“Sometimes,” Jeffrey Solash told me Wednesday, “Hollywood gets it right.”
When Solash first saw the girl who was to become his wife on the corner of Avenue K and East 14th Street in Brooklyn 51 years ago, he said, “I was struck by lightning. It really was love at first sight. I turned to my friend and said ...”
Cut! Because Solash described himself as being, at the time, “a hormonally driven 17-year-old male,” my editor forbade me to quote what Solash said to his friend when he saw Judy Gottlieb across the avenue.
They met and went on a date. “I remember it like it was 2 minutes ago. We went to Coney Island and had Nathan’s Famous hot dogs. They were 15 cents each. She was a real sport.”
It sounds from Solash’s recollection that his wife and he had that Hollywood life together, a happy marriage with the ups and downs that everyone has. Nothing ever came up that they couldn’t overcome together, he said.
Something came up this month that is going to be hard for Jeffrey Solash to overcome, because he’s going to have to face it alone. Judy died Oct. 2. She was diagnosed last year with a brain tumor that went away for awhile, as he told me months ago in a hopeful e-mail. The doctor told them, though, that if it ever came back, “the end will be quick,” he said.
It recurred in August.
“I know, intellectually,” he said, “that I should have been prepared. But emotionally, there’s just no way.”
Have you ever had somebody reach inside your chest, grab hold of your heart and just wring that sucker dry?
If you haven’t, count your blessings.
If you have, you’d have understood the sorrowful sighs that arose from Jeffrey Solash’s chest as he and I sat outside a restaurant at Brier Creek shopping center.
But if Hollywood got it right in describing the kind of love story that Jeffrey and Judy shared, the song with which the two are forever associated got it wrong.
In a column this past March, I told you that Judy, who lived in Raleigh with Jeffrey, was the inspiration for one of the most enduring pop songs ever, “It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore.
“What really happened was,” Judy told me then, “I was having a Sweet 16 party. ... My parents said I had to have my grandparents there, and I said I didn’t want them there. I just wanted my friends because I was a bratty teenager, and at that point in your life things like that don’t matter.
“They said, ‘No, you have to have them,’ and I started to cry. My father said ‘Don’t cry.’ I burst out into tears some more and said, ‘It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.’
“My father took that and turned it into this whole little story about Judy and Johnny.”
Solash, who said his wife never wanted him to make the story about the song public, called me in February when Gore died. He wants the world to know that his Judy was not the spoiled brat portrayed in the song co-written by her father, Seymour Gottlieb, and produced by Quincy Jones.
So unlike the selfish teenybopper in the song was she, he said, that when it became apparent that the end for her was nigh, she was thinking of him, not of herself.
“In private moments, all she thought about was what I should do,” he said. “She told me who I should date. ‘You should date Wanda,’” he recalled her saying. “There was a whole list” of women whom she thought would be a good match for him.
“I said, ‘Sweetheart, I appreciate you trying to look out for me, but I think I might be able to find my own dates,’” he said.
Recalling that allowed him to muster a rare, brief smile. “You have no idea what a nightmare this has been,” he said.
There was that sigh again, an audible exhalation of heartbreak and anguish.
Solash said that he had never understood or appreciated the Judaic tradition of sitting shiva, the weeklong period of mourning during which you sit on a hard bench and friends come and offer solace.
That tradition “never struck me until now,” he said. “What’s the point of it?’”
Now, though, he said, he gets the point. “It really is a smart thing to do,” he said. “You sit and talk, you focus on the good times.”
That’s what he promised to do.
Like the shiva bench, it’s going to be hard, though.