Actress/singer Barbara Minkus is a charmer on and off stage. Currently
treading the boards as Jennie Grossinger in the world premiere musical
Saturday Night at Grossinger’s at Theatre West, Minkus delivers a
star-making performance. She also happens to be a delightful lady
who entertained me with a plethora of amusing stories throughout our chat.
My father owned a department store in Chicago – Leslie’s Department
Store on Armitage Avenue – and my mother was his biggest shoplifter.
She had a room in our house, which she called the secret gift room,
because she had half of his inventory there. Whenever he couldn’t find
the right size in the store, he would call my mother and ask her if she
had it. And then I learned that it’s not right to cheat dad (she laughs,
practically in tears) …but I was never arrested. (continues laughing)
That’s so funny. Tell me how the Grossinger project came your
way. Wasn’t there another show about Grossinger’s a few years
A big Grossinger’s. This show was originally in a very big form with
20 people at Casa Manana Playhouse in Texas. I suggested to the
writers, who were my friends, to do a smaller version because they
couldn’t sell such a big production. Smaller shows are more economical.
When they finished it, I was involved in Picon Pie. I saw the non-equity
production in Long Island, and it’s gone through even more changes
since then too. I was able to get a production at Theatre West,
because I’ve been a member here for 25 years. I was thrilled to be
able to do it here, but I first had to finish my contracted obligation in
New York with Picon Pie.
Now…there have been many twists and turns to this whole story.
One of the writers of the show is Rita Lakin. When I first met her,
she was doing the NBC soap The Doctors. I was 17 years old,
in my first show in New York – You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.
She sublet my apartment in New York because I was coming out here
to do The Danny Kaye Show. She saw me in Charlie Brown and told
me I was an incredible talent and that she wanted to do something to
help me. I said, "Sure, sure, sure…just sublet my apartment." Many,
many years went by. I did many shows in New York and she was out
here writing for television, but we kept in touch. In fact, she recommen-
ded me to the woman who wrote Picon Pie: Rose Leiman Goldemberg.
I had left the business several years earlier while my kids were growing
up, so Picon Pie was the second show I did after my return. And then
when Grossinger’s came along, she said, "Let me know when you’re
ready for this, ‘cause you’re Jennie Grossinger." Want to hear another
Sure. I’m loving every second of this.
When I presented this show to Theatre West to do here, the chairman
of the board was the producer who hired me years before on Love,
American Style – Arnold Margolin.
Everything comes around again.
By the way, of the writers of Saturday Night at Grossinger’s, only one
is still alive: Stephen Cole. I was very fortunate to meet Claibe
Richardson before he passed away. He gave his go ahead for me to do
the role. I was so honored because he was a very famous composer.
I didn’t know it would be the last time I would see him. The same thing
happened with Doris Silverton who was Rita’s partner – they conceived
the show. It’s very special for me that I was able to have that connection
with those people.
Did you ever meet any of the Grossingers?
I got involved in meeting the existing Grossinger family. And here’s the
funny thing – Jennie Grossinger’s great, great niece lives here. And she
was my children’s kindergarten teacher. Really. And she had the This Is
Your Life, Jennie Grossinger" recording with Ralph Edwards that’s used
in the show.
Talk about six degrees of separation! How long were you away
I didn’t work for over 20 years.
But your voice is phenomenal. You must have kept up your singing.
I’ve always taken singing lessons with my cantor Nate Lam, who’s a won-
Do you feel that you are somewhat like Jennie Grossinger?
(She laughs) To tell you the truth, I think I am because she was a real
go-getter. She was a dynamo. She was little (like me). She had a
vision and she went for it. I had a vision with Picon Pie. I researched it,
I went for it, and I did it. (It’s still running off-Broadway.) I had a
vision for this show too. I brought it to these people and they did it -
with no money up front. I raised with June Sattler (a great producer)
over $25,000, just on pre-sales: going to seniors and groups, talking
about the show. I made an arrangement with Grossinger’s, I sang it,
and I went down to Florida. I think that’s the way Jennie Grossinger
was - a hustler. I got the tuxedos for free, the food for opening night.
I think what’s happened in the world is that people need to help other
people. Jennie Grossinger in her time was that way. She was the first
person to open up a hotel that wasn’t segregated. Everybody was
welcome. She was the first woman to bring in star entertainment.
This was long before Las Vegas. She was an innovator. They had
an airstrip for famous people to fly in, but she treated everyone like
they were important. They were all equal. It was a wonderful quality,
and if I have it like her, I’m honored.
Saturday Night at Grossinger’s continues on at Theatre West on
Thurs, Fri and Sat@8pm and Sun @2pm
Extended through July 31. It should have a future.