ME, MONROE AND A GUY NAMED JOE
Long before I ever heard
the word, "hip?---or even its corny alias, "hep?---Joe Grossman was the
hippest guy I knew.
Those were the days when
my world centered on the banks of the Old Raritan, the ivy-covered campus of
Rutgers College, then newly identified as the State University of New Jersey.
At that time, Rutgers had also newly spread to the other side of the
Raritan to encompass the abandoned barracks of World War II's Camp Kilmer.
That was when Rutgers, where football originated, was still carrying on
its vain struggle to be recognized as a member of the Ivy League.
Our biggest football rival in those days was Princeton, located only a
few miles down the old Lincoln Highway.
Like an arrogant mosquito
so proud of its enormous hardon as it floats down the river on its back that it
cries out, "Open the drawbridge! Open the drawbridge!" Rutgers today is too
big to play the likes of Princeton anymore. Instead, we play teams like Notre
Dame and get our asses handed to us. Which makes me feel lucky I went to Rutgers
when it was still a small college so I could get to know Joe, one of that large
percentage of the Class of 1950 who arrived on campus as a returning World War
As I said, I'd never
heard of "hip? and all that
word connotes---jazz, drugs and outr".
I doubt, too, that Joe was acquainted with the word and the
counterculture from which it comes. Still,
looking back after my subsequent experiences with Ernest Hemingway and Bob Dylan
and Jack Kerouac and Miles Davis and Allen Ginsberg and Billie Holiday and John
Lennon and Mick Jagger and a seminal "60s hero named Bobby Neuwirth (to
mention just a few of the hippest superdudes and superchicks who enhanced and
ennobled our 20th century culture), I can now say that Joe was the hippest guy I
knew at the time.
More than 50 years later,
I've come to equate hipness with psychic power, evinced to me in my college
days as wit. I considered Joe the
wittiest guy on campus. Of all the
big brains and sports celebrities I got to hang out with on the college campus,
Joe was my biggest hero. He would throw out one-liners the way Michael Jordan
would one day shoot baskets or the way Jimi Hendrix would one day pluck guitar
strings. I was proud to have Joe as
my college buddy even though he might not have been so proud to have me as his.
"Aronowitz," he once told me, "you're like a punchline walking around looking for a joke!"
More than 50 years later
I still think that's an apt description of me.
I forget all the things
Joe got into at Rutgers. Number one
with Joe was always good-looking women. As I remember, his lover at the time was
a girl whom I considered one of the most gorgeous females ever to take up
residence on the NJC (New Jersey College for Women) campus, located on the other
side of New Brunswick. Joe
also founded WRSU, the campus radio station and, like me, achieved a reputation
as a B.M.O.C. (Big Man On Campus). Not only did Joe, again like me, write for
the Targum, which is what the campus undergraduate newspaper was called, but Joe
was also a member of the Rutgers Anthologist, the Philospophean Society and the
But, aside from women,
Joe's main interest was in show business and he considered the biggest stars
in show business to be not the singers like Frank Sinatra or the bandleaders
like Tommy Dorsey, but the comedians like Bob Hope or The Marx Brothers or
Milton Berle or Joey Bishop or Joey Adams or Sammy Davis Jr. or Don Rickles or
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Joe
sharpened his wit and his one-liners listening to the best-honed minds and the
quickest tongues among them. Was I
just naive enough to consider Joe the equal of any of them? During our four
delicious years at the Rutgers in the late 1940s, I considered Joe one of the
smartest, sharpest, wittiest, quickest, slickest, quippiest, mouthiest head-game
champions who ever lived.
Because Joe came from
Atlantic City, where he was well connected (his father, Max Grossman, was a
Water Commissioner there), Joe had easy entr?e to all the showplaces on the
Boardwalk where he could catch all the famous stand-up comedians. Those were the
days when Jersey's Gem of the Seashore, boasting the Atlantic's most glittering,
golden, wide and sandy beachfront, was still little more than a glorified,
glamorized and oversized Boardwalk. Along
which members of the local black poverty pool eked out incomes by pushing
sun-starved tourists down the wooden beachfront thoroughfare in unsunshaded
rolling chairs. To me, those rolling chair pushers were the equivalent of
Venice's gondoliers, of rickshaws drivers I'd seen on the chop-suey streets
of old movieland Chinatowns. Catching rays and getting browned was one of the
ways people showed off wealth and health, even if they did end up with skin
After we both got out of
college, Joe became what newspapermen call a 'stringer," the equivalent of
an out-of-town "hired gun." In
fact, Joe became the "the
Jersey shore's No. 1 stringer," making his services available to any and
all of America's then-proliferating daily blabs willing to afford at least ten
cents a word for the distinction of being able to boast that it had an
"Atlantic City special correspondent."
There was no legal gambling in Atlantic City in those days, but A.C. was
still the Jersey's shore capital, replete with hotels and show rooms, a resort
that attracted visitors from near and far.
There was always a visitor who'd be a headline in some hometown
newspaper, no matter how small and insignificant that hometown might be.
When the visitor made news, Joe was the stringer the hometown newspaper
would hire to be its "Atlantic City special correspondent," no matter how
far away the out-of-towner's hometown newspaper happened to be.
The Miss America Pageant
takes place during the week beginning with Labor Day occurrence and, as the
allegedly virginal misses were chosen from their local small towns or big cities
to be Miss This State or Miss That State, Joe would keep track of who won each
state's tiara. Not Alaska and not
Hawaii were in the Union yet, but as I recall they, too, were represented at the
Pageant. Joe would send queries to each of the big, middle-sized or small-town
dailies to offer his expertise at his standard rate so the hometown newspaper
could print daily stories.
The hometown readers
wanted to know every little detail. Exactly what Miss Montana or Miss Idaho or
Miss Mississippi or Miss Whoever devoured for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Exactly what was she going to wear for the fancy evening gown rivalry.
What she looks like in the bathing suit competition.
What she told her fathers and brothers on the phone.
Because these allegedly virginal little misses were never allowed to be
in the same room with anyone of the opposite sex, no matter how their hormones
Before he knew it, Joe
had assignments from maybe 50 or more newspapers to write two stories a day
about 46 or more of each of the state contestants.
As I said, with his fast
talk and local notoriety, Joe was a regular non-paying guest at all the
Boardwalk night clubs headlining all the highly paid professional funnymen
selling high-priced drinks on what was then known as "the Atlantic City
strip"---because AC's boardwalk also included a lot of strip joints, where
bare asses and pretty titties were just as big a draw as all your Uncle Milties.
Each night of his young
and eventful life, Joe would saunter into one of the Boardwalk's most expensive
clubs, catch the headliner's hilarious routine and then go home remembering all
the comedian's material. Eventually,
he'd rearrange it in his head, usually for the better and for the funnier.
At least, that's what I thought.
I was, like I say, just a
naive college kid compared to Joe, who was an old-timer, a returned World War II
vet, with two battle stars as an Air Force sergeant in the Burma-India campaign,
a warrior who always knew how and when to talk himself out of any serious
trouble. He sure knew how to keep
me splitting my sides and laughing my fool head off. But I wasn't the only
one. In college and afterwards, Joe
was the wittiest guy I knew. He?d
started covering the Miss America Pageant when he was still in college and he
always crack up the rest of us with his stories about the Pageant.
To an innocent like me,
Atlantic City was big-time, one of America's glamour capitals. But to Joe, Atlantic City was nothing but a big scam of a
sunny sandbox. The only reason anybody dreamed up the Miss America Pageant in
the first place was to tack on an extra week to the summer season, which is
considered at its end on Labor Day. Joe would joke scornfully about the fact
that every Pageant had to have a "Miss Indian America" who could never
become Miss America but who was necessary for political correctness in those
days. Joe would always nickname her "Sweet Sioux"
"She can't even get
a hotel room," he'd quip. "No reservations!" Or: "It's a good thing
Hawaii aint a state yet, because the judges are not about to give out an award
for hula dancing."
It was after I started working for the Newark Evening News, then the New Jersey equivalent of the New York Times, that Joe asked me to help him cover the Pageant. He?d
I was thrilled
to be covering
the Miss America Pageant
usually end up earning maybe close to a grand but
he'd slip me only a U.S. Grant. That
didn't matter to me. To tell the truth, I was grateful to be covering the
Pageant. It gave me a chance to
write about big-time show bizzy glamour for my newspaper, which otherwise had me
chained to a small-time beat, like Harrison and East Newark, a town encompassing
maybe six blocks or so. I'd work
with Joe on my vacation time and the Newark Evening news would print the
stories I'd write about the Pageant on the front page.
When I got to Atlantic
City, I thought the big deal was to figure out whom Miss America was going to
be, who would win the Pageant? Whom would the judges choose?
'to hell with whoever
gets to be Miss America!" Joe said. "I'd rather pick me a loser!"
As I say, I was just an
innocent. I didn't understand.
But Joe was a sophisticated seducer.
He explained that the supposedly "virginal?contestants were not
allowed to fraternize with any males. Not
the whole Pageant week. Not their fathers, not their brothers, not their boy
friends and certainly not their husbands. After all, they weren't allowed to
HAVE any husbands. They were competing for MISS America, not, MRS. America.
But a certain percentage
of the contestants weren't necessarily virgins.
Any girl pretty enough to win a state beauty contest must already have
been confronted by the best available male talent in her corner of the country.
As I later would learn, girls want loving as much as men do.
"When the Pageant's
over," Joe explained, "Miss
America is going to become a very busy girl.
I just want to pick me a loser who has nothing to do but go home to her
small town after the Pageant is over. I?m
just looking for a loser who'll have time maybe to stay a while."
And he would pick one,
too, every year. Once, a redhead from Rome, N.Y. Another time, a peach from
Atlanta. Still again, a blondie from L.A. All
To make sure the Pageant
kept at least the appearance of remaining scandal-free, a director blessed with
all the charm of a Brillo pad kept it scrubbed squeaky-clean. She was Lenore Slaughter, whose very name expressed how
murderously scrupulous she was in her determination to keep the Miss America
Pageant as virginal as possible. A
self-described "Southrun"-type "lady," she was
chaperone-in-chief and strict-as-a-nun, She also had a voice loud enough to
shout down an express train, so she always won her arguments. Scrubbed and
squeaky-clean-looking was how she kept the Miss America Pageant's face.
I used to imagine Lenore
punishing miscreants by rapping on their knuckles with a sledgehammer.
But when push came to shove, that's not exactly the way she eventually
did me in. Lenore ruled the Pageant until 1985, when she retired to Arizona.
October 23, 1996, was to be her 90th birthday. I could see that she must have
been a beauty in her own day, but in my day she reminded me of Ilse Koch. Joe
once quipped that she's the one who tutored Josef Stalin about how to run a
country. Funny thing, but Josef was the way Joe spelled his first name, too.
By necessity, these girls
also were allowed to talk to their firemen chauffeurs, and I remember one svelte
Miss Alabama who bet her chauffeur $50 that she'd be chosen Miss America. And
she won her bet, too! Otherwise, would you believe that the only balled
creatures these alluring contestants were allowed to deal with and have any
conversations with during Pageant week were the newspaper reporters such as
nerdy me and hip and horny Joe?
So, there we were in the
pre-AIDS era, when not even herpes had been invented.
There we were mixing with all these foxes from states all over the union,
the cream of the country's youthful femininity. Although it was required that
each contestant remain virginal during Pageant week, Pageant rules never
specified that each contestant must also in fact be a virgin.
In those years, we lived
in a world that deluded itself into assuming that the pick of the land, the
beauty queens from all parts of the nation, the utmost in feminine blossoming
youth had not yet been introduced to the pleasures of the flesh?
Meanwhile, for Joe's
part, he could sniff out the horniest of the horny and he'd spend the entire
Pageant week zeroing in on the particular beauty he thought was a sure-loser. By
the finale Saturday night, when the new Miss America would be crowned and all
the other beauties would weep, Joe would finish wiring his ten-cents-a-word copy
to his newspapers at the Atlantic City Western Union office while his beautiful
loser would be sitting there waiting to wrap herself up in bed sheets with him.
As for me, all I was
interested in was the chance to get a front-page byline in my own hometown
sheet, the now long-gone and forgotten Newark Evening News.
All I cared about was the glory of getting a story about glamorous
Atlantic City's most glamorous event on the front page of the Evening News.
So what if it was a corny story that started out like this:
ALFRED G. ARONOWITZ
CITY---Fifty-two beautiful young women seeking the crown of Miss America of 1953
will start tonight on the final road toward that title. Preliminary events now
finished, the 52 girls will compete for points in beauty and talent contests in
Convention Hall, with one-third of them meeting in the bathing suit division,
one-third in the evening gown group and he rest displaying their talents at
acting, singing or dancing.
and Friday nights, there will be more of the same, until each has appeared in
each of the three divisions. Saturday night, the finalists will await the word
of he judges on the top winner.
preliminaries to the start of the judging tonight, however, have not been
without interest. Much of the interest, it must be admitted, has been centered
on a young woman named Marilyn Monroe, who is not even a contestant. She is a
screen star, the grand marshal of yesterday's parade and, as many observers
noted yesterday, not exactly a wallflower when attired in a gown with a plunging
appearance at the parade yesterday afternoon followed an episode in the morning
which also drew considerable attention to the cut of her gown.
armed forces had tried to "kill" a publicity photograph which showed
Miss Monroe, four women members of the Armed Forces and a little bit more of
I started helping Joe out
at the Western Union office during Pageant week not long after we got out of
college in 1950 and I lasted at the job for maybe two years until 1952, when
Marilyn Monroe's boobs were the cause of Lenore's biggest boo-boo. With Marilyn
considered everyone's ideal woman in those days, Lenore thought it would be a
good idea to have America's No. 1 movie queen as grand marshal of the 1952 Miss
America Pageant Parade.
And so Lenore promptly
signed Marilyn up. The trouble started when Marilyn was asked to pose with
uniformed women members of the U.S. Army. For the occasion, Marilyn chose a
beautiful, low-cut white dress covered with pink polka dots, except two of the
polka dots seemed to belong to Miss Monroe's body rather than to the dress.
Women in those days didn't dare show the cleavage that is on major
magazine covers today.
Afterwards, Marilyn said
she was "very surprised and very hurt" because the army rejected the
picture. Marilyn agreed to pose again with four servicewomen in uniform, a Wac,
a Wave, a Waf and a lady marine. The military insisted that the photographs
remain unprovocative, but the photographers merely stood on chairs so they could
aim their lenses down Marilyn's cleavage.
She wore the same dress when Joe and I interviewed her and we even took a picture together, the three of us sitting on a couch. To the left is yours truly, with his nose buried
'And what do you
have on at night when you go to bed,
notes. In the center is Marilyn, looking like the most beautiful woman on earth
while flaunting her polka dot neckline behind a disarming smile. And to her
right is horny Joe, accustomed to getting down to the bare facts. Notes,
schmotes, he's got his pointed nose stuck right into Marilyn's cleavage. He kept
the interview as risqu? as he could, too.
"I was just a
man-eater," Joe got her to say, "but they turned me into an
It was as if Joe and
Marilyn had practiced the whole routine. He started out asking about her
wardrobe and kept building until he finally wanted to know:
"And what do you
have on at night when you go to bed, Miss Monroe?"
she replied, dreamily.
Lenore was very toothy.
The better to eat you with, my dear.
Busting people seemed to be one of her favorite preoccupations. With Joe
having the time of his life, Lenore never once found it necessary to bust him.
Was that because Joe had a tongue that could cut just as sharply as Lenore's?
Or was it because Joe had found a way of either getting along with or
around Lenore. Same as a giant of a man named Mal Dodson, who was the
Pageant's publicity director. All Mal ever did was exactly what Lenore told
him to do. By 1965, Mal wasn't there any more. Joe had taken over Mal's job.
As for Marilyn Monroe,
did Lenore really pull a coup in scoring her for the Pageant? Having Marilyn
there was grabbing the press, all right, but the press was all about Marilyn.
The headlines forgot to mention the Miss America Pageant. Even the headline in
my own Newark Evening News told the story: "CONTESTS BEGIN
TONIGHT; MONROE GOWNS STEAL EARLY SPOTLIGHT."
When I recently asked
Pageant officials for a photograph of Marilyn as grand marshal in the 1952
parade, a spokesperson said none were available. I was told that the only shots
Pageant officials had were taken from Marilyn's rear and that none showed her
cleavage. That's probably because, as grand marshal of the Boardwalk parade,
Marilyn waved from an open-top car with her neckline one big V right down from
her throat almost to her navel.
Writing two stories a day
about 46 different girls for maybe 50 different newspapers wasn't an easy job.
How did Lenore nail me? It was a very stormy beachfront day when Pageant PR
director Mal summoned me into his office to demand that I surrender my press
credentials. He refused to tell me why but somehow I got to understand that
Lenore was upset with my tastelessness because I had made three of her little
girl contestants shed tears.
The first was a Miss
California, a blonde, who, I had learned, was enduring the Pageant while
suffering an abscessed tooth. Obviously, she didn't want to have the tooth
extracted during Pageant Week and ruin her smile. But the fact that she was able
to keep smiling through all that pain was a scoop for me. When I asked her about
it, she kept right on smiling. But after I left, I later learned, she burst into
Then there was another
contestant I interviewed, not too great on looks, but a Christie Whitman
type---the kind of lady you might expect to end up as governor of her state one
of these days. The betting was heavy that she was going to win the Miss America
title, and so I interviewed her. I
asked her who her father was and what he did for a living. Turned out he had
died only a couple of days before Pageant Week and she turned on the waterworks.
Waterworks. That's between Marvin Gardens and Ventnor. Didn't you know Atlantic
City is where the monopoly board originated?
And then there was this
girl from one of the Rocky Mountain States with a name like Guinzburg. It so
happened that the Miss America Pageant coincided with Rosh Hashanah that year
and the big joke at the press table was that they were going to elect Miss
America of 5717 or some such Hebrew year.
After telling Miss
Guinzburg about the Rosh Hashanah joke, I tired to cover myself, asking:
"You're not Jewish are you?"
"Oh, no, she
answered, sweetly, "Jews spell their names ending with a B-E-R-G."
My understanding is that
she burst into tears after I left because she was so shattered by the
possibility that anyone could think she might be Jewish.
I started losing touch
with Joe after 1952. Because I was now bereft of my Miss America press
credentials, he couldn't use me any more. Still, Joe was the hippest college
buddy I knew long before the word was even invented. To me, Joe Grossman was my
college hero. To me, he was wittier than the lot of them---Jerry Lewis, Don
Rickles, Milton Berle and all the big comics.
To me, Joe knew instinctively what to say, what not to say and when to
say it or not.
Before long, I was
writing for the New York Post. Last I heard, Joe joined the U. S.
Information Agency in 1967 and was made information officer in Ghana in 1971. A
marathon swimmer, he was always in tip-top shape and it came as a shock to me
when, on April 13, 1973, he died of a heart attack at the age of 49. By that
time, Joe had started raising a family. He left a widow, Elizabeth Engel, whom
he had married on June 24, 1967. He was also survived by three stepdaughters and
a son. It is in fond memory of Joe that I tell you this story. ##
UPI Telephoto from the Newark Evening News
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