Okay, so who was this Manny Fest guy anyway? If you’re younger than, say, 50, you probably have no idea other than that the art supply store in downtown New Paltz is named “Manny’s” and across North Front Street and sitting out in front of the Elting Memorial Library is a stone bench dedicated to “Manny and Frieda Lipton of Manny’s Lounge”…and that’s about it.
So, who was this guy Manny Lipton? And of course, behind every “great” man is a strong eternally suffering wife…in this case, Frieda Lipton.
“Mom was normal,” laughs Manny and Frieda’s daughter Marilyn, who took over “the lounge” with her husband Tom Golgoski 28 years ago. “He sold it to us. That was Manny,” adds Marilyn, remembering the day that Manny told her “someday this will all be yours!” She had screamed: “NO! NO!…I didn’t want to take it over…I was an English major in college and here was this chaotic store that I had worked in since I was a teenager, watching Manny do his thing, with my mom working nearby. It was too much to think about.”
When Marilyn was a teen, Manny’s was “Manny’s Lounge,” so named because Manny had taken over the old “Cue-tip Lounge,” a pool hall, and didn’t want to put up a new sign so he just covered over the “Cue-tip” part with the late artist Gene Hines making the Manny’s part with a skill-saw. That was the near-final incarnation of Manny’s — the “lounge” part came down in the late 1990’s. The first Manny’s wasn’t Manny’s at all, but was called David Gill Jr. Paint and Tiles, situated where the M&T Bank is now on Manheim Boulevard and Main Street. It was complete with paintings for sale by Mr. Gill Jr. himself — aka: one Manny Lipton. “There was no David Gill Jr.,” says Marilyn. From there, “David Gill Jr.” moved his store to under the then-New Paltz Theater on Main Street, right next to Pine’s Funeral Home. The theater and store burned down in 1967 with the film Is Paris Burning (it sounds apocryphal, but it is true) listed on the marquee.
“Manny’s finally became Manny’s when it moved underneath the fledgling Academy Theater (soon to be opened and operated by the late New Paltz impresario Donald Bellinger and now Barnaby’s Restaurant) right after the fire,” says New Paltz griot Jack Murphy. “The first film they showed was How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” laughs Murphy. From there it was only a couple years to Manny’s Lounge and then just Manny’s. It’s been a 50-year run. And the memories of Manny (and Frieda) and those times (the 1960’s and 70’s), when New Paltz seemed much more alive and crazy, with Signore Lipton its beloved prankster, will be celebrated on Saturday, Aug. 10 at Joe’s East/West from 2 to 10 p.m.
“The thing with Manny was that he looked normal — dark slacks, white shirt, horn-rim glasses, dark-hair slicked back — but he had this never-ending rap,” says Murphy. “Holding court with whomever came into the store from his little cubicle in the middle of the store, surrounded by rubber chickens, fake dog-shit and vomit, action figures of Jesus, Freud, Nun-puppets, erotic magazines from Denmark and art supplies, plus used books and records.”
“Everything was for sale,” laughs Marilyn. Marilyn and Murphy, who are putting together this, the third Manny Fest, also recalled that when Manny’s Lounge first opened, there was a lunch counter. “The Barry Sisters (Sharon and Barbara) were the waitresses and”…they both laugh, “Manny cooked.”
But Manny was so many different things to lots of people — ribald, contemplative, obnoxious, flirtatious, warm, brittle, understanding, tolerant-to-a-fault, with Frieda his best audience. “A lot of people were put off by him at first meeting,” says Murphy, “but he truly engaged with people. And every art major who ever came to New Paltz wound up at Manny’s.”
Manny was also a banker of sorts, lending money to young artists to buy houses, for college, fronting them supplies, for bail in case they got in trouble. He was also highly esteemed at the college, taking part in a debate about pornography (he was all for it) in the late 1960’s, MC-ing the Beaux Arts Ball (the theme was The Harem) and being just someone to whom a young artist could turn for an interestingly off-beat conversation. “We were looking for enlightenment,” says Murphy, alluding to the “Buddha” in Manny’s name.
“The thing was he was such a private person outside the store, reading a lot, hanging out with mom,” says Marilyn. “And I don’t think many people know that he studied to be a Rabbi…but they threw him out of school,” smiles Marilyn. “People still come into the store and ask for him.”
Manny died in 2003 at age 84, the second Manny Fest was held the following March (2004). He was at the first one in 1997, organized as a 1960’s reunion and a celebration of his birthday (March 21) by old Manny acolytes, the late Eileen Channer and Susanna Swan. In his last years, after Frieda passed away, Manny lived at Blue’s Nursing Home and then at the Highland Senior Center where “he started to paint again,” says Murphy. “You brought him a blank canvas and he would paint something for you. In his last year he had a show at a gallery on North Front Street…he was just a once-in-a-lifetime personality and if you were raised on Milton Berle…well, we do remember Manny.”
I have so many personal memories of Manny, from the time I first went into “David Gill’s” as a 17-year-old freshman art student (with the afore-mentioned Gene Hines), and this loud, zany middle-age guy behind the counter wouldn’t give me a straight answer as to who was David Gill Jr. (there was a huge abstract by Gill Jr. on the wall opposite the cash register). It was exasperating, but kind of like dealing with Groucho Marx: non-sequitor following non-sequitor into absurdity; to the time I interviewed him for this paper (35 years later) at his house on Linderman Avenue in Kingston…and the lights went out. We couldn’t see each other, but the red eye on my battery-powered tape-recorder stayed constant and he just was…well, just Manny. His schtick hadn’t changed much, maybe a little more reflective since he had retired from the store. But like in the old days of the 1960’s and 70’s, it was Manny and I guess I was still looking for some “Buddha” enlightenment. Or maybe just another rubber chicken.