No Complaints

I’m Maurice Duke’s daughter, remember me? I said that a lot growing up. Still do. Just said it a lot at a memorial I crashed for one of my dad’s friends. The only time in my entire life that I asked someone if he knew my father and he said no was when I was a teenager eating lunch at Nate n’ Al’s deli in Beverly Hills. The person who said no was Johnny Carson. And I spent the rest of that lunch not believing his answer. Because my dad knew so many people, there was an illusion that he was much more famous than he really was. I actually didn’t and don’t care if he was famous; he was my idol just based on how wildly unique he was.

I can never celebrate my father enough. In our family, my dad’s birthday is a national holiday. We tend to celebrate him every day, so on his birthday, we step it up a notch. Last year, October 27’th, would have been his 100th birthday. I invited a lot of my friends — and what friends of his were still alive — and I screened a movie I made about him.

I should be ashamed to say, greatest night of my life!!! I gave birth three times. What gets me off the hook here is that the births were during the operative word, day. Technically, I might have been married in the early evening, but let’s just say late afternoon so I can keep saying the screening was the greatest night of my life. You know, without hurting anyone’s feelings.

My father never hurt anyone’s feelings on purpose. He was, however, blunt and outspoken to the point of being shocking. He used the C-word as if it were a term of endearment. When he used the word cooze, that’s when we knew the person he was talking about was a real c-u-n-t. A bathroom he always called a terlet. He moved to California from New York in the 40’s, yet a toilet was a terlet until the day he died in 1996.

Speaking of terlets, he often didn’t get up to use one. I cringe when I think of it, I didn’t speak of it in the movie I made, though others I interviewed did (I cut it) — but my dad used what he called a pish bottle. Shamelessly. He kept it sitting right there next to him all day long. Oy. And my brother and I had the nasty job of emptying the pish bottle. You see, my dad was handicapped, in case you haven’t been following my blog. He had polio and throughout his life he was saddled with a leg brace and a cane. It wasn’t always easy for him to get around so he ordered us around instead. We would bring him, fetch him, do for him. And we loved every second of it.

My dad woke up every morning of his life singing. He was happy to be here, always. We all strive to maintain being grateful. Everyone is always reminding themselves and others, be grateful. This was his natural state. Eternal gratefulness. Happy to have been given a blessed life. But we were the blessed ones. The ones who got to be around him and loved by him.

Duke playing the harmonica

Every morning he held court with his entourage of show-bizzy friends at Nate n’ Al’s in Beverly Hills. And he would pick up the tab. And he would charm the waitresses or any beautiful woman who happened to be in a booth near him. He often called when he got to his office just a few blocks down from his brek place and report to me about a “friend” of mine he had just met. Invariably, he didn’t know their name. On Saturdays, brek, as he called it, was a little later and he would drive by my mom’s house or maybe an apartment I lived in to pick me up with his signature honk: da, da-da-da-da. No beep-beep at the end, like you might think. If I didn’t run out quick enough, the honk would repeat. Da, da-da-da-da!!! I can hear it still. And if I heard it today, my Pavlovian reaction would be to run out the door to hop in the back of my dad’s convertible to be well loved and fed.

When my dad was critically ill and dying in the hospital, his doctors placed bets that I would never let him die, that I’d just keep him alive on machines. They were in shock the day I asked questions about “letting him go”. They told me toxins would build up from not getting dialysis and it would take up to three days. So, I moved into the hospital and told my kids I would be back in three days. It took seven. I was an OCD basket case. I had a pile of cigars given to him by various friends that I placed on his chest. If a nurse moved him, I would glare at them to replace those cigars. Eventually, they wrote the directive into his chart, “put cigars back or the daughter gets mad.” His cane, the one that he would never again use, I put in his hand or placed by his side. I watched over him like a hawk, needing to be there for his last breath as he was probably there for my first breath, cigars and all. He wasn’t letting go, though we never knew how much of him was still in there. One night, I ushered out a cousin who was hanging around. I knew I needed to be alone with him for the moment I felt was imminent. I climbed into that hospital bed, as close as I possibly could to my daddy, and as I held him in my arms, I started chanting I love you, I love you I love you … words I rarely said at all, if ever, when he was alive. And in that moment, he literally took his last breath with a lone tear streaming down his face. In just this past year, I found out my dad’s father died in his arms. Amazing synchronicity all those years apart.

I want you to know what my dad said every single day when I called him (and by the way it was often several times a day) to check in. “Hi Dad, how are you?”

“No complaints!!!!!”

Happy Birthday Dad. I wish I were more like you. I have a lot of complaints. The biggest one being that you aren’t here with me.

My dad and I were big caviar whores. He wasn’t quite as bad as I am, but one day, I scored big time. Gourmet Grandma, my kids’ grandmother who worked for Williams-Sonoma, had given a party where tons of it hadn’t been eaten. Guess it was the anorexic 80’s? She knew what a nut I am for caviar and offered it to me. I remember at the time she said it was around $400 dollars worth, a huge tin. Today, it would be worth more like $1000. I called my dad and told him that just the two of us would be having a caviar party. We scarfed it up, looking a lot like happy pirates who just found the treasure. There was a man named Alex who owned the liquor store right near the corner of Beverly Glen and Santa Monica Blvd. My dad was very friendly with him and often called to order a delivery. I do remember at the time that I would remind my dad that that guy Alex had some really great caviar in his store. Well, now I buy my caviar exclusively from Alex. The name of his store right there near the corner of Beverly Glen and Santa Monica Blvd in West Los Angeles is Bel-Air Caviar. He knew my dad and I have to sometimes hold back tears as I’m scoring my caviar which by the way is SO great!!!! You might want to call to make sure he’s open but I will give you a few phone numbers because even if the store isn’t open, he will come just for you, he happens to live close by. 10423 Santa Monica Blvd. 310 474-9518 or Alex Golbahar’s cell phone is 310 980-0527. Tell him Maurice Duke’s daughter sent you!!! Now, do a search here for my blini recipe to go with your caviar!

Enjoy some moments with the “Duke” on the video

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25 Responses to “No Complaints”

  1. DBoos says:

    This made me cry Fred. You know how I felt about your dad. Your’s with him was a love affair like no other. Wish I could bottle some of those precious moments and give them back to you…or better yet…give HIM back to you. HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAURICE…wherever you are. Affectionally…DIANAWITHTHETITS

  2. robin says:

    awwww, that was incredibly sweet and touching.
    a real true enviable love story.
    we should all eat some caviar today to celebrate you and your father.

  3. David Miller-Engel says:

    Happy Birthday Daddy Duke… you were and always will be one of a kind…Fuck em if they can’t take a joke…..

  4. Carol Ward Dudley says:

    Fredde – what a joy to read your memories of your dad. Strange we both had a “Duke” in our lives – but – well, I like your memories better. Love you and your posts. Carol

  5. Cristi Ulrich says:

    With a tear in my eye – Happy Birthday to your Duke!! So touched – that’s all I can say…

  6. Julie Tolman says:

    Beautiful, tribute, bought a tear to my eye.

  7. Mel says:

    So sweet, Fredde! Applause, ovation, bow, and cheers ~ Happy October 27th Day!! Maurice Duke Day as I now know it! ; ) xoxoxo Love, Red Doff’s daughter! ; ))

  8. Amy Gray says:

    They don’t make them like that anymore. Reminds me of my Grandpa Sam who died at age 95. He felt that every day after 80 was especially precious because as he put it, “I’m living on borrowed time.” What he meant by that was that according to the Bible everyone got 4 score (80) years. The fact that he lived longer that meant in his mind he was literally “borrowing” someone else’s time that they didn’t use.

    Lovely tribute Fredde.

  9. Pauli says:

    Wow…what a tribute Fredde. Oct. 27th is now reserved for celebrating Duke with Caviar from Alex – thanks for a great story beautifully told.

  10. Augie duke says:

    Happy Bday Grandpa, i will forever miss you, thank you for making my mom so happy….

  11. Andrea H says:

    You slayed me with that one. I am so grateful to have met your father, and extremely grateful to have met you Fredde!
    Beautiful piece!
    Your dad would be proud.

  12. Jilly Morton says:

    I remember your Dad so well. He sure was something…

    Our Dads grew up together in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. NY
    My entire life, I heard stories about “Duke”…
    I remember my Dad calling and talking to your Dad out in California, we were still living in New York. My Dad always was so happy to talk to your Dad.
    Never did I realize that one day , we too would be living out in California and our Dad’s would go into business together again.
    They had started out in Vaudeville, with the Cappy Barra Harmonica group. They played Radio City, and were such a big hit, they were held over. I have the telegram my Dad sent to my Mom telling her the boys were a “smash” and they were held over.Their stories were priceless, and so funny, there were so many of them. Everyone in show biz knew the Duke and Harry Morton stories.. they were well known classics.

    Your sweet Father, took my Dad into his office at Producers Studios on Melrose, and together they managed some pretty big acts. True, many were no longer head liners, but they managed people like the Nicholas Brothers, Martha Raye, Andy Russell, Billy Eckstine, Nancy Wilson, the Weir Brothers, and a few others I can’t remember at the moment. They even booked my Mom in a show in Vegas at the old Thunderbird Hotel in 1967.
    My Father loved your Father. I know there were years they didn’t talk.. my Dad had some temper… but he always loved your Father.. always.. When I was down visiting my folks in Florida, my Dad told me your Father had died.. I felt so badly for my Dad.. knowing his childhood friend that had been in his life almost from the start was gone.. He told me what you did, holding the phone up to your Dads ear, the last time he called my Father to say his goodbyes.
    When my Dad died, I went through all his papers, and such, and found a very sweet card from you.. it had your address and so when I returned home, I contacted you..
    I have always felt a strong connection to you, although we weren’t good friends in high school. The connection was our Dad’s and the love we both had for our Father’s, we certainly are our Father’s daughters..
    They were best friends.. no matter what the years brought .. I know my Dad considered your Dad his best friend.
    I hope they are together holding court somewhere nice… keeping everyone laughing, in stitches.. cause that’s what they did better than anyone…
    Happy Birthday Duke and Hesh ( yes they ever shared the same birthdate)…. your daughters love and miss you, but we were the luckiest kids alive to have you as our Daddy’s…

  13. Lori says: and your Dad were/are lucky to have shared so many great times. You will always have his imprint in your heart.

  14. Joy Aroff says:

    My dear Freddie and Mr. Maurice Duke “the Duke” who was a legend in his own time:
    Isn’t that wonderful that he did not have to wait until he died to be a legend. Everyone I know who knew you father loved him, warts and all, crude jokes or whatever all in jest and enjoying the fact he was stlll alive and could enjoy rattling a few bones. No one should get so satisfied with the status quo they cannot laugh at themselves.

    I still remember the last time he came to visit me on 17th street in Santa Monica…cannot even remember why he made that momentous visit, maybe your wedding. Just know it was not easy to come up my steps and then down steps into my sunken living room, but there were smiles and for some reason he had all these compliments to bestow upon me. Happy 101 Birthday Dear Maurice “The Duke”. She may not be a boy,but she sure as hell is a duplicate of you. Mazel tov to both of you.

    You do not have to feel guilty or apologize about the Happiest Day in your life. If there was no Maurice Duke there were none of your kids. All rejoice. Much love, joy

  15. mumy says:

    I love you, Ms. Duke. You’re still my favorite writer. As always a special treat to read.

  16. I find myself staring blankly at the backdrop of your blog space art after reading this. Yes, I cried, but it brings up more than the emotions words fail to describe. I have to surrender. I love you and love the DUKE, though we never met. I know him through you. Wow.

  17. Renee Sherman says:

    Oh, Fredde, what a beautiful posting. I will always remember your father holding court at Nate ‘n Als, and sometimes I’d be lucky enough to sit nearby and overhear the kibbitzing and the laughter.

    My daughter Molly and I have a caviar party sometime every December, when I get my double double secret supply…this year we’ll be toasting you and the Duke. xoxo

  18. How truly lucky you were to have the kind of relationship with your father that you did, and what a lucky dad to have a daughter like you. I’m going to have to listen to the film you made when I get back home because this little computer I’m using has no sound. Hope you gorge yourself on cavier for the rest of your dear life!

  19. Helen says:

    What a beautiful memorial you’ve written, Freddie. Your words come alive and I almost could taste the caviar !! I vaguely remember your dad the few times I visited Nate n Als’. What a wonderful man to call your father !

  20. Hoov says:

    Two(y), (y). Up!!! Aloha wakko. Your dad will always be right there. His soul is too close to yours. ::::)

  21. Joyce Hyser Robinson says:

    Love you Fredde! How lucky you were to have the connection that you had with your dad for as long as you did.
    As always, I am just enchanted by your writing!

  22. Quincy Rose says:

    Love it! Thanks for sharing Fredde… xoxox

  23. Fredde, My father used to wake up when our kids would sleep over at their place in Sherman Oaks (that got destroyed by Northridge Earthquake three hours after Simon’s Bar Mitzvah @Granita!. My father said, “I was in The Navy but I never felt a shaking like this.” Their place was trashed but when we showed up to try and piece it back together, his tux and his tap shoes were perfectly put in their garment bag and shoe box, untouched, on the living room couch); he would sing to them “Oh, How I hate to get up in the morning, Oh, How I wish I could stay in bed….” And my Cousin Cindy who adored him and he, her, says she remembers him singing it to her when she was a kid, too – she’s 69 going on 18!
    Oh, you so inspire me about your love of your Dad and your wonderful stories about that WONDERFUL man! I wish I’d known you then, so I could have known him!!!
    My Dad would have turned 100 on Dec 9, 2007 – one week after Mason’s Bar Mitzvah.I too wished he could have hung in until then. He passed away 7 years earlier in the Motion Picture home in Englewood, surrounded by a bevy of faded B Movie Stars, the only man on the floor. I think he was in heaven before he actually got there. The women fussed over him like I’ve not seen anywhere. That was the last time I saw him and he asked me if Sandy was my boyfriend. It was April, 2000 and he sang “I’ll See You In My Dreams” to me. I’m (still) crying now as I write about it.

  24. Linda says:

    Such a tender, loving story … <3 … love it, love you!!!!

  25. DeeDee Lancet says:

    Fredde, you are one of my favorite writers!
    Hard to pick a fave story, as there are so
    many good ones. Happy or sad or just in
    between, your stories are extremely heart-
    felt and charming. As a daddy’s girl, too,
    I appreciate the special bond you shared
    with your dad and that you share your
    impressions/memories so eloquently. <3

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