Monday, June 20, 2011

Old Interview with Barbara Minkus (2005)

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 
from performing?

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-
derful teacher.

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 through May 15.  
Extended through July 31.  It should have a future. 

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