Decades before Eric Gold was a Hollywood producer, with credits including “Scary Movie,” “Major Payne” and “Blankman,” he was a kid growing up in a Churchill-area home where the Jewish Chronicle arrived weekly.
“We read it religiously, mainly to see who died. It was a connective tissue for the Jewish community in Pittsburgh,” Gold said during a recent visit to the Steel City.
In town to honor his mom, Thelma Gold Landay, as part of a Steeltown Entertainment Project celebration of multiple mothers who essentially birthed the local nonprofit that endeavors to build a “vibrant and sustainable entertainment industry in Pittsburgh,” Gold sat down to reminisce and report on a life he only imagined as a kid whose residence was “not too far from Monroeville Mall.”
It was actually there, at the indoor suburban shopping center, as George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” was being made, that the move mogul’s future was foreseen: “It was first the exposure I ever had to a film set…It felt like camp without the sleepover.”
Between riding in a golf cart, observing operations and admiring “the team approach,” there was an instant draw, he said. “For me, it was like I got to do this.”
So at 22, after a brief stint at West Virginia University and a longer stay at Allegheny County College Boyce Campus, Gold went west.
He took a shot at stand-up only to discover that he lacked the “depth of talent” or “nuclear fusion” to be great. Aiding such realization was a particularly stinky show at “The Deli Smoker,” a now-closed New York-style delicatessen where emerging comics were offered an open mic.
“The stage was four-by-four and two feet off the ground,” recalled Marty Schiff, a fellow Pittsburgh native and longtime friend of Gold’s who similarly worked in Hollywood.
“All of the tables for the eating were right below it, and I’m so scared that I am literally throwing up before,” said Gold. “Now I go up and I’m doing stand-up, and all the people in the front row do this to me, they make a weird face like, ‘Eew, what the hell.’ I find out later that when I had thrown up, I had thrown up on my shoes.”
It was then that he decided to become an agent. The move reaped great reward, with Gold representing a then-unknown Jim Carrey, serving as production manager of “In Living Color,” and aiding some of the best known comedies from the 1990s.
“I worked at and grew up at the Holiday House; everything in my career really goes back to the Holiday House,” he said.
The now demolished Monroeville motel and 900-seat space was “the biggest nightclub in the country next to the Copacabana in New York City,” comedian Marty Allen told the Tribune-Review last year.
“My mother worked there. I got to meet all of the comedians. I got to talk to them,” said Gold. “My father had died, and my mother was working there, so I had an account. I would go there for meals and stuff, and I would take girls to the showroom…I’m watching David Brenner, I’ve got the date — but really, that was showbiz, and I was so into it.”
A wrinkle on the tale was revealed by Gold’s mother, who spent 17 years planning events for the Holiday House. Eric and his brother Clifford would “come to visit me and think the food was free,” said the 89-year-old. “The food wasn’t free. They used to bill me.”
Apart from serving as a venue where all the top acts performed, it was also the site of a family simcha, added the Wilkins Township resident. After Gold’s bar mitzvah at the Parkway Jewish Center, the reception was at the Holiday House.
“We had one room for adults, and had 50 or 60 kids in another room,” noted the mother. “I hired Clifford to be the band.”
The octogenarian shared an additional memory from the bygone bash, but this one with a particular smile across her face. “All the kids tried to get liquor out of the girls,” she said, “but they knew better.”
“Thelma was involved in every detail at the Holiday House,” said Carl Kurlander, president and CEO of Steeltown. “Tonight is really about these pioneering mothers. She and the other honorees are a group that nurtured their children in a way that led them to success in the entertainment industry.”
Gold returned the praise: “I just think that Carl and everybody has done a great job at Steeltown; they’ve really contributed to the community. This group has really taken it beyond what our original hopes were, and I’m proud of it.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.