A Copy Boy Remembers Jimmy Breslin and His Ilk
He was a copy boy at the Daily News and later at the New York Post. He had a dorky made-up
joke he proffered endlessly to Jimmy Breslin, who regarded him...not at all.
Breslin often wore a sweater with a missing button – one which the copy boy would pick up at the cleaners from time to time, delivering it to his hero through a cloud of cigar smoke. "Three buttons? Where's the fourth one? I hope you don't catch cold!" he'd say to Breslin, who would ignore him. But one day Breslin shot back, "What do you think is so damn funny about that?" So the copy boy got bolder and they would joke a little. Another of his favorite quips to Breslin as he would deliver his endless stream of books was, "Too bad you don't read."
Lenny Triola was a kid from Queens (like Breslin) who wanted to be a
sports writer. He'd take his newspapers to school with him (PS 70) to read and woo girls (much like he did with his record collection of Neapolitan singers). His school field trips to The Post, New York Times and the News whetted his appetite. “The greatest education was watching how a paper was laid out,” says Lenny. “You saw what a newspaper meant to the city. I was at the News for a bit, then longer at The New York Post. I loved those jobs so much, I didn't want to go home. I was becoming an ink-stained wretch. But Peter Vecsey once said, "As coffee errand boys go, you are the best." When he got his first job at the Daily News, he felt he had won the lottery. "Jimmy, Breslin, Don Singleton, Marcia Kramer, Earl Caldwell, Lorenzo Carcaterra, Bill Gallo, Ed Murawinski, Kay Gardella, Val Adams – it was like a Hall of Fame," Lenny say. "Being around all my heroes, being a part of it, it's hard to describe what that meant to me. I opened mail, researched, went for coffee, went to the morgue, went to the automat. The newsrooms were hardcore –
no one ever really looked like Ben Bradlee. There was so much smoke, the only thing missing was Claude Rains and Bogart emerging from the fog.”
Those were the days. "Jimmy was moody, he was bigger than life, and he had epic feuds. He put a face on the city of New York through the everyman: what it was like to live in New York in poverty; he put a face on murders and AIDS in NYC when Ed Koch was silent. He went to the courts, talked to the mob, covered boxing! I don’t think this world could take a guy like him anymore. We’re so politically correct, and so much poorer for it. Shame on newspapers for not nurturing the next generation. This younger generation will never know a Jimmy Breslin. He was the soul of the city. Journalists were rock stars then. Do you know, they used to put journalists' pictures on matchbooks and on the sides of buses?”
Lenny soon left the newsroom and went to work in radio at WNEW. He eventually began promoting records and musical artists, mainly working in jazz and classic American Popular songbook, which he still does today. Most people think he’s older than he is, because he’s a curmudgeon of sorts. He’s still a news and sports junkie, though he thinks it’s slim pickings compared to the old days. “ Jimmy was my favorite journalist," says Len. "I loved Dick Young, Bill Gallo, Phil Pepe, Bill Reel. Reel spent 30 years writing about offbeat things. He loved to listen to Jimmy Roselli and Sinatra while driving over the bridge, looking at the New York skyline. Mike McAlary was a guy who died too young, a great writer. Earl Caldwell was great.” Who does he read now? “I like Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone), Steve Lopez (Los Angeles Times). I read Ginia Bellafante, Krugman and Charles Blow. I don’t see the Daily Beast much, but that’s where Michael Daly is." Lenny goes online for limited periods of time, preferring newspapers. “The smell of the fresh paper and the ink in the newsroom,” says Len, “they should have made a cologne out of it. To this day I love the dye on my fingertips.”
The day Jimmy Breslin died, Lenny’s pal Sal Marchiano called. When Lenny mentioned he was in the basement, Sal asked, “Oh, are you looking at the columns?” Yes, Lenny was looking at his volumes of original columns he has cut and filed in scrapbooks. 80 volumes of columns and articles from his favorite writers, and of course that day, it was all about Breslin.
Does anyone compare to Jimmy Breslin? “Nah,” says Lenny. “He was completely unique. Everyone wanted to be as good as Jimmy. Some were, they were just different, and some followed Breslin around hoping he would rub off on them. Dick Young said once, ‘If Breslin stops short, Mike Lupica will break his nose on Jimmy’s asshole.’”
Kevin Breslin, Jimmy's son, is a pal from the film industry. He's a filmmaker and a go-to guy for filming in NYC. Visit him at BreslinMedia. Here's a link to two columns by Jimmy Breslin about the death of President John F. Kennedy. Many of you have heard of them, I’m sure, and some of you have read them. read them again. Have a tissue nearby.
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