I was never really a fan of Crystal’s until I saw him in the film City Slickers. Suddenly, he was on my radar.
That’s not to say my eyes light up as they do when Cary Grant or Sean Connery appears on the TV screen. But these two men have nothing over Billy Crystal when it comes to zinging those one-liners, with nary a flinch in his face muscles. The man is a born natural. I don’t think he’d mind if I likened him to one of his idols, Johnny Carson.
Crystal’s autobiography made me laugh from page one.
March 14, 2013, my sixty-fifth birthday. I got up that morning, padded over to the bathroom, threw some water on my face, looked in the mirror, and my uncle Al was staring back at me. My scream brought Janice, my wife of forty-two years, running in. I kept yelling, “HOLY SHIT! What the fuck happened to me?” Somehow, overnight it seemed I had turned from a hip, cool baby boomer into a Diane Arbus photograph. I looked at Janice for an encouraging word, for a hug, for an “It’s okay, Billy, you look great. It’s an old mirror.” All she did was glance down at my robe, which had opened up, and ask: “When did your pubic hair turn gray?”
I had settled into my side of the bed and had barely begun reading, when I burst out laughing. Of course hubby asked what had set me off. Never in need of a nudge, I proceeded to read him the first paragraph. I continued to read excerpts I found particularly funny, forcing him to interrupt his own reading. My husband got a reprieve when I decided I’d better go to bed, or I’d be up all night with…Billy Crystal.
Did you know that Crystal was lifelong friends with Mickey Mantle, Muhammad Ali, and Howard Cosell? “What” you might ask “does he have in common with those iconic sports figures?” Well, I’ll tell you.
Impersonating…Cosell interviewing Ali and Ali responding to the sportscaster’s questions…catapulted Billy Crystal onto the world-wide stage. And it made him , in Ali’s words “…my little brother.” In fact, when Crystal informed Ali that a certain country club didn’t allow Jews, Ali never patronized the club again.
Billy Crystal made his “…network television debut on Cosell’s short-lived variety show on ABC.” Their friendship grew over the years as a result of their attachment to Muhammad Ali. Seated next to one another at Cosell’s funeral, Ali asked Crystal
“Do you think he’s wearing his hairpiece?
I had to hold in my laugh. “I don’t think so,” I replied.
“Then how will God recognize him?”
“Once he starts complaining, he’ll know,” I said.
We both shared a muffled laugh. “He was a good man,” said Ali…
The comedienne’s relationship with Yankee great, Mickey Mantle, traversed a long and sometimes bumpy road. You see, Mantle was a life-long alcoholic. Suffering under the weight of feeling he’d never measured up to his father’s standards, Mantle found comfort in the bottle. Only when his sons, Danny and David, themselves recovering alcoholics, convinced their father to get help at the Betty Ford Center in 1994 did Mantle finally beat the “devil” in the bottle. He couldn’t, however, beat liver cancer which took him before he had a chance to really enjoy his newfound peace.
The Anti-Defamation League honored Billy Crystal as “entertainer of the year” in 1995. They awarded him an original seat from Yankee Stadium, which had been renovated. A rarity, the wooden seat was the same as those Crystal had sat in back in 1956. The seat number, 7, had been Mickey Mantle’s. Later, the ballplayer inscribed the relic…” ‘Billy, wish you was still sittin here and I was still playing. –Mickey Mantle 6/7/91.’ ” Years later one of Mantle’s baseball gloves from the sixties was up for auction. Crystal bought it and since then has cherished both mementos in his own private Hall of Fame. Of Mantle, he said
When the ’61 Yankees approached the casket as pallbearers to lead their teammate away, I lost it. That was my team, now all in their sixties carrying the casket of their fallen prince.
Maybe it’s the baseball magic. When Dad rolls a ball to you for the first time and you roll it back, it starts; but then there comes a time when you don’t want Dad to throw it to you–you want Mickey to. I got that chance.
While Billy Crystal shmoozed with some of the all-time greats, including the object of his boyhood fantasies…Sophia Loren…he doesn’t seem so far-removed from common folk, like you and me. In fact, we could be him if we were able to be funny…
…in front of millions…as a stand up comic…