Ted Flicker was my enigmatic cousin, when I was growing up. He was famous, at least, in terms of the Lopatin family because he had gone into the world of show business – helped along with some of his father’s money. When I was young, he had moved to Greenwich Village, and when I was a teenager – he wrote and directed a Hollywood movie and became a television director.
I was connected to Ted from my mother’s side of the family, the Lopatin’s. They hailed from Freehold. It was a kind of Jewish ancestral fiefdom. My great-grandfather had settled there with four of his five sons; my grandfather didn’t arrive until 1913. He had left my mother and four children stuck in Russia until they were able to escape in 1920. My great-grandfather went on to own a large potato farm on the Englishtown road (now part of the Battle of Monmouth Park). Teddy’s grandfather was one of the four sons who had come over with their father. His mother, my mother’s first cousin, was Rebecca Lopatin. She had fallen in love with a man who her father believed would never amount to much. Her husband, Sid, had other ideas – he went on to make a small fortune in New York while Rebecca, who was known as Ray in the family, stayed at home in Freehold with her first child, Ted’s older brother Bobby. Her father forbid her to follow Sid to New York, but she was apparently quite determined and rejoined her husband by pushing her first child, Ted’s older brother Bobby, up Main Street and then hitch hiked to New York.
By the time Teddy was born, her husband was successful. He owned a major lithograph company in New York. But they still had a house in Freehold. After I was introduced to Ted and we became close – he would tell me how much he loved my mother and our Grandparents. He would reminiscence and retell stories of when my mother was still living at home in Freehold and Teddy and his brothers (as young children) would ride over to the house on Henry Street where my Grandmother lived. She enjoyed cooking and hosting family get-togethers and was a good Russian wife and very loving grandmother. She would feed them traditional, delicious strudels.
Perhaps to make the point, Teddy’s parents, built a large house opposite Monmouth Battlefield Park in the middle of Freehold. When I was a child, my father and mother would travel to Freehold from Washington where my father worked in construction with his brother-in-law. Sometimes they would take me to visit Sid and Ray’s house on Sunday. Sid looked a lot like Rhett Butler even to the point of owning race horses whose lithograph prints he had framed in his office or study. But, by then, Ted and his brothers had moved out to make their way in the world.
Teddy had success early on – he was one of the architects with Elaine May of the rules of Improv Theatre – which is still copied today. The Premise, one of the first audience initiated improvisational clubs, was a success with five companies that spread across America and even in London. He moved to Hollywood, directed TV sitcoms and made a major motion picture; a satire about a psychotic President and his equally psychotic analyst that he said “was on its way to being a hit but got side tracked by J. Edgar Hoover who he portrayed as a paranoid short guy.” After this, Teddy went from being an ‘A’ list Hollywood Director to a ‘B-list.’ Following this, Teddy had major success with one of the earliest cop dramas Barney Miller. He wrote the pilot, developed the concept, even named the main character after the police chief of Freehold, but his partner, one of the giants of early television, told him he was now working for him. Ted walked out after the first season, and then sued. When he won his suit for his share of the royalties, he left Hollywood for good.
My own introduction to Cousin Ted came when we decided to move to Santa Fe about ten years ago. I made contact with Ted’s brother and asked him where Ted was living. For some reason, I thought it may have been Arizona but it turned out to be Santa Fe. When we closed on the house we had just purchased, he invited us to his house on Tano Road just outside Santa Fe. My daughter remarked on seeing Barbara, his wife of 48 years, that she must be his second wife and in her fifties. Barbara was 70 at the time.
For Ted Flicker’s Third Act, as he liked to call it, he became a sculptor. He lived in a house that had land of 22 acres – located on a ridge with beautiful views overlooking the two mountain chains that engulf the city. There he became a sculptor working with clay and ultimately turning his creations into works of arts; nudes and irreverent portraits in bronze of the artists who he collected and who he knew well. He learned from a prominent sculptor, Michael Burke. When Burke moved to Oklahoma City to work on his double life size monument to the Oklahoma Land Rush, he put a sculpture of Ted (double, life sized) among all the horses and wagons of the Land Rush sculpture. Teddy was fond of sculpting nudes and he had some favorite models who he hired, but also served as a kind of surrogate father. His last set of sculptures were his take on stories from the Old Testament. In one, he let the woman cut off the head of the tyrant with a chain saw rather than the more traditional version that she’d used his sword. Ted created a wonderful sculpture that was in the form of a glass table with a nude of a woman with her arms raised high above her head reaching to the glass top which was shattered that he entitled “Breaking the Glass Ceiling.” I think the only regret Ted had is that he didn’t get the recognition he wanted for all his various sculptures, but he worked at it right till the end. He found enjoyment in working with his hands on warm wax in the studio in the midst of the vast gardens and pathways that, his wife, had laid by hand moving thousands of rocks in the process. Ted also enjoyed to read and had built a 1,000 square foot library over two floors – and filled it with 5,000 books on art and theatre.
Finally, a point about Ted and my book. I had written another novel while in Santa Fe and let Ted, who had published his own novel, The Good American (available on Amazon in digital format), read the first couple of chapters. He immediately critiqued it and commented that “it had too many coincidences.” I rewrote it. But he’d never read The Phoenix Year until after it was published. He downloaded it right away and for about a week I didn’t hear from him. Then, I got the phone call. He said: “Don’t talk David, listen closely, then he went on to tell me how much he liked the book and felt it was an important book.” I was, I must admit, surprised. According to his wife, Ted read the book without stop for almost a week and then, made the call.
I will miss my cousin Ted. He is a hard act to follow but I think I can take inspiration from the fact that he never stopped reinventing himself. Hopefully, writing will be my last act. According to his wife he had a good last night; went to an art opening here in Santa Fe, came home, and went to sleep. She swears he had a smile on his face as if he had the last laugh. Who knows what he was thinking about when he passed on.