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Golden Oldies: Seniors Reflect on Fulfilling Lives

July 2, 2014 By: By:
Michael Elkin and Eric Berger
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Sam Kaplan gets a Mummers serenade at the Klein JCC celebration.

Older Americans relegated to rocking-chair status? These seniors pull the chair out from under such stereotypes. Whether jumping out of planes, acting in movies or celebrating confirmation way beyond their teen years, the seniors featured in this issue reflect on their busy, fulfilling lives. Statistics show that Americans are living longer and remaining more active than ever before. These seniors prove that they’re not just getting older — they’re getting better!

Acting Out: Senior Recalls Storied Stage Career, Despite his Parents’ Disapproval

Eric Berger, JE Staff

When William Goldberg was 12 years old and wanted to audition for the Little Theater of Philadelphia, his parents told him they didn’t want him to become an actor.

Goldberg didn’t listen.

At a recent Klein Center City Senior Program, the 76-year-old who grew up in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood recalled a career that included starring in operas, musicals and movies. He also talked about one of the roles of which he’s most proud. Of course, it’s one that parents might not condone:

He played a john in Malcolm X, picking up the title character’s ex-girlfriend — who had become a prostitute — and taking her with him into an alley.

Performing in the 1992 film starring Denzel Washington ended up being a great experience, he said.

“The money was good. I remember treating myself at two expensive restaurants in New York.”

These days, Goldberg lives in South Philadelphia and attends the seniors’ Friday lunch program at the Jewish Community Services Building. At the May 30 gathering, diners brought in photos of themselves and shared stories about their younger years.

Goldberg still receives residuals from Malcom X and keeps his Screen Actors Guild membership card in his wallet, but he doesn’t do any acting — though he would if the call came. It’s all he’s ever done, he said.

“I was born with it. Judy Garland said, ‘I was born in a trunk,’ ” said Goldberg, referring to her line in the 1954 film A Star is Born. “I was born” to act.

Despite his parents’ disapproval, Goldberg continued to audition and ended up performing at theaters throughout Philadelphia in operas such as La Bohème and Carmen and musicals like Bye, Bye, Birdie and Where’s Charley?

“I think it was a Jewish thing — you didn’t want your son to be an actor,” Goldberg said. “Al Jolson’s father said, ‘If you become an actor you’ll be a bum,’ and I think my father carried that expression with him.”

Goldberg said he appeared in more than 100 films, though the majority of these were nonspeaking roles. In addition to Malcolm X, he had lines in Mr. Wonderful, a 1993 romantic comedy starring Matt Dillon and Mary Louise Parker.

When not acting, Goldberg said he would go to shows in Atlantic City and to dances at the now defunct Temple Sholom on Roosevelt Boulevard, “sometimes with a date; sometimes without a date.”

But he never married or had children. And even as he started to make a living from his roles, his parents’ thoughts on acting didn’t change.

“I did it all myself,” he said. “I kept going to auditions.”

Meat the Press: A Centenarian’s Slice of Life

Michael Elkin, JE Staff

For close to 40 years, Sam Kaplan met meat on its own terms: He cut it, hauled it, filleted it.

But after carving out a career for himself as a butcher, he got a call from an unusual messenger.

“I looked at the soup bones and they said to me, ‘Sam, enough is enough!’ ”

That was in 1985, and for the past 29 years, he’s rated retirement as Grade A.

Now, awaiting his 100th birthday on July 21, Kaplan reflects on a life well-lived.

He was born and raised in South Philadelphia, where his family operated a kosher butcher store; the business was in his bones, he said.

He and his late brother, William — who died two years ago at age 92 — were raised by their grandparents after their father died at age 32.

These days what’s past is past, and he’s reveling in retirement. It’s easy to pin him down on what makes him happy: “Bowling,” he said. “Tuesdays I head to the bowling alley with my friends.”

And if he needs the aid of a walker — “my circulation and my knees are not so good” — so be it.

No matter his score at bowling, he said, his life has turned into a perfect game. He and his only child, Neil, 64, are tight. “He calls me every day, he’s doing well for himself — what more can you ask for?”

He’s also got six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

His second wife, Evelyn, died at age 93 in 2006; his first wife, Esther, died in 1975.

Now as he sits awaiting the special lunch offered by the Klein JCC at a recent event honoring centenarians, Kaplan is suddenly surrounded by Mummers, bringing back memories of his days as a dancing Jewish dervish.

As the Rustics — the amalgam of Mummers assembled here — serenade the senior, he smiles and gets his feet tapping.

Yes, he has always loved dancing, said the resident of Brightview, an assisted living facility in East Norriton. And while his knees prevent him from getting his groove on quite the way he used to, he still won’t cede his moves to old age.

“I own the floor, baby!”

A Century in the Footlights

Michael Elkin, JE Staff

AT 102, Dr. Fred Goldman is a natural to be feted.

After all, he was a podiatrist who was in practice for over 50 years and kept up with one of his patients — who refused to see anyone else — until he was 88.

A trip down memory lane with the former two-term president of the Philadelphia County Podiatry Society is a walk on the wily side — age hasn’t hampered his humor.

“How am I different than I used to be? I’m hungrier today than yesterday,” said the resident of Holy Redeemer Lafayette, a continuing care facility in the Northeast, while taking part in a recent Klein JCC salute to centenarians.

What got him to the age he is today?

That’s simple: “Bad women and good liquor.”    

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