The Days of the Bitter End
by Jack Engelhard ©2001, , ISBN: 978-0-9674074-2-5, 283 pp
2002 Independent Publisher Awards
Hereâ€™s the drama of an earlier day when American comedy turned into tragedy...
Americans lost their innocence on that tragic day in Dallas â€“ November 22, 1963. But for comedian Cliff Harris, whose career was based solely on his superb talent to imitate the dashing young president, life is changed forever.
After rising from obscurity in Philadelphia to national prominence on televisionâ€™s entertainment institution, The Ed Sullivan Show, Harris becomes Americaâ€™s most popular comedic performer, doing JFK so well that even Jackie has a tough time telling the difference.
But when the popular president is suddenly gunned down, what becomes of his comedic double?
With lively historical and fictional characters that capture the passion and drama of a generation, The Days of the Bitter End vividly brings to life the streets of New York Cityâ€™s renowned Greenwich Village. That vibrant political and cultural focal point of the 1960s is stunningly reflected in all its exuberance, sex, pot-smoking, poetry and politics.
Engelhard's heartfelt work recaptures the day American innocence turned into an American tragedy and our nation moved from the sweetness of postwar life to the bitter era of Vietnam.
Set against the backdrop of a monumental news event that touched the lives of all Americans â€” the assassination of John F. Kennedy â€” The Days of the Bitter End vividly takes us back to an era that dominates our culture to this very day. The novel captures the passion, and the drama of the 60s, as it recreates the idealism that was won at the emergence of JFK, and then lost at the onset of Vietnam.Jack Engelhardâ€™s book is a true original, especially in the authorâ€™s masterful portrayal of his fictional Cliff Harris, the comedian whose career was based solely upon his talent to imitate our most glamorous president â€” and who thereby personifies not only JFK, but the entire spectrum of that pulsating era.
The novel brings to life the people, places and events that made the 60s so indelible, and Engelhard succeeds in bringing his vision to the fore as he sets before us a Greenwich Village â€” the focal point of the novel and the 60s â€” that throbs â€śto the beat of bongo-drums.â€ť
"So remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come..." Ecclesiastes
For Ben Jaffa, doorman at the Bitter End, a popular club on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Villageâ€”the tough young man closest to Jackâ€™s own experience â€” the November day punctuated his growing alienation from the Village scene, his three buddies, Richie, Howie, and Cliff, and his
girlfriend Louise Carmen, whom he shares with Richie. Ben is a perennial exile, a refugee from Nazi-occupied France who is at home anywhere and no place. At a time of civil rights protests and hootenannies, when Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary sang the songs that topped the charts, and the middle class snickered at Lenny Bruce while he excoriated the sexual foibles of the middle class, Benâ€™s beef is mainly with himself. He is existential enough to have stepped out of Camus.
Richie Bell, a rich kid from Connecticut, is nicer, flakier, a guitar strummer. But it is typical of Engelhardâ€™s subterranean way with a story that Richie keeps a poisonous snake as a pet and maybe a homicidal tool. Howie, a shmo everybody makes fun of, turns out to be as convoluted
as the snake and more dangerous. Louise Carmen is a pleasant surprise: a sophisticated coal minerâ€™s daughter who sings, and loves, better than Loretta Lynn. In this rich novel you are going to mine some nuggets of character.
In a sense, Bitter End is the story of the rise and fall of Cliff Harris, from Philadelphia obscurity to Americaâ€™s most popular comedian. Cliff is a superb impersonator who does JFK so well that Jackie could hardly tell the difference. He is a mainstay of that strange postwar institution, the Ed Sullivan Show. But when the dashing young president is gunned down, what
becomes of his shadow? You probably wonâ€™t guess right. Bitter End is a classy and classical novel with the triple unities of time, place and action. Yet it brings to life the sixties scene with all
its exuberance, fun sex and pot-smoking, and devious police informing. It is Engelhardâ€™s most heartfelt work to date, easy to read, easy to like, but hard to forget. Like that day in November when a lot of us lost our innocence.
Cliff Harris, Americaâ€™s most popular comedic performer, was on stage and deep into his frolicsome Kennedy impersonation when word arrived upon the whisper of ravens that Kennedy had been shot. First came the rumor, heard only by a few, but then came the word, which spread as a disbelieving murmur from aisle to aisle in the darkened basement theater. The 500 people in attendance at the Cafe Muse, on Bleecker Street in New Yorkâ€™s Greenwich Village, collectively gasped and fell into an electrified hush when the announcement was made. Though stunned like all the rest, Cliff persevered. He said: "Iâ€™m okay. Canâ€™t you see?" So much had he begun to believe that he was, in fact, John F. Kennedy, and refused to believe that the end had finally come, and so soon.
With Cliff Harris in mind, Lenny Bruce had cracked: "If JFK goes, make room for two graves at Arlington."
Yet nobody expected it so soon. Not even Cliff, superstitious as he was and always expecting the worst.
But not this. Not now. Right in the middle of everything. Or actually, right at the beginning of everything.
This was Ă§morning ĂĽin America. America was a nation on the move, happy to leave behind the torpor of the Eisenhower years to heed this new presidentâ€™s call for sacrifice and greatness.
Night was for those other countries.
Besides, even rational minds presumed that no mere bullet was strong enough to bring down the most powerful man on earth, certainly not this president, so youthful, so handsome, and so vigorous, for JFK was more than a god in terms of America. He was a star! As such he was impregnable.
Kennedy still had promises to keep and Cliff Harris still had material to shpritz.
"Stay," he pleaded, utterly crushed, but as if by force of personality he could undo what had been done.
The overflow matinee crowd, so cheerful and loyal a moment ago, turned on him and hooted him off the stage. Since taking on Kennedy as his career, Cliff Harris had known nothing but laughter and applause as his due. Loving eyes greeted him everywhere. He was adored â€” as the presidentâ€™s double. Now they were taunting him. From all corners of the room came jeers and catcalls even after he made his exit. Backstage his ears burned from the mockery of hundreds, soon to be millions.
The party was over, finished. Nothing would ever be the same again, not for Cliff Harris, not for anybody. A cosmic tragedy had just occurred in the land of merriment. Nothing was sacred. Nobody was safe.
Early that morning of November 22, (several hours before John Kennedyâ€™s plane took off from Fort Worth for Dallas, Texas), Cliff, preparing for his matinee performance at the Cafe Muse, took a cab ride to Brooklyn for his weekly hair styling from the skillful hands of Roberto Falcone, who practically invented the razor-cut, which was then the rage among prosperous New Yorkers.
Cliff was a special customer and Roberto knew the imperative. Keep it Kennedy â€” and keep it Kennedy he did. Roberto was a master and consistently turned out his man in the spitting image of JFK. All it took was the hair; the rest needed no work. Cliff already had the oblong face, the squared-off jaw, the chiseled profile, the full big-tooth grin that was the Kennedy stamp of shyness and rakishness all at once.
Hair brushed to the side in waves, Cliff then resembled the President to a fault â€” to the delight of millions, including President Kennedy himself, who had quipped in a televised news conference, "Cliff Harris? He does me better than I do."
But it had taken practice to nail down the semi-nasal voice, the high-toned accent, the regal stance and most challenging of all â€” the air of optimism and confidence, the Ă§vigah, ĂĽwhich was really the sum of this presidentâ€™s attributes, and the most difficult for Cliff to match and maintain night after night, as physical resemblance and mimicry of character traits were only the start of impersonation; capturing the soul was the artistry. Practically anyone could Ă§do ĂĽKennedy. To Ă§be ĂĽKennedy was something else.
Cliffâ€™s roundtrip visits to Howard Street in Brooklyn cost him $84 plus tips, but he could afford it, mostly from the money he made from television, notably the Ed Sullivan Show, which had made him nationally famous solely on his impersonation of Kennedy, actually the only trick he was allowed to perform. (Thatâ€™s me, Cliff confided in his private moments. A one-trick pony.) But it sold. Brother did it sell!
At the moment, Cliff Harris was the most famous entertainer in America. Bigger than Elvis â€” and in a single leap, without warning, that is, without the years of paying dues in late vaudeville and early radio, he was the envy of Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason, George Gobel, George Burns, Phyllis Diller, for no man or woman tickled America as inventively as did Cliff Harris, for no one but Cliff Harris had the President of the United States as an unwitting partner.
Booking agents from the finest clubs pursued him. Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen and Jack Paar fought over him. Universities wanted him for lectures and graduation ceremonies. Fans followed him on the street and wrote him thousands of letters per month. Corporations, seeking profits from his Kennedy voice and visage, invited him to do radio and TV commercials for beer, cars, trucks, tires, refrigerators, toothpaste, deodorant, shaving cream, cereal, all to no avail.
For Cliff was a man of Quaker ethics, a son of Old Philadelphia. But he was also a man who had America in thrall. He was dumbfounded by his success. The adulation astonished him and he was not altogether pleased to be the object of such intense worship.
Especially today, chilled by the cruel, sharp winds of late November as he walked up Bleecker, he felt the onset of melancholy. His shoulders sagged when he remembered that soon, and again, heâ€™d have to prepare himself to put on a face and adopt a fame that rightfully belonged to someone else. This had never been his ambition, nor his intention. He had merely fluked into it and could not fluke his way out.
Only here, in the first floor apartment on Sullivan Street as it met Bleecker, was he one of the guys, a member of the Sullivan Street Irregulars. And here he could literally let his hair down! Here he could drop his act and forget the demands made upon him by the multitudes, the thousands, no the millions out there who delighted in gaping at his Kennedy countenance and insisted that he stay frozen as Kennedy and only Kennedy. Kennedy was all they wanted. Cliff Harris as Cliff Harris would not do.
As he rounded the corner onto Sullivan a man in a long white beard stopped him, as he did practically every morning. This was Lobo the Prophet appearing in his usual Moses-like robes and staff, except that the robe was really a blanket and the staff nothing more than a broomstick, but in his own eyes, Lobo was a prophet, a prophet of doom, and a prophet of doom, as Cliff saw it, may be wrong 99 percent of the time. He need only be right once. God spoke to Lobo and since this was Greenwich Village, nobody disputed Lobo his rights to insanity.
"Beware this day," announced Lobo, grandly pounding his staff on the pavement.
"You say that every day," Cliff said kindly but impatiently, dropping a dollar bill in the manâ€™s empty cigar box and moving along to avoid any further rantings as there was always the chance that on this day heâ€™d get it right. Not for nothing were lunatics called touched. Touched by heaven, torched by hell. Crazy? thought Cliff. So who isnâ€™t?
"This is the day," Lobo persisted. "The Lord God hath spoken."
Cliff picked up his gait but Lobo chased after him with the same message. Heâ€™d never done that before.
They were all snoozing when he arrived, even though it was already 9:30 in the morning, late for most humans, but not this crowd, mostly young men who served the nocturnal Village clubs as doormen, jazz musicians, folk singers, comedians and waiters, all aspiring to something greater. In other words, Ă§uptown. ĂĽBroadway. They all had "talent" of one sort or another and dreamed that the next William Morris limo to pull up along Bleecker Street would be pulling up for them. Sometimes it happened, but usually to somebody else. (Like Bob Dylan, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman...)
People were asleep in beds, on cots, on floors, in the bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, everywhere but the walls and the ceilings. Most of the guys would stay. Most of the girls would leave. But theyâ€™d be back, if not always the same ones.
Cliff was used to this scene and it both comforted him and irked him â€” comforted him because except for a rotten apple here and there, these were good people and good friends; what irked him was that he needed someone to talk to and you could not talk to the dead.
"Everybody up!" he hollered.
Nobody moved, so he tapped Richie on the head and Richie stirred. So, Cliff reflected, there is life after all.
"Time to get up, man."
"Why?" asked Richie.
Precisely the sort of answer youâ€™d expect from Richie Bell, whose wealth and good looks had produced in him, at the vibrant age of 21, a carefree spirit of the kind usually associated with spoiled rich kids, except that Richie wore it all with grace and charm. He was irresistible.
Richieâ€™s dad owned Hartford, Connecticut, or maybe only half, Richie liked to say with a self-depracating chuckle. Of firm New England stock with some Irish, some Portugese blood running through his veins, Richie was handsome enough to make it in the movies, had he so desired. Instead he had stopped in the Village for the summer on his way to becoming a lawyer â€” one year to go â€” but somehow could not find his way back to Harvard. For the moment a girl named Louise Carmen, she of the Highlight Singers performing at the Village Gate, where Richie was waiting tables, was more urgent.
Now, even before heading to the john, and paying no heed to Cliff, Richie picked up his guiter which had rested by the side of his bed and began strumming and humming something about Don Jose, a matador. It was a beautiful melody and Richie sang it well and with emotion. Cliff never failed to swoon. Richie had a fine baritone voice and was considering offers to turn to folksinging full-time, though these offers, up to this point, were coming mostly from him to the club owners.
Howard Penny was next to get up. He was the rotten apple. He lit up a cigarette and started to hack and this broke the mood. Howard Penny was like that. Short, kinky-haired and squeeky-voiced, mid-20s, Howard did not have much going for him. He had no personality to call his own, so he borrowed Lenny Bruceâ€™s, like the trademark pensive finger to the lips in preparation of a scathing wisecrack. Except that for Howie, the rest, the good part, did not come. Lenny Bruce was Howardâ€™s claim to fame.
He had actually roomed with Lenny, though in time Lenny kicked him out, which was saying something as Lenny was known to be hospitable to all the worldâ€™s losers, so it figured that Howard had done something special to get under Lennyâ€™s skin. Howardâ€™s only skill was existence. He was always around. He also knew everything and everybody because he had a way of being there without being noticed too much.
Finally, up from a deep slumber and complaining about the retching and even the singing, was Ben Jaffa, a doorman at the Bitter End, where Peter, Paul and Mary had just completed their run and that rising new comic Bill Cosby was now packing them in and drawing uptown notice along with Joan Rivers and the Serendipity Singers.
"Isnâ€™t it too early for all this?" Ben groaned.
"Itâ€™s daylight," said Cliff.
"I donâ€™t see the sun."
"Maybe if you opened your eyes," said Richie to a roomful of laughter.
"That would help," Howard Penny chimed in.
"Shut up, Howie," everybody said.
Waiting his turn to visit the john, Ben asked Cliff why he was all spiffed up so early in the day.
"Iâ€™m doing that matinee today." Ordinarily Cliff only worked nights but the demand for him was so great that Nate Beloff, who ran the Cafe Muse, persuaded Cliff to add the extra time.
"Thatâ€™s right," said Ben. "I forgot."
"Youâ€™ll be there," asked Cliff. "Wonâ€™t you?"
"Sure, Mr. President."
"Fuck you, Ben."
"Thank you, Mr. President."
"You too, Richie?"
Richie was back to his guitar. "Richie?"
"Youâ€™ll be there, wonâ€™t you?"
"Is Ben going? Ben, are you going?"
"Benâ€™s going," said Ben Jaffa.
"Then Iâ€™m going," said Richie. "Whither Ben goest, I go. Am I saying it right, Ben?"
"I donâ€™t remember."
"I thought you knew the Bible."
"Thatâ€™s before I came here."
Actually, almost everything happened to Ben before he came here.
Of the entire group, known throughout Greenwich Village as the Sullivan Street Irregulars, Ben Jaffa, handsome in a brooding sort of way, was the most promising, if only because he had absolutely nothing in mind for a future or career. Perhaps one day heâ€™d become a writer. But wasnâ€™t that what they all said.
Ben Jaffa was different from the rest because Ben Jaffa
was Jewish and had survived the Roundup of Paris. Thatâ€™s when the French police willingly gathered up thousands of Jewish children and handed them over to the Gestapo for extermination. Ben, hidden away with his older sister in a Catholic orphanage, later made it out, but barely. Over in France, before the Occupation, Benâ€™s family had been so prosperous that Ben, as an infant, had two nannies to care for his every need. When he shunned his porridge, theyâ€™d terrify him with tales of the boogiemam who would come and carry him off in a big sack.
Even today, Ben wondered how many of those children, as they were being torn limb from limb and thrown into the ovens, thought they were being punished because they hadnâ€™t finished their porridge.
Ben never spoke openly of such things. He was completely Americanized and in fact he was downright patriotic, an anomoly here where the counterculture prevailed and demanded a cynical, reproachful view of America. But not for Ben all the protesting. Made no sense to Ben.
About Benâ€™s life there were facts and myths. That he had survived the Roundup was fact. But then there was the story (from his motherâ€™s diary, which she had smuggled off with Ben) about the time Benâ€™s father and mother were strolling along the banks of the Seine and there, a few feet away, and walking in the opposite direction, was the devil himself, Adolph Hitler. Was this before, during or after the Occupation â€” and was it really Adolph Hitler? Benâ€™s mother, speaking from her diary, swore that it was so. Yes, they had come upon Adolph Hitler face to face. Why would she lie about such a thing? So Ben believed her.
The rest he doubted; the claim that his father always carried a pistol and was this close to erasing Hitlerâ€™s name from history. Ben could not imagine his father with a pistol. Nor could he imagine that a single act of courage from the hands of his very own father could have changed the course of history and spared the lives of millions.
All that was too much to ponder, though once in a while Ben would wonder, Why didnâ€™t you shoot, Dad? Why didnâ€™t you shoot? Of course he did not shoot because Hitler was surrounded by guards and of course he did not shoot because he never really carried a pistol. But still...
In any case, both his parents died in the death camp of Dachau.
So Ben had a long list of stories and secrets even at the still very-youthful age of 23. But, except for his moody intervals, when heâ€™d fall into a deep trance of silence and memory when all around him were mirthful, Ben was not one to wallow in self-pity. Quite the opposite. No, never could he match Richie Bell for high-spiritedness. But all in all, Ben was capable of happiness and outright exuberance. Only his Jewish eyes reflected his tragic soul.
Otherwise he carried himself with the bouyant step of a regular American, and that was all he aimed to be. He did not want to be different. What he really (secretly) wanted was to be like Richie, for Richieâ€™s insouciance, when in fact Richie (secretly) wanted to be like Ben, for Benâ€™s depth of character.
Their dissimilarities became apparent, at least
to Ben, when they happened to be walking around Washington Square Park complaining, each of them, about being broke. Ben said he was completely broke. Richie said likewise. After a pensive silence, Richie shrugged and said, chuckling, Guess Iâ€™ll have to call home for more money. This stunned Ben. Ben had no home to call.
But within this clique of four, Cliff Harris, Howard Penny, Richie Bell and Ben Jaffa, it was Richie and Ben that were the insiders among the insiders, the hip among the hip, the chosen among the chosen. Not even the fact that Richie was heir to the wealth and standing of a proud, aristocratic Episcopalian family, Ben rooted to nothing but himself â€” none of that had any bearing on their friendship.
Only the glorious Louise Carmen could come between them, and that she did, as often as she could, not out of meanness, but out of love, because as it happened, she loved them both. Usually one at a time. Sometimes she loved Richie more, sometimes Ben. Depended on her whim, on what she was wearing that day, or feeling that night. Richie was prepared to marry her. Ben wasnâ€™t. Ben wasnâ€™t prepared to marry anyone. As for Richie, he was smitten; wild for Louise. Ben was merely in love with her.
Thus they were a threesome, but this condition was unspoken and barely acknowledged as if to make it a topic would surely break the spell. From Louise Carmenâ€™s zestful point of view, she was too rich with love to spend it all on one man and one man alone. And she was only 19 and the two men in her life were so different but so equally appealing. In bed she never called out the wrong name; they were that distinctive. For breeziness there was Richie, for profundity there was Ben.
Richie and Ben simply ignored the problem, if thatâ€™s what it was. If Tuesday it must be Ben, Richie had all of Bleecker Street to get lucky, from the Bitter End to the Village Gate and the 30 bistros and coffeehouses in between.
But it hurt, and it also hurt Ben when it was the other way round, but not as much. No, Ben was all right with the arrangement. He knew he was partner to something strange, but not all that strange. In fact it seemed to make perfect sense as would anything that happened spontaneously. First came Richie and Louise, and then along came Ben and click, it happened. Nothing strange about it, really. For Louise it was all so very European and therefore so very sexy and invigorating. So Continental!
As for Ben and Richie, they agreed (without saying so in words) that their friendship came first. So thereâ€™d be no discussion, no confrontation. Friendship was too precious. These were the 60s and this was Greenwich Village.
Cliff Harris finally got the gang to the Hip Bagel on MacDougal as it met Bleecker, where, among the butcher block tables, most still unoccupied since it was only mid-morning, the Village just beginning to wake, he confided that he was dropping his act, the Kennedy gig, to go on to other things, serious things, like acting, or comedy of another sort, comedy that spoke of social concerns, of the kind Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor were doing right here in the Village.
He wanted out of the Kennedy trap. He wanted to Ă§say things.
"Wow," Howard Penny exclaimed to show that he was paying attention and was not in a marijuana-induced fog.
"Shut up, Howie," everybody said.
"I want people to know me for what I really am," Cliff persisted, angling for some seriousness.
"You sure thatâ€™s a good idea?" Ben cracked as he dug into his scrambled eggs, forget the bagel. He hated bagel and was allergic to lox. "Iâ€™d think that was something you wouldnâ€™t want people to find out, Cliff. I mean, who wants to know you for what you really are? We know, and I can tell you itâ€™s very disturbing."
"Come on," Cliff protested â€” but with a grin. "Gimme a break."
"Benâ€™s right," Richie laughed, picking up the joke and studiously making rings in the air from his Lucky Strike to convey his unaffected response to Cliffâ€™s earnestness, as Richie had an aversion to anything solemn. Richie only wanted fun. Fun was the rule and the law and his only motivation. The serious stuff could wait for later, later in life. Now wasnâ€™t the time. Richie was wearing his granny glasses today, which made his tart-eyed gaze even more racy than usual. Between drags of his cigarette he used the flat part of a match book to clean his teeth, ordinarily a disgusting mannerism, but something that worked for Richie when he intended to convey mockery or intense interest. Right now, eyes cast mischievously upon his prey â€” it was mockery.
"We donâ€™t want word to get out, Cliff. Could be dangerous."
"You guys know what Iâ€™m talking about," Cliff said.
"I donâ€™t," said Ben. "I really donâ€™t. Me, I say keep Kennedy."
"Keep the illusion," Richie agreed.
"You mean keep being a fraud and a fake," Cliff said with emotion.
"But arenâ€™t we all?" said Ben.
"Not me," said Richie. "Iâ€™m genuine. A genuine fraud," he hastily added before Ben could.
"No," said Ben. "I say keep being a fraud and a fake, Cliff, and Ă§keep being fucking rich and famous."
"Then you guys donâ€™t know what Iâ€™m talking about, do you."
But they did, and it was a yawner, for Cliff was not breaking headline news. Cliff had opened the subject once before and the first time around it was indeed worthy of legitimate gasps around the Hip Bagel. Drop Kennedy, the most famous act in America? Youâ€™re crazy. The second time drew indifference â€” and this was the third time.
In the real world Cliffâ€™s threats to quit got mixed results. Nate Beloff wanted to strangle him, especially after Nate was made to sit through the routine Cliff meant to use as a replacement for Kennedy. It wasnâ€™t awful. It wasnâ€™t even bad. Maybe it was even good. Mostly, Ă§it wasnâ€™t Kennnedy,ĂĽ and it was Kennedy that was bringing them in from across the country night after night into his dive otherwise known as the Cafe Muse, a place that was dying a slow death until Kennedy was elected president and Cliff Harris came along with his brilliant, uncanny take-off. Nate said no, politely, about Cliffâ€™s dropping Kennedy. God forbid!
As for Ed Sullivan, who had made Cliff nationally famous, there was this:
"Stuff it, young man, and come back when youâ€™re feeling better and ready to do what brought you here in the first place." So Cliff stuffed it all right, and resumed Kennedy, all the while hating himself for his surrender to the almighty dollar and the goddess of fame.
This time, though â€” the third time â€” he said he meant it about going solo. "Iâ€™m all Kennedyed out," he said, and now, off-stage, it was true. Dressed in jeans and tee shirt, unshaven, hunched over a cup of coffee, his normal speaking voice gravelly from excessive drinking and smoking, Cliff bore no resemblance to John F. Kennedy.
"I weep for you, Cliff," Ben said, adding that he wept for Cliffâ€™s $25,000 per appearance on Ed Sullivan, and the adulation, and the women. "I can imagine what youâ€™re going through. Actually I canâ€™t. Iâ€™ve never had such troubles. Success. What a terrible thing."
"And such a terrible thing to waste upon the ungrateful," Richie said.
But Cliff was not about to be deflected by Benâ€™s sarcasm, nor by Richieâ€™s note of reproach. Fact is, he said, the adulation of millions meant nothing to him, and the money was merely a living. He never cared for wealth. All he really wanted was the approval of his peers, and they thought him a sellout.
That he was a comic not to be taken seriously became most apparent to him when Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor arrived that night to catch his act â€” and Burton spat on him. "He spat on me. Richard fucking Burton."
"Well," said Richie. "So long as it wasnâ€™t Liz."
"Richard Burton spat on me."
"Listen," said Ben. "Burtonâ€™s from Wales and I hear that in Wales spitting is a form of applause."
Even Cliff could not help but laugh.
"Benâ€™s right," Howard Penny began. "I hear..."
"Shut up, Howie," everybody said.
Walking alone past the newsstand at Bleecker and LaGuardia Place, Ben Jaffa spotted a news item that spooked him. The sports headline in this morningâ€™s Friday, November 22 Daily News was about a ceremony at the Montreal Forum honoring hockey legend Maurice "Rocket" Richard who had retired three years ago in 1960. Ben had been unaware that the great Richard had been away from hockey for a full three seasons and that for all that time the sport had been without its most dynamic player. Ben had lived in Montreal for several years and had thus become an ardent fan of the Canadiens. He had idolized Richard. Now Richard was gone, and this loss upset Ben as much as the fact that since coming to Greenwich Village and living the hip life even before that, in college at Ohio State, he had lost touch with the real world.
Ben continued his stroll overwhelmed by memories of playing street hockey in the back alleys of Esplanade. Todayâ€™s New York weather in fact reminded him of winters in Montreal, the wind brisk and lashing at you
Set against the backdrop of a monumental news event that touched the lives of all Americans â€” the assassination of John F. Kennedy â€” The Days of the Bitter End vividly takes us back to an era that dominates our culture to this very day. The novel captures the passion, and the drama of the 60s, as it recreates the idealism that was won at the emergence of JFK, and then lost at the onset of Vietnam.Â
Jack Engelhardâ€™s book is a true original, especially in the authorâ€™s masterful portrayal of his fictional Cliff Harris, the comedian whose career was based solely upon his talent to imitate our most glamorous president â€” and who thereby personifies not only JFK, but the entire spectrum of that pulsating era.Â
The novel brings to life the people, places and events that made the 60s so indelible, and Engelhard succeeds in bringing his vision to the fore as he sets before us a Greenwich Village â€” the focal point of the novel and the 60s â€” that throbs "to the beat of bongo-drums."Â
Michael Foster, Author of Three in Love (HARPER/COLLINS)
â€śEngelhardâ€™s fond look back at [Greenwich] Village, when Bob Dylan was still an unknown, Lenny Bruce was being arrested every other day, and rich college kids came to experience life, is worth the trip.â€ť
â€” Philadelphia Inquirer
>Easy to read, easy to like, but hard to forget. Like that day in November when a lot of us lost our innocence.â€ť
â€” Michael Foster, Author of â€śThree in Loveâ€ť (Harper/Collins)
"Engelhard displays sheer genius"..."It's very powerful"..."You believe the dialogue, you just 'know' Engelhard was there."
â€śThe author has an incredible talent for imagery and setting and story telling.â€ť
What A Great Story! If you missed the 60s -- if you missed the excitement, the passion, the radicalism, the love-will-conquer-all hippies, the injustices, the honesty, the thrills, the politics, the greed, the hopes and dreams -- this book brings it all alive. Not quite the same as having been there, but no book I've read goes nearly so close to the real experience. If you were there, in the 60s (feel fortunate), you can't help but love reliving this unfotgettable story, with its captivating characters and the sensual three-way love affair at its core. It fascinated me from start to finish. I could not put it down.
Jack Engelhardâ€™s novel Indecent Proposal has been translated into 22 languages and is a bestseller around the world. Praised for its â€śsparseness of Hemingway but moral intensity of I.B. Singer,â€ť the book has been described as â€śa gem that was overlookedâ€ť until the release of Paramountâ€™s movie starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore.
His recent award-winning novel, The Days of the Bitter End, takes readers back to the streets of the political and cultural focal point of the sixties: New York Cityâ€™s Greenwich Village -- at the moment of one of contemporary historyâ€™s life-changing events -- John F. Kennedyâ€™s assassination. Engelhard â€śwas thereâ€ť during that thrilling era. He was the doorman at the now-famous Bitter End nightclub that played host to many counter-culture legends including Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Lenny Bruce, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, and Jack Kerouac.
Engelhard is also the author of The Horseman, Deadly Deception, and the award-winning Escape from Mount Moriah: Memoirs of a Refugee Childâ€™s Triumph, that depicts his childhood adventures after his familyâ€™s escape from the Nazi invasion of France. His op-ed newspaper column, â€śA View of the Absurdâ€ť is distributed nationally and he has written three plays.
Deadly Deception is under development by Fast Carrier Pictures in Hollywood as the movie "The Crapshooter." Reminiscent of "The Hustler" and "The Cincinnati Kid," the drama focuses on Julian Rothchild, a crapshooter who runs afoul of an unscrupulous casino boss one memorable weekend in Las Vegas.
Also based on a screenplay by Engelhard, tough guy actor Frank Vincent will star with James Caan in "Sinking Springs," the unlikely story of an Amish drug-smuggling ring that operated out of Lancaster, Pa. in the 1980's.
Jack recently completed a manuscript for a novel entitled The Uriah Deadline, a controversial thriller set against the backdrop of up-to-the-minute headlines and the raging conflict in the Mideast.
Born in Toulouse, France, Jack spent his formative years in Montreal and Cincinnati. Though not conventionally religious, he admits to being inspired by Scriptures for both style and substance, as evidenced in his writings, wherein he puts his characters to the test -- placing the spotlight on men and women to see how they behave and perform under moral pressure. His personal experiences -- beginning with his familyâ€™s dramatic escape, to earning a place as a worldwide bestselling novelist -- may explain his search for integrity in a world of chaos.
Jack settled in the Philadelphia area in the 1960s where he edited his own newspaper and later became an award-winning journalist and special features columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer for over 15 years. He is also a former KYW News Radio and newspaper editor covering the Middle East. Jack served as an American volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces and is a ranking belt in Krav Maga, Israeli martial arts. He currently resides in southern New Jersey with his wife Leslie and their children, David and Rachel.
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