I’m reading the engaging Straight Life, Art Pepper’s recorded stories transcribed and artfully arranged by his wife Laurie. She interspersed illuminating bits of interviews with people who knew Art and, very helpfully, placed a cast of characters at the front of the book for easy reference when an interview popped up. Here is the first pass at the cast for Book of Irv, tip of the cap to Laurie Pepper:
Irv: (1924-2005) the skeleton who helps tell his own unwieldy life story.
Evelyn (1928-2010) Irv’s wife of 53 years, a Bronx girl, from the Concourse
Uncle Aren (Harry Aaron Gleiberman) (1876-1967) Irv’s uncle, escaped Czar’s army in 1904, brought youngest sister Chava to U.S in 1914. All remaining family in Truvovich, including three other siblings, killed some time between July 1941 and November 1, 1942.
Chava (1895-1953) Irv’s mother: red-haired, small, religious, implacably angry.
Eliyahu (Harry) (1893-1948) Irv’s father, “an illiterate country bumpkin completely overwhelmed by this world”; a simple, straight man; two eyes, a nose and a mouth.
Paul (1926-2013) Irv’s younger brother, socially progressive career civil servant and dead-ringer for Stephen Colbert
Eli (1908-1996) Aren’s oldest son, Irv’s first cousin. A tender, charming, brutal roughneck who loved to fight and gleefully fought Evelyn for decades. The keeper of the darkest, most illuminating stories of Irv’s childhood.
Nehama (1911-2014) Aren’s daughter, Irv’s first cousin. A brilliant woman, the first female graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary. She, Dave and Aren “ran the family” and decided Irv and Paul were fit only for trade school.
Dave (1912-2002) Aren’s youngest, Irv’s first cousin. Top student with an eidetic memory, he practiced law for a few years until he figured out a better way to become a millionaire. A Communist earlier in his life, he owned a bank in later years.
Yetta (1900-1979): Evelyn’s mother, the dynamic woman Irv always called “Mom”, talented, opinionated, fond of vodka– only survivor of seven siblings killed by August 1943
Sam (1899-1978): Evelyn’s father, Pop, a strong, quiet man who loved nothing better than “shooting pictures”, Westerns — only survivor of seven siblings killed by August 1943
Eliot (Eliyahu) (1956- ) narrator of his father’s perplexing life story.
“My sister” (1958- ) a very private person whose privacy I seek to preserve, beyond her insights in helping understand and tell Irv’s story
Benjie (born c. 1952) colleague, close friend and business partner of Irv and Evelyn in Tain Lee Chow. A modern Orthodox Jew, Benjie was funny, shrewd at business, hard-working, he was the son my father never had. “He was the father I never had,” said Benjie at Irv’s funeral.
Arlene and Russ: dear friends of Irv and Evelyn’s; Arlene bright and entrepreneurial, Russ, professional bass player and hipster– both wildly entertained by Irv’s wit
Caroline and Ralph: close friends of Evelyn and Irv’s until one cataclysmic day when Irv threw them out of his house for good
Gladys: dear friend and colleague of Irv’s, only person his children recall him spending hours on the phone with
Harold: close, long-time friend of Irv’s, a genius who “put a price of $75 on our friendship”
Evelyn: colleague, friend, close to the entire family; member of MENSA, Socialist, singer of protest songs. One of the most dramatic falls from grace in the Book of Irv.