March 8, 2013

SOL WEINSTEIN: LICENSE TO KVELL


Spy Vibe is paying tribute to a number of espionage writers this week through rare obituaries and memorial addresses. In earlier posts we've highlighted Ted Gottfried (Ted Mark) and Ian Fleming. Today we look at Sol Weinstein. Weinstein got his break writing comedy and music for some big stars in the 1950s, but he is best remembered among Spy Vibers as the author of the Israel Bond: Agent Oy-Oy-Seven books. Weinstein did some new revisions to the novels and the whole series (plus an omnibus collection) was re-published a few years ago. You can now read the adventures of Oy-Oy-Seven in print and eBook formats- and even download an audiobook for the first novel in the series, Loxfinger. Sol Weinstein interview here. Israel Bond series here


Sol Weinstein passed away last November. Here is his obituary by Kathleen Tinney for the Philadelphia Inquirer:  "Money doesn't make you happy. But it sure buys you a better class of misery." That joke, and thousands more, came from the mouths of top-drawer comics. But they were hatched in the overactive, irrepressibly silly, charmingly warped, and unfailingly funny mind of Sol Weinstein. A once-destitute Jersey boy who honed his gift for gags while banging out obituaries at the Trentonian, he rode a wave of laughs all the way to Hollywood.

From the late 1950s into the '80s, he spun shtick for such legendary comedians as Joe E. Lewis and Bob Hope; wrote for The Love Boat, The Jeffersons, Three's Company, and Maude; composed a signature song for Bobby Darin; and fathered James Bonds' Yiddish alter ego, Israel Bond, filling four popular books with the exploits of Agent Oy-Oy-7.


Mr. Weinstein died at 84 of pancreatic cancer on Sunday, Nov. 25, in the New Zealand town of Plimmerton, where he spent his last years with his son. But he left 'em laughing. One eulogist, noting Mr. Weinstein's notorious flirtations, polled the 70 mourners: How many had gotten a marriage proposal from him? Reportedly, 20 hands shot up.

He grew up on Union Street in Trenton, where his Russian-immigrant parents eked out a living by junking. Unable to afford birthday cakes, his mother bought pumpernickel loaves and dispensed small bits, with a schmear, to his friends - forever branding him with the nickname "Pumpy."


After taking the class-clown route through Trenton High School, he enrolled at New York University as an English major but didn't finish. The Trentonian hired him to write obits, later christening him "Duffy," the Irish sportswriter. On the side, Mr. Weinstein cranked out jokes and sent them, unsolicited, to comics. Eventually, checks came in, from the likes of Lewis and Jerry Lester, star of TV's first late-night hit variety show. Mr. Weinstein then had the wherewithal to move his wife, Eleanor, and two children to Levittown - and to cast his lot with comedy. "His brain was fluid and fast," said his daughter, Judee. "He had a million jokes in him."

In the '60s, Mr. Weinstein's humor became almost nationally inescapable. Along with a prodigious output of comedy act bits, he fueled David Frost's That Was the Week That Was. And he challenged Ian Fleming in Playboy with satiric tales of Agent Oy-Oy-7. Israel Bond became his protagonist in four books: Loxfinger, Matzohball, On the Secret Service of His Majesty the Queen, and You Only Live Until You Die.


He still found time, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., to frolick on WCAU 1210 talk radio, merrily summoning aberrants across the Philadelphia region to call in. In the early '70s, he resettled his family on the West Coast for the TV sitcom gold rush. He wrote for myriad shows that also included Chico and the Man, Small Wonder, and Barney Miller, and he helped churn out the caustic wit that kept the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts hot for 10 years. "But comedy changes with time," his daughter said. "Dad wound up retiring."

Mr. Weinstein was long a jazzhead. Though he couldn't read or write music or play anything, he composed a song for Lester, "The Curtain Falls." The comic murdered it, but a pop star named Bobby Darin heard it and immortalized it as his act closer. In the 2004 Darin biopic Beyond the Sea, Kevin Spacey reprised the song.

Widowed, Mr. Weinstein moved in 2002 to New Zealand, where he was the quirky American in the Trenton sweatshirts. He kept writing, mostly essays, and composing songs, which were played in the clubs he frequented. "I'm a be-bopper," he told an interviewer. "Old be-boppers never die, they just shooby-doo away." On second thought, he added, "I don't know what that means."In addition to his daughter, Mr. Weinstein is survived by a son, David, and a granddaughter, Eleanor.


Here is another obituary by Kenny Ellis for Jewish Journal, December 12, 2012: Weinstein was born and raised in Trenton, N.J. In the 1950s, he wrote for his local newspaper, The Trentonian, before turning his sharp wit to comedy sketches and songs for variety show performers. He married Eleanor Eisner in 1955, and they had two children, David and Judee.

He started writing gags for Joe E. Lewis, Alan King and, years later, for Bob Hope’s and Dean Martin’s shows. His show-biz pals were Sammy Davis Jr., Gene Kelly and Dom DeLuise. In 1962, Weinstein wrote the ballad “The Curtain Falls” for Bobby Darin’s act, which the singer used as his finale for years. The song was also recorded by Hope, and Steve and Eydie, and was featured in the Darin biopic “Beyond the Sea.”

Weinstein conceived his Israel Bond capers, starting with “Loxfinger,” in 1965. The series of four books — including “Matzohball,” “On the Secret Service of His Majesty, the Queen” and “You Only Live Until You Die” — sold more than 400,000 copies and gained him national exposure.


In the ’70s, Weinstein moved to Los Angeles and wrote for such television shows as “The Love Boat,” “The Jeffersons” and “Three’s Company” with writing partner Howard Albrecht. Weinstein moved to New Zealand in 2002 to be near his son. He was a real mensch, fun to be with, funny, he loved jazz, loved being Jewish and speaking Yiddish, and he loved life itself. Of his writing partner, Albrecht said, “Sol was the most interesting, knowledgeable, talented- but, more important, the most gentle- man I have ever known.” 

Weinstein, writer, composer, jazz fanatic and sweetheart, died of pancreatic cancer on Nov. 25 in his home in Plimmerton, New Zealand, surrounded by his loving family. He was 84. Predeceased by wife, Eleanor, Weinstein is survived by his daughter, Judee; son, David; and granddaughter, Eleanor. [Kenny Ellis is cantor of Temple Beth Ami, a Reform synagogue in Santa Clarita].


The Israel Bond re-launch sparked some great press for Sol shortly before he passed away. By the way, I love the bullet hole homage above to the Ray Hawkey designs for Thunderball. The Oy-Oy-Seven adventures were serialized in PlayboyLoxfinger appeared in this issue from October 1965. 



Here is a piece about Sol and the Israel Bond series from Kapi-Mana News by Matthew Dallas: 

"The lovemaking was profane to say the least. Totally indulgent. He was the kind of agent to be turned on by a navel orange." Sol Weinstein is describing Israel Bond, the master spy and semitic seducer at the centre of his satirical adventure novels which are back in print for the first time in 40 years. The titles betray both the satirical tone of Weinstein's writing and his inspiration; Loxfinger, Matzohball, On the Secret Service of His Majesty, The Queen, and You Only Live Until You Die.

"Ian Fleming and I were writing in different alternative realities at the same time. That's the line I've always stuck to - and I'm not changing it for you," says Sol, who has called Plimmerton home since he left the United States in 2002.
Kapi-Mana News was introduced to the New Jerseyan in 2006 when we learned he had composed, some 40 years earlier, the sentimental 1961 show tune The Curtain Falls. It was a stage favourite of both Bobby Darin and Bob Hope, and returned to prominence in the Darin bio-pic Beyond the Sea.

A newspaper reporter turned comic writer, the Israel Bond adventures allowed Sol to move away from writing for night club entertainers in the mid-1960s.
When Playboy magazine serialised Fleming's James Bond adventures, they interspersed them with Sol's "Oy Oy 7" series. A big James Bond fan, he added "peculiarities" from his own life and an absurdist streak to the Fleming formula.
Licensed to both kill and pray over the corpses, Israel Bond travelled the globe, protecting the holy land from criminal masterminds such as The Man With the Golden Gums and Auntie Sem-Heidt. The spy often relied more on quick puns and his prowess in the sack than actual espionage skills. But then, who could resist the temptations of Sister Sweetcakes the swinging nun, Kopy Katz - the mistress of reproduction- and, wait for it, Poontang Plenty? "Poontang Plenty was my Pussy Galore... I really kept [Bond] busy," Sol says.


Four volumes of Israel Bond adventures were published as $1 paperbacks by Simon and Schuster, selling between 400,000 and 500,000 copies, but later fell out of print. Sol was approached by American publisher About Comics last year to include the novels as part of its prose imprint. At 83, Sol's wit is still sharp, fast and indulgent. He cracks wise constantly, his enthusiasm unhampered by the mild case of Tourette's Syndrome he's had since childhood.

Though no-one ever took Israel Bond to the big screen like 007, Sol soon found success in television, writing for variety shows and prime-time series The Jeffersons, The Love Boat and Three's Company. Folders of his scripts still stack his bookshelves, and photos from another age, of Sol with showbiz pals like Sammy Davis Jr and Dom Deluise, jostle for wall space with jazz posters and paintings by local artists. He enjoys life in New Zealand, a quiet and charming place. "I wonder what Oy Oy 7 could do now to take Iran out of the ballgame. Because that's getting scary. The world is in the hands of crazy people unfortunately. You have to be thankful for New Zealand's positioning.
"I try to make people laugh, but on the inside I'm just as scared as anyone else. What's more, Monk [his cat] wants me to turn over the house to him and put me in an old folks' home." Check out the new editions of Sol's books!


I have a spy novella coming out! Stay tuned and follow Spy Vibe by clicking the Follow link at top right of this page. 

Check Spy Vibe for recent posts about our discovery of a rare Ian Fleming serialization, my review of SKYFALL, 007 at the Intnl Spy Museum, Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, new Beatles bio from Mark Lewisohn, tributes to Donald Richie and Tony Sheridan, the Les Vampires serial on Blu-ray, Lucy Fleming, The Beatles first record session, Ian Fleming's desert island interview, new Ian Fleming book designs, FantomasSpy SmasherBarbarella tv show, British spy comics, Piper Gates retro designs, Cinema Retro, and more. 


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3 comments:

  1. Thanks, Jason. I had no idea the Oy Oy 7s has been republished! Don't know how I missed that. I can actually believe those sales claims from the Sixties. I remember when I started collecting Bond books in second hand bookstores, the Israel Bond titles seemed easier to come by than the JAMES Bond ones! All except the elusive You Only Live Until You Die. In a pre-Internet era, that one took me far longer to track down--and it's a very attractive hardcover, worth tracking! As a kid, I was highly amused by the title On the Secret Service of His Majesty, The Queen... and all I thought he was doing was a little bit of adjective/noun disparity humor!

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  2. Thanks! I often saw the Loxfinger paperback when i was growing up, but almost never the others (and never a hardcover). I'd be curious to see the HC and magazine editions for their designs. Did the hardcovers have different designs than the paperbacks?

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  3. As far as I know, You Only Live Until You Die was the only hardcover--and wasn't available in paperback (well, until these new editions, I guess!). So no matching set. I found the Playboy serialization of YOLUYD long before I managed to find the book. I don't have the magazines out here in LA with me, but I'll send you a picture of the hardcover.

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