Irv’s favorite son: Barry?
If Irving’s professional life lived up to the hype of TV's “Mad Men,” his personal life fit the mold of that classic TV show “My Three Sons” and the lifestyle as a Suburban family that America coming out of World War II ached to embrace.
Irv most likely met Ruth in Newark. They married in 1941 and had their first son, Barry in 1943. Donald the middle son was born in 1945 after the family had moved to Rutherford, and Bruce, the youngest in 1950.
The three boys could not have been more different had they been born to different parents, and the expectations for their success must have been immense.
Whether or not it is inspired sibling rivalry, I'm not certain, since all three brothers seemed entwined in both professional and private ways.
Yet as the eldest and perhaps the most gifted of the three, Barry must have felt the most pressure to achieve -- even though Donald must at the same time felt he had something to prove, standing in the shadow of an elder brother.
Barry oozed eloquence even his father lacked, breaking the mold of the stereotypical Jew by proving Jew kid from a Newark family could be cool.
He dressed cool, acted cool, and hung out with cool crowd in high school, engaging in sports like wrestling and swimming that gave him the macho most teens in the 50s craved -- and which made him extremely attractive to girls and he was drawn to them.
Because Barry and Donald were born about two years apart, they attended West Orange High school together briefly.
This must have been a burden for the geek-like Donald who hung out with geek-like friends and took up geek-like things such as jewelry making rather than sports.
While Bruce, born five years after Donald, may have seemed more fortunate in that he had not the shadow of either of them hanging over him, there must have been some residual effects from both Barry, who was popular among teachers and fellow students, and the extremely studious Donald.
Bruce, who graduated in 1969, apparently started working for Donald, who by that time had already gone into business, and had seen his business grow out of his father’s garage, and decided Bruce could help him – something that didn’t completely work out since I was hired in 1974 to replace Bruce – although Bruce continued to work for Barry, when Barry opened his beauty supply company in Verona.
In high school, Barry was a classic 50s middle-class kid, wearing his hair Elvis style, and when he wasn't wearing some sort of sports-jacket he wore button down shirts with long collars called high rollers considered very cool at the time.
Early on in high school, Donald looked very much like his father with thick-rimmed glasses and a tendency to wear bizarrely pattern shirts geeks often mistaken school. He would later more than make up for this -- perhaps taking lessons from his brother -- and in some ways exceeding Barry in tasteful attire.
Even the way Barry looked defied most of the stereotypes of Jews. He was fair-haired, almost Aryan in his features, and had a noble even an arrogant look -- like a young prince assured he would someday inherit his father's crown. He was that self-assured and equally ambitious.
Even when I knew him, he had the habit of repeating the word “seriously” something he was noted for in high school, a phrase that might have defined the seriousness of something he said or as a putdown, questioning the validity of some statement made by someone else.
As Aryan as he might have looked, Barry did not abandon his Jewish roots. He became a member of United Synagogue Youth, which was a youth movement for conservative Jews to use as a stepping stone to leadership as young Jews learned values and skills for leadership.
He also seemed to follow in his father’s footsteps by giving back to the community. While still in high school, he volunteered frequently at the nearby Lyons Veterans Hospital as well as the Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation located in his hometown of West Orange -- a hospital that had a close relationship with the still struggling nation of Israel.
Often called “Barr” by his closest friends, Barry got involved in a remarkable variety of other activities in high school from photography the horseback riding along with wrestling and the school's swim club. He may also have had literary ambitions, since he was also involved with the school's literary magazine -- although he may have been there only for the girls.
For all of Barry's academic prowess, he was every bit a classic 50s teen -- the kind exemplified in the later film grease or Pleasantville. he loved music and collected records and knew very well the social benefits of dancing and became a member of the social dance club.
Even more symbolic of that era’s teens, he worked in The Valley Sweet Shop as a soda jerk -- not terribly far from where he would set up his beauty supply business a decade later and easy stroll to South Mountain Reservation which was a tangle of trails that several local teens used as a Lover's Lane.
Barry exuded self-confidence from the way he combed his hair to the way he tilted his head, even engaging in public speaking early in his high school as if he already assumed, he would need it in a later career. His plans to study law in college may even have been his first steps towards a career in politics.
He was bold arrogant and seemed to believe he could not fail to someday obtain greatness.
It was difficult to know if the same schemes he later in hatched in his life went through his head even then: the land speculation, the business venture after business venture, or even a brief stint in movies (though this also had a dark side) -- schemes that seemed determined to outdo all the accomplishments of his father.