Liza Minnelli

Stars Remember
The Late Great
Joseph Papp

Story and Photos by TIM BOXER

OE PAPP anecdotes were in the air at Tzivos Hashem’s second annual benefit for its Joseph Papp Children’s Humanitarian Fund. The fund was founded in memory of the producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Public Theater.

Monty Hall, legendary host of TV’s Let’s Make a Deal, emceed the star-studded program at the New York Hilton. He remembered when Papp once came up and introduced himself, causing Monty to contemplate: “Finally I’ll do a show for Joe Papp.”

Joanna Gleason’s your daughter?” Papp asked.


“I’d like her to do a show for me.”

That was the closest call Monty got.

Fyvush Finkel and Gail Papp

Monty did pretty well without Shakespeare. His game show debuted in 1963 and aired on all three major networks over the next 23 years, making him a pop culture icon.

At the Tzivos Hashem dinner, Jessica Walter embraced him and said, “Monty, you’re looking good.”

That worried him to no end because, he said, “the three stages of man are youth, middle age, and you’re looking good.”

James Earl Jones, the dinner chairman (“which means I eat a lot”), fared better. In the late ‘50s he was in Henry V which Papp directed in Central Park.

Fyvush Finkel exuded happiness. He didn’t have a Joe Papp story, but he was ecstatic that Fox had picked up his TV series, Boston Public, for a second season. He plays history teacher Harvey Lipshitz.

Liza Minnelli and Alan King

He said that in Des Moines he called the shames (sexton) of the local shul and said he wanted to come for services.

“This is Wednesday,” the shammes said. “We don’t get a minyan till Shabbos.”

“Amazing,” Fyvush said. “They have this $23 million synagogue and can’t get a minyan.”

Tzivos Hashem’s Joseph Papp Humanitarian Fund, under the direction of Rabbi Yerachmiel Benjaminson, provides medical care for children and adults in Eastern Europe, including two eye-care centers in Zhitomir, Ukraine.

For their help in this endeavor, Rose Yavarkovsky and son Ira received the Joe Papp Humanitarian Award from Liza Minnelli.

Tony Randall, who claims that everyone takes him for Fyvush Finkel, gave the Joseph Papp Achievement Award to Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson.

Monty Hall and wife Marilyn

Alan King was bewildered. He said he was invited here to take a picture with Meryl Streep. “Instead I posed with a dozen Lubavitcher rabbis!”

Alan claims to have known Papp longer than anyone. He was born two blocks from Papp’s house in Williamsburg.

He said Papp came to see him in a nightclub. After the show Papp said, “You’re still doing your cockamamie act and making millions. Why don’t you join me on Broadway and live in artistic abstract poverty.”

Alan, of course, became a giant of American show business. “I never thought,” he said, “that I’d live long enough when my prostate is bigger than my ego.”


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