Billy Crystal, the award-winning actor, director and comedian, has gotten serious about something: the recent birth of his first grandchild, Ella.
Crystal is the latest in a line of celebrities to pen a children’s picture book. But unlike, say, Madonna, Crystal was inspired not by his own children, but by the generation after that, and his book focuses on celebrating the continuity of their lineage.
“I Already Know I Love You” (Harper Collins, 2004) is more than a tale of unconditional love. It imparts some of the Jewish values that have been passed on from Crystal’s own parents and grandparents.
“I want to teach you about our family with pictures from long ago,” writes Crystal. “You’re the new twig on our tree and I can’t wait to watch you grow.”
The quintessential Jewish comedian, who was close to his grandparents as a child growing up in Brooklyn and then Long Beach, N.Y., believes that the older generation has a lot to offer. “It’s important to understand that grandparents were here first and someone was here before them,” said Crystal in an interview with the Forward. “If it wasn’t for the laughs and loves of my relatives and friends when I was a little kid, I don’t think I would have ended up being a comedian.”
News of impending grandfatherhood came on the first anniversary of his mother’s death, which had been a traumatic loss for the entire Crystal clan.
“The baby has filled up a great place for me that had been sad for a couple of years now because of the loss of my mom,” said Crystal. “When you see how life works — someone has to leave to make room for the new — it changes your whole point of view about life. I’ve been smiling ever since.” Not surprisingly, his daughter, Jenny, and son-in-law, Mike, named their daughter, Ella, after Crystal’s mother, Helen Eleanor.
Janice Crystal, the actor’s wife of more than 30 years, had hired a genealogist named Rafael Gruber to explore the histories of Crystal’s Jewish roots. This inspired the couple to support a permanent exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles called “Finding Our Families, Finding Ourselves,” which helps people trace their own lineage and roots.
The star of “City Slickers” and “When Harry Met Sally” foresees helping his granddaughter study for tests, showing her how to fly a kite, and just doing the simple things that make a child happy.
“I’m just incredibly moved about this whole new period of my life,” he said.