In Memory

James Polster

James Polster

go to bottom 
  Post Comment

07/28/13 02:06 AM #1    

Dennis Bayer

Here is something I wrote to be read at Jimmy's memorial in New Orleans since I was sick at the time and unable to attend. A small photo album follows after the text.


Some Memories Of Jimmy


  I’m really sorry that Aggie and I can’t be here for Jim’s memorial.  I’m pretty sure that I knew Jimmy before anybody here including his brother, Michael.  We first met in kindergarten which would be 1952.

     Jimmy loved to play practical jokes and delved into magic tricks when we were kids. Eventually Jimmy was voted “Life Of  The Party” at Byron Junior High. Even in elementary school he and I would take the Shaker Rapid Transit downtown and go to Snider’s Magic Shop. In those days kids could go anywhere without fear of getting kidnapped or murdered.  It was on one of our trips downtown that we got a great idea for a practical joke.  I think we were about 12 years old at the time. We got off of the rapid transit and exited in front of the Terminal Tower at Public Square. There we spotted a pay phone on a pole across the street from the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. The monument was very tall and at the top was the figure of a soldier.  We jotted down the phone number of the pay phone and began working on our scheme.  By the time we got back to my house we knew what we were going to do.

      We took turns dialing the number and let the phone ring on that pay phone until somebody would answer. It always took a while for somebody to pick up. I think the most we counted was about 50 rings.  When the passerby answered we would ask them in our deepest voice (remember we were only about 12 years old) why they had answered the phone.  Most people would say something like “Well, I was walking by and heard this phone ringing so I decided somebody should answer it.”  We’d tell them how nice it was for them to do something like that, and then came the fun part.  The conversation went something like this.


 We’d say  “Turn around.  Do you see that soldier on the top of the monument?”

  “Yes, I see it.”

  “Well can you make out the camera lens in his right eye?”

 “Oh, I’ll be darned, I think I can!”

 “OK, well wave to the camera.” We’d tell them.

  “I’m waving, I’m waving!”

  And, then we’d yell “SMILE you’re on Candid Camera!”

  By this time we were usually rolling on the floor laughing and picturing the person smiling and waving up to the statue in the middle of Public Square.

 “When can I see it they’d ask?”

 We’d tell them to just keep watching and that they should it in a few weeks.



         Another great memory I have came in 1970. I had graduated from college and decided to take some time off and think about whether or not I wanted to go to graduate school in oceanography.

         I bought a VW camper in Germany and set out to travel and eventually work in Europe.  I had heard that Jimmy had been arrested and was in jail in the Kasbah of Tangiers.  I decided I had to go down there to see if they would let me in to see him and find out if I could do anything to help him out.  I was travelling with Daniel, a French guy from Nice at the time.  We’d either sleep in the van or at youth hostels.  Daniel agreed to travel down to Morocco with me and at the hostel in Nice we found two girls who had just graduated from the University of Michigan who agreed to make the trip with us and split gas and expenses.  We traveled south through Spain and took the ferry over to Morocco.

          We drove to Tangiers and found a nice camping area just outside of town.  It was already dark when we checked into the camp.  Still, I wanted to try to go into town right then and there.  Danny was feeling sick and the two girls became a huge pain in the ass. They wanted me to drive them pretty much all around Morocco in 4 days. I said “no way” and after a lot of arguing they didn’t want to attempt a walk into town with me either.  So, I set off in the night on my own.  I had never been to North Africa before and the contrast with Europe was stunning.  There were women with veils riding donkeys, bearded men wearing Djellabas, piles of yellow melons on the side of the road, people smoking water pipes on the side of the road.  It was dark and not well lit at all.  I continued to walk and eventually a group of 3-4 teenage boys approached me.  “Want to buy some hash?” they asked. Remember this is like 2 hours after arriving in Tangiers and I still knew nothing about the place and these were the first natives I talked to other than the camp manager.  I said no and told them I was here to find a friend who had been arrested, but had lived at the Hotel Istanbul.  “Who’s your friend?”  They asked me.  I said Jim Polster.  Then, “POLSTER! WE KNOW POLSTER! HE”S OUT OF JAIL” I couldn’t believe it. The first people I spoke to knew Jimmy.  They told me that 300 prisoners had been pardoned when one of the King’s wives had a baby and Jimmy got lucky.  They said he was already on his way to Spain, and then they led me to the Hotel Istanbul.

          I walked into the hotel and remember an aquarium to the left and sort of a small lounge area with several guys kind of hanging out half asleep.  Nobody said a word. It was as if I didn’t exist. I asked to speak to Mustafa. Jimmy had told that he was the manager. It turned out the person I had asked was Mustafa himself. “I’m a friend of Jimmy Polster” I said. Then, everybody’s head snapped around and now all eyes were on me!  They suddenly snapped to life. They all knew Jimmy.  Mustafa and I talked for a while and he gave me some mail that had been left for Jimmy which I agreed to forward home for him.

          So on my first night in Tangiers I had already discovered that Jimmy must have really gotten around!

           I wound up spending 6 weeks in Tangiers while waiting for insurance money to arrive. All of my camera equipment had been stolen and I wanted to go to Gibraltar, a free port to replace it.  Maybe 3 weeks into my stay I was riding on a bus.  I was near the back standing up and holding onto one of those straps that hang down so you can balance yourself.  Standing right in front of me was a Moroccan dressed in western clothes. In English he told me that his name was Mohammed and he asked me where I was from.  I told him that I was originally from Cleveland.  “Cleveland!” he blurted. “I have a good friend from Cleveland, Jim Polster!”   “Wow, really?” I said, and I told him that was the reason I’d come to Tangiers in the first place. “Sure, Polster and I are good friends. I was even invited to Marilee’s wedding!” He continued.  We got to talking and he told me that Jim was on his way to Spain and that I could probably find him at the Fat Black Pussycat Bar in Torremolinos.  Mohammed and I met again a few times after that.

          It was weeks before I made it up to Torremolinos and Jimmy had already gone, but the bartender and I had some good talks about JP.     

                                                          Photo Album Link Below 

01/05/14 04:30 PM #2    

Roger Bamberger

I just read Dennis Bayer's memories about Jimmy. I still can't believe he is gone. I had some great times with Jim. Some might remember we wrestled together for 3 years. We starved ourselves and when possible we gorged as well. I remember one match when Jimmy cracked or broke his nose. Lots of blood. Zip Zednik found a plastic mask he could wear in the next few matches. Most people would have been a bit self conscious about the mask. It was really big and ugly. Jimmy immediately loved it. He said it made him really intimidating. Come on; he was wrestling 103.

Another time, after we had graduated, he called me up and said he had a friend in town and they were going to Geraci's for pizza. He told me to come but he said don't ask his friend a lot of questions. We all went and he introduced me to a guy with long reddish hair. His name was Buffaloe. Didn't talk much but when the bill came he offered to pay and pulled out the biggest wad of cash I had ever seen. Later I heard some stories about how he and Jimmy were going to buy inexpensive cars in Europe and replace some of the engine parts with hash shaped as the replaced part and ship them to the states. Don't know if it ever happened.

Jimmy had tremendous talents. If you were his friend, you had a great friend. He was the life of the party.


01/06/14 12:35 PM #3    

Barry Levin (Levin)

I have many fond memories of Jimmy.In junior high I was one of the persons that  would go with him to  explore all the exotic places that were downtown.We would take the rapid on Saturday and eat lunch at Royal Castle,play the arcade games at Genes Funny House .The thing that surprised me the most was at the 30th class reunion he told me he was an author and had published several books. I bought his book Brown I started to read it and could not put it down.He really knew how to write.I was going to bring the book to our 50th reunion to get him to  autograph it.Now I can't.But once again I still have the memories.

Barry Levin

01/07/14 02:59 PM #4    

Edward Torchy Smith

SCOTT SIEGLER asked me to post this for him:

I noticed that Dennis posted the speech that he had intended to give at Jimmy's memorial. I believe that Boas read it to those assembled there. If it is not gilding the lily, I would like to include the eulogy I gave at the New Orleans memorial:


I was Jimmy's continuous friend for more than 50 years. We played touch football together in Shaker Heights in 1960; we played elephant polo together in Nepal in 2000. 
We first met in Sunday school at the late 1950s. Our Cleveland synagogue was so reformed that our rabbis wore dark business suits on the pulpit and we convened on Sundays – so that we would appear to be more American and perhaps, less Jewish. Jimmy and I went to different elementary schools, so I only saw him one day a week, but like me he was short, skinny and funny... so what was not to like? 
The Hebrew class would end at 11am and the class would then trudge down to the main sanctuary for a service… but the teachers were old and befuddled and no one took attendance in the main sanctuary… so as we entered the unlighted activities room, Jimmy and I intuitively knew what needed to be done. 30 seconds later our ties would be off, and like Huck and Tom we were running free. It didn't matter that the Mt Sinai Hospital snack bar and gift shop was the only place nearby to visit… we were escaped fugitives, and our lifelong bond was sealed. 
We had a similar ritual on Saturday afternoons; we would take the Rapid Transit downtown, go to the health food store in the Old Arcade, get fresh carrot/apple juices, go to the coin and stamp shop so I could see whether my coin collection had appreciated over the week (it hadn't), and then head over to Snider's Magic Shop. 
We would spend hours there watching Mr. Snider practice tricks, buying sneezing powder or plastic vomit or hand buzzers. We started to buy more expensive props and tricks in preparation for our magic show performance business. After we had acquired dozens of elaborate magic tricks, the Polster&Siegler Magic Company performed at one 6 year old's birthday party and then we lost all interest in that business venture. 
50 years is a long time to love someone, but I did him. 
I loved him because he was a searcher, a storyteller, and a romantic. 
He was in search of whatever he had never seen - which was a lot, if you'd grown up in the Middle West in the 1950s. Salt, pepper and ketchup were our seasonings; big steaks were gourmet dining; and Brooks Brothers was high fashion. I like to imagine the 19 year old Jim Polster swaggering into Antoine's for the first time and drinking it all in… the polished mahogany, the yellowed wall-cartoons, the rich stew of different smells…and whispering "Eureka" to himself. 
New Orleans opened his eyes to a bigger, more sensual world and it permanently whet his appetite for the exotic. 
By Thanksgiving vacation of our freshman year, we were all back in Cleveland trying out our new personalities in our old hang outs. Jimmy had learned to order crawfish etouffee, shrimp remoulade, and eggs Sardou... but that didn't do him much good in Cleveland in 1965. He wanted to grow out of Cleveland and that is just what he did… 
His palate and his food appreciation never diminished; he was the first experimental diner I ever knew, and he loved sharing what he had learned, touched or tasted… He was seeking whatever he had never done, whatever he had never eaten, whatever he had never been. 
Now we can understand that he was seeking himself. 
He was the most reluctant of storytellers. Unlike a lot of folks who adventure out in search of additional mysteries, Jimmy rarely pushed himself forward on the back of his adventures. If he was asked, he would describe foreign places and odd events, but his style was not socially obvious. I never saw him use his adventures to social climb – a common trait in Hollywood, where folks are so eager to differentiate themselves - but he certainly could have.… no, Jimmy was a different kind of storyteller. He brought back plenty of great yarns - talking Indira Ghandi into a chat in her palatial gardens, watching from his Marrakesh window as hashhish smugglers packed kilos inside the doors of a vintage Mercedes, learning from the stone-age Amazon tribe how to tie his penis gourd properly so his dick would stay in place – whatever it was, the stories were all great. And they were ultimately stories about him… 
because Jim was the greatest character he ever created. 
He worked and reworked his story as long and 
conscientiously as Thomas Mann wrote and rewrote The Magic Mountain. Some writers – Thackery, Balzac, Austen – write the same story over and over in different novels, but not Jimmy. The story that most interested me - and Jimmy - was Jimmy.
Unlike some writers, Jim was not fascinated by plot mechanics or narrative structures. He was not an architectural writer like Somerset Maugham whom he greatly admired. He was interested in a character whom he could put in a pickle and then play with. All his novels feature a protagonist, a variation of Jimmy, who somewhat passively and very capriciously ends up in silly, crazy situations that he cleverly manages to extricate himself from. 
His last few years were more sad-crazy than silly-crazy, so I prefer to remember the silly-crazy ones. 
By the time that Jimmy had emigrated from Los Angeles to New Orleans he had begun to lose his vigor and his hope; he was painting his greatest character into a corner. We talked about this when he was still in the mood to discuss such things, and I watched him stage directing his own ending – the rented room in the French Quarter, the vodka bottles, alone and in pain. It is a horrible image to even put into words, but his life and his art and his self-mythology all finally merged in that one room, perhaps imagined by Tennessee Williams. 
And like Tennessee Williams, Jimmy was a Romantic to the core. He believed in magic and waited for inspiration, and his efforts to be rational, deductive, and empirical always seemed, at least to me, half-hearted. 
Jim Polster lived in the world that should be... not the world that would be. 
He never saw the world as an ugly or a threatening place. He liked other people. He rarely made enemies. When he felt totally betrayed, which was rare, even then his anger was filled with more surprise than venom. Like a bruised Romantic, he experienced his defeats as disappointments, not as battles fought and lost. His lack of cynicism and bile left Jimmy endlessly vulnerable in the business of life, but it also is what made him such a wonderful, life long companion and great friend. 
In the end we shall all remember him as kind and strong and gentle. He loved Nick beyond all limits, and Nick thankfully got to see that exuberance and excess of love.
Like William Blake, Jimmy believed that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. And now I can shut my eyes and see Jimmy, laughing that throaty Cognac laugh, eyes crinkling at the corners, in his perpetual jeans and cowboy boots – finally, slouched in a plantation chair on the front porch of that palace of wisdom.

By Scott Siegler




01/08/14 10:59 AM #5    

Barbara Horovitz (Brown)

Hope your career uses your writing talents, Scott. What you wrote was so vivid, those of us who were not with you on your experiences together with Jimmy, felt like we were. How lucky you and Jimmy were to have such a special lifelong friendship. To have buddies like you and Dennis share such touching memories is a testament to the strength of your life bonds. Jimmy sounded like a remarkable guy.  Although I also attended "Silver's Temple", I stayed for class, and indeed, for Temple High School afterwards. My condolences to his good friends.    Barbara

01/08/14 11:58 AM #6    

Richard Brezner


I have to admit that I became more than a bit teary-eyed reading your post. I knew little about Jimmy, but your clarity of writing & remembrance is testament to a pure friendship and love that you were so fortunate to have experienced, and so generous to have shared. It conjured up a visual characterization that left me wanting to know more about Jimmy. I couldn't help but visualize the possibility of a film based on his life, especially considering that your writing skills are indescribably admirable .

I didn't know Jimmy well. In fact, I barely knew him well enough to say much more than an occasional Shaker-hallway-hello where he often seemed to exude a semi-quiet air of prankishness with a side-order of impish hell-raising. 

This was the most beautiful, thoughtful, memorable and selfless memorial I've ever read. Thank you so much for sharing your feelings.


Richard L Brezner


07/01/14 11:58 AM #7    

David Brown

James 'Jim' Polster, globetrotting writer and adventurer, dies at 65


John Pope, | The Times-Picayune By John Pope, | The Times-Picayune The Times-Picayune
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on January 10, 2013 at 3:55 PM, updated January 10, 2013 at 4:46 PM
James Alan “Jim” Polster, a globetrotting writer whose work took him to such diverse locales as India, the Amazon jungle and Hollywood, died Dec. 15 at his New Orleans home. He was 65.
polster-obit.jpgJames 'Jim' Polster 

An autopsy has been conducted, but results are not available yet, said Carol Pulitzer, his ex-wife.

A native of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Mr. Polster graduated from Tulane University in 1969 and earned master’s degrees at Columbia and Harvard universities.

Shortly after finishing Tulane, Mr. Polster boarded a freighter bound for Spain, marking the start of a peripatetic adulthood. He wound up in Tangiers, where he lived for several years, and he went on to live and work in the Amazon rain forest; New Guinea, where he befriended cannibals; India, where he interviewed former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi; and Nepal, where he played in the world championships of elephant polo and wrote about the experience for Sports Illustrated.

Mr. Polster returned intermittently to New Orleans, where he wrote about topics such as the 1979 police strike, which shut down Carnival parades in the city; the nascent environmental movement in Louisiana bayous; and the 1980 Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran prize fight, for which he wrote a three-part series for the weekly newspaper Figaro that won a first prize from the Press Club of New Orleans.

He wrote three novels – “A Guest in the Jungle,” “Brown” and “The Graduate Student” – and worked in television while living in Hollywood.

Mr. Polster produced five “Hart to Hart” made-for-TV movies based on the series starring Stefanie Powers and Robert Wagner, and he wrote screenplays for an episode of “Hunter” and for “World Without Walls,” based on the memoir by the aviator Beryl Markham.

Recognition and support for his work came from a grant from the Wurlitzer Foundation and a MacDowell Fellowship.

In addition to Pulitzer, survivors include a son, Nick Polster of San Francisco, and a brother, Michael Polster, of Shaker Heights. A memorial will be held Saturday at 3 p.m. at 1525 Louisiana Ave.

go to top 
  Post Comment