The Mother of All Waitresses

I once went to the most spectacular Hollywood funeral ever.  And the love that poured out was well deserved.  We knew her by one name, kind of like Cher or Madonna.  Kaye.  Do you all know whom I’m talking about?  You do if you were lucky enough to grow up in Beverly Hills at that time.  It’s Kaye Coleman, beloved Nate n’ Al’s waitress and star of our collective childhoods.

Although Kaye had her own daughter and son (and grandchildren), she was the unofficial surrogate mother to some of the biggest mothers in Hollywood.  And her “sons” looked after her well.  I’d run into Kaye at the priciest restaurants, dining with her posse of waitress friends, the tab picked up by Lew Wasserman or Bernie Brillstein.  Those two moguls would also send her on European vacations and ocean cruises.  At times, Kaye lived a fancier life than many of her Beverly Hills customers.

Larry King was the emcee of Kaye’s funeral, the only funeral I can think of that had one.  His two Nate n’ Al’s buddies, the ones he eats with everyday, Sid and Bob, gave their own hilarious eulogies.   So funny, that I overheard Suzanne Pleshette — with that happy newlywed look on her face after her surprise marriage to Tom Poston — leaving the funeral saying, “Who knew?  Guess we have to get those two to speak at my funeral.”  Sadly, that day would come too soon (not fair).

Kaye and my dad had their morning routine.  She would greet him by pouring him coffee and sassing him before he could her.  They had a rhythm like an old married couple.   She would go in back and personally scoop out his onion bagel, treating Maurice Duke as though he were Lew Wasserman.  Then she’d give his entourage some shit about never picking up their own bills or leaving a big enough tip.  If my dad were ever sick at home (rare), Kaye might bring him chicken in a pot.  And when he died, she and the other waitresses stayed behind at my father’s apartment building, setting up the free Nate n Al’s spread, donated because of all his years of patronage.  As a result, Kaye and her friends missed the outpouring of love from wonderful comics like Red Buttons telling uproarious Maurice Duke stories.  That’s how selfless Kaye was.    (Note: Duke would not have been pleased to know that Morey Amsterdam’s competing funeral that morning would drain of some of the less loyal comic talent.)

At her own send-off, Kaye’s girlfriends, daughter, friends, celeb friends, everyone would witness the love in eulogy after eulogy.  Then on to the Friars Club went 500 of Kaye’s closest friends.  And they ate.  And ate.  It could have been one of the highest budgeted funerals of all time.  Shecky Greene did a private stand-up for my daughter and me – a 10-minute rap about my dad, off the top of his head, everything rhyming perfectly, a genius routine.  It made me and Augie laugh and cry.  Then everyone went off to a new life, one without our much-loved Kaye.  Like the rock star she was, her framed uniform hung on the wall of the deli for years.

For a few years after my father died, I would walk into Nate n’ Al’s, look towards my father’s old booth and cry.  Kaye would actually yell at me and tell me to come back when I could handle it.  I tried but I really just stopped eating there.  I do occasionally stop in to see her friend Gloria.

In honor of Mother’s Day, I would like to thank Kaye for her nurturing of all of us — and that includes her volunteer work for the terminally ill at Cedars.  One of the things Kaye was most famous for was designing the bagel on a string.  All of our children delighted in teething on those bagels.  Beverly Hills is not the same, Nate n’ Al’s is not the same, and the world is just not the same without Kaye Coleman.

Tag: After I wrote this story and it was published in One for the Table, I found out that a very close friend got married under Kaye’s framed uniform. Actually Ben and Meilani really got married in Italy and then a minister (Gabriel Ferrer) made it legal right there in Nate’s. Had I known, I would have fit this bit into my story!!!! Mazel Tov Ben and Meilani!!!!

Ben and Meilani Weiss, ceremony with Kaye’s uniform as a witness!!!

Enjoy two clips I made of the famous waitresses, Gloria and Kaye.

birthday party at Nates for Maurice Duke, with Alan and Fredde Duke, 1973

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5 Responses to “The Mother of All Waitresses”

  1. gari smith says:

    i love this fredde!! this took me back in my own childhood~you are so good at describing things that i feel like i am there with all of these people~i love your writing and your stories!! they are just wonderful!! thank you for sharing them!!

  2. Karen marks says:


  3. Christel Chesney says:

    Don’t you know your Dad and Kaye are still giving each other a ration of shit in Heaven. Love this. What a grand Woman she was.

  4. Emily Tobey says:

    Although this is a fantastic article about my grandmother(I really loved it) you did leave out that she had a son and 4 grandchildren. At her funeral, my cousin and my brother and I sat and listened and cried. When I hear about my grandma and how nice and funny she was I think about what it could have been like if I had gotten to be with her longer.
    I love this article though and thank you for writing it.

  5. Adrienne says:

    July 26th Freddie I just saw these vedios I’m going to be honest with you it makes my entire day and evening I was laughing and crying at the same time but it was a happy cry thanks for sharing this with all of us I love you with all my heart sending you BIG BIG OX OX

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