Monday, January 9, 2012

Shameless Name-dropper

 Iconfess: I have this tendency to insert my kinda sorta famous uncle's name wherever and whenever possible. One friend teases me about this, calling me, "Shameless name-dropper," which is kind of funny considering I noticed my friend once referred to me as "Myron's niece." Leaving off the surname seemed to give my uncle's name even more cachet, something I noted for future use.

Of course, dropping the name "Myron Cope" into the dead center of light chit-chat is not at all the same as say, telling people that Brad Pitt is your brother in-law. Invoking the name of Cope doesn't make people go, "Oh. My. God." It's a humbler kind of celebrity.

Never heard of Myron Cope? I'm not surprised. But humor me. Type his name into Google and see what happens. As of this writing, I get 1,010,000 hits. Not bad for a Pittsburgh color commentator. (Brad's name gets 18,100,000 hits, but he has Angelina.)

I left Pittsburgh for Israel in 1979, just as Myron's star was beginning to really shine on the Pittsburgh sports scene. As a teenager, friends thought it kind of cool he was my uncle and I was often asked to imitate his sign-off line, "This is MY-ron Cope. On. Sports." But by the time my uncle passed away, in 2008, he was legendary in Pittsburgh: the most popular name in the city.

Now granted, Pittsburgh is not Los Angeles, Chicago, or even Atlanta. It's just Pittsburgh. To outsiders, Pittsburgh, despite its former glory as an important river town, is kind of a joke, associated with smoke-billowing steel mills and dirty skies. Even the name of my hometown is funny, and reminds you of nothing so much as your underarm.

But Pittsburgh holds a very warm and dear place in my heart. I am a third-generation born Pittsburgher on one side. My maternal grandmother was born there. My maternal maternal great grandmother lived in what is today Downtown Pittsburgh.

The story goes that after my mother was born, my grandmother went to stay with her mother during her recuperation. None other than Mrs. Mesta, a famed Pittsburgh socialite of the day, came to pay a call on my grandmother. My Pittsburgh roots run deep. And the twining of Pittsburgh and Myron is ineluctable.

Before Myron attained his eventual celebrity status in Pittsburgh, not everyone was sold on him. He had a speech defect and an obnoxious nasal voice that was curious in a TV and radio commentator and talk-show host. My Aunt Violet, Myron's older sister, once overheard someone bring up Myron's name after which some woman burst out with, "Oh, I can't STAND him." In a quiet, understated voice, my aunt said, "He's my little brother."

After awhile, though, Myron started catching on with Pittsburghers in a big way. A few years after putting that woman in her place, Aunt Violet was introduced to someone as Myron Cope's sister, to which she responded, "You mean Myron Cope is Violet Grodsky's brother!"

My mother was justly proud of her brother and kept me up to date on his progress and burgeoning celebrity status. The first time Myron's face graced the cover of Pittsburgh Magazine, my mom made sure to send me a copy and we used that magazine cover to decorate our Sukkah booth that year. I was proud of my uncle, even if not one visitor to my Sukkah recognized his face. He was a Pittsburgh phenomenon and that was good enough for me.

On my few trips back to Pittsburgh, I enjoyed testing the waters of my uncle's celebrity. I'd transfer from Kennedy Airport to the last leg of my flight from Israel to Pittsburgh and tell my seatmate in a hushed humble voice, "I'm Myron Cope's niece," and gauge the reaction. I knew my uncle had made it big when the news spread through the entire plane and people started buying me drinks!

The last time I saw Uncle Myron was some time before I managed to quit smoking. My mother had invited the whole family over for lunch in honor of my visit and when I went out on the porch for a smoke, Uncle Myron joined me. He queried me about the "Cigarette Nazis" in Israel: were they as bad in Israel as they were in the States, he wondered?

When I told him what was true at that time, that just about EVERYONE in Israel smoked, he said, "I guess I'll be making Aliyah in the near future, then."

I would have liked that. I would have liked showing him around, even if in Israel, it wouldn't be possible to show him OFF.

Myron Cope invented the Terrible Towel and arranged that all the proceeds would go to the handicapped.


  1. As of this reading of your blog, and my google search, I saw 1,270,000 hits! Good for you Varda, for being a name dropper and getting free drinks! I think if I had someone famous in my family, I'd do the same, but sad to say, we're a pretty normal bunch of Minnesotan's!
    Great writing!!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Randi!

  3. Well, if you had said he invented the Terrible Towel, everyone would sit up, even readers of this blog.

  4. It's in the links, Israel. The thing is, there was SO much more I wanted to say and it was getting too long...I guess what I can do is edit my list of keywords at least.

  5. I added a caption on the last photo to reflect what you said, Israel. Better than nothing.