By Sarina Trangle
One Forest Hills native is out to document the neighborhood’s crop of stars.
Michael Perlman, 32, said Arcadia Publishing noticed his historic preservation work and column in a community newspaper and asked him to author a book on the area’s notable residents.
Perlman said he convinced the South Carolina-based historical publishing company to extend the manuscript into Rego Park because historically it was called Forest Hills West and the two nabes had shared roots. The resulting 128-page Legendary Locals of Forest Hills and Rego Park details the lives of some 210 late and current residents, interweaving historical contexts with biographical facts. The $21.99 book is due out March 2.
“Forest Hills and Rego Park I considered a breeding ground for knowledge and creativity, and I tried establishing that in my book,” said Perlman, a fourth generation Forest Hills resident. “I came across more than 400 notables… and it was a matter of fitting in as many as possible without sacrificing too much juicy content.”
Perlman said when possible, he interviewed stars or their representatives and tracked down descendants of those who died via genealogical research, perusing archives and online searches, including following up on obituaries. For instance, he found relatives of Ascan Backus, a German immigrant who became known as the king farmer of Long Island, which included modernday Forest Hills in the 1800s.
The book hones in on television star Ray Romano, the deaf and blind activist Helen Keller, fashion designer Donna Karan, Telemundo executive Julio Rumbaut, musicians Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel as well as other celebrities and the time they spent in Forest Hills and Rego Park.
He focused on lesser known facts, such as the charitable foundation created by Karan or the move pioneered by the so-called Jewish Tarzan, Abe Coleman, who was the oldest professional wrestler when he died at age 101.
“He would travel to Australia, and during one of his tours, he spotted some kangaroos. In doing so, it all led to the drop kick. And it means, a wrestler is kicking the opponent with both soles of their feet,” Perlman said in a telephone interview.
The book also delves into the establishments known to host notables, such as the West Side Tennis Club, which Perlman said was featured in Alfred Hitchcock films.
Eddie’s Sweet Shop, known for its homemade ice cream, Knish Nosh, which specializes in Jewish pastries, and Bickford’s made it in as well.
Perlman said Bickford’s, a restaurant chain founded by a Forest Hills Gardens family with a reach comparable to Starbuck’s, had one of the first brand name airplanes.
“During Christmastime and Thanksgiving, they would fly over the coastline of New England and drop packages of food to all of the lighthouse keepers,” Perlman said.
The author said he intends to hold a release celebration, and possibly a book signing.
“I wrote it for history’s sake and to make my people, my neighbors, visitors, past residents and future residents more aware,” Perlman said. “Hopefully, people who pick up a copy of my book will somehow feel inspired to be notable.”
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.