Friday, January 11, 2008

Happy 100th, Dad!

My father & grandfather, ca 1912; Dad in "Hart to Hart" TV series, early 1980s.

One hundred years ago today in the Bronx, Louis E. Stander and his wife Bella (née Belle Kanter) welcomed their first child into the world. They named their son Lionel Jay, who shared his initials (sometimes reversed) with numerous Stander cousins around the U.S. and England. All were named after Louis' father, Leiser Josef, a rabbi in Riga, Latvia. According to family legend, he died after being kicked by a steer while filling in for the shochet (kosher slaughterer), who was drunk.

Also according to family legend, baby Lionel was enormous (allegedly 12 lbs, 14 oz.) and with such a big head that he nearly didn't make it into this world alive. But he did, after the doctor--or more likely midwife--gave him just one more chance. ("The pattern of his life," my mother, the 4th of his 6 wives, acidly remarked.)

Dad and his accountant father apparently were at loggerheads, for the latter had him arrested as an "ungovernable child" at age 16. (I have J. Edgar Hoover to thank for that tidbit of information, which I gleaned from the unredacted portions of the 300+ page file on my father that the FBI amassed over the course of some 30 years.) After that he was sent off to a military school in Penna., where he seems to have gotten the boot after a year, then he was graduated from a private school in NYC. Somewhere in there he enlisted in the Army, but was kicked out when it was determined that he was underage. Then he went to college at UNC Chapel Hill, where he acted in one student production as a left-wing Russian Jew in Greenwich Village (what a stretch!). But UNC wasn't for him either and he left after a year, possibly at the University's request due to his riotous behavior.

Then Dad knocked around in various jobs, including a newspaper reporter, till he made his way onstage in the Provincetown Players production of "him" by e.e. cummings. And the rest, to coin a phrase, is history. Contrast this 1936 Time interview with this one from 1970, Lion of the Via Veneto (imagine reading that at age 14!).

One memory of my father keeps popping up today, from when I was about 5. He took me to Riverside Park, where I borrowed some boy's scooter. I wanted to see if I could ride it all the way up to Columbia University, some 10 blocks away, and took off. My father yelled at me to come back, but I just pushed on faster. When I looked back, he was jumping over the black iron fence railings like a championship hurdler--at 52 years old. I kept going as fast as I could, but he soon caught me. And did I ever get a potch on the tuchas.


Lisa said...

What a fascinating life story! I just spent 20 minutes on Wikipedia and IMDB reading about your father -- and of course I remember him from Hart to Hart and other movies and shows too. That he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era suddenly makes all of that real to me. I've seen and read lots about it, but you are the first person I've ever come into contact with who has an actual personal connection to that era in our history. Happy 100th to Lionel Stander.

Kim Stagliano said...

Ah - I wish I'd known your Dad. Your stories of him are so vivid. Happy 100th indeed.


Felicia said...

He sounds like quite a character indeed. How lucky you are :)

Sustenance Scout said...

Classic post, Bella! I read about your dad when I first came across your blog and yes of course I remember him from his Hollywood days. Love your scooter story; talk about a revealing tale!