Kibbitzing with Carl Reiner at the urinal
I escaped The Bronx in the summer 1981 for a vacation that lasted seven years.
I took a bus to Berkeley to visit my West Coast cousins and, once there, decided to extend my planned three-week vacation. I started bar-tending the last, last call at La Barca in San Francisco — located on Lombard and Fillmore Streets. But I was also looking for side gigs. After answering a classified ad looking for extras in Philip Kaufman’s “The Right Stuff,” I found my way to Hollywood. It was there that I found a reminder of my Bronx roots in the person of Carl Reiner.
After landing a recurring gig on “Cagney & Lacey,” I was offered a day gig on the film “All of Me,” directed by Reiner and starring Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin. I was excited to be on set with such big names, but especially happy to rub elbows with Reiner. In addition to being a comedy legend, I knew Reiner was something else: An alumnus of Evander Childs High School in the Bronx. I knew, cause I was, too.
I had that information in my pocket (I was told to wear a suit to be a spectator in a courtroom scene) walking onto set. On a feature film like “All of Me,” there is always a lot of time setting up scenes and waiting for your scene to shoot, so I had an opportunity to watch Carl Reiner at work. His technique was interesting — he was one of the first directors I had worked with who mostly stayed planted by a monitor rather than hanging around the set and directing from there.
I finally got my chance to mention our Evander connection when nature called. My move in Hollywood was to hit on a shared connection with someone. It worked for me with such names as Tom Hanks and Danny DeVito. My Bronx origins helped me meet Garry Marshall (whose sister Penny Marshall was married to Reiner’s son Rob), and I hoped my alma mater would work with Reiner. When I saw him depart for the men’s room, I decided I needed to go, too.
So, I find myself in the urinal next to him and I mention how the grads at Evander Childs were all proud of his success.
We chatted about what his high school experience and life in the Bronx. He was extremely approachable and open and (no surprise) funny. He had a lot of school spirit, but sadly, I had to tell him that the school had seen better days since he graduated all those many years ago. I expressed how lucky I felt to be in his film and to have had the chance to meet him.
We zipped up, washed up and shook hands (in that order).
But it wasn’t to be my last encounter with Reiner. Throughout my time in Hollywood I would sometimes see him walking around town near the studios and we’d say “hi” — he remembered me. I also saw Rob Reiner out on the town — he would dance the night away at the Hollywood Palace, where I tended bar.
That’s my Reiner story. We peed together and we weren’t socially distant.
Alan Bendich is the Forward’s VP of finance and operations — when he isn’t acting. You can see him in the film “Dwellers: The Curse of Pastor Stokes,” now streaming on Amazon Prime.