People I Knew When They Were Alive: Ned Schnurman

I first met Ned Schnurman in the mid 90’s through my friend Kathleen Landis, pianist at the Hotel Pierre. Ned was acting as Kathleen’s manager  and handling her PR. He also had a crush on her and would show up every night bearing a red rose.  Ned was a very short and very dapper man in his mid 70’s when I first met him. A funny character I thought who loved the American songbook as much as he loved Kathleen. And he really disliked Jonathan Schwartz, public radio’s king of the American Songbook for never playing Kathleen on his radio program. He always played Daryl Sherman, another mutual friend. Of course Daryl had a nicer voice and was a better pianist but I did not dare to say that to Ned. When Ned was laid up at home in bed I would call him from home or my car during the broadcast and Ned would fume about what he was hearing. “What does he know kid?” He used to call me that endearing term as only one of his generation could do. Ned spoke in song lyrics. I was going home from the bar early one night and he said that I was “shuffling oft to Buffalo.” I replied that I was “taking the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe” and he said that I would be better off to “take the A train.” I used to tell him, especially after a few drinks, that our ship won’t come in if we keep standing at the airport. He loved that. At his memorial on the banks for the Hudson River at Chelsea Pier, I told that story just as a giant cruise ship sailed behind me and blew his whistle. Ned had something to do with that. We were known among the stepping out crowd as Max and Leo. He used to talk about doing winter stock in the summer or something like that but I never knew what he was talking about.

Ned was a remarkable man. He was born in Brooklyn and went to Erasmus Hall high school, and NYU. He served in the Army in  the Philippines during the war. He told me that he calmly broke up a fight and a red neck soldier complimented him and said that he was the first Jew that he had ever met and from that could tell that Jews weren’t so bad after all. He went to work for a series of small newspapers after the war and even did sports for a small radio station upstate. He loved all the great Jewish ball players. And of course a stint at MCA where he learned all the PR tricks in his bag. He secured a post as a reporter on the old Herald Tribune and set off for London with the second of his three wives where he worked for 3 years in the early 60’s. He told me that he wanted an interview with Elizabeth Taylor who he had interviewed in 1958 when she was filming Butterfield 8 in New York. So “Kid, I sent her a wire. In london with wife come for lunch.” She wired back ,”Leave wife and come for lunch.”  So he did both. “How did you get to know her, I asked “Easy kid, I went ice skating with her!” Seems as a condition of securing the first interview he had to skate around Central Park pond.

Ned went on to create an award-winning PBS program that garnered him 5 Emmys. He enlisted Hodding Carter in that effort.  He had a car for a while and it was rusted out with a hole in the floor. He had a 30-year-old expired press pass on the front window and we would go all over the city visiting little restaurants that he claimed he was doing PR for. Hungarian stuffed pepper places, highly unlikely. One night we agreed to meet at restaurant uptonew, a very fine establishment where i knew the owner and hostess. I called them ahead of time to let them know that he would be arriving before me and to make him comfortable. when I got there they both insisted that I ” get that man out of here!” because he was bothering the diners. So we were politely thrown out. I asked him what had happened and he told me that he prowled around the tables asking the diners what they were having and if they liked it. All part of his research. The sight of an 80 year old gnome with a a silver headed cane would spoil any one’s appetite. I visited him when he was dying at the Cardinal Cooke Center on upper 5th Avenue. He was propped up with his NY Times and was as crotchety and irascible as ever. I learned a lot from Ned. He taught me about the American Song book, how to step out on the town with panache, how to appreciate the finer things in life especially the smallest ones. How to have a twinkle in my eye and call people “kid.”  Wait up  for me Ned I’ll be joining you on the pier.