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Berger’s Burg: Columnist becomes famous for brushing celebrity elbows

Fame is a bee./It has a song—/It has a sting—/Ah, too, it has a wing. — Emily Dickinson

People like to recount stories of celebrities they fleetingly crossed paths with and I am no exception. During my lifetime, I brushed hundreds of famous folks. And most of these grazes occurred via my mother and sister, Anna.

To be somebody, you must last. — Ruth Gordon

Mom had eight children and I was the second-youngest. We all resided in a small, two-bedroom tenement apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Besides her domestic responsibilities, she still found time to become a Democratic county committeewoman. Through her, I brushed many distinguished politicos.

A celebrity is someone who works all his life to become famous enough to be recognized, then goes around in dark glasses so no one will recognize him.

Some of my brushees during my childhood were Mayors John Lindsay, Rudy Giuliani and Ed Koch; Illinois presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson; and notorious party whip Carmine DiSapio.

Some day each of us will be famous for 15 minutes. — Andy Warhol

And, during my adolescence, I often took walks to Central Park in hopes of brushing celebrities. On one occasion, while strolling down 59th Street and Central Park West, I encountered Frank Sinatra and managed to brush him carefully.

The only man who wasn’t spoilt by being lionized was Daniel. — H.B. Tree

As a teenager, I was turning a corner in Times Square and nearly knocked over Sammy Davis Jr. coming around the other side. The frightened look on his face was priceless. These two were my first show biz brushes — three if I count Walter Matthau, who lived in my building. Why do I love brushing celebs? Because I enjoy the challenge of adding more notches to my belt.

The greatest monarch on the proudest throne is obliged to sit upon his own arse. — Benjamin Franklin

Then there was the day I was waiting on a movie line at the old Capital Theater on Broadway when someone broke through by rudely brushing me aside. I was angry and ready for battle when I recognized Burt Lancaster. And one evening I accidentally brushed Audrey Hepburn who was with her husband, Mel Ferrer. She smiled, but scowling Mel’s hostile gape nearly ended my brushing career.

All celebrated people lose dignity on a close view. — Napoleon Bonaparte

A classic brushing took place when I was 12. I was playing hooky and went to the defunct Roxy Theater on 50th Street to see Milton Berle. He spied me sitting in the first row. He left the stage, confronted me and asked, “How old are you, Sonny?” “Twenty-one.”

And another, when I was sitting in the first row at the Paramount Theater watching singer Billy Eckstine. I felt the moisture of each romantic word gently spraying me. My mother told me to always carry a handkerchief and she was right.

A celebrity is one who is known to many persons he is glad he doesn’t know. — H.L. Mencken

My sister, Anna, an actress, continued my array of brushes with greatnesses. She prepared for her acting career by attending the prestigious Dramatic Workshop with Tony Curtis, Rod Steiger, Bea Arthur and Harry Belafonte. They were not celebrities at the time.

What a heavy burden is a name that has become famous too soon. — Voltaire

Before Belafonte’s rise to fame as a calypso singer, he was unemployed. With no means to support his wife and child, he asked Anna to help him find work and my brother, Jack, hired him. Soon thereafter, Harry invited Jack, Anna and me to his first nightclub appearance at the Royal Roost nightclub. I was only 16, but they sneaked me in and I brushed headliner Dinah Washington. It was not long before Harry was on his way.

A celebrity is a person who is bored by the attention of people who formerly snubbed him.

Anna would always invite me backstage following her theater and TV performances. I brushed John Garfield, Fredrick March, Jack Lemmon, Jerry Stiller, Rita Moreno and James Gandolfini, among others. I will never forget when I visited Anna following her first Broadway show, Mae West’s “Diamond Lil.” I was in the Air Force at the time and, in full uniform, I brushed Miss West and she returned the compliment!

Man’s attitude toward great qualities in others is often the same as toward high mountains — he admires them but he prefers to walk around them. — Moritz Saphir

I have since given up my throne as King of Brushes because Gloria made me. But I still must tell you about my other brushes with — maybe not.

Gloria’s watching.

Contact Alex Berger at

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