Maury Z. Levy

Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

The Best of Philly. And the Worst: In the Beginning

In Philadelphia Magazine (1970-1980) on January 24, 2010 at 10:53 am

By Maury Z. Levy

God couldn’t be here tonight, so we’ve taken this opportunity to fill in for Him. This of course is the ultimate arrogance, presenting a list of the best and worst of anything. Who are we, you might ask, to make such judgments? Well, this list represents the input of a lot of 

The job of compiling it was not unlike building the Holland Tunnel. We had our share of casualties. People washed away in a foamy sea of milkshakes. People whose 
clothes were torn to shreds by bad cleaners. People who had their ears pierced three and four times. People who had their hair cut beyond recognition.

We did all of this for you, of course. And we certainly hope you appreciate it. We’ve saved you the trouble of trying every greasy spoon in town the next time you’re in the mood for a pizza or a steak sandwich. We’d like to thank the people who make Maalox for making this all 

We’ve saved you the trouble of shopping around for clothes or standing on the wrong corner waiting for a cab. And we offer you the best place to pick up a backgammon 
game. And the best place to pick up a secretary. And a lot more.

We surely don’t expect you to agree with all of our choices. Of course you’ll have your own expert opinions on a lot of these items. And you’ll think your opinions are 
better than ours. Well, you’re certainly entitled to that. That’s why they make ice milk.


Ice cream

Best: Bassett’s in the Reading Terminal Market has the purest flavorings and the highest butterfat content around. Great if you love ice cream. A little hairy if you’ve got a heart condition.

Worst: Greenwood Dairies on Route I just north of Penndel. Used to be a pig’s paradise. Somehow, they’ve eliminated the paradise part.

Soft pretzels

Best: Twist and Bake at 2 1/2 North 13th Street has them big and hot and fresh and cheap. Worst: Spectrum after a 76ers game. They’re small and cold and expensive. And lonely.

Steak sandwiches

Best: Pat’s in South Philly. If the peppers arc still good enough for the Mummers, then some things never change.

Worst: Pat’s in the Northeast. You can take the name out of South Philly, but the quality just doesn’t travel well. Even the bread’s soggy.


Best: Fonzo’s at 48th and Chestnut, in the heart of ethnic West Philly. Crust is crisp and consistent. Ask Dom to give you the works. Tell him Jack McKinney sent you.

Worst: Shakey’s. Tastes like an American cheese sandwich with ketchup.


Best: Arthur’s on Walnut Street, an obvious choice that’s 
tough to top.

Worst: Emerson’s Ltd. in the Plymouth Meeting Mall. 
They’re not called limited for nothing. No matter how you 
order it, it seems to come out the same. Burned.

Chocolate cake

Best: Rindelaub’s on 18th Street. You don’t have to be Aryan to enjoy the moist sweetness of the German delight.

Worst: The Tastykake trio. It gets smaller as the prices get bigger.

Meal under $1

Best: Gino’s. If it’s good enough for the cops. . . .

Worst: Bain’s. They’ve tried to clean up their act, but it’s just not worth it.

Meal under $2

Best: Sabina’s in Port Richmond. The best Polish food around. No joke. Try the kielbasa.

Worst: Seafood Unlimited on South 20th Street. Don’t let the name fool you.

Meal over $25

Best: Le Bee Fin, the head of the class.

Worst: Cobblestones, unless you order steak.


Best: The unnamed luncheonette at 10th and Fitzwater. One of the few places around still using old original Italian ingredients. The ham’s enough to let you make a pig 
of yourself.

Worst: Blimpy’s. How onomatopoetic can you get?


Best: Lautrec. A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and the New York Times too.

Worst: The Marriott, where the creamed chipped beef wouldn’t exactly make you re-enlist. Orange juice is extra. So is warmth.


Best: Aunt Sylvia’s, upstairs at 123 South 18th Street. It’s rich and creamy and light. A memorable experience that won’t lay on you for a week.

Worst: The yellow peril at Horn & Hardart, unless you’re 
a sawdust freak.


Best: Bayard’s on Route 70 in Cherry Hill. They roll their own, but it’s legal and fattening.

Worst: Fannie Mae, anywhere. Cheap in more ways than one. The box is tastier.


Best: The Cosmic Kitchen on Germantown Avenue. Only natural ingredients and fresh fruit are used. It’s called a smoothie. It’s also a cheapie.

Worst: Roy Rogers. Someone should teach them to pull 
the trigger on the mixing machines.


Best: Taylor’s Country Store on Sansom Street. The kind you’d grind at home. And you can keep going back for 

Worst: Any machine owned by ARA.


Best: Habersett’s, cooked at home.

Worst: Horn & Hardart again. Tastes like burned oatmeal.


Best: Ponzio’s on the Ellisburg Circle in Cherry Hill. Big, hot tasty portions. Quick and clean.

Worst: Dewey’s, where you’re bound to get a cold shoulder with your cold toast.


Best: The Famous at 4th and Bainbridge, where you can 
still get it while it’s hot. Fresh, not fatty. Corned beef is 
excellent. Your mouth could water driving by.

Worst: Day’s at 18th and Spruce. The cold cuts are certainly better than the 7-11. But you can’t say that for the 
price, the service and the portions.

Salad bar

Best: Wildflowers. it’s just unending. You even get assorted cheese, warm bread and tomatoes. Remember tomatoes?

Worst: Victoria Station on Route 202 in Valley Forge. It’s great if you’re a rabbit. Otherwise, the unrelenting lettuce wears a bit thin.

Cheese shop

Best: The Blueberry Barn on Main Street in Marlton, N.J. It’s hard to figure out what a place with such a selection is doing so far in the sticks, but the natives aren’t asking questions, just enjoying.

Worst: The deli counter at Pantry Pride.


Best: H.A.Winston’s. Burgers with an accent (not MSG) 
of international flavor. A large menu goes well with the large portions.

Worst: Marbett’s on Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Camden. Can you find the hidden hamburger in this sandwich?

Hot dog

Best: Deitz and Watson. Buy some and cook them at home. Those little men on the street corners are still Greek

Worst: At a Phillies’ game. They go well with a losing team.

French fries

Best: Zern’s in Gilbertsville (on Route 73 right past Boyertown). Made right in front of your eyes. Thick and rich and crisp. Served in a cone with vinegar or mayonnaise. A 
super tasty bargain.

Worst: The Paper Plate on 15th Street. A real fast food place, so fast they sometimes forget to cook them.


Best: The Crab Shack, Wilmington. Great food. funky atmosphere.

Worst: Kelly’s on Ludlow Street. No crab like an old crab.

Onion soup

Best: Bistro Déjà Vu. Super-secret recipe. The only thing we can reveal is the Swiss cheese on top.

Worst: Pavio’s. Try to find the onions at three convenient locations.

My Life as a Jew: A Trilogy (in Three Parts)

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm


By Maury Z. Levy

The first time I almost died was March 23rd, 1959, the day I put on tefillin. I came of age in an old white house on Bustleton Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia, where boys were bar mitzvahed and girls were frowned upon.

“My god,” said the rabbi,” with a look on his face as if the Red Sea had just closed back up. “You can’t put on tefillin that tight. You’ll cut off the blood supply to your brain.” It wouldn’t be the last time someone would tell me that.

I was mortified. All the other boys looked at me with disdain. This is what happens, they thought, when you grow up on the gentile side of the Boulevard. My face was red, but my arm was as white as my yarmulke.

Each Sunday, for the two months prior to our right of passage, we would meet in the back of the sanctuary, sitting on folding bridge chairs, at shaky aluminum tables, eating bagels that were rubbery and cream cheese that was watery, learning the faith of our fathers.

It was the first time in my young life that I had eaten lox outside the home. In our house, lox was a delicacy, purchased only when company came, eaten only at times of celebration or sympathy. I knew full well that, if I could live through the rigors of tefillin club, we would soon be serving celebration lox, as I would become the first boy in my immediate family to become a man.

The rabbi didn’t seem to share my epicurean joy. “No, no,” he said, “holding my head in his hands. “You’re not supposed to wear it like a baseball cap. The tefillin must always be positioned in the spot that begins at your hairline, above your forehead. Now move it down below that pompadour.”

I was worried and confused. Would the rabbi notice that I had gotten some Wildroot cream oil on the back of my box?

“And your arm is all wrong,” the rabbi said, “the lowest point for tefillin begins where your biceps muscle starts to bulge. The tefillin must never pass below this point!”

Oy, how was I ever going to read from the torah if I couldn’t get some simple straps straight?

“This tefillin is too big for you,” the rabbi said, “that’s part of your problem. Where did you get tefillin so big?”

For what seemed like an hour and a half, I sat in silence. My grandfather had given me these tefillin. They had been his. He was so proud to see me have them. He said a special blessing over the blue velvet bag before he handed it to me. My grandfather was an Orthodox man. These tefillin meant the world to him.

“Who is picking you up today?” the rabbi demanded.

“My father is, rabbi,” I said with a whimper.

“You tell your father I want to see him,” the rabbi said.” With that, he walked away.

I was sick to my stomach. I couldn’t eat another bite of bagel. What if the rabbi made an example of me? What if he told my father that I couldn’t be bar mitzvahed because I couldn’t put on tefillin right? I looked at the big clock on the bema wall. My father would be here in less than ten minutes. I had to do something quickly.

With the courage of the damned, I got up from my bridge chair and walked to the front of the shull. I had to find the rabbi. He had to give me a break. As I approached the bema, I smelled something strange. It smelled like my Aunt Anna when she was nervous. It smelled like smoke. And so it was. When I got to the back of the bema, there was the rabbi, dragging on a Lucky Strike.

Quickly, my jaw dropped. You weren’t allowed to smoke in shull.

“What are you doing here?” the rabbi said, as he tried to cuff the butt in his hand. I couldn’t speak. The words just didn’t come. I had caught the rabbi committing a sin. What would Moses do?    Read the rest of this entry »

The Real Super Bowl Winner: The NFL Films Story

In Video Review on January 11, 2010 at 2:09 pm

At 1:00, the Earth moved. The 
Denver Broncos’ offensive line came running out of a now tiny 
tunnel onto a freshly painted field. They were big and tough and hard. From the floor of the 
stadium, almost at eye level, they looked like giants, except for the uniforms. By now, still two hours away 
from kick off, the warm California sun sat like a burnt orange on the rim 
of the Rose Bowl. Dan Reeves, the coach of the team that would lose the 
second half of this crucial game, stepped onto the crew-cut sod, shaded his 
eyes and squinted badly. “Damn,” he muttered, “I should have brought sunglasses.” He looked into the camera of 
the man standing next to him. “This 
sun,” he winced, “is really wicked, 
isn’t it, Phil?”

Phil Tuckett, who headed up the 
60-person field crew for NFL Films, 
gave Reeves a soft smile. Tuckett knew 
all about the sun. Not because he’d 
played a couple of years as a receiver 
for the San Diego Chargers, but because yesterday, while the rest of the 
press did research from the long end of 
a cocktail glass at one of the 800 pre-
Super Bowl parties that dotted the city 
of almost angels, Phil Tuckett was here in Pasadena. Here in an almost empty arena, with a 
handful of security guards and the guy who would play 
Mickey Mouse at half time; here to check out the light, 
to get a fix on the sun; here to ready his camera positions, his filters and his game face.

The next morning, the day of Super Bowl Ex-Ex­Eye, while the Broncos and Giants still slept, Phil 
Tuckett held a team meeting at his hotel. While the 
crew members ate meat and potatoes and apple crepes, 
he told them, “Don’t let anything or anyone get in 
your way today. I want each one of you to shoot this 
game like you’re the only camera we have.” It was an inspiring breakfast. Vince Lombardi would have been 
proud. Except for the apple crepes.

At the stadium, the members of the NFL Films team 
played one of their best games ever. They shot the faces 
of the players and the soul of the game. They got the 
shots you never saw on TV. Lawrence Taylor in street 
clothes and sunglasses, checking out the manicure of 
the grass. Phil Simms working on a secret snap with 
Bart Oates. Phil McConkey psyching himself up.

Once the game started, they stayed as close to the action as George Martin was to John Elway. They didn’t 
take up permanent positions like the network did. 
They got down and dirty in the trenches. They ran, they scrambled, they shot, they won. And when it was 
over, while the Giants still celebrated a few feet away, 
and while the Broncos, their bags packed, their heads 
down, slowly walked out to their chartered bus, a couple of couriers from NFL Films quickly packed up 
some 200 rolls of film for the police escort to the airport. They would hand-carry the footage from LAX to 
Mt. Laurel, NJ, where it would be processed and 
edited into what would become the biggest-selling instant video in the history of sport.

The groundwork for all this had started weeks 
before. By the Monday morning after the conference 
championship games, it was in full gear. Steve Sabol, 
who now runs the company his father, Big Ed, started 
in the ’60s, answered his phone in New Jersey not with 
hello, just a simple “I don’t have any tickets.” As Sabol, a cinematic and marketing genius who’s led his 
company to 33 Emmys, sat at his editing table snipping 
together the great plays and big blunders that would 
make up the beginning of this tape, he talked about the 
reality of it all. A former self-promoted football star at 
tiny Colorado College, this kid from Philadelphia—
who until he got married a few years ago, had an electric chair in his living room—doesn’t so much talk as 
he booms. “The Giants will kill,” Sabol said. “And 
that’ll be good for the history of the game, for the 
glory days of the NFL.” Not to mention a golden 
chance to pluck the giant New York market.

“If it’s a good game,” he said, “we could sell 
300,000 cassettes in two months.” Last year, when the 
Bears won, NFL Films put together the first of these 
instant videos. In the stores little more than two weeks 
after the contest, it was a wonderfully done tape that 
ran just under an hour—a game-by-game recounting 
of the championship season, sprinkled with key player 
profiles and topped off with the Super Bowl blowout 
itself. The tape, at $19.95, sold close to 130,000 copies, 
most of them in football-rabid Chicago, where many 
video stores couldn’t keep it in stock

This year, tapes would be made for both the winning 
and losing teams. “We can only hope,” Sabol grinned, 
”that the losing team suffers defeat with honor. They 
get blown out, we get screwed.”

The names for this year’s tapes had been figured out 
before the conference finals. The Giants tape was 
originally slugged One Giant Step. Sabol, a serious 
student of the old days of Hollywood, didn’t think 
that had enough drama, so he changed it to Giants Among Men. (The Denver tape would be called Mile High Champions. Had the Redskins made it, the tape 
was Warpath. Had the Browns gotten in, the title was 
Return to Glory.)

These tapes wouldn’t have the fleeting glitz of The Super Bowl Shuffle, last year’s music video of the 
Bears done by another company. “We’re not in the 
music video business,” Sabol says. “We want this to 
be a collector’s item. Fathers will want to save this to 
show their sons. That’s why we go back to the old style 
—a championship built game by game, brick by brick. 
We’ll add in flashbacks on the Giants of the ’50s. We’ll 
even go back to 1934, back to the glory days of Bronko 
Nagurski. This will be an historical document.”

Even with the history, the track record and the nationally consuming interest in the Super Bowl, Sabol 
and NFL Films Video chief David Grossman have had 
to work hard to get certain stores to stock up. “Video 
stores still don’t understand sports tapes,” Sabol says. 
” ‘Oh, why would that sell, it’s already been on TV.’ 
Jerks. But if I came in with a tape of two albino hairdressers and a Tijuana donkey, they’d order a thousand on the spot. It might be a losing battle, but we’ve 
got to fight it.”

To help win, he brought in some big guns, including Pat Summerall, the most trusted play-by-play man in 
America, to do the voice over. Video could be the 
future of his business and Sabol knows it. That’s why he’s building a whole warehouse for it, along with a $10 
million video/audio postproduction 
facility for everything from TV commercials to, yes, rock videos. The company has come a long way.

It all started when Ed Sabol, then 
head of a Philadelphia clothes company, bought himself a Bell and Howell 
movie camera to chronicle the early 
career of his high-school hotshot son. 
Steve Sabol was then a star running 
back at Haverford Prep on the Main Line. Big Ed used to stand on the 
sidelines and shoot him. When the cheerleaders kept getting in front of 
him, Big Ed, who always seems to get 
his way, talked the school into building 
a press box and camera position at the 
top of the stands. There, he could get a 
better angle and pursue his hobby in 
peace. The hobby would eventually turn 
into a multimillion-dollar business.

Big Ed got pretty polished with the 
camera. He also got to know the NFL big shots. In 1962, with young Steve off 
to college, he made them a proposition. 
He bid $5,000 for the rights to shoot the NFL championship game. That was twice as much as they paid the year 
before, but Big Ed always did things in a big way. Instead of the standard one 
view from the press box, he hired a half-
dozen free-lancers to get the game from
every angle. The result was a critical, if 
not financial, success. He continued the 
deal the next year and, by 1964, talked 
the league into buying his little film 
company to shoot the championship 
game as well as individual team 
highlights. That’s when Steve Sabol was 
in one of his several senior years at Colorado College. He gave up the grandeur that was anonymity to join his father in what was now the family business. Today, NFL Films, a wholly owned subsidiary of the league, has a few hundred 
employees, an annual operation budget of $15 million and makes big bucks.

A major reason for the success is the 
approach. It’s in-your-face journalism. 
The cameramen work their butts and 
knees off—whatever it takes to get the 
right angle. A lot of the film is shot in slow-motion and super-slow-motion, not 
so much for sport but for cinematic texture. Each film is edited and scored like a major Hollywood production. Cameramen edit, editors shoot, everybody 
gets dirty. It’s a tough job, but NFL Films does it like no one else.

In Mt. Laurel, Dave Plaut, the 
award-winning director of last year’s Super tape, sits for hours and days in a darkened room going over dozens of

cassettes, carefully piecing together the Giants’ season. Plaut runs each play 
over and over, making sure the engineer 
has perfectly synced the music with the
footage, making sure the last thud of 
the drum hits exactly when Lawrence 
Taylor sacks the quarterback.

Across the hall, Bob Smith, another 
former footballer, is performing the 
same surgery with the Denver season. He’ll take time out from editing only to fly to Pasadena to be one of the 12 cameramen on the crew. He’ll work the sidelines near Phil Tuckett.

The teams have finished warming up 
now. Most of the 102,000 fans are in their seats and NFL Films is ready to roll. “We don’t do a lot of game planning,” Phil Tuckett says as Neil Diamond gets ready for the national anthem. “Most of this is unspoken, we’ve done it so often. Every member of the crew is so well-versed. Each has shot 
every angle and done every job. We’re like a repertory company doing Shakespeare. One night you’re King Lear, the 
next night you’re the ghost.”

Tuckett is talking louder now as the 
Beach Boys begin to play. “We’re not

like the TV guys,” he yells. “There’s no 
director in our ear telling us what to do. 
For us, that just gets in the way of spontaneity. We get the great shots because 
we’re always thinking like the coach has to think. What will they throw at us 
next? What could go wrong on a play? You learn to anticipate anything. As a 
player, I always felt like the game was in 
slow-motion. That’s why we shoot it 
that way. We wanted to find a way to 
re-create the feeling of the field—the romance, the adventure. And that’s why we shoot film instead of tape. Tape has immediacy. Film has texture. It gives us 
the perspective of history. It makes everything look more heroic and larger than life. We think that’s special.”

Three-and-a-half hours later, the last 
whistle blown, the last Gatorade poured, Phil Simms, the most valuable 
player of this game, is running off the 
field at the highest moment of his life so 
far. In the chaos, he spots an NFL 
Films camera and stops—stops dead to 
do a special little segment that only NFL Films will capture.

“How the hell did you do that?” one 
of the network guys asks Phil Tuckett 
later on. Tuckett gives him one of his 
soft smiles. “You know us,” he says. “If 
we didn’t get it, it didn’t happen.”


Copyright 2012 Maury Z. Levy. All rights reserved.

Mother’s Day

In SJ Magazine on January 3, 2010 at 9:43 am

You want heroes? I’ve got mothers.

The last time I saw Lincoln was a dozen years before. I had sat on this high school stage with 406 kids whose mothers thought they were smarter than me. They won the awards and the prizes and the scholarships. I got nothing.

“You know,” my mother said, shaking her fist in my face, “you should have won every award up there. You’re smarter than all those kids combined. You just don’t apply yourself, young man.” It was when my mother called me “young man” that I knew I was in big trouble.

I would, out of fear, eventually learn to apply myself. I would become a writer and I would go to work for the city’s magazine, and I would win some awards. First some local ones and then some national ones. Big awards with crystal trophies and lots of money. Now, my mother would be proud.

“The University of Missouri?” she said. “That’s who gave you an award? Do you know anybody who goes to the University of Missouri? I don’t even know where it is.”

Luckily, she had heard of Lincoln High. When Lincoln asked me to be in their Hall of Fame, I made sure my mother had a front row seat. And there I was, resplendent in my return, with a whole auditorium full of kids waiting to cheer me on. Oh, sure, there were other inductees. Some science nerd who invented a new Petri dish. Or something. And a guy who had a regular role on television. If you could call a soap opera television.

They introduced us one by one. As we each rose, the principal read a long list of our achievements. I stood up straight, smiled at the big crowd and looked down at the first row. My wife was beaming. My sister was smiling. But I couldn’t see my mother. All the flashbulbs were in my eyes.

When it was over, I walked down to where she was sitting. “So, mom,” I said, “what do you think now?”

“Very nice,” she said, dismissing me. “Listen, can you introduce me to the TV star? He’s on my story.”

We went back up on stage. I introduced her to the TV star. It made her day.

Meanwhile, others were congratulating me. Old teachers and counselors. People who truly looked proud. And then I saw him. Walking right at me. A little Jewish man with glasses. “Maury,” he said, “I’m Nate Weiss. I always knew you’d make it big.”

Before I could even answer, my mother turned around and yelled at him. “Nate Weiss, you son of a bitch!”

What you need to know about Nate Weiss is that he was boys’ vice principal when I was there. In 12th grade, just a couple of month short of graduation, he tried to kick me out of school because he saw me in the lunchroom with a copy of Playboy. I told him that, as editor of the yearbook, I had it on hand because of the design. There was no way he was buying that.

Within minutes, he had my mother in his office. He threw the magazine down in front of her. “Do you know where your son gets this smut?” he said.

“Yes,” she said. “I buy it for him at the newsstand in front of Horn & Hardart. Do you have a problem with that? Last time I heard, this was still a free country.”

Weiss could say nothing. He just growled and asked us to leave his office. And, now, he was congratulating me.

It took three of us to hold my mother back.  “Mom,” I said, “forget about it. We won. I’m in the Hall of Fame and he’s still a grumpy old man.” As we pulled her off the stage, she managed to get in one more volley. “He wants to shake your hand?” she yelled. “Tell him he can kiss my ass.”

You want heroes? I’ve got mothers.


Copyright 2011 Maury Z. Levy. All rights reserved

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