Billy Crystal: New Book, Same Big Heart

Billy Crystal
Billy Crystal, the famed actor and comedian, has put his LI pride on display ever since Hurricane Sandy devastated his hometown of Long Beach last year. (Photo by: Julie Brothers)

The line outside Huntington’s Book Revue wrapped around three long blocks on a mid-September Sunday morning as Long Islanders welcomed one of their own, Billy Crystal, in town to sign his new memoir Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?

One of the 1,200 people who waited for hours was Stephanie Garrison-Good, an alumna of Long Beach High School, also Crystal’s alma mater. She was a freshman to Crystal’s senior, but her older brother Larry and Crystal were buddies.

“When my brother was the star of the elementary school play, Billy came up to him and said, ‘Larry, one day, I’m gonna be a big star like you,’” she recalled. “Well, we all know Billy went way beyond that modest goal, but he’ll always be a Long Beach boy at heart.”

Indeed, although Crystal has soared to the top in TV (Soap, Saturday Night Live, and nine gigs as host of the Academy Awards, five of which won him Emmy Awards) and film (When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers, Analyze This), his most personal work was a play in which Long Beach played a central role.

The show, 700 Sundays, was a one-man Broadway tour de force that, along with his signature zingers, poignantly detailed Crystal’s childhood while taking audiences on a nostalgic stroll through the Long Island of the 50s and early 60s.

In his home on East Park Avenue, Crystal and his two brothers Rip and Joel liked nothing better than performing shtick from TV comedy skits, hamming it up for an appreciative audience that included his parents and a hodgepodge of aunts, uncles, neighbors, and the occasional jazz legend. Crystal’s father, Jack, was a jazz concert promoter, and guests at the Crystal household included Billie Holliday, who took Billy to his first movie, and Louis Armstrong.

Billy CrystalThe play, later turned into a New York Times bestseller, won a Tony, along with the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Outstanding Solo Performance. Next month, Crystal is taking the show back to Broadway for a nine-week run at the Imperial Theater.

Despite his many accolades and famous friends such as Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro, Crystal, 65, truly is still a hometown boy who personifies the city’s oft-repeated unofficial motto: “Once you get Long Beach sand in your shoes, it’s hard to get it out.”

When that sand—and sea and wind—wreaked havoc on the community during Hurricane Sandy, Crystal stepped up to the plate in big fashion, beginning with a “spirit raiser” showing of his movie Parental Guidance for Long Beach residents Dec. 10, 2012, and performance two days later at the Concert for Sandy Relief at Madison Square Garden.

His efforts to help those impacted continued this July, when Crystal stood on the first section of the Long Beach boardwalk to be rebuilt and presented his hometown with a check for $1 million ($888,000 was raised at his friend Muhammad Ali’s fundraiser for Parkinson’s disease, with Crystal and his wife Janice rounding it out with their own $112,000 donation). He joked to the crowd, “Don’t spend it all in one place.”

That same day, Crystal recorded a 30-second TV spot touting the city’s surf, sand and shopping, and inviting visitors to come enjoy “just another day in paradise” in the City by the Sea.

Despite the title of his new book, Crystal isn’t fooling anybody. He’s still a nice Jewish boy from Long Island