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N.Y. nostalgia with an egg cream chaser

by Hank Rosenfeld

October 9, 2008 | 5:12 pm

Garry Marshall and Len Lesser. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

Garry Marshall and Len Lesser. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

"A lot o' the tribe are here," Stewie Stone said. The 68-year-old comic, who got his start as a Borscht Belt tummler at the Concord Hotel, was one of many landsman stuffed into Beverly Hills High School for a reunion on Saturday night -- the 23rd annual New York Day in L.A.

The event, which drew 1,500 transplants who attended New York high schools, also celebrates Hollywood stars from the Big Apple, amid deli food and egg creams.

"We're not the New Yorkers who hate L.A.," said Lou Zigman, chair of the New York Alumni Association. "We're the New Yorkers who love L.A."

Zigman first organized the happening in 1979 for other alumni of Abraham Lincoln High in Brooklyn. In 1985, the gathering was opened to anyone from the five boroughs (dues: $18 annually) to kibitz with old classmates and sit through more than three hours of a Catskills-quality gala toasting two ex-New Yorkers. Past honorees have included Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Rita Moreno and Mitzi Gaynor (the Chicago native was "adopted" by the group in 2006).

Actors Jack Klugman and Jerry Stiller were the honorees for 2008, and money raised during the gala will go to high school scholarships (New York schools, natch). This year's event also commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers leaving Ebbets Field in Brooklyn for Los Angeles.

"It's an attempt at a bit of nostalgia," said Abe Glazer (Haaren High School, '49) as he shuffled into a courtyard ringed with banners identifying high schools -- DeWitt Clinton, Erasmus Hall High, New Dorp -- where former bobby-soxers sat with Shofar hot dogs or lined up at a vintage Carvel Ice Cream cart as a sextet of alumni/musicians whomped out big band sounds.

In the packed Beverly Hills High auditorium, a variety show featured alumni entertainers like Gary Marshall, Sammy Shore, Connie Stevens and Monty Hall.

Stone (Erasmus Hall) got laughs with his schtiklach about how Jews had to choose between matzah and white bread. "We chose matzah because there's more pieces in the box. That's it. So when Moses said, 'Let my people go,' he meant to the toilet. We're a people constipated for 5,000 years," he said.

But there wasn't a dry set of eyeglasses in the house after Ed Ames sang, "Try to Remember."

Backstage, by an overflowing spread from Junior's, Freddie Roman and Mal Z. Lawrence (stars of "Catskills on Broadway") were telling Budd Friedman (founder of The Improv) why they love to perform here.

"We're still Jewish," Roman said.

"That's right, the piece hasn't grown back," Lawrence said, talking over Roman in Borschtsy banter.

"We're very good between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur," Roman added.

"But I'm not looking forward to the bris," Lawrence said.

Len Lesser (Uncle Leo on "Seinfeld") sidled over and put a topper on the appeal of the reunion.

"Like Norm Crosby used to say about New Yorkers in L.A.: 'What are you hugging and kissing all the time? You knew each other in New York for years you never said a word to each other.'"

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