Brooklyn: the borough that breeds comic giants

Ever notice how many legendary comedians—especially comedians who are actually funny—hail from the county of Kings?

Like Jackie Gleason. Born Herbert Walton Gleason, Jr., at 364 Chauncey Street in Bed-Stuy in 1916, he attended P.S. 73 and Bushwick High School.

The Three Stooges also launched in Brooklyn. Moe (born Moses Horwitz) Howard and his two brothers, Curly (Jerome) and Shemp (Samuel), grew up in Bensonhurst in the early 1900s.

And of course, Woody Allen, aka Allan Stewart Konigsberg, made a career out of mining his Avenue K childhood for laughs.

He was a student at P.S. 99 on East 10th Street and Avenue K and Midwood High School.

P.S. 99 must have made quite an impression on him. Allen gave Mia Farrow’s character in Zelig the name Eudora Fletcher—the real name of P.S. 99’s terrifying spinster school principal in the 1940s.

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19 Responses to “Brooklyn: the borough that breeds comic giants”

  1. Frank Lynch Says:

    Alan King hailed from Williamsburg, I believe.

  2. Malcolm Kushner Says:

    My father is really funny and he grew up on Buffalo Avenue.

  3. tom murphy Says:

    Don’t leave out Henny Youngman who grew up in Sunset Park, which he called Bay Ridge in his autobiography.

  4. neshuma Says:

    Word from Mom: P.S. 99 was on East 10th Street and Avenue K; and she reports that Eudora Fletcher was there as late as 1952. (…And affirms that Eudora was terrifying.)

    • wildnewyork Says:

      I’ll fix the address, thanks.
      I’ve heard all about the frightening Eudora Fletcher from my father, a PS 99 graduate in the 1940s. My grandmother remembered having to deal with her too. She was a real stickler for the rules!

    • Bruce Rothman Says:

      Yes! I think that Miss Fletcher was there until 1955 and Tex Amdur asst prin.Mrs. Nelson followed/ good memories and then Midwood HS which we felt was a great private like school even as we had 1,050 per grade! .

      • Bruce Rothman Says:

        I don’t remember us being scared of MISS. Fletcher but I can never remembering her smile even once! Stanley Carroll ? So was a good science teacher and my 8 th grade HR guy. Heard he later ( we were class of ’61) was a good prin. by then called Dean!

  5. Thomas Jefferson Says:

    My Uncles (long gone now) used to shoot pool with Jackie Gleason before he was “somebody”. They would tell me how he would MC at the old vaudville theater. 🙂

  6. Helene Says:

    I attended PS 99 when Eudora Fletcher was principal. She ran a no-nonsense school, but was always fair. In my opinion, PS 99 was the best school in the world. I got a first-rate education and, best of all, I’m still in touch with my childhood friends.

  7. Dan K. Says:

    Chris Rock grew up in Bed-Stuy

    You might find this site interesting: [famous people n Brooklyn]

  8. Phyllis Snyder Says:

    I graduated from PS99 in June 1942, and I did not find Mrs. Fletcher frightening. I was. in fact, Student Principal on Student’s Day.
    Does aanyone remember Agnes R. Hanretty who taught the “Special” 6A and 6B and made a big difference in my life!

  9. Joe Freeman Says:

    I graduated from PS 99 in June 1955. I too remember Mrs. Hanretty, a true professional school teacher who like so many of that excellent faculty, came to teach each day with a wonderful nurturing manner. Our principal Mrs. Fletcher, on the other hand, made my football coach seem like Little Bo Peep!

  10. Donald Skoller Says:

    Wow, I more or less stumbled on this while checking to see if Eudora Fletcher –the real-life one– was given as much attention as the Woody Allen and Brit rock group “spin-offs”. I say “Wow” because my take on Mrs. Fletcher (who I remember as a “Mrs” rather than a “Miss” — and there were no “Ms.’s” back then!) varies from those of your writers above. I graduated from “99” in 1944 (I’m 83 as I type this and sip some nice Pasquet Coeur Cognac). “99” was a darn good public school and Mrs. Fletcher though strict –and even in my case somewhat “terminally” so, as you’ll soon see– was quite progressive as an educator. And i liked her, felt a warmth to her relating to us pupils. But Agatha Hanretty was a different breed of cat. At least at the critical junctures you’ll soon hear about. I had been placed in her “The Special” class in the 5th grade –supposedly for the brightest students (although they left out Neil Postman who went on to intellectual and academic achievements beyond any of the rest of us). If anybody was a quiet though officious monster in my experience, Hanretty was it. She was the most harmful teacher I ever had at 99 which by and large had really sweet teachs like Theresa Reilly, Helen Toal, Alan Roy Sherman and Julius (“Bagelhead”) Bronstein. Here’s what happened to make me say this: WW2 was going on and there was a scrap metal drive. If you brought 10 or so lbs. of tin cans or the like to Ebbets Field, home of our beloved Brooklyn Dodgers, you got in free on a designated day. Which is what I did, hitting every incinerator closet in the 6 floor apartment house we lived in. The day of the ballgame I went to school in the morning but after lunch took myself and the scrap metal to Ebbets, with full permission of my parents. They felt so clean about this and its connection to the war effort that the next day my dad wrote a note explaining the good cause that kept me from school that afternoon. Hanretty, apparently upset and disapproving of this, sent me to principal Fletcher’s office who ordered that my father come in to see her the next day. My dad, though an almost legendarily compliant and accommodating good guy, for the only time in memory wouldn’t go with that flow and wrote back saying so. When Fletcher/Hanretty heard this they responded by telling my dad I’d be taken out of The Special if he didn’t come in. Again, very uncharacteristically, he refused, saying that anything people like this held “Special” wasn’t something he wished his son a part of. I was removed from The Special and put in a regular 5th grade class taught by Lillian Lefrak. The pupil I was seated directly in front of, same row, was, as it turned out, the eventually legendary scholar-great guy, Neil Postman (google that name to get the full impact of the irony). I also met in that class my first really “serious” childhood sweetheart, Dorothy, the lyricism of which transported me to an Oz of my own for the rest of my grammar school years. And Mrs. Lefrak, reputedly a toughie, apparently liked me and made the transfer an even warmer outcome. But Eudora and Agatha (short for Agony?) never bothered me again and I was eventually chosen (ironically or atoningly??) by Hanretty it would seem (because she was in charge of our graduation-ceremony full-class- assembly choral recitation of James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation”, to be the voice of God in the poem! I always felt Mrs. Lefrak might have shamed her into doing this by telling her what a nice kid she found me to be. Any international rock groups out there looking for a name? How ’bout Agatha orLillian?! But Agatha and Eudora maybe had the last laugh, so to speak, because a feature of The Special was learning French(as opposed to Spanish which was pushed harder in high school) and as it turned out one of my sons married and moved to France and it was a few years before I could converse with the new relatives including my first grand-child, Julia. But all’s well that ends well and they in turn now live in Berkeley where Julia’s become fluent in English (and the captain of the girl’s basketball team!).

  11. dkadko Says:

    I remember Mrs Lefrak as a mean-spirited, bitter woman

  12. dkadko Says:

    PS99 was a repressive environment. I agree with Woody about that. But a few teachers were enlightened.

  13. Richard Barchas Says:

    I graduated PS 99 in June 56 after attending for all 9 years. Eudora Fletcher was feared for good reason. Mr. Amdur was sought after in lieu of her if one got into trouble. I also remember Mr. Korobow, the shop teacher, Miss Hanretty, Miss Reilly, and Miss Lefrak who taught French (which our class took for grades 5 through 8). I can’t remember the name of the gym teacher though, though I can vividly picture him as he existed 63 years ago. I remember punchball games in the central courtyard on 9th street. Also the stickball and basketball games. Field day in Wingate Field, charlotte rousses and pizza on Avenue J, and of course, Joy Fong, the greatest chinese restaurant ever. I learned the other day that Woody Allen was bar mitzvahed at the Talmud Torah of Flatbush on Coney Island Avenue between Aves J and I. So was I, so we both must have had Mr. Blitzstein for Hebrew school and both must have sang our haftorahs from the same Torah. I sadly left Brooklyn after graduating for a tract home on Long Island, as the upcoming arrival of my sister was too much for my parents with four kids in a 2BR/1bath apartment.

  14. Ashley Lefrak Grider Says:

    I stumbled across this post today and was surprised and completely hooked by the stories. I am a writer trying to learn more about the life of my grandmother, Lillian Lefrak, a teacher at PS 99, whom I never met. She died when my father and his sisters were young.

    I have very little info about her and would welcome the chance to talk to, email, or hear stories of any kind from anyone who knew her in any capacity. Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

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