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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Toots

MOVIE REVIEWS

TOOTS (2008)

Featuring Maury Allen, Dave Anderson, Yogi Berra, David Brown, Bill Buchbinder, John Clancy, Perian Conerly, Walter Cronkite, Peter Duchin, Whitey Ford, Bill Fugazy, Pat Futcher, Bill Gallo, Joe Garagiola, Frank Gifford, Pete Hamill, Kerry Jacobson, Harry Lavin, Larry Merchant, Liz Murray, LeRoy Neiman, Nicholas Pileggi, Charles Reilly, Gianni Russo, Dick Sherman, Bert Randolph Sugar, Gay Talese, Mike Wallace, Sidney Zion and archival footage of Bernard "Toots" Shor, Baby Shor, Esther Shor, John Daly, Joe DiMaggio, Ralph Edwards, Arlene Francis, Martin Gabel, Jackie Gleason, Dorothy Kilgallen, Joe Louis, Mickey Mantle, Edward R. Murrow, Tony Randall and Frank Sinatra.

Directed by Kristi Jacobson.

Distributed by IndiePix.  84 minutes.  Not Rated.

Toots

"If I was born tomorrow and God said to me, 'What do you want to be?' I'd say a saloon keeper."

The rise and fall of Bernard "Toots" Shor is one of those only-in-New York stories and could have only happened in the early-mid 1900s. 

He lived a majestic, fascinating, often tragic life that was thousands of miles removed from his hard childhood in South Philadelphia - figuratively, of course, not literally.  Yet, he almost never allowed the hurt to show, instead he was quick with a laugh and always willing to go to any length for one of the many, many people he considered his friend.

Toots Shor was the kind of natural, down-to-earth guy who felt completely comfortable describing meeting with the Pope by saying, "We sat around and talked.  Geez, he's a hell of a guy."  He was smart man who would not disclose how many books he had read, because it was bad for his image for people to think he was smarter than them - which he often was.  He was the kind of man who could call Frank Sinatra on a whim and say, "Hey, Dago, get down here," and Sinatra would come.

Mostly, he was the most legendary restaurateur of the golden age of Manhattan - a man who counted amongst his many regulars movie stars, athletes, politicians, mobsters and even the occasional visiting President.

He was a wonderful host but a horrible businessman, which meant that when Shor fell he would fall hard.  Still, for one brief, shining period of about 20 years, he was a real-life Runyonesque character and the master of ceremonies of the place to see and be seen in the entire world. 

Shor was one of those gregarious guys who could befriend anyone he chose to (though he openly acknowledged that if he didn't like you, you were shut out), get people from all walks of life together and made each feel equally special.  He was liked by movie stars and athletes precisely because he didn't fawn over them.  He was good friends with Gleason and Sinatra, sharing alcohol and boozy stories - though he had no patience for someone who could not hold their liquor.  Mostly, he was a surprisingly caring and intuitive man, believing that a bartender must also be a psychiatrist.

However, he could occasionally be too brusque.  He lost his longtime friendship with baseball star Joe DiMaggio when he referred to DiMaggio's wife Marilyn Monroe as a whore.  The fact that DiMaggio and Monroe were fighting (over her infamous skirt scene in the movie The Seven-Year Itch) and that Shor was just trying to be sympathetic and one of the guys for the sensitive athlete didn't matter, DiMaggio never spoke to him again.

In many ways, he was also a very guarded and private man.  He was obviously a caring family man who loved his wife and daughters, though he would spend about sixteen hours a day at the restaurant.  His daughter Kerry says that it was just like if she had a father who was a doctor.  When he was there for the family he was doting, though would not always open up, even to them.  In an interview with Kerry, it comes out that she only learned the stories of his parents' tragic deaths (Shor's mother was hit by a car when he was fifteen, his father committed suicide five years later) by reading about it in a book on her father. 

Like so many other symbols of bygone eras, eventually time, mores and circumstances passed him by.  Toots never quite got the sixties: the hippies, the war, the cultural revolution and the changing face of crime.  The world became a more serious place, and Toots Shor's restaurant became a nearly empty-shrine to a world which no longer existed.

Still, Shor tried to hold on, eventually succumbing to cancer in the mid-1980s, a broken, alcoholic and nearly destitute man.

Yet Toots, which was made by Shor's granddaughter, does not dwell on the hard final days of his life - though she does not shy from it either.  She shows the warts and tragic parts of her grandfather's life, but she mostly celebrates the high times.  There were many of those.

A friend of mine, a struggling playwright who made a living at the time as a bartender, often told me about fifteen years ago that he would love to do a play on the life and times of Toots Shor, which he felt made for a truly fascinating and dramatic story.  Sadly, that play never came to be, but after seeing Toots, I can't agree with him more.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright 2008 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: November 27, 2008.

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Copyright 2008   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: November 27, 2008.

 

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