Harry Einstein

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Harry Einstein
Harry Einstein.jpg
Born (1904-05-06)May 6, 1904
Boston, Massachusetts
Died November 23, 1958(1958-11-23) (aged 54)
Los Angeles, California
Nationality American
Genres Stand-Up, Dark Comedy
Spouse Thelma Leeds
(m. 1937; his death 1958)
Children Charles Einstein
Albert Brooks
Bob Einstein
Clifford Einstein

Harry Einstein (May 6, 1904 – November 23, 1958), known professionally by a multitude of pseudonyms, most commonly Parkyakarkus, was an American comedian, writer, and character actor. A specialist in Greek dialect comedy, he became famous as the Greek chef Nick Parkyakarkus on the Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson radio programs, and later on a program of his own. He appeared in eleven films (as Parkyakarkas, or a close variant) from 1936 to 1945.

Personal life[edit]

Einstein was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Sarah (née Klayman), who was born in Russia, and Charles Einstein, a pawnbroker from Austria. He married actress Thelma Leeds on February 7, 1937.[1]

He started out a newspaper reporter in his native Boston, coming into comedy via Eddie Cantor's radio show. His own show soon followed, along with roles in films. He met his second wife, Thelma, while making New Faces of 1937.[2] In time, Einstein became so inextricably linked with his character that he attempted—unsuccessfully—to change his name legally to Parkyakarkus. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame bears his character's name instead of his own.[3]

Meet Me at Parky's[edit]

Einstein as Parky caught between Sheldon Leonard and Betty Rhodes in 1948.

As a result of his popularity on the Cantor program, Einstein began a radio show of his own in 1945 called Meet Me at Parky's, featuring the same character, Greek restaurant owner Nick Parkyakarkus. It ran for two seasons on NBC before moving to the Mutual Broadcasting System in 1947 for a third and final season.[4] Einstein wrote most of the program's scripts himself.[5] Sheldon Leonard, Elliott Lewis and Betty Rhodes were part of the cast, with Rhodes as the female singer as well as supporting work.[6]

Later years and death[edit]

Einstein had a long history of heart disease, which eventually began to limit his mobility and stamina. After his TV show was canceled, his appearances were largely confined to Friars' Club roasts.[1] He suffered a fatal heart attack in 1958, at the age of 54, during a roast in honor of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.[7][8] After Einstein delivered his monologue, emcee Art Linkletter remarked, "Every time he finishes, I ask myself, why isn't he on the air in a prime time?"[9] Einstein turned to Milton Berle, who was seated next to him on the dais, and said, "Yeah, how come?"—then slumped into his lap. Berle's shout of "Is there a doctor in the house?" was initially thought to be a humorous ad lib, but the gravity of the situation quickly became clear.[1]

Einstein was carried backstage, where five physicians in attendance (the event was a charity benefit for local hospitals) worked to revive him. One surgeon used his pen knife to make an incision for open heart massage; another used the ends of an electric cord as a makeshift defibrillator. With the remaining comedians on the bill reluctant to continue under the circumstances, Linkletter asked Tony Martin to sing a song; Martin's unfortunate choice was "There's No Tomorrow".[10] Ball then came to the microphone and managed only, "I can say nothing", through tears.[3] Arnaz, the closing speaker, said, "This is one of those moments that Lucy and I have waited a lifetime for, but it's meaningless now. They say the show must go on, but why must it? Let's close the show now by praying for this wonderful man backstage who has made a world laugh."[1]

Despite two hours of continuous resuscitation by the physician volunteers and a rescue squad, Einstein was pronounced dead at 1:20 AM. The news of his death was the Los Angeles Times' front-page headline the following morning.[1][3][11] Einstein's funeral service was attended by 300 mourners. After a eulogy by George Jessel, Einstein was buried in Home of Peace mausoleum in Los Angeles.[12]

Family[edit]

Einstein was the father of four sons: the writer Charles Einstein, by his first marriage to Lillian Anshen;[a] comedians Albert Brooks and Bob Einstein, and advertising executive Clifford Einstein, with his second wife, actress Thelma Leeds.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

The argument has been made that Albert Brooks, who was 11 years old when Einstein died, has dealt with the trauma of his father's passing through vignettes in his movies. For example, early in Defending Your Life (1991), Brooks’s recently deceased character, Albert, finds himself in an afterlife nightclub, watching a terrible comedian. “How’d you die?” the comic asks him; Albert replies, “Onstage, like you.” Later, Meryl Streep's character invites Albert to leave with her. “I can’t,” he says, gesturing toward the stage. “That’s my father.”[14]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The couple was divorced in 1929.[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Parky Einstein Succumbs After Pocketknife Surgery". The Victoria Advocate. 25 November 1958. Retrieved 23 January 2011. 
  2. ^ McLellan, Dennis (May 31, 2006). "Thelma Bernstein, 95; Mother of Albert Brooks Was Former Actress". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 27, 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c "Hollywood Walk of Fame-Parkyakarkas". LA Times. Retrieved 31 August 2013. 
  4. ^ "Meet Me at Parky's". OTRRpedia. Retrieved 4 January 2016. 
  5. ^ Dunning, John, ed. (1998). On the Air:The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. p. 445. ISBN 0199840458. Retrieved 31 August 2013. 
  6. ^ "Meet Me at Parky's" (PDF). Radio Album. 1948. pp. 54–55. Retrieved 30 August 2013. 
  7. ^ "Parkyakarkus Dies at Banquet After Giving Comedy Monologue". New York Times. United Press International. November 25, 1958. 
  8. ^ The "Happy Deaths" of Dick Shawn and Parkyakarkus
  9. ^ "The Final Performance of Harry Einstein - Parkyakarkas". 
  10. ^ "CNN Transcript - Larry King Live: Art Linkletter Discusses His Career in Television - June 30, 2000". cnn.com. 
  11. ^ "Comic Parkyakarkus Dies at Friars Club Dinner". Los Angeles Times. 23 November 1958. Retrieved 31 August 2013. 
  12. ^ "300 Persons Attend Rites For Einstein". The Index-Journal. November 26, 1958. p. 4. Retrieved January 27, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  13. ^ "Parkyakarkis Gets Reduction". The Nebraska State Journal. November 10, 1940. p. 4. Retrieved January 27, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  14. ^ Albert Brooks: The Dais of his Life (September 13, 2011). The New Yorker, retrieved May 19, 2016.

External links[edit]