My first real-world boss was Ike Gellis, the legendary sports editor of the New York Post. How I got the job is told in this post. How I kept it will never cease to amaze me.
Ike sat behind a large wood desk in the middle of the sports department, a filthy room in a decrepit fortress of a building on South Street. He was lord of the room, able to see everything, hear everything.
Ike was described in Pete Hamill’s book, A Drinking Life, as “the world’s shortest Jew.” And he very well may have been. He stood about 4-11 in heels. That’s him at the top, in the center, his feet way off the ground, decades before we crossed paths. Ike was much older — and shorter — by the time I met him. (The Post’s longtime and hugely respected executive editor, Paul Sann, is on the right.)
There was a man named “Iggy” in the mailroom down the hall. He would stand on a stool so he could see through the window that separated his room from anyone coming to pick up or mail a letter. That’s because Iggy was a dwarf. Or as we say these days, a “little person.” He was also the only person in the building who was shorter than Ike. He’d stroll into the sports department now and then . . . and Ike would immediately get out of his chair. We’d all fight our best to suppress falling on the floor in gales of laughter. Iggy walks in, Ike stands up. He sure loved being taller than someone.
I held the lofty title of Sports Editorial Clerk, which meant I was a copy boy who could type a bit. When Ike’s glasses were dirty, he’d hand them to me to run to the bathroom and clean them. When Ike wanted to place a bet with the bookie downstairs, I was the one who went down and placed it. When he invited his friends in the building into the sports department to share some Isaac Gellis kosher hot dogs (yeah, he had a background in kosher meats), I was the one who got to clean out the pan Ike cooked them in. And no, I never got to eat a dog.
One of my assigned daily tasks was to compile the Sports on the Air, the listing of what sports were on TV and radio. It was a very serious job. I had to call all the stations and go through large piles of mail daily to collect all the information, and then make sure I got it right in the paper. Get the starting time of the Knicks game wrong, and all hell would break loose.
Here’s what you need to know about Ike. He was a New Yorker through and through. I think he traveled north of 86th Street only for Yankee games. He thought Yonkers Raceway was upstate. He thought Albany was in Manitoba. And TV was in New York, and that was all there was to it.
One day in late January, Ike was reading the Boston Globe. He looked at the Globe’s sports listings and discovered that the Super Bowl was going to air on Channel 7. But it said right there in the New York Post that it was on Channel 4. Clearly, somebody was wrong. And clearly, it was me.
“Hey Geronimo,” he said, motioning me over. “How come it says in the Boston Globe that the game is on Channel 7 and we say it’s on Channel 4?”
I explained that the NBC affiliate in Boston airs on Channel 7, and that the NBC affiliate in New York airs on Channel 4. This, of course, made no sense whatsoever to my boss.
“Better check it out,” he said.
And he watches as I walk back to my desk and ponder my next move. Do I call the top sports guy at NBC, with whom I spoke regularly, and ask if NBC is planning to air the Super Bowl on Channel 4 in New York? Ike is watching. He’s waiting for me to pick up the phone.
Here’s to Sid Friedlander, assistant sports editor, who took pity on me and ambled over to Ike to explain that NBC would, in fact, air the game on Channel 7 in Boston and Channel 4 in New York. It’s kind of how TV works, Sid told Ike.
Ike didn’t quite understand it, but he could accept it because Sid said it was so. No way he was going to believe me.