Lou Goldstein, entertainer, Simon Says impresario; 90

suzanne dechillo/new york times/file 1985
Lou Goldstein led a group in a game of Simon Says at Grossinger’s, where he worked from 1948 to 1986.

NEW YORK - Lou Goldstein was the consummate tummler, one of a zany species of entertainer who kept them laughing, or tried to, long ago in the borscht belt hotels of the Catskills.

A tummler - the job title, pronounced TOOM-ler, comes from a Yiddish word for someone who stirs up tumult or excitement - was a jack-of-all-trades social director who amused the hotel guests with jokes, songs, and shtick that might be better described as slapshtick, as they sat by the pool, emerged from lunch, or headed for bingo.

Perhaps the classic illustration was given by Mel Brooks, himself a former tummler.


“A tummler wakes up the Jews when they fall asleep around the pool after lunch,’’ he said. “One of the things I had to do as the pool tummler was, I used to do an act. I wore a derby and an alpaca coat, and I would carry two rock-laden cardboard suitcases and go to the edge of the diving board and say, ‘Business is no good!’ and jump off.’’

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But Mr. Goldstein was more than a tummler. He was also probably the most famous impresario of Simon Says, a commanding figure (in a manner of speaking) in a game beloved by children as well as adults when they are in a playful mood; his act appeared on television and in sports arenas (at halftime).

He died April 2 at age 90 and had lived in Liberty, at the southern edge of his beloved Catskill Mountains. His wife, Jackie Horner, said the cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease.

Mr. Goldstein, a slender 6-footer, performed his antics at Grossinger’s, perhaps the premier Catskills resort, from 1948 until the hotel closed in 1986. He held absurd exercise classes. He had a circle of grown men don silly hats and maneuver them onto one another’s heads, with one hand and without letting the hats tumble to the ground. He would tell jokes during pauses in a diving exhibition, or tell stories on tours of the Grossinger’s grounds and kitchens (one for meat and one for dairy).

“He used to joke that the tour was 45 minutes and all downhill,’’ said Douglas Lyons, 64, a lawyer and son of columnist Leonard Lyons. The younger Lyons went to Grossinger’s every summer from the time he was a baby until 1980, and the highlight, he said, was Mr. Goldstein.

Associated Press
Goldstein with his wife, Jackie Horner, and comedian Milton Berle in Liberty, N.Y.

In addition to Brooks, world-class comedians such as Danny Kaye, Sid Caesar, and Red Buttons put in summers as tummlers, according to “The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America,’’ by Lawrence J. Epstein.

Mr. Goldstein did stand-up routines as well, Horner recalled, more than a few with borrowed jokes. There was one about the mother whose son excitedly announces that he has been picked for the part of the Jewish husband in a play. The mother replies, “You tell the teacher you want a speaking part.’’

But his forte became the Simon Says routines. (He spelled it Simon Sez.) Contestants stayed in the game as long as they did only what Simon told them to do, of course, and Mr. Goldstein, with a rapid-fire delivery, was masterly at tricking them into doing what Simon had actually kept mum about.

As his renown spread, he began performing the act on “Wide World of Sports,’’ “The Mike Douglas Show,’’ ABC’s “Superstars,’’ and other television shows, sometimes with sports celebrities such as Reggie Jackson. He carried his act to halftime at professional basketball games, cruise ships, and corporate and charity events such as the Special Olympics.

“Simon says, move to your right,’’ he would tell a group, or, “Simon says, jump up in the air,’’ then whisper to a too-satisfied participant, “By the way, what’s your name?’’ When the person answered, Mr. Goldstein would reply in a mock gruff voice. “You’re out!’’


Corny as it was, there was something about his patter, with its grumpy Yiddish inflection, that charmed.

“They watched him more than listened to him, and if you watched him, he would do the opposite and you would be out,’’ Horner said.

For his talents, Mr. Goldstein earned $600 a week and room and board at a hotel whose Jewish dishes were legendary for both their taste and their size. At one point singer Eddie Fisher was his roommate.

Mr. Goldstein, the son of a tailor, was born in a small town outside Warsaw. The family immigrated when he was 5 and settled in Brooklyn.

He was a basketball standout at Eastern District High School in Brooklyn and Long Island University. When the Catskills hotels started basketball tournaments to entertain guests, Grossinger’s recruited him. And when he proved adept at other forms of entertainment, the hotel signed him up as its tummler.

Horner, who was a consultant and something of an inspiration for “Dirty Dancing,’’ the 1987 film about a mountain resort not too different from Grossinger’s, said she and Mr. Goldstein met when she went there as a dance instructor. They married at Grossinger’s in 1960 and lived at the hotel, in Liberty, for the many years they worked there. They stayed on in the town afterward.

Horner, Mr. Goldstein’s only immediate survivor, has always enjoyed repeating some of her husband’s tummler jokes, like the one about the wife who tells her husband after an argument that when he dies she is going to dance on his grave. The husband goes to his lawyer the next day and asks for a new clause in his will. He wants to be buried at sea.