Herbert_2Herbert Holzberg


The 15 minutes of fame Andy Warhol envisioned for everyone appears to have arrived, somewhat late in life, for Sea Bright resident Herbert Holzberg.

A veteran of two wars and owner of a successful company that sold radio equipment to broadcasters, Holzberg felt he hadn’t achieved all his goals when he retired. So he began acting professionally at age 68, gaining small parts on Saturday Night Live and two soap operas.

In his self-published autobiography, “I Want to Sing,” the 81-year-old grandfather takes readers through his military service in World War II and the Korean War as a Merchant Marine radio operator (“The U.S. government admired my work so much, they brought me back for an encore,” he writes) and his subsequent career. Also included: anecdotes about his colonoscopy and a delayed flight.

Holzberg has been married to his wife, Shirley, for 53 years and has two grown sons, Bruce and Andrew. He’ll be signing his book at the Sea Bright Public Library at 2p this Sunday. redbankgreen sat down with him this week for a chat.

The title of your book refers to an incident in the sixth grade when you were put in the “singing” section rather than the “listening” section during a school assembly. After you sang, your teacher asked, “How did you get in the singing section?” in front of the whole school. So did you ever fulfill your singing ambition?

For some reason I’m a ham, not just a radio amateur ham, but I like to perform. It’s difficult to perform when you’re lacking certain qualities.

[Shirley] He can’t sing a note.

I tried not to let that stop me. I performed on cruise ships and other things and the audience appreciated it. I like all Frank Sinatra’s songs and I like to change the words, write a parody of the song.

You worked for the Armed Forces Network (AFN) in Germany and began your civilian career for the “magnificent sum of $55 a week” at a radio station in rural Georgia that had “55,000 listeners, including cows.” Why did you give up your broadcasting career?

I wound up in New Haven, Conn. A good market, but AM was going to FM at that time. They weren’t willing to spend any money on equipment. I couldn’t keep going from station to station. Engineering was much more reliable. What finally got me out was I was on an all-night shift in Norfolk, Virginia.

You left the “very slippery corporate ladder” to start your own company selling radio and television broadcasting equipment in Totowa. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Learn the business first by working for at least two or three companies. Every company does business differently. You’ll always make mistakes, but you should make them with other people’s money. Failure never entered my mind.

Why did you wait until you were 68 to try acting?

Up until then I was busy making a living. (Then) I was retired. I always loved the other side of the microphone.

You played a Catholic priest on Saturday Night Live, and an Israeli minister in another skit with Paulina Porizkova.

Obviously I’m not Catholic. They called me at 4 o’clock and said, ‘Come down at 7.” It hits me as I’m getting ready that I don’t know how to make the sign of the cross. So I’m practicing all the way down there on the bus, but never felt comfortable. My part was to walk with a prisoner toward the electric chair, while reading the 23rd Psalm. A guy who’s mopping the floor belts the condemned guy with his broom. It was funny.

Porizkova was the number one model at the time. She’s a very attractive gal. She was wearing a dress without too much on top. I didn’t have a speaking part with her, so it wasn’t as a good a part.

You look much younger than 81 years old. What’s your secret to aging so well?

I don’t think I want to tell anybody about it.

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