A COSMIC OBITUARY
OF A HILL SECTION BOY
WHO LIVED OUT HIS DREAM
By Lew Marcus
a friend of his from a time long ago
I heard the news last week that Alan Kosher died. Another lesson in the mortality of us all and how a small town boy from Scranton Pennsylvania hit his stride on the Great White Way. This is the story of living your dream and being an inspiration to us all.
For those of you who didn't know Alan, he was for the most part another of the indistinguishable Hill Section boys in those formative late 1950s. This was a time when you dressed up to go downtown to the movies. "Tuck your shirt in and comb your hair," our parents would instruct us. It was the time of "Jet Jackson" and "Howdy Doody" and "Rin Tin Tin." It was the Cold War. Goggie Grant sang A Westward Wind and America's bobbie soxers went crazy over Ricky Nelson. Ike was in the White House and our fathers were just hitting their stride.
Alan was one of us. The Hill Section Boys. We were smarter than tougher. We had goals and aspirations. We were college-bound. We knew it then in fifth grade. We were picking out schools: Penn State, Temple, Pitt, Boston University, Miami. Nobody went Ivy. After all, Bob Gordon's brother had been turned down from Harvard and he was the smartest boy we knew. He was brilliant.
I first met Alan in cub scouts. There we were at the Jewish Community Center in our starched blue uniforms complete with caps and white web belts. It was a highly homogeneous group. Richie Epstein and I were from Temple Israel, the conservative shul. David Harris was Orthodox and went on to become the roshyeshiva (headmaster) of the Chovitz Chaim Yeshiva in New York (translation: a big deal). Dormie Waters and Harvey Major were from the projects and Dormie was the first black man employed by the City of Scranton. It wasn't like it is today with everyone isolated in their own little world. It was a gentler and more respectful time in those days. Being different meant there was more to learn not more to fear.
I never knew Alan went to the Hebrew Day School. I discovered that looking through an old yearbook. There he was with a few more of my cub scout friends. I just assumed they were at Madison School along with all the couple hundred rest of the lower Hill Section kids. After all, we camped out together on hikes to Ore Mine Springs with Mr. Epstein. We took bus trips to see Yankee games together. We played together on Saturday afternoons.
This is where I learned Alan's secret ambition. When Bobby and I played together it was with our cache of toy soldiers. We were fighting the Big One, WWII, all over again. It was the war our fathers fought in and now we could recreate it all with little metal figures, trucks and tanks. We even had airplanes. But when Alan and I played together it was with his building block set. Alan was creating theatres, complete with marquees and lobbies and red carpets. Bobby and I looked to the past. Alan looked to his future. He saw what he wanted.
Central High School was four years of marking time for all of us anxious to get out into the world. Alan was chomping at the bit. There was Little Theater with its annual musical productions. One year it was Bye Bye Birdie. The next year it was Lil Abner. They were great shows full of talented kids pulling off difficult parts: Conrad Birdie, Apassionata Von Climax, General Bullmoose. I was in the band, first chair clarinet. Alan was behind the scenes. Backstage. The unsung hero. The one unnoticed.
But that all ended when Alan got his degree in theater from Temple and wound up working the box offices at theaters in Philadelphia. He had gone home to his first hometown and slowly busted out of the box offices and into company management. Now it was real for Alan. No more building block sets. He was running the show.
By 1998 Alan had been picked up by Disney and was running their shows across the country and back: Beauty and the Beast and then years with The Lion King.
I thought of Alan a couple of weeks ago when I attended a seminar for Hebrew School teachers and wewere shown the Circle of Life scene from The Lion King. The facilitator explained how this was drawn from Jewish imagery. The animals (sub for people) were making a pilgrimage to pay homage to The King. Just like Jews did in ancient times when they would make three yearly pilgrimages to Jerusalem to pay homage to Avinu Malkanu -- Our Father Our King. One of those holidays is just ending. Alan died on the Shabbos, the Sabbath, following Rosh Hashanah, the New Year. He died on the opening night of the High Holidays. He died days before one of those holidays that was a pilgrimage holiday.
It seemed somehow connected. Alan, the Day School graduate, would die on the eve of the first of the yearly pilgrimage holidays after spending a lifetime presenting to us this incredible Circle of Life theme that is so clearly Jewish.
Alan learned his lessons well. He knew what it was to be a mensch -- that Yiddish word that means so much more than just "gentleman." It means someone who knows his place in the world, is grateful and gives back. Alan gave back. He had an impact on so many he touched. So much so that he was honored by the League of American Theater and Producers with a Career Achievement Award. Five years later Temple University honored him.
I had lost touch with Alan all through these years. When his mother was alive I would see Alan's career through her proud eyes. She couldn't wait to see me in the supermarket and tell me about the shows she saw with Alan or what Alan was doing now. I, too, was proud of him in that he made his dream come true in such a dramatic way.
We busted out of Central High with no sense of mortality. The world was for us to conquer and no task was too daunting. We could achieve our dreams if we just plugged away. And we did. Many of us Hill Section Boys hit high marks: doctors, research scientists, a world-acclaimed photographer, educators, journalists, inventive entrepreneurs. But Alan, quiet, unassuming, perhaps a little shy Alan, made it big in a big way. And then cancer grabbed him and wouldn't let go.
We are mortal, after all. We do die. And we cry. And we mourn. And we look to each other and say the words we were taught to say, Baruch Dyan Emes -- Blessed is the Truth. We look at our friend cut down in our midst and we say, "OK, Lord, You know what You are doing." He knows. But we don't. We look at each other and we say, "Why!"
Alan is dead but there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of people across this country who are mourning his passing and recalling the lessons he taught us. When you leave this world the only thing you leave behind is your good name. And Alan had a mighty good name.