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Sol Weinstein, b Trenton, New Jersey, July 29, 1928; m Eleanor Eisner (dec), 1s, 1d; d Wellington, November 25, 2012, aged 84.
Newspaper reporter turned comic writer and composer Sol Weinstein rubbed shoulders with Hollywood stars and top musicians before he emigrated from the United States to New Zealand, where he wrote award-winning jazz pieces while keeping Plimmerton residents entertained with his quirky witticisms.
Sol Weinstein was the son of a poor Ukrainian second-hand dealer struggling to survive in the Jewish section of Trenton, New Jersey. Young Sol's first home was rumoured to be a house of ill repute. His son David wonders if that was the genesis of his life-long "schmoozing" of women.
Sol worshipped his father and would go out with him sometimes into the countryside in his truck to break up a farmer's old tractor for scrap metal. On a good day, his father would hand him money to buy a few cigars and sweets.
During the Great Depression his mother could not afford cake but had enough money to buy a large round pumpernickel which she cut up, smeared with butter and distributed to kids in the neighbourhood, earning Sol, who was rotund at that time, the nickname "Pumpy".
As a newspaper writer he went to New York one summer and met the love of his life, Eleanor Eisner, from the Bronx. Their son David was born in 1956 and daughter Judee three years later.
They moved to Los Angeles in 1970 with the aim of Sol breaking into TV writing. He enrolled at New York University to study English but dropped out when his writing career started to take off. He wrote for comedians - his first client was Joe E Lewis - interviewed Don Rickles and Woody Allen, and wrote for Mad magazine.
In 1965, Ian Fleming's James Bond met his match in Sol's first book, Loxfinger, starring Jewish secret agent Israel Bond, "Oy Oy 7", who not only had a licence to kill but could also perform a memorial service over the dead.
"The lovemaking was profane to say the least. He was the kind of agent to be turned on by a navel orange," he quipped.
David said his mother was amazed his father would get a $100 cheque for writing a few funny jokes, more than a week's wages at the newspaper. "She almost fainted when he got a cheque for over $10,000 from one of his first book sales - an unbelievable amount in the 1960s."
Loxfinger struck a chord in the US and his four satirical Israel Bond novels - Loxfinger, Matzohball, On the Secret Service of His Majesty, The Queen and You Only Live Until You Die - sold hundreds of thousands of copies, allowing the family to move to a middle-class house in Levittown.
Though no-one took Israel Bond to the big screen, Sol found success in television, writing for various shows and prime-time series including The Jeffersons, The Love Boat and Three's Company. His showbiz pals included Sammy Davis Jr, Dom DeLuise and Gene Kelly. He worked as a comedy gag writer for Lewis, Bob Hope and Dean Martin variety shows.
Sol made good use of his time in New York, indulging his lifelong love of jazz. In the early 1950s he tuned into the emerging bebop jazz movement, visiting jazz clubs, enjoying rising stars such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Lennie Tristano.
He started composing melodies and the highlight of his musical career was writing the hit song The Curtain Falls. Singer Bobby Darin recorded it in 1963 and years later it was used in the film version of Darin's life, Beyond the Sea, starring Kevin Spacey.
Sol's wife died about 30 years ago. In 2002, he moved to New Zealand and was "unleashed" on Plimmerton, where David lives. "There was no stopping him. He got a new lease on life. He was always the jokester, the punster, kibitzing, schmoozing," David said. He was also a great mimic. Mana Little Theatre used him as a speech consultant for American accents.
Jazz musician Kevin Clark said Sol was "an amazing character with an incredibly creative and active mind". Mr Clark first met Sol when his jazz group were performing in Kirkcaldie & Stains.
"We were playing in the bed section when this old codger turned up and sprawled on a bed. When we started to play some bebop jazz he got really excited. He was rapt to find some jazz and became our groupie at regular sessions at the Sandbar [in Mana].
"Then we moved to Monteith's and I transcribed a few songs for him. He could not read or write music but wrote the melody and sang it. With his voice, he would not have made it into America's Got Talent," he said.
They recorded three of his songs and included them on a CD, which won the NZ Music Awards Tui for best jazz album in 2005.
Describing his friend as a well-known Plimmerton identity with an irrepressible sense of humour, he said that when Sol was battling illness, he walked into a crowded pharmacy and loudly said: "I want more of those drugs you gave me yesterday, not that tainted cocaine I got last week."
Sol's health declined rapidly after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer but David said he remained active to the end, writing articles, and even a song entitled Here Come the Hobbits.
"Sol left us very quickly, many feel they did not have a chance to say goodbye. We will all miss him. Baruch Dayan Emet."
Sources: David Weinstein, Kevin Clark, Fairfax Library
- © Fairfax NZ News