Joey Adams as Reverso Marrano:
Jewish Celebrity & Secret Christian

By Tim Boxer


Marrano: Sp. lit., swine (expression of contempt). During the Spanish Inquisition, a Jew who professed Christianity to escape death or persecution, often continuing to observe Judaism secretly.      
Webster’s New World Dictionary

Joey Adams (right) and
Tim Boxer (left)

OEY ADAMS, the former Yosef Abramowitz who was born on January 6, 1911, in New York City, conducted for many years one of the most highly rated talk shows on WEVD, at that time an all-Jewish radio station. He would take great delight in regularly reminding his countless adoring fans of his ethnic roots, his utter devotion to the Jewish people and the land of Israel.

If he had a rock star singing on his show, he would interrupt with a Yiddish lullaby, gushing that it was a melody his mother used to sing to him in the cradle. He would relate with deep pride how he raised millions for the United Jewish Appeal and Israel Bonds by crisscrossing the country to emcee their fundraising campaigns.

Dennis Stein aimed a
camera at Joey Adams
at the Friars Club.
Joey asked, "Why do
you want to take my
picture?" Dennis said,
"I want to send it to the
cemetery with a note:

Fyvush Finkel came on the radio show straight from his off-Broadway show, Little Shop of Horrors. “It’s amechaya [a pleasure] to have Fyvush Finkel here,” Joey declared. “Can you top Joey Adams with Yiddishkeit?”

 Sometimes he would alienate a guest. The late songwriter Eddie White was invited on the air, ostensibly to plug his book, Yesterday’s Cake. Joey instructed him, “Don’t plug your book. Tell jokes.” An indignant Eddie walked off the show.

I would listen to his programs with profound satisfaction. He made me feel happy about who I was. Until one day a mutual friend surreptitiously dropped a bombshell:

“Joey Adams is a longtime convert to Christian Science!”

Peter Max and
Danny Aiello

The words exploded in my brain. I refused to believe it. Even after my friend told me that Joey and Cindy Adams, his wife since 1952, could be seen emerging from a Christian Science church on the West Side of Manhattan most Sunday mornings, I refused to be disillusioned about my hero.

Since only a face-to-face admission to the truth would satisfy, I arranged an interview with the comedian at the Friars Club. He could be seen almost every weekday having lunch at his regular place, the second table at the left wall of the main dining room. He appeared to be reading from a well-rehearsed script as he recounted with great pride and in rapid succession his many virtuous accomplishments:

Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s protégé and “adopted son.” The mayor used to tell Joey, “Don’t worry about people knowing you; make yourself worth knowing.”

Comedy star, film personality, author of 36 books.

President of the American Guild of Variety Artists, the showbiz union, and originator of “Joey’s Law” which prohibits AGVA members from entertaining in nightclubs that are not integrated.

The nation’s goodwill ambassador for life, appointed by Pres. John F. Kennedy. Before embarking on a 1961 cultural exchange in Southeast Asia with a troupe of variety artists, he got some advice from Kennedy regarding the people in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Iran: “Don’t teach them, learn from them.”

Fighter for civil rights. He joined his good friend Martin Luther King Jr. on a turbulent march in Birmingham in 1963, getting pelted with eggs and epithets. “How do you handle your enemies?” he asked King. “There’s only one way,” the reverend answered. “Love the hell out of them.”

“I remember all these things,” Joey told me. “That’s how I live my life. That was my education. That was my faith.”

In his book, The God Bit (1975), Joey described how, on one of his goodwill tours, Cindy lost the hearing in one ear due to incessant strife and tension among the troupe. As a student of metaphysics, it was her habit to turn to the Bible. Joey writes that she turned to a passage in Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Cindy refused to see a doctor, believing you have to treat any disorder by seeking the cause. She found an experienced metaphysician in Saigon, who counseled, “Don’t hear people. Hear God.”

Joey wrote that Cindy “substituted joy for frustration, harmony for inharmony, understanding for resentment, and as she listened hard for God she began, bit by bit, to hear all the sounds of His universe. In a matter of time her hearing was perfectly restored.”

“You don’t believe in doctors, medicine?” I asked.

“No,” Joey replied. “It has nothing to do with that. “It’s more knowing that you are a reflection of God. And if you are sick, you are turning your back on God, you say He’s not healthy.”

“It really works, Joey?”

“It works this way, if you believe you’re God’s perfect child.”

“If I have a headache,” I persist, “I have to run for an aspirin.”

“You gotta work at it,” Joey insists.

Finally I give it a name: “Joey, Christian Science really works?”

Putting a label on it upset him. “Don’t mention anything about Christian Science,” he pleaded. “Please don’t mention it. I don’t want to discuss Christian Science.”

“I tried with faith,” I tell him. “Not Christian Science, just faith, but it’s too hard.”

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” Joey continued. “Lean not to thine own understanding, but in all ways acknowledge Him, trust in Him. Trusting without adhering to the Ten Commandments, without adhering to the Sermon on the Mount, without adhering to the principles of God, how are you going to explain Cain and Abel? How are you going to explain Abraham going to sacrifice his child?

“If you believe that evil is possible, you allow it to become manic depressive, to become meshuga [crazy]. You gotta believe. Whatever I am, God is; whatever I was, God is; wherever I’m going, God is. No plots behind my back, no plots before me, it’s all there before me - love. Love the hell out of them.”

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik
and Peter Max

I don’t know if love was meant for me too. I kept Joey’s secret for several years. I continued to write about his activities on behalf of the Jewish community in my column in The New York Jewish Week, even though he concluded his lengthy entry in Who’s Who in America by stating that he had long lived by the words of Mary Baker Eddy: “A dose of joy is a spiritual cure.”

I mentioned my interview with Joey to Earl Wilson. The Broadway gossip columnist was not surprised. He said that Cindy goes to Boston for a Christian Science retreat.

“At one time,” Earl once wrote, “Joey was so Jewish he thought Mary Baker Eddy ran a bagel shop.” Joey was not amused. Earl told him to lighten up: “Christian Science? Joey, why not Jewish science?”

Earl, a Methodist farm boy from Ohio, told me, “Joey tried to convert me to Christian Science.”

The Rev. David
Randolph said he
imagines Joey
entering heaven's
gates. St. Peter asks,
"Joey, are you
comfortable?" and he
answers, "I make a

Earl showed me a booklet that he said was one of many that came from Joey. Titled  “God’s Law of Adjustment,” it was a reprint of an article in the Christian Science Journal.

The rumor persisted. Masha Leon, a columnist for The Forward, received a query from a “troubled” reader in Miami Beach who could not “conceive that Mr. Adams would indeed convert. And, if he has left the Jewish fold, I see no reason for any Jewish newspaper to give him a build-up as a nice Jewish boy.”

Masha tried to verify the rumor. She called Joey and spoke to his secretary, who confirmed that he is both Jewish and Christian Scientist “just as someone can be a Catholic and Christian Science.”

Barry Gray, a radio talk show host, confirmed the rumor for me. He said he knew that Joey and Cindy were indeed Christian Scientists. “I know they’ve gone to services because they discussed it with my ex-wife who was a Christian Scientist. Here is the famous Jewish comedian and he doesn’t practice Judaism.”

When Barry Gray had Joey and Cindy on his show, a listener called and asked whether it was true that they are Christian Scientists. Cindy said yes; Joey reluctantly said yes, according to Barry.

At the time, in the early ‘80s, I succeeded Earl Wilson, who retired after 40 years as the celebrity columnist on the New York Post. At the same time, I continued to write a column in The Jewish Week.

I tried to set the record straight with a blind item in my Jewish Week column of August 6, 1982, stating, “A Jewish personality, along with his well-known wife, converted to Christianity, yet still pose as respected Jews.”  Discerning readers were incredulous. One sent me a postcard from Flushing, Queens: “Listening to his radio show practically every morning where he overemphasizes his Yiddishkeit, it cannot be possible that he converted.”

Another reader, a rabbi on the faculty of Yeshiva University, contacted Joey for clarification. The rabbi wrote to me, “Joey called back on the phone to categorically deny this accusation.”

Yes, Joey Adams was good at being a reverse Marrano. During the Spanish Inquisition, many Jews converted to save their lives. They practiced Christianity in public, but remained Jewish in the privacy of their homes. Joey, it turns out, displayed Jewish attributes in public, but practiced Christian Science in secrecy.

The right-wing Orthodox newspaper, Jewish Press, printed a highly flattering column praising Joey and Cindy for all their good works on behalf of the Jewish community. This prompted an amazed Martin Levinson of Forest Hills, a film editor at ABC-TV, to write to the editor:

“I’m not quite sure whether the article was a political payoff to the Adams family for deeds done in the past, or is a clever cover-up on the Adams’ membership in the Christian Science Church…Did you print the story as an unpaid advertisement, or does Mr. Adams have something on the Jewish Press?”

The tumult my Jewish Week item apparently caused in the Adams household on Fifth Avenue must have been profound. One night, I was seated in front of Cindy at the opening of Alice in Wonderland on Broadway. She stared for a moment, and then hissed, “You know, if you print one more time about Joey having converted out of Judaism, we will sue you.”

“I only printed what Joey told me,” I said.

“It’s not true.”

“You mean Joey lied when he told me he converted to Christian Science? He told me the whole story, how you converted first, then he converted.”

“My family and I have been interested in Christian Science for a long time. If you print that about Joey one more time, we’ll sue. I’ve told my lawyer. I told The Post and I told Earl. Nobody cares what you write!”

“If nobody cares, why are you so concerned?”

“Nobody cares what you write in your silly Jewish newspaper.”

I took that as a threat. It shook me up.

Actually, I did not realize what kind of threat that was until shortly after the incident, when I met Cindy at another opening night party on Broadway. “We just got back from Australia,” she gushed. “We were guests of Rupert Murdoch on his yacht.”

That sounded ominous. Indeed, I was soon yanked off the column and transferred to the television department of the newspaper. Cindy took over as successor to the Earl Wilson column.

That is not all. Joey called the editor of The Jewish Week and offered to replace me as the celebrity columnist. Joey made an offer he thought the editor could not refuse. He said he’d write for free. The editor rejected Joey’s generous offer.

At the Friars Club, Joey tried to soothe me. “I want you t know I don’t hold a grudge. I have nothing against you. Look forward. Be happy. Let’s just be friends.” Each time he saw me at the club he would say, “I love you. If you need anything, just call me.”

Yes, love the hell out of them.

In 1992, before he took over the Page Six gossip spread in the New York Post, Richard Johnson wrote in the New York Daily News about celebrities with unexpected religious beliefs:

  • Elizabeth Taylor, born a Christian Scientist but became a Jew

  • Mickey Spillane, Jehovah’s Witness

  • Kathie Lee Gifford, born-again Christian

  • Richard Gere and Spalding Gray, Buddhists

  • Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., New York Times publisher, Episcopalian
  • Johnson concluded: “Columnist Cindy Adams and her Borscht Belt comic husband Joey Adams, according to friends, have been Christian Scientists for many years. Adams declined to comment on the ground that religion is a personal topic."

    My family and I have
    been interested in
    Christian Science for
    a long time. If you
    print that about Joey
    one more time, we'll
    sue. I've told my lawyer.
    I told The Post and I
    told Earl Wilson.
    Nobody cares what
    you write!"


    When Joey died at age 88 on Thursday, December 2, 1999, at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, Cindy wanted to give him “a magnificent sendoff.” But she was worried. Most of her 88-year-old husband’s cronies had already gone to their heavenly reward.  So she appealed in her New York Post column on Sunday for all her friends to attend her husband’s funeral the next day at Riverside memorial Chapel on New York’s Upper West Side.

    “Please come,” Cindy pleaded. “Help me pack the place for Joey. Let St. Peter not be ashamed.”

     St Peter?

    I joined an SRO crowd at the Jewish chapel that included Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Alan Alda, Anthony Quinn, Danny Aiello, Joe Franklin, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, lawyer Barry Slotnick, Regis Philbin, Barbara Walters, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, artist Peter Max, and Friars president Freddie Roman who brought along members Alan King, Mickey Freeman, Shelly Rothman and more.

    Rabbi Joseph Potasnik was pleased. “Cindy,” he said, “you wanted a packed house and you got it. It’s a good thing Joey didn’t become a rabbi. When does a rabbi get a packed house?”

    The funeral was bittersweet. NY State Sen. Roy Goodman served as emcee and set the tone at the outset. He repeated a couple of stories from Joey’s book, The Friars Encyclopedia, the one about a woman placing an obit in the newspaper.

    The ad cost 5 cents a word. The woman said, “Write down: ‘Goldberg is dead.’”

    That was not good enough. There was a six-word minimum.

    So she said, “Okay, write down: ‘Goldberg is dead. Cadillac for sale.’”

    Joey and Cindy Adams

    Besides Rabbi Potasnik of Congregation Mount Sinai in Brooklyn Heights, the second clergyman who officiated was Dr. David James Randolph, former pastor of Christ United Methodist Church of Babylon, L.I., a close friend of the family who flew in from his new post in Berkeley, Calif.

    “I sat on Joey’s bed and prayed with him,” Randolph said. “It extended Joey’s life.”

    The reverend said he imagines Joey entering heaven’s gates. St. Peter asks,

    “Joey, are you comfortable?” and he answers, “I make a living.”

    Cindy got up and said, “I can’t cry - I have false eyelashes.”

    This was a man, Cindy said, who when he married her, took her under his wing, introduced her to all the celebrities, gave her a rolodex filled with showbiz stars, bought her jewelry and furs.

    “Everything I have is from Joey. The only thing this man did to me was grow old.”

    Now she began taking care of her husband. Joey stopped coming to the Friars Club for his daily lunch. In October he became so feeble that he required around the clock attention. Cindy said she often left in the middle of a Broadway show so she could be home by 10 o’clock to relieve the night nurse.

    Speaking in Yiddish, Cindy repeated a favorite saying of her grandmother: “The wheel turns and turns again.” At the beginning of Cindy’s career, Joey took care of her. At the end of Joey’s life, she took care of him.

    The service ended with Rabbi Potasnik chanting Kaddish and many in the audience saying “The Lord’s Prayer.”

    There was no burial. Cindy’s secretary, Marcee, said Cindy had Joey cremated.  “She’s a very active member of the Christian Science Church.”

    This is the first chapter of a work in progress by Tim Boxer titled, Stars of the Century. The book consists of profiles of Jewish superstars whom Boxer interviewed during the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s for his column in The New York Jewish Week, while simultaneously serving as assistant to the legendary New York Post columnist Earl Wilson.


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