she was always working her way home”

As Eric stated above, Pat was first and foremost, a wife and mother.  I hope she could compartmentalize the pieces of her life.  It couldn’t have been easy.  She held the family together as her husband Stephen’s health declined.  He died at 59 from a congenital heart condition.  She never remarried.  I get the sense of someone pretty joyful, until the last rough days of her illness and death.  She held onto her home at the elegant landmark Apthorp until the end, as she held onto her family, including the two who followed her into the business, Eric and Niki.  She also held onto the pieces, some crumbling now, of her fascinating life.

In the 1980’s, with Eric, then in radio, and baby grand daughter Niki, now in her twenties and in theater in Los Angeles.

And the Oscar?  Strangely, I might have attended the Oscars this year, but that was not to be.  Instead, I’m getting her prop “Golden Boy” out of its vault for the night, and will watch it like everyone else, and like her,  will have champagne in hand.  And I’ll celebrate, along with her son, and with her spirit,  I hope, what a winner she was.


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Soul Mates

August 3rd, 2012

 I HAVE been here before,
              But when or how I cannot tell:
          I know the grass beyond the door,
              The sweet keen smell,
    The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

          You have been mine before,—
              How long ago I may not know:
          But just when at that swallow’s soar
              Your neck turned so,
    Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.

          Has this been thus before?
              And shall not thus time’s eddying flight
          Still with our lives our love restore
              In death’s despite,
    And day and night yield one delight once more?   Daniel Gabriel Rossetti 1854

We hear much about “soul mates”.  But, what are they?  Literature and film would have it that the soul mate is one person, the only “love of your life”, your true other half.

Some are skeptical about all this.  Naomi Cohn, author of “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Play List” says,  “There is no such thing as a soulmate…and who would want there to be? I don’t want half of a shared soul. I want my own damn soul.”  Well, it’s a point of view.  But…as we aren’t alone here on this pretty planet, some of us like company….the right company.  So, exactly what are soul mates,  do they exist, and if they do, are we with them right now? Chances are, yes, you are.

The concept of soul mates is discussed historically and in some religions. Plato talked about them, the Hindu religion refers to them, the word in Yiddish “bashert” means destiny, Theosophy digs into it, and since the 60’s it’s landed soundly as part of our culture, and not always correctly, according to some things I’ve read.   The mainstream idea is that, if we are lucky, we will meet and mate with that “one” soul, and settle into “happily after after” world.  It’s one definition.  But, from what I’ve gathered over the years, I’ve surmised that there are different types of soul mates.

Here are just three….


As were these two, I also think….

Here’s a description of  how this came about in Eastern tradition from the Maharani Rutan,  “According to the ancient scripture of the Gita it was a dialog between God, Krishna. and Rama . God gave Krishna a Divine vision to save mankind and learn peace and love, and Rama was his brother.  This is why Krishna is known as a God of Love because he brings love to many. During the epic dialogs, Krishna and Rama used to argue philosophically a lot so God said to Krishna be on earth and be your brothers soul mate.  And when Krishna asked what is a soul mate.  God said, “Soul mate will be someone that is placed on earth to learn and teach from.”

The broad definition coming from this tradition is that a soul mate can be anyone with which we have a close bond, and who help us recognize important lessons about life, love, and about OUR SELVES.  Some are meant to be life long bonds, some come together to experience something that will move their soul forward.  We see people drifting apart, and we see this as a “failed relationship”.  Not always so!   Have you ever had a relationship that didn’t work, was painful, and had to end?  When the smoke clears, and it usually does clear, and if we’re self aware, we’ll ask ourselves what lessons that person had for us.  Margaret Mead famously said, “I’ve had three successful marriages”.  Each was there for her at a specific time and place, and when she needed that lesson.   I’ve always thought our families of origin, as well as romantic partners, were great teachers for us.  They’re our first relationships, our first experience of love, and they are usually life long.  Family conflict, while painful as hell, is a great teacher.  How we deal with that is up to us, but in the end, they offer us a path to learn, let go, and most importantly teach us to take the lesson, move on, let go, and forgive!


Yoko might have been John’s other half, but Paul was there for the mission.

Are you in a business partnership right now?  Particularly close to a co-worker or project partner?  Do the two (or three) of you feed off each other’s energy and help you move an idea forward? Do you instinctively know what part you bring to the team, and even though there are bumps and grinds and conflicts along the way, does the finished product feel right?  When it does feel right, it feels like a world changer, and sometimes it IS.  Lennon/McCartney?

I’ll talk about my philanthropic work a bit.  I have been fortunate to have run into some amazing mission mates.  One was a woman who brought a cutting edge idea to us about engaging men in preventing relationship violence.  She’s moved on now, but I have no doubt in my mind that she was brought to us for just that  reason. Two of  the documentaries we’ve supported were led by mission mates of mine.  There is a closeness that exceeds the normal colleague bond.  We know it’s a mission, and that’s what brought us together, and each of us brings something to the table.

Mission soul mates can be very different people, and that can make the process tough.  Sometimes, the pair goes their own way, but what they started, be it a business, a project, a work of art, goes on. If the two involved know their own strengths and their own limitations and respect what the other brings, it’s magic.  My brother Ted and I are two vastly different people.  But, I’m absolutely convinced that we are mission soul mates.   In San Francisco, a few months back, I saw a tape of Joe Biden talking about violence prevention and he mentioned “Ted and Cindy”, almost as a team.  We may not see each other for months at a time, but we’re a team, and a team that was meant to be since we showed up in the same family in Iowa 50-0dd years ago.

Now for the real goody bag….


Over 20 years is a long time in Hollywood

According to interviews with both of these two, Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick just knew that they were meant to be together.  They could be what is now called “twin souls”.  According to Sufi teachings, twin souls are like two Roman rings interlocking with each other, impossible to pull apart.  If you are a believer in many lifetimes, it is said that the two might experience many lifetimes, together and apart, until they arrive at a true twin soul bonding.

How do you know when you’ve met that person?  It might be like the famous line in Jerry Maguire, ” You had me at hello.”  We’ve all had love at first sight.  But, these delicious pairings are for life.  Doubts fly out the window, and there is a deep inner knowing that tells you this is the right one.  Trials and challenges will not break you up, you come back stronger.  Infidelity is rare, as you are no longer searching.  Most important, these relationships make us feel BETTER about ourselves, not worse.  They inspire us, they can improve our productivity, and they motivate us to be better people, to each other, to ourselves, and to our world.  Sometimes, twin souls come from vastly different backgrounds, races, cultures and social class.  They may be heterosexual pairs or same sex.  No matter.  They will happen if they are meant to be.

Perhaps the most beautiful tribute I ever read, to this kind of soul mate was written by Nobel Prize winning biochemist Kary Mullis to his wife Nancy, in his dedication to his book, “Dancing Naked in the Mind Field”.

Here it is.

Jean Paul Sartre somewhere observed that each of us make our own hell out of the people around us.  Had Jean Paul known Nancy, he may have noted that at least one man, someday might get very lucky, and make his own heaven out of the people around him.  She will be his morning and his evening star, shining with the brightest and softest light in his heaven.  She will be the end of his wanderings, and their love will arouse the daffodils in the spring to follow the crocuses and proceed the irises.  Their faith in one another will be deeper than time and their eternal spirit will be seamless once again.

Or maybe he just would have said,  “If I’d had a woman like that, my books wouldn’t be about despair.”

This book is not about despair.  It’s about a little bit about a lot of things, and if not a single one of them is wet with sadness, it is not due to my lack of depth; it is due to a year of Nancy, and the prospect of never again being without her.       Kary Mullis, “Dancing Naked in the Mind Field”. 1998

Here’s to many years with our soul mates, each and every one.


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