Recalling Jerry Nusbaum: Newark's "Walter Winchell"

by Nat Bodian


During the post World War II era, up to the 1960s, you turned to Winchell, Sullivan, and Sobol for New York gossip. But in Newark you turned to Jerry Nusbaum in the Newark Star-Ledger.

Nusbaum's column, under various headings, provided a daily account of local gossip, noteworthy doings, or Newark nighttime events, and cited Newarkers from all walks of life.

Whatever its heading, most Newarkers usually referred to the column simply as "Nusbaum."

Column Ran for 36 Years

Nusbaum's column first appeared as "Whisperings" in 1934 in the morning Ledger, and the name was changed to "Evenings Out" in 1939 when the Ledger merged with the Star-Eagle and became the Newark Star-Ledger. Then in the early 1950s, it became "Personally Speaking1."

Native Newarker Ray Miller, now living in retirement in California, recalled for me "He was everybody's friend and 'everybody' read Nusbaum in the Star-Ledger. He was Newark's version of Walter Winchell."

A Weequahic neighborhood resident of the 1930s remembers "that when Jerry reported on someone from his Weequahic neighborhood, telephones would ring and people would alert others to be sure they read the names of the people they knew."

Nusbaum kept his column fresh and lively by making nightly rounds of various popular nightspots and restaurants such as The Tavern, and The Newarker, or social events, always with a pad in his hand jotting down 'items' to use in his column.

Elliott Sudler, a retired Newark pharmacist now living in Union, recalled for me "He had a feeling for the little people, not just the celebrities, and he wrote about everybody."

Nusbaum's granddaughter, Ellice Amanna2, now living in a suburb of Washington D.C., reinforced Sudler's recollection. She told me how she lived with Nusbaum after his wife's passing, and drove him around on his nightly rounds.

"What I remember, she told me, "is the time he would spend with the waiter, the hatcheck girl, the parking lot attendant, jotting down items on their child's birthday, their parents' anniversary, or whatever, for inclusion in his next column.

"These items appeared side-by-side with news of better-known Jerseyans. In this he was absolutely democratic.

"I learned from him the most valuable of lessons-- that every life deserves to be celebrated regardless of station; and, of course, that everyone has a story.

"I never heard my grandfather say or write an unkind word about anyone. He simply and genuinely loved people."

His Writing Style

Nusbaum typed out his daily columns on a black underwood typewriter with the various notes torn out of his spiral notepad spread out on the table alongside the typewriter. Before his wife's passing in the late 1960s, Nusbaum would sometimes discuss some of his items with her before putting them on paper. She would also make suggestions, from time to time for items to include in his column, or to note for possible future use. She died in March, 1967.

His granddaughter recalled that he worked in a room filled with books, presumably a library.

Making His Nightly Rounds

Nusbaum's nightly rounds in search of items for his daily Star-Ledger column were not a solo activity.

His granddaughter recalls "Papa Jerry took us around what seemed like nightly, visiting various restaurants and events. He always carried a small pad in his top pocket, and at each stop he circulated around, and jotted down items for his next column.

Two of my favorite stops as a young teenager were The Tavern Restaurant and The Newarker at Newark Airport.

Granddaughter Becomes His Driver

When she turned 17, his granddaughter got her drivers license and became his nightly driver. Nusbaum was 84 at this time, was becoming uneasy driving at night, and enjoyed the companionship of
his granddaughter.

The move proved to be a wise one, all around, because his granddaughter, the following year when she graduated from high school, was employed by Mort Pye at the Star-Ledger and within three years was a full-fledged reporter.

But in Nusbaum's last year of life, in 1970, in failing health, he was hospitalized and his granddaughter made the rounds herself and supplied the notes to Nusbaum who edited them, and with her help produced his daily column.

Upon his death in mid-1970, she continued writing the "Personally Speaking" column until she left the Star-Ledger to become editor on a New York evening news TV program.

Chronology of 63 Year Newspaper Career

Nusbaum started with the Newark Evening Star in 1907. While looking for work, he ran into Frank Clarke, managing editor of the Evening Star at Murray's Tavern on Market Street. They chatted "over a ten-cent whiskey" and he was hired on the spot.

By 192, he was the Evening Star police reporter3, and also wrote a weekly column on Newark police doings called "Through the Mill."

In 1913, he briefly left the paper to serve as secretary of the Newark Bears baseball team, but returned to the paper after one season.

A few years later the paper became the morning Ledger and Nusbaum launched what would become a precursor to his future columns. That column was called 'Round Theatre Lobbies.' It was mainly about entertainers and patrons of the arts.

It was during this era, when Nusbaum's column was devoted to theatres and entertainment that he cultivated friendships with many Broadway and Hollywood personalities, as well as young upcoming performers. Preemeninent among the newcomers was a connection with Jackie Gleason, who remained a lifelong friend4.

Becomes Ledger City Editor

From 1924 to 1934, Nusbaum was city editor of the Ledger. After ten years in this job, with Prohibition ended, Newark's nightlife burgeoned and Nusbaum gave up his city desk job and hard news coverage, and started a new column, "Whisperings," with items gathered in Newark's numerous taverns and night clubs, after dark.

Nusbaum's column became "Evenings Out" in 1939 and later was retitled to its final name "Personally Speaking" in the 1950s, and continued under that name until his death in 1970.

Led Active Social Life

Jerry and Sylvia Nusbaum were social beings and loved hosting parties. These parties, his granddaughter recalled for me, were an exciting part of her childhood. Some were small cozy dinners, but many were big noisy affairs populated by the many characters that came out of Newark in those days.

"They held these parties all through my childhood and I remember the story-telling, the kibitzing, the laughter, the piano playing, and the singing.

"My grandfather never judged. If he liked you, he liked you, and he forgave a lot.

"So there was always an unlikely mix of people at these parties from boyhood friends of all backgrounds, and restaurant owners, and entertainers, to priests from Seton Hall, and the notorious Longy Zwillman, and, always, the family."

His Newark Roots

Jerry Nusbaum was born on August 23, 1883 on Orange Avenue in Newark. He was the oldest of six children. His parents were first generation German Jews. He graduated from Barringer High School and Cornell University.

His parents had wanted him to be a surgeon. He went to medical school and did his internship at Long Island College Hospital.

However he lost interest in a medical career and toured the country taking odd jobs before accepting an offer of a newspaper job with a Newark newspaper. It was a career he would follow until his death.

Death and Burial

Jerry Nusbaum died on July 4, 1970 at the Clara Maass Hospital. He is buried at the Oheb Shalom Cemetery in Hillside beside his wife of 45 years.

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