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Texas | Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories

How the Rabbi's Son Learned to Cope with Life's Challenges

by Bill Cherry
Bill Cherry

My daddy was horrified when, at about 10 years old, I mumbled an anti-Semitic remark.

"Where did you learn that? We don't make comments like that in this house. Do you understand me?"

With that, he got out the telephone book and looked up the number of his friend, Rabbi Fagan, who lived in a two-story red brick Colonial Vernacular home two blocks up the street.

"Rabbi? Bill Cherry. I would like for you to enroll Little Bill in Hebrew school, with the only thing being left out will be his Bar Mitzvah. As you know, we're Episcopalians."

My daddy went on to tell the rabbi the reason he wanted me to attend. "Bill needs to learn and understand the history and deep traditions of Jews, and I know of no better place for him to learn it than from the shul."

And so, after school many afternoons, I rode the West End bus, got off at 25th and Broadway in Galveston, and walked the two blocks to the shul in time for class.

Many years later, I've quickly volunteered that the two most important things my mother and daddy provided me were braces on my teeth and a cursory Jewish education.

But, as I was thinking about this story this morning, it seemed only appropriate to tell the story of my friend of more than sixty years, 81-yearold, Joe Mirsky. He is Jewish and the son of a rabbi.

I had just written a piece for the Rock 'a Billy Hall of Fame about an early Galveston television performing legend, Utah Carl Beach. I had found the researching him odd, really, because everyone seemed to know who he was, but only a few knew anything about him, and they weren't talking. His biography was nowhere to be found.

Even the Rock 'a Bill Hall of Fame only knew his name and that he probably should be inducted as a member but had insufficient biographical information to do it.

One day many months later, Joe Mirsky called from Houston; he was an assistant U.S. Attorney. We'd gone to high school together, but had had only a casual acquaintance. He said, "Bill, I just saw your story on the Internet about Utah Carl. I want to tell you how I knew him." And so a most unusual story began to unfold.

Joe had been raised in West Hollywood during the '40s and early '50s. His father, Rabbi Paul Mirsky, was both a rabbi and cantor, so Joe went to school and synagogue with many of the sons and daughters of famous movie and TV stars. People you know.

Just before his senior year in high school, Rabbi Paul decided he would accept a call as the cantor at Galveston's Congregation Beth Jacob. So within moments the family was uprooted, moved to the island, and Joe found himself ready to finish high school in a town and a school where he not only knew no one, but felt he had nothing in common.

After sulking for awhile, Joe decided if he had a job, it would occupy his time and make things better, so he got a position at the KGUL-TV Channel 11 studios just down the street from Ball High. He would get there at 5 in the morning, sign the station on, and then set up the studio for the farm and ranch show, featuring Utah Carl with Herbie and the Boys.

The relationship between Mr. Utah and Joe began to develop as they worked together. Mr. Utah realized that Joe was lonesome, so he began taking him with him when he played golf, and before long Joe was even playing drums in Mr. Utah's band.

One evening Mr. Utah took Joe to meet Mr. Utah's friend, Elvis Presley, who was playing a concert at the old City Auditorium. "It seemed to me that the two of them knew each other quite well," Joe told me. "I can still see Elvis in a lavender sport coat, black pants and white buck shoes," he added.

When Joe graduated from high school, a friend, Norman "Bubba" Miller, who had been working at the Balinese Room, told Joe that he ought to take his job over since Bubba was going away to college. "You'll make more money and there's a good chance for advancement." Miller later became basically the major stockholder of Interstate Batteries, and has been its CEO for decades.

So Joe worked and understudied the famous gambling night club spot's maitre d', Jimmy Kuykendahl, He learned the suave manners and finesse from Mr. Jimmy and Vic and Anthony Fertitta, who were the managers. That would serve him well for the rest of his life.

One evening about this time of the year in 1957, Mr. Vic and Mr. Anthony asked Joe to step into their office, just to the right of the entrance to the showroom.

"We've gotten word that the Texas Rangers are going to close us down for good very soon. We won't be able to recover from this one. Your dad's a rabbi, and for you to be involved in this would be an embarrassment to him. We're simply not going to have that," Mr. Anthony told him.

Mr. Vic picked it up by adding, "We're going to pay you through the summer, but don't come to work. I've got your check right here.

"Meanwhile, we know you want to go to college, but money's a bit tight. We're going to introduce you to Mr. Lee Kempner of the United States National Bank. He and his family give scholarships away from time to time. I'll bet with our recommendation and that of Utah Carl, they'll give you one." Sure enough, Mr. Lee came through.

Joe Mirsky at KTRH
Joe Mirsky at KTRH
Joe Mirsky, retireed Assistant United States Attorney
Joe Mirsky

It still wasn't smooth financial sailing for Joe. Throughout his college career, he had multiple jobs. He sold clothes at Houston's Neiman Marcus downtown store, where he met and became friends with Stanley Marcus, he worked nights as a staff announcer for KTRH and KTHT.

As the result of this story, Joe Mirsky graduated from the University of Houston in 1961 and received his law degree in 1966. In 1987, he was appointed as an Assistant United States Attorney by the Reagan Administration.

He worked in the appellate division where he was in charge of the government's responses to post-judgment criminal habeas corpus cases.

There is no required retirement for those in his position, so he waited until he was 75 to retire.

His thoughts, his wonderful thoughts about Bubba Miller, Utah Carl Beach, Jimmy Kuykendahl, Anthony and Vic Fertitta, Lee Kempner who stepped in to help the rabbi's misplaced son are always with him, has to play that hand forward.

Today, at 81, he's doing ad litum representation in specific cases in family law that particularly interest him.

Copyright 2019 William S. Cherry
"Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories"
September 24, 2019 column

Related Topics:

Texas Churches
Galveston Hotels

Bill Cherry, a Dallas Realtor and free lance writer was a longtime columnist for "The Galveston County Daily News." His book, Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories, has sold thousands, and is still available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com and other bookstores.































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