Melvin Goldstein, 85; staged shows for elders, got results for needy citizens

By By Gloria Negri
Globe Staff / November 27, 2007

In November 1999, when City Hall impresario Melvin B. Goldstein was rehearsing a production of his variety show for and by senior citizens who sang, danced, and played hand-held clappers called "bones," he was overtaken by a strange urge.

He leaped onto the stage of the empty Strand Theatre in Boston's Uphams Corner to belt out "Don't Blame Me" and other "oldie tunes" to the accompaniment of an accordion. He was 77 at the time.

"I just had to do it," he told the Globe afterward. "When I was 7, I sang 'Dinah' on this very stage."

Mr. Goldstein, a legend and a fixture around City Hall for about 25 years, and most recently liaison between the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services and the city's elder and Russian-Jewish communities, died Nov. 12 at Quincy Hospital of complications of diabetes. He was 85 and lived in Randolph.

A large, jovial man with a million-dollar smile, he continued to show up at City Hall until his recent illness. While he was involved in a variety of offices starting in the early 1980s during the administration of Kevin H. White, Mr. Goldstein is best known for his summer song-and-dance shows on City Hall Plaza - where he often sang - and his annual holiday show at the Hyde Park Community Center.

The senior citizens he recruited to perform, many of them well-known in their day, were always ready. In November 1998, at the Elks Hall in West Roxbury, Elena Ciampa, 89, sashayed around the stage to Don Ho's "Tiny Bubbles." As a young woman, she had appeared in the chorus line at the Old Howard in Scollay Square. Mr. Goldstein cheered her on with a "Sock it to 'em, baby!"

Serge Bologov, head of the Russian Community Association of Massachusetts, praised Mr. Goldstein for what he did for the community, describing his help in an e-mail as "without nonsense and from the heart."

Mr. Goldstein's shows became as legendary as his behind-the-scenes good deeds.

"Mel's shows were intergenerational, intercultural, and intergalactic extravaganzas," said Jay Walsh, director of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services. "Mel Goldstein was full of life, an entertainer at heart and a guy who cared deeply for the elderly and Russian residents of the city."

"He was the producer, director, talent coordinator of the shows and also served as the emcee and, I think, the premiere act. Mel used to market these shows to different elderly groups. He would provide transportation for them and always made sure folks were well-fed," Walsh said.

When Mr. Goldstein was not producing a show, he was usually found on the phone answering questions from concerned citizens and trying to fix problems.

"Mel was a guy who cared about helping others," Mayor Thomas M. Menino said. "He knew what services were available and how to get them. He would make random phone calls to see if people needed anything. He would keep seniors informed on changes in Medicare and when and where flu shots were available.

"We're going to miss that smile. It's a generation lost, but he's up there watching over us," Menino said.

Mr. Goldstein was born in Chelsea and grew up in the Roxbury area, one of three children of Samuel and Bessie (Orenstein) Goldstein. His wife, the former Bertha "Bibi" Silbert, said he probably would have followed a theatrical career if he had not stayed home to care for his widowed mother.

He started singing at Revere Beach when he was 3. At 6, he won the role to play Fatty in a movie on the "Our Gang" series, he told the Globe in 1998. It was filmed in Roxbury, "in back of the old Shawmut Theatre."

After graduating from Roxbury Memorial High School, he used his singing talent to tour with bands along the East Coast and the Borscht Belt in New York. He joined the Army during World War II and performed in USO shows. Once out of the service in 1944, he operated a successful male haberdashery, the Hat Shoppe, in Roxbury.

In 1945, he and Bibi married. They met while he was directing a show at the Junior Hadassah in Dorchester and she was in the chorus.

In their 1992 book, "The Death of an American Jewish Community," Hillel Levine and Lawrence Harmon write that Mr. Goldstein enjoyed good relations with African-American groups and families at a time of tension between the Jewish and black communities in Mattapan and Dorchester.

"On the morning after [the Rev. Martin Luther] King's assassination, Goldstein received visits from black friends urging him to close shop and go home for a few days. . . . He had always provided the neighborhood with quality goods at a fair price and seemed genuinely interested in his customers and their families," the book says. Riots scarred the community following King's death.

Mr. Goldstein gravitated toward politics in Ward 14, where the Democratic ward boss and funeral director Sam Levine became his mentor and helped him get a job in City Hall under White.

Kenneth Schlossberg of Canton, who is producing a documentary on the Jewish community along Blue Hill Avenue in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s that features commentary by Mr. Goldstein, said in an e-mail: "Mr. Goldstein became Levine's right-hand man, making sure that the Jews turned out to vote on Election Day and, in return, making sure that when they had problems that they got help from City Hall."

In his commentary, Mr. Goldstein describes Blue Hill Avenue at that time as "a conglomerate of all the kosher stores in the area. It was a little bit of grocery store, a little bit of meat, a little bit of fish."

He also recalls the G&G Deli on Blue Hill Avenue, where all the politicians would stop on election night. "Wendell Willkie drove down Blue Hill Avenue and stopped at the G&G," he said, referring to the Republican nominee for the 1940 presidential election.

Asked where he lived in those days, he replied with his trademark humor, "many steps ahead of the landlord."

In addition to his wife, Mr. Goldstein leaves two daughters, Jacquelyn Gold of Easton and Barbara Klein of Foxborough; and two grandchildren.

Services have been held.


©Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company

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