New York City

A dinner of Brooklyn memories: Brooklyn-born, LA-based Lou Zigman keeps tabs on Brooklyn-Hollywood connections

New York Alumni reunions’ star power leaves lasting mark

June 28, 2024 Wayne Daren Schneiderman
From left (seated): Will Hasty, Bob Catell and Jamie deRoy. from left (standing): Julie Budd, Lou Zigman, Dr. John Wagner and Richard Maltby. Photo by Wayne Daren Schneiderman
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The average person may not have heard the name Lou Zigman before, and that’s understandable.

The 80-year-old labor and employment arbitrator and former Brooklynite flies considerably under the radar.

But Zigman has a significant history with some of the world’s most legendary entertainers and has done a substantial amount to promote New York, especially the borough of Brooklyn.

“I’m a West Coast guy. I live in Los Angeles but will always hold Brooklyn near and dear to my heart,” Zigman said.  “I still come here several times a year. The borough is in my blood.”

In New York briefly earlier this month, Zigman put together one of his many spontaneous dinners with the theme ‘down memory lane.’ Even on short notice, several key figures attended. They included Bob Catell, former chairman and CEO of Brooklyn Union Gas Company and Keyspan Corporation; Jamie deRoy, Broadway producer and cabaret, stage, film, and TV performer; Julie Budd, recording artist and actress; noted nephrologist Dr. John Wagner and Richard Maltby, theater director, producer, lyricist and screenwriter.

The purpose of the gathering, Zigman pointed out, was to get together and discuss old times, and to say that Zigman is a detailed and passionate storyteller would be a grave understatement.

He went into great detail regarding spearheading the “New York Alumni Association” (NYAA), an organization that provided a vehicle for New Yorkers on the West Coast to come together, share a common pride in their roots and be entertained by the greats of the show business industry at the same time.

Lou Zigman. Photo by Marcello Pantano
Lou Zigman. Photo by Marcello Pantano

“Let me provide some background and history,” Zigman told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It all began in 1978 when I met a guy in Beverly Hills who was wearing some NYU apparel. This immediately caught my attention, being a native New Yorker and all.”

“It turns out we both went to Lincoln High School, and after a significant amount of back and forth, we kicked around the idea of doing a Lincoln High reunion,” Zigman said

One year later, the first West Coast reunion for transplanted Brooklynites from Lincoln High School was launched at the Beverly Hills home of international financier and alumnus Bernie Cornfeld.

More than 1,000 people attended, and it made the news with Walter Cronkite, Zigman recalled.

Future reunions had great success and went on for many years. In one LA reunion decades ago, a staff member of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was offered the opportunity to sit at the same table with Don Newcomb, former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, and Red Buttons, the favorite comedian of the Eagle staffer.

Eventually, other schools in the New York area ended up getting involved in these events as well. Ultimately, the yearly shindig metamorphosed into what was to be known as the “New York Alumni Association.”

NYAA events were referred to by some as “New York Day in LA,” but, according to Zigman, it was never billed that way.

The first NYAA get-together was held at the California Mart downtown in 1986, after which the venue was moved to Beverly Hills High School.

“The goal was to harness the energy of those that share a common pride in their New York roots,” Zigman explained.

But it soon became more than just a reunion celebration. There were also celebrities and plenty of them.

They included comedians Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Red Buttons, Buddy Hackett, Martha Raye,  Dom DeLuise, Billy Crystal and Rich Little; singers Jerry Vale, Melissa Manchester, Connie Stevens, Neil Sedaka and Tony Orlando; actors Rita Moreno, Mickey Rooney, Dick Van Dyke, Sidney Portier, Jack Klugman, Jerry and Ben Stiller, Burt Reynolds, Paul Sorvino, Mary Tyler Moore and Tony Danza; sports figure  Earvin “Magic” Johnson and many politicians.

From left: Fran Zigman, Milton Berle and Lou Zigman in the 1980s. Photo courtesy of Lou Zigman
From left: Fran Zigman, Milton Berle and Lou Zigman in the 1980s. Photo courtesy of Lou Zigman

“Jon Voight was one of the first celebrities we had, as my wife, Fran, knew him well,” Zigman pointed out. “And Lou Gossett Jr. was another whose number I received from my doctor at the time.”

“Phil Foster was our first NYAA honoree from New Utrecht High School, and Foster brought in Budd Friedman, who then brought in Dane Clark. From there, things just kept on mushrooming,” Zigman said. “The turning point was when our NYAA co-producer was able to reach out to Milton Berle in 1989 and talk him into coming to emcee a show. That really gave us significant credibility. Berle emceed our shows for the next 15 years. He brought his friends, family and his Friars Club pals.”

After Berle, more and more noteworthy celebrities followed suit, with a number of them at each venue.

“Entertainers wanted to come meet ‘Uncle Miltie’ and perform for him,” Zigman explained. “We were drawing thousands at these shows; it was just a perfect storm.”

Of course, all this happened before social media and sites like Classmates, where people can find old friends in a flash.

“We promoted these shows mostly via word of mouth, putting up flyers and the like,” Zigman said. “Thankfully, the word spread. We knew a lot of folks, and we had a lot of New Yorkers living here in LA.”

A total of 25 events took place throughout the years before finally coming to an end in 2010.

“We wanted to go out on top,” Zigman recalled. “And I think we did.”

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