Verses for the smaller set
Howard Eisenberg on chronicling World War II, being Eddie Fisher’s press agent and “Adorable Scoundrels”
When Howard Eisenberg traveled with his wife, Arlene, during book tours for “What to Expect the Toddler Years” (the follow-up to “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”), he would entertain the audience with original poetry inspired by the little ones who were the very subject of her book.
A self-proclaimed “Toddler Poet Laureate,” Eisenberg recently published a collection, “Adorable Scoundrels.” It is dedicated to Arlene, who he said would entertain his grandchildren by reading poems aloud and pausing to let them complete the rhyme.
The Upper West Sider has a storied career with fascinating highlights that include starting as a 18-year-old journalist covering World War II and working as pop singer Eddie Fisher’s first press agent. He’s written hundreds of articles, many of which were co-authored with Arlene. After she passed away and he was ready to date, he even penned a book with his then-girlfriend, entitled “It’s Never Too Late to Date.”
Even at 90 years old, he is constantly updating his resume. His current project involves streaming all his children’s books for classrooms.Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
I was 18 years old and had spent six weeks in the last part of the war as an infantryman. And we wound up in what had been an SS barracks and it got kind of boring after all the excitement we’d been going through. So my commanding officer said, “I’ve been looking through the files here and Private Eisenberg, I understand you had a couple years of college. How about you write us a newspaper?” The Germans had left a mimeograph machine and I just sat down and interviewed some of the guys and all of the sudden I was a journalist. And out came “The Company K Rifleman.” So I put out two issues and apparently that got me some attention from war headquarters and I was called up to work on the 90th Division newspaper, “The American Traveler.”How did you meet Arlene?
We met at the Paramount Theatre. I was Eddie Fisher’s first press agent and he had just come back from being in the U.S. Army band in Korea. And it was his big break, and I was thinking, “Well, Frank Sinatra got started at the Paramount.” That’s where the Bobby Soxs craze began. So I needed a Bobby Soxer to start some fan clubs for Eddie. And as I approached the stage door, there she was, with her mother. She was 16 at the time at Hunter High School. But it was her mother who had insisted on going there because she had heard Eddie on the radio and loved his voice. So after exchanging pleasantries, I asked Arlene if she perhaps would like to start a fan club. And she said, in effect, “Hunter girls don’t do that.” But I didn’t give up. I told them about an interview with Barry Gray that Eddie was doing that night. And so the whole family showed up — the father, mother, brother, Victor and Arlene. And they sat at a table. And I was told just last year by my brother-in-law Victor something that is perhaps my most precious memory. That Arlene’s mother pointed at Eddie and said, “You’re going to marry him.” And Arlene pointed at me and said, “No, I’m going to marry Howard.”How did her and your daughter’s book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” come about?
They just knew that they wanted to answer the questions that Heidi, my daughter, had been unable to find in any of the books she bought. And she bought them all. Two of her questions were, “Walking across the street, I fell on my belly. Would this damage my fetus?” and “Before I knew I was pregnant, I was drinking a glass of wine every night. Would that cause fetal alcohol syndrome?” So they wrote this book as mostly Q&A, which I thought, at the time, was not a good idea. I thought it should be anecdotes. But once again, I was wrong. [Laughs.] And it turned out to be a rather successful book.Arlene read poems aloud to your grandchildren in a unique way.
That was kind of wonderful. And of course, that was Arlene .... And I’m going to start to cry. It’s been 16 years, but I had 48 with her. Plus two when she was 16 years old .... She did two things with them. She was a great grandmother. She’d always be doing jigsaw puzzles; she loved doing them, and would gather the kids around to help her. And she’d be teaching them at the same time; she was always teaching morals and good behavior. She just was a natural-born wonder woman. But what she did when she read poetry was she would read a line and pause to let them come up with the rhyme.How did you get the ideas for the poems in “Adorable Scoundrels?”
Well, I met an awful lot of toddlers when Arlene was doing “What to Expect the Toddler Years.” I often traveled with her, partly because the one time she went by herself because I couldn’t, she lost her ticket. After that, she insisted I go with her. I enjoyed going anyway. She would introduce me when she did her lectures on toddlers and she’d say, “If you’re gonna have a toddler, you’re gonna need a sense of humor.” Then I’d come up and read some of these poems that I’d been writing. I’ve been at restaurants in town and see a child throwing a tantrum at the next table, and I’d tell the appropriate poem. For example there’s one called “Just Looking.” I was on the bus and there was someone in front of me, she might have been a nanny. And this little girl was pointing out the window at things that she marveled at. She was 3 years old. And the nanny was totally ignoring her. So I wrote that poem. “Look at the bird! Ooh! Fire truck. Very pretty tree! Toddlers open our eyes to things we’ve forgotten to see.”As far as other projects, you co-authored “It’s Never Too Late to Date” with your girlfriend at the time, Shirley. What made you want to write that?
Arlene was gone. And affection is a very important part of all of our lives. And I kind of went nuts when she died. It took a long time for me to get over it. And finally, one of my relatives put me on JDate. I didn’t know how to do it. And I started shopping. [Laughs.] And I had some dates and found someone who was very interesting and we had a fairly long relationship. She had lots of great stories and I thought, “Well, this could be a really good book.” Here I am, in my seventies. And she just died recently. But we had already broken up, because she liked to fight and I don’t.What are your future plans?
I suppose living is one of them. But I’m starting to stream all my children’s books on something called Streaming Learning which goes into schoolrooms all over the country and into homeschool homes. I’ve done one already with the “Guess Who Zoo” [His three-book series]. I asked kids in the classes to write poems about their favorite animal and to my surprise, an envelope came in with 23 poems in it. So apparently I made some kind of impression. But because I did the zoo streaming, I was asked to do six more.
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