Saturday, February 25, 2012

Who could have predicted where the yellow brick road would lead us?

Beyond The Yellow Brick Road
By Helen Zegerman Schwimmer

While the technicolor Glinda relied on a pair of ruby red slippers to reunite Dorothy with her family back in Kansas, this tech savvy Good Witch double clicked on her mouse and gathered together our little theatrical family for the P.S.100 Wizard of Oz reunion.

It’s been fifty-three years since Miss Arlene Lichterman's class performed "The Wizard of Oz" and on a recent evening the Tin Man, along with the Scarecrow, Dorothy, Glinda The Good Witch (me) and several citizens of Munchkin land feted our 5th grade teacher at a reunion dinner in Manhattan.  

The children who grew up in the fifties are now retirees in our sixties, profoundly aware that our personal Oz was part of a cherished era that today exists only in our collective memories.   In spite of dimming eyesight, thinning hair and a slower gait we were eager to revisit the enchanted landscape of our childhood once again.

Our journey down the yellow brick road began on the steps of P.S. 100 located on the edge of Coney Island in Brooklyn and it seems an appropriate metaphor for the paths our lives have taken over these fifty plus years.  More than just a brick and mortar building, our neighborhood school was a second home where our youthful dreams were encouraged to flourish.  For an immigrant child like myself it was a magical place where learning the requisite 3 R’s segued naturally into singing, dancing and make-believe.

We were a talented group of children from diverse backgrounds, long before diversity became a buzzword, deliberately kept together since the first grade. My acting credentials were firmly established in Mrs. Reilly’s 3-1 class when I starred in the title role of “The Princess in the Rose Colored Glasses.”  By fourth grade I was already typecast, reprising my role as a princess in “The King’s Creampuffs.”  

My best friend, Nancy Kornspan, aka Dorothy, and I were Judy Garland wannabes who managed to convince our parents to enroll us in a children’s acting school.  We never did make it to the big or little screen but decades later we watched in amazement as our former teacher, an out of work actor named Telly Savalas, became famous as the popular television detective, Kojak. 

One of our own, Scarecrow Mitch Margo, did achieve celebrity status and made his TV debut on American Bandstand.  A songwriter and entertainer he and his older brother Philip founded the singing group The Tokens, best known for their hit, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”  Their mom, Ruth, now in her nineties, accompanied her son to the reunion.  Responsible for creating many of our costumes and scenery, she was representative of the stay-at-home moms who were such an indispensible part of our elementary school experience.

Miss Lichterman was a young, energetic teacher who was quick to recognize and nurture her students’ talents but time has also proven her prescient in her casting choices.  The intellectually challenged scarecrow grew up to develop the Margoreader, a valuable learning tool that Mitch has made available free online to teach children and adults to read. Tin Man Saul Gorman, a kind-hearted, gentle soul became a psychiatrist who is guiding others to find their way. Munchkin Alan Epstein, one of the tallest boys in the class, founded his own architectural firm specializing in restoring NYC landmarks.  His appreciation for the historic carried over to his wedding when he insisted that the classic “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” accompany him down the aisle.

As for our missing cast members, although we found the Wizard, true to form, he chose not to cross the Rubicon, or in his case, the Hudson, to see us.  And because he had such a common name, try as we could we weren’t able to locate the cowardly lion.  John King, where are you?