COVID claimed another victim this week, my uncle Len Granowsky, at age 95.
The eldest of the Granowsky kids, Len was born in 1925 in Indianapolis, to David and Lillian. He was followed by Harold and my dad Jerry.
I was originally a Granowsky when I was born, as were Hal’s kids. My dad and uncle changed their names to get ahead in a a 1960s society that looked down on hard to pronounce, ethnic sounding names. Jerry opted for Graham, while Hal became a Grant. Dave’s brother Hy became a Grande. Dave’s sisters Sarah, Dorothy and Sophie married and gave up their original names.
In the picture below, Len is directly in the middle, flanked by parents Dave and Lil, Hal on the left and my dad Jerry directly in front.
That Len made it to 95 was a minor miracle, as he was very sick as a child, or “sickly,” as aunt Sophie used to say. Somehow he outlived his two younger brothers by 7 years (Jerry) and Hal (24 years.)
In going through the archives, I found this priceless audio clip from 1971 of Len talking about his childhood, and the struggles to deal with his asthma. (Tech tip of the day—record things!)
Take a listen, and you’ll hear the impeccable timing of a master comedian. Len was in show business briefly, back in the early 1950s, when he played clarinet with a touring band called the Husters. They played pop music, show tunes and even a little classical. Len was also the MC of the group.
The Indianapolis that Len grew up in was poor and segregated to folks on the other side of the tracks. The Granowsky’s lived in a “double house,” that they shared with another family. The Jews at the time were barred from great jobs, club memberships and the like. My great uncle Hy got a law degree, but couldn’t get hired to practice, as law firms in Indianapolis weren’t hiring Jews. If you wanted top get ahead, you started your own business.
P. Granowsky and Sons was the name of the junk shop my Russian immigrant great-grandfather Peter operated in Indianapolis after leaving the old country for Lafayette, Indiana, where a “landsman” put him to work selling junk. He eventually made enough money to bring wife Esther and the four kids to Indiana. Hy was born in Indianapolis.
Circa the 1930s, the junk shop advertised that it bought “rags, iron, metal and paper,” and was run by Peter, Dave and Hy.
Len, along with his brothers, worked at the junk shop, but Len was not well. He had such severe asthma as a kid that in 1936 his parents drove him (and the brothers) to Arizona, Texas and California, in hopes the western weather would be more agreeable to him.
It wasn’t. Once it was learned that Len’s problems were in fact allergies and proper medicine was prescribed, Len recovered well enough to join the army. After his stint ended, he moved to New York City and enrolled in the prestigious Julliard School of Music.
(Len with cousin Marvin, Dorothy’s son.)
I find this to be so amazing, as at the time, Len could barely play the clarinet. But as he told me, Julliard had so few students, due to the war, that it needed people to fill its classrooms. Len played a scale on the clarinet for them, and that was good enough.
He enrolled on the GI Bill, which paid for college and he learned the clarinet in a school where a fellow classmate was none other than a young Miles Davis.
But after graduation, Len couldn’t find music work in the city, so he bought into a dry cleaners with a friend in Queens, ran it for a few years, and returned home to Indiana a few years later, pretty much broke.
In Indiana, however, he did indeed find work as a musician, with the Husters. That ran for a few years, but when the tour ended, he decided he didn’t want to be a touring musician. Dave convinced Leonard to get a more solid, steady profession and got him involved with a local machine shop.
(Pictured above: The Granowsky family of Indianapolis, circa early 1940s and Jerry and Len in the 1970s.)
Len and a partner ran ATEROL Tools for several years, nabbing big clients like US Steel and making parts for them.
He married his first wife Jo, adopted a son, Paul, and became the only brother to remain a Hoosier. (Jerry and Hal both went to New York, where Jerry worked in television and radio, and Hal was a professional musician, touring with the Charlie Barnet Orchestra as a drummer, working with the avant-garde pianist Lennie Tristano, and eventually switching to producing commercials.)
Back home in Indiana, Len re-married,to Millie Stamps Eschenbach in 1965, and eventually left for the Fort Lauderdale, Florida area, where he became a stockbroker and was very active on the golf course.
After Millie’s death in 1989, he began what developed into a 27-year romance with Sylene Warhit, who was a friend of the couple.
In recent years, Shana Simpson (pictured below) moved in with Len and Sy to take care of them. Sylene died in March.
(Also shown: my brother Jez, his son Bill and Sylene, circa 1990s.)
As I began the process of remembering Len, I was pretty amazed to discover just how many people Len touched beyond us Granovsky’s. Beyond Paul, there were Millie’s two kids, and many grandchildren, all who received birthday cards often. There’s Sylene’s daughters Paula and Karen, who were like family to him, and all those many cousins and friends.
On the Zoom memorial service, Sylene’s daughter Paula put it best: “Len was a good egg.”
He’s been sick for years with various ailments, but always got through it with a smile on his face. And for that….I’ll
Say goodbye with a song
I’ll choose “When You’re Smiling,” dedicated to Len, again, the last link to the fine art of the Granovsky disposition, witty, quick, sharp and loving life. Len’s dad had a great motto that I’ve never forgotten: “Smile while you’re sleeping, laugh while you’re awake.”
We’re laughing and smiling with you too!