Thanks, Mom

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by Leonard Maltin
November 14, 2012 1:00 AM
43 Comments
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My mother, Jacqueline Maltin, died last Friday—peacefully, in her home, at the age of 89. As I try to deal with this, my mind is flooded with memories. It’s often said that we don’t get to choose our parents; I guess I just lucked out. Whatever success I have achieved is due, in large part, to the loving support I received from my mom and dad. They encouraged me in everything I did, from my earliest publishing efforts to transforming our basement into a screening room. The only time I remember my mother questioning my judgment was when she asked how I could be headed off to the movies when it was such a nice day outside. (Sometimes even the best moms just don’t understand.) Once, at a PTA meeting, she asked a psychologist if it was healthy for me to be reading so many comic books. Luckily for me, he replied, “So long as he’s reading!”

I’ve often been asked if my folks inspired my interest in film. They didn’t, but once I got hooked it seemed to rekindle my mom’s fondness for moviegoing. (She recalled cutting classes with her best friend to see Gary Cooper in Peter Ibbetson at the Paramount Theatre in Times Square.) We went to New York’s revival theaters on a regular basis and enjoyed talking about the movies afterwards. When I met William K. Everson and won an invitation to his secretive Theodore Huff Memorial Film Society, Mom accompanied me to many an evening of rare and unusual films, until I was old enough to drive myself into the City. The only time she complained was when Bill screened Preston Sturges’ notorious flop The Great Moment with Joel McCrea as the inventor of anesthesia. She hated that film and harangued me about it—and my refusal to walk out—for years.

Gloria Stuart and my mom...two shining stars
My mother never appeared onscreen, but she had a colorful career in show business. Her mother encouraged her to study voice, piano, and drama, and at the age of 11 she appeared in her first solo recital in Manhattan. Four years later, while attending Professional Children’s School (as it was then called), she began working in nightclubs, singing and accompanying herself on the accordion. With her dark good looks, and my grandmother’s penchant for stretching the truth, she was able to pass herself off as being of French, Spanish, Italian, or Greek ancestry, and learned a few songs in each of those languages in order to please particular audiences and club owners. Billing herself as Jacquelina, she got away with murder until her boss, or a heavy tipper in the audience, would request an encore—which her limited repertoire couldn’t provide. She patterned herself after an entertainer named Gypsy Nina, who proved to be a good role model, as we agreed when, years later, we saw her in a short subject called Radio Announcers’ Revue.

Mom worked hard, until the wee hours of the morning, and brought home much-needed money for her family, although I think it cheated her out of a “normal” teenage existence. She had many stories of her experiences from these years, from the man who requested that she sing “My Dear Mr. Shane,” which turned out to be “Bei Meir Bist Du Schoen,” to the dramatic time in 1942 when she and my grandmother had a choice of two engagements in Boston. They chose the Copley Plaza Hotel, which saved their lives, as the Cocoanut Grove was the scene of a deadly fire in which cowboy star Buck Jones and many others perished.

Later in the 1940s she got an offer to replace a chorus member in the original Broadway run of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel on Broadway, and she never forgot the thrill of standing in the wings and watching John Raitt perform “Soliloquy,” night after night.

A short time later, an agent arranged for her to appear on the popular radio show Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. This was not an amateur show, but instead a program where various people would present up-and-coming professionals. The studio audience applause would indicate the most popular contestant, and as mom related, the fix was in for fellow vocalist Vic Damone to win that night…but she tied him on the applause meter. As a result, each of them earned the prize: a week-long engagement on Godfrey’s popular morning show on the CBS Radio Network. In later years she berated herself for not being savvy enough to understand why everyone around her seemed to laugh at Godfrey’s every utterance.

In 1949 she met my father, an immigration lawyer who had gone to work for the government as a special hearings officer. Within a year of their marriage I came along, followed by my brother three years later. Mom was a full-time housewife, but she continued performing, doing club dates and benefits, and singing in a local synagogue choir. Then in the 1960s she set herself a more ambitious goal: a classical recital at New York’s Town Hall. She studied with a voice coach and a well-trained accompanist for several years and acquitted herself beautifully, earning good reviews in The New York Times and The New York Herald-Tribune. It was the highpoint of her performing career.

Milton Berle with dad and mom.

Like my father, she was blessed with good health for more than 80 years. Her hospitalization earlier this year was an unwelcome intrusion, and my wife and I promised her that she wouldn’t have to go back. Our family takes comfort in knowing that she was able to live out her last months in her own apartment, overlooking the Hudson River, where she only lost power for a short time during the recent hurricane. Lifting an accordion was out of the question, but she continued practicing her piano to the very end.

She also never lost her love of movies. When conversation ran short, all I had to do was ask what she’d been watching recently, usually on TCM. It was a connection we shared and never lost.

I’m still coming to grips with the idea that she’s gone…but these memories will always be with me.

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43 Comments

  • Kevin S.Butler | December 19, 2012 4:46 PMReply

    Dear Len,I'm sorry to hear about the passing of your mother..please convey my condolences to your wife and daughter.

  • Native Baltimoron | November 26, 2012 9:44 AMReply

    I understand the connection with the movies and Moms. Mine loved the potboilers. Everything stopped for Lana Turner in "Imitation of Life" or "Madame X." Mom was famous throughout the family, by saying, after the mention of Lana Turner, "Oh, how that woman suffered." She was, of course, referring to Ms. Turner's onscreen characters and her offscreen life. She contended that Clark Gable was the only man in the world that was handsome with a moustache, and on occasion, Robert Taylor. She was a great movie fan, and a fair critic who grew up with and believed in the studio star system; as evidenced by her predilection for MGM stars. My condolences on your loss. I still can't channel surf and not stop for Lana Turner, even for a few minutes, wishing that I could hear Mom say excitedly, "Let's watch this!"

  • Amado Talavera | November 22, 2012 3:37 PMReply

    Dear and truly admired Mr. Maltin, I am deeply sorry for your Mom´s demise, since she was a wonderful lady (mine´s died 4 years ago, and I still has not yet recovered). We met many years ago (30, I believe, near in time with your Disney years) in Monterrey, the Coloquio Cinematográfico held by the local University. I have been a reader of your fantastic Yearbook, although is difficult to get it here in Mexico. I live in a small town in Veracruz, 5 hrs by drive from Mexico City. Anyway, I just want you to feel comforted by a sincere fan of yours, who suffered something alike: The loss of a deeply beloved and irremplazable one. I embrace you, warmly and sincerely.

  • alan aperlo | November 17, 2012 7:20 PMReply

    I am sorry on you lost. great mom. I am a film fan and I like "The Great Moment" I will refusal to walk too. Like you. Great MOM.

  • Margaret N | November 17, 2012 7:03 PMReply

    Mr. Maltin: So very sorry for your loss. Losing a parent, regardless their age, is always a difficult. From the sounds of it, your parents encouraged, supported and nurtured your career choice. Job well done.

  • Kathleen Carroll | November 16, 2012 4:29 PMReply

    Dear Leonard,

    So sorry to hear about your loss. You've described your mother so vividly and tenderly I feel almost as if I was lucky enough to have known her. You were certainly blessed to have such beautiful and talented woman as your mother.

  • Norman W | November 16, 2012 12:28 PMReply

    Leonard, this was a beautiful tribute to your mom. What a great and fascinating lady! Thank you for sharing this with us, and you have my most heartfelt condolences.

  • Jay Lurie | November 16, 2012 6:24 AMReply

    What a beautiful tribute.
    Parents and children are our greatest treasures.

  • Kevin T | November 15, 2012 8:57 PMReply

    Thank you for such a lovely article. Sorry to hear about your loss but I hope it comforts you that you were blessed with such wonderful parents.

  • John Aldrich | November 15, 2012 8:50 PMReply

    I remember seeing a picture in Sam Rubin's paper many years ago of Leonard's mom helping him set up a dealer's table at an early Cinecon. At the time I thought, 'wow, how cool for Leonard to have a mom that actively supports his hobby.' That recollection popped into my head today as I read this touching tribute. Thanks for sharing.

  • Emily Leider | November 15, 2012 3:45 PMReply

    Condolences. She sounds like a wonderful lady.

  • rafael castro | November 15, 2012 2:58 PMReply

    my deepest condolences. your mother was a great beauty in his youth, who remind me a lot of our maria montez.

  • Leibl Cohen | November 15, 2012 11:50 AMReply

    Leonard, So sorry for your lose. Our Deepest condolences. I lost my mom this past January at the age of 94. As I begin to think of the first yahrzeit and the ceremony of placing the headstone, little things trigger fond memories (and some not so fond) of growing up in Milwaukee.

  • Bobbi | November 14, 2012 11:21 PMReply

    Leonard, So sorry for your lose. .Our Deepest condolences.
    Your Mom sounds like she was special to you and that will always be in your heart forever.
    God Bless you and your family

  • John | November 14, 2012 8:51 PMReply

    Very touching Leonard! Your mom died at the same age as mine and we're both fortunate in having such a long and loving relationship with our mothers. Condolences to you and your entire family.

  • Steve Rubin | November 14, 2012 8:49 PMReply

    A beautiful remembrance, Leonard. My mom is hanging in there at a local board and care home at 93 and I have similar memories of our early days. My mom was a strong influence on my love of movies - she was a huge fan and also worshiped at the TCM altar. When I was a contestant on The Jokers Wild back in '73, my show ended before it complete and I had a week to study the categories. I really only studied one category - Clark Gable. And Mom quizzed me on every film. When it came to Honky Tonk, she said always remember Lana Turner. And sure enough, I spun three jokers, picked Clark Gable and they asked me, "Clark Gable made a film in 1941 that co-starred Lana Turner, for the championship of The Joker's Wild, what is it?" And I blurted out Honky Tonk and won. I later bought her a pendant, inscribed with the words Thanks Mom for Honky Tonk. God love our mothers!!

  • Thomas | November 14, 2012 8:12 PMReply

    There comes a time in your life when you have to start establishing an adult relationship with your mom - in addition to being the child you will always be to her. When this time came (high school) I had started taking film classes and studying film seriously - from Melies and Vertov on. When I got to classic studio Hollywood and genre films I was amazed to find my mom had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of these movies from seeing them (often repeatedly!) as a child and young woman and held a great passion for movies. Who knew!? We could discuss actors, directors, plot and mise en scene (although I had to introduce her to serious film terms like "mise en scene") for hours. She died too young at 65 and I wish I still had her here today to continue our discussions. I found out late that my mom was actually an interesting woman. You are a lucky man.

  • Michael Townsend Wright | November 14, 2012 7:48 PMReply

    What an interesting life your mom had! I'm so sorry for your loss, Leonard.

  • Sal Toleno | November 14, 2012 6:57 PMReply

    I was your mom's mailman at the Winston Towers for 5 years, we talked many times about movies. She was a very warm and classy woman, I was saddened to hear of her passing. My condolances to you and your family

  • Bruce Hershenson | November 14, 2012 6:38 PMReply

    It is so hard to lose your mom, no matter what her age! Clearly you were blessed to have her (and to have had her for so long) but it is also clear that she must have been incredibly proud of you and all you have done in your life.

  • Bronwen Harris | November 14, 2012 6:31 PMReply

    Dear Mr Maltin

    My thoughts go out to you and to your family during this trying time. My fiance's father has just been diagnosed with cancer and the chances are that he may not live far into the new year. If it's of any consolation I really must thank you for inspiring me to take my passion for movies further than just a favourite pastime. I always greatly value your reviews and therefore your opinions. Once again my heartfelt condolences.

    Yours sincerely
    Bronwen Harris (South Africa)

  • Michael Karp | November 14, 2012 6:25 PMReply

    I am so sorry to read of this, Mr. Maltin. Losing a parent--especially one as obviously influential and vivacious as your mom-- is one of the most difficult things a person can go through. Please accept my heartfelt condolences to you and your family...

  • Brent Walker | November 14, 2012 6:05 PMReply

    My deepest condolences to you and your family, Leonard. I lost my mother last year, and she was the one who encouraged me down the paths of writing and history with great enthusiasm, so your heartfelt tribute really hits home.

  • Richard W. Bann | November 14, 2012 5:41 PMReply

    Leonard's mom was special. There aren't enough words...she was supportive, funny, talented, enthusiastic, warm, positive. What a life force. So many wonderful memories I have of this terrific lady. She was a gift in the lives of all who knew her. I was still a kid in school when I met her and her husband, Aaron, and I remember how supportive they were of Leonard and his passion, which happened to be movies. I remember them explaining how Leonard was dedicated to old movies to the exclusion of almost everything else. So it didn't bother them when he wanted to turn in a paper at school about some aspect of old movies to get extra credit in a math or science course! If you were lucky enough to know Leonard's parents, you would understand why they were treasured, and are missed now.

  • Tom S | November 14, 2012 5:40 PMReply

    You were so blessed to have such a beautiful, caring, talented mother for so long, and you have my heartfelt sympathy for your loss. But you were so lucky to have her for so long. I lost by beloved mother when I was 22 and she was only 58, to cancer.

  • steven dollinger | November 14, 2012 5:35 PMReply

    Your mom seemed to have been a beautiful person and was lucky to have a son like you Leonard.. She must have been very proud of the person you turned out to be....Much good wishes to you and your family..

  • gary palmatier | November 14, 2012 5:07 PMReply

    Sincerest condolences on your loss. You are very fortunate to have shared so much time with your mother. My mother died in 1982 at the too young age of 63. On the other hand, my father lived to 92, dying in 2009 in my guest room in my home in Pleasanton CA. He came to live with me in 2004 and when his health took a nosedive, I too promised he could stay in our home until the end...no hospitals or nursing homes, please. God bless the good parents. They make this world very much better place. Again, my condolences.

    Gary Palmatier

  • Baerbel | November 14, 2012 5:02 PMReply

    Thank you for sharing these memories of your mother. Yes, you lucked out. Remarkable Mom.
    Sending love and from Tagore:
    "don't be sad when it's over,
    be happy that it was"
    (on my mother's gravestone; chosen by her)
    Baerbel

  • Ralph Celentano | November 14, 2012 4:21 PMReply

    I remember this great lady from my visit to Teaneck, when I first met you (a teenager) and Dick Bann in the 70's.
    May God bless you during this time of loss. My condolences to you and your family.

  • Kay | November 14, 2012 4:20 PMReply

    Thanks for this lovely tribute, Leonard. It's so moving and so heartfelt...it's clear the apple didn't fall too far from the tree. My deepest sympathy to your family and you. Warmly, Karen Noske

  • Karen Snow | November 14, 2012 4:15 PMReply

    Dear Leonard -- I am so sorry for your loss. She sounds like she was quite a gal all through her life, with so many who loved and appreciated her. Maintaining a career in show business while raising a family is not an easy thing -- shows how much that part of her was dedicated to her talent -- and her success must have been such a gratifying thing for you all. I wish I could have met her ! And she hasn't really left, you know -- one's parents are never far away, especially to the children who love and were loved. I hope you and your family find some comfort in that thought.

  • Tony Caruana | November 14, 2012 4:14 PMReply

    Dear Leonard, that is a beautiful tribute to your mother. Deepest condolences.

  • Gary Stark | November 14, 2012 4:03 PMReply

    Leonard,

    Sincerest sympathy from my entire family on your loss. What a beautifully written story.

    Gary

  • Tom Meyers | November 14, 2012 4:01 PMReply

    Dear Leonard,

    Your story about your mom was a true testament to her life and not only was she a beautiful woman but she raised a wonderful son. My condolences to you and your family.

  • Claude Wolf | November 14, 2012 3:43 PMReply

    Leonard, I'm really sorry to hear about your mother and wish you and your loved ones many years of good health and joy. You write so beautifully about her, I feel that I knew her. May you only remember the good times. I can only imagine how proud she must be of your success. With deepest condolences.

  • Marge | November 14, 2012 2:11 PMReply

    Your mother sounds like she was a lovely person and a great mom. I lost my mother 20 years ago and I STILL miss her. I hope that the Lord will bring you and your family comfort and peace in the coming years.

  • Theresa Kaualoku | November 14, 2012 1:36 PMReply

    I am sorry about your mom - it is good you have happy memories of her and that she was able to stay mobile. My mother died a few years ago.. young (64) of brain cancer. She lost all her short term memory.. so she couldn't tell you what she had for breakfast but we could talk about and watch movies because she remembered those. I was like you and got the movie bug early. she would ask me why i would WANT to spend my whole sunday watching a triple feature by myself - who would go? and even when i majored in film history in college.. she didn't really understand it but never told me no.

  • Jeff Heise | November 14, 2012 12:22 PMReply

    Leonard-I am so sorry for your loss. My own mother passed away three years ago at 86 and although her health was faltering for her last months, she was still vibrant enough to make jokes and continue to be interested in everything around her almost to the very end, as well. My mother also tolerated my love of movies (along with the screening room in the basement) and often shared her memories of going to the movies in Cleveland with her sister and how her first date with my father was going to the movie shows at lunchtime in high school-it was the only time they could spend time together at first and it was only a nickel a day/one reel per day (the movie was MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY). A close friend also lost her mother this past summer and it is still reverberating around the household, but her friends and family are supporting her and she is getting through it as well as can be expected. Having met your parents years ago at Cinevent I remember how warm and friendly they both were, and I know you will miss them both now very deeply, but remember this-you now have two souls watching over you and your family and waiting very patiently for you to join them when the time comes. That thought always gives me comfort and I hope it does the same for you and your family.

  • Jim Reinecke | November 14, 2012 12:07 PMReply

    Deepest condolences, Leonard. I lost my mother (who also tolerated my love of movies at an early age---even allowing me to stay up until midnight on school nights catching vintage films on the tube!) 21 years ago and I still find myself seeing a new movie that I enjoyed and wishing that she were here to see if she would feel the same after viewing it. I'm sure that both of your folks were very proud of the accomplishments of their son. You were blessed to have such loving parents and I know that you have a wife and daughter whom you love very much for sustenance in a difficult time. Please also remember that you have a large following of fans who wish you the best during this period.

  • Karen Colizzi Noonan | November 14, 2012 12:00 PMReply

    Such a beautiful tribute for a truly beautiful woman. Our thoughts and prayers go out to you and Alice.

  • Nick Santa Maria | November 14, 2012 11:44 AMReply

    Dear Leonard,

    So sorry about your loss. Remember that nobody really leaves you as long as you keep her alive in your heart and mind. During times like these I always think of Thomas Edison's last words. He was in a coma, with his wife holding his at his bedside. She was crying, and when he suddenly opened his eyes...he looked at her and said, "Don't be sad...it's beautiful over there." Then he passed on.

    All the best to you,
    Nick Santa Maria

  • Tim Lones | November 14, 2012 11:39 AMReply

    Leonard:
    Your Mother was certainly a Beautiful Woman, and I am sorry for your loss..This may not be the time to say it, but I've always appreciated your writing and reviews over the years and never thought I would be able to contact you to let you know..Again, I am sorry for your loss..God Bless You in this time..

    Tim Lones

  • Kevin Coffey | November 14, 2012 11:23 AMReply

    A beautiful woman, Leonard- sorry for your loss-

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