The comedy gig at Weinberg Terrace on June 10 was not the first for Thelma Miller.
Far from it. In fact, the Weinberg resident and amateur comic has been delighting audiences with jokes for more than 80 years, performing predominately for “organizations and at celebrations,” she said.
Miller’s five-minute set at the personal care facility on Bartlett Street in Squirrel Hill, which included three jokes performed in a Yiddish accent, was just one segment of an hour-long “Gilligan’s Island”-themed talent show, an event designed to showcase the diverse gifts and skills of Weinberg residents as well as some staff members.
“I thought the show was great,” Miller told the Chronicle afterward. “There is life here in people yet.”
The event — the first of its kind at Weinberg — was conceived and arranged by Tara Bailey, Weinberg’s activities director. A big “Gilligan’s Island” fan, Bailey was inspired by the episode in which the castaways competed in their own talent show.
“I thought this would be fun, something special,” said Bailey, who decorated the activities room with starfish and sea horses, fisherman netting, anchors, lifesavers, starfish and other nautical accessories.
It was fun. Highlights included residents Jude Blank and Doris Kennedy reading from their own prose and poetry; songs performed by Mindy and Bill Jones and Irving Krasnopoler; and a hysterical Burns and Allen routine performed by Ilene and Jeffrey Ruttenberg, who have been married for 58 years.
“I grew up with Burns and Allen,” Jeffrey Ruttenberg said in an interview following the show. “They were terrific. The rabbi [Eli Seidman] asked Ilene and me to do this part about six weeks ago. It’s a good time to make people laugh.”
Celebrated artist and Weinberg resident Mimie Zlotnik displayed and discussed one of her most beloved paintings, “Mimsie’s Ark.” Zlotnik explained that she created two almost identical works — whimsical animals on board an ark — for two grandchildren who were born around the same time, and described the legacy she intended to pass on to them with the paintings.
Donna Martin, activities assistant served as emcee. Other staff members also enthusiastically got into the act, with performances on violin and piano and vocals. Storyteller Emily Harris, who runs an improv group at Weinberg, recited an impromptu fairy tale.
Business Manager George Maloney hula-hooped to “The Twist,” a song “all the residents could relate to,” he said.
The penultimate act may have been the most surprising: Rabbi Eli Seidman, pastoral rabbi of the Jewish Association on Aging, delivered a solo rendition of the Johnny Cash hit “A Boy Named Sue,” while donning a Western-style bow tie and a red, white and blue straw cowboy hat.
Seidman adeptly dived into the Shel Silverstein lyrics that Cash made famous: “Well, my daddy left home when I was 3/ And he didn’t leave much to Ma and me/ Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze …” while discreetly editing out the mild expletive that came later in the song.
“I’ve known this song by heart since I was a kid,” Seidman told the Chronicle, adding that he chose to perform it in the talent show because he was fairly confident it would be “different from everybody else.”
His act was definitely a crowd-pleaser, drawing animated applause.
Seidman thanked the participants for their courage in taking the stage, and acknowledged that it “takes guts to come up and perform in front of your friends and neighbors …. It’s not about being a professional. It’s about sharing what we have.” pjc
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at