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Five Fun Facts About Crossing Delancey

September 19, 2017

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I must confess I didn’t think much of Crossing Delancey when I saw it upon its initial release in 1988, but its vivid depiction of Manhattan’s Lower East Side has often come back to me as I’ve spent time in that neighborhood and watched it change in the three decades since I moved to the area. So I was curious to revisit it when I saw that Film Forum had scheduled a screening of the rom-com, followed by a Q&A with director Joan Micklin Silver and stars Amy Irving and Peter Riegert. I enjoyed the film much more on second viewing and was especially entertained by the discussion afterwards. Here are five things I learned from it.

The studio thought it was too Jewish. Silver had difficulty raising money to make the film. One potential producer offered to finance the picture only if all of the Jewish characters were changed to Italians, which was considered a more marketable demographic in light of the success of Moonstruck a year earlier. Then Irving’s husband, Steven Spielberg, put in a call to his friends at Warner Bros., who immediately agreed to back it. But even after the film was completed, the studio didn’t go wide with it, fearing it was “too ethnic” and wouldn’t play well in the South. Still, it earned a tidy profit, grossing $16 million—four times its budget.

It turned “Pickle Man” Peter Riegert into an unlikely sex symbol. The now-70-year-old Animal House alum recounted with glee how many women approached him after his charmingly low-key performance as a pickle purveyor. One woman accosted him on the street in Manhattan and insisted on introducing him to her daughter, and another made him get on the phone with her boyfriend—a real life Pickle Man—and try to convince him to marry her. “So thank you, Joan, for that,” he deadpanned.

Amy Irving’s agent originally turned it down. When Silver initially sent the script to the actress’ representative, the agent told her that Irving, who had earned an Academy Award nomination a few years earlier for Yentl, didn’t do “little New York pictures.” So Silver ran an end-around and got the screenplay to Irving through a mutual friend, and she fell for it instantly. (No word on whether Irving fired her agent.)

Reizl Bozyk had only acted in one film before — and never in English! The Yiddish theatrical legend was nervous about making her English-speaking screen debut at the age of 74 as Irving’s lovably irascible Bubbe. (She had appeared briefly in 1950’s Catskills Honeymoon, which Film Forum programmer/moderator Bruce Goldstein said was “the worst Yiddish movie ever made”). But Riegert said as soon as he saw Bozyk, he knew she was going to steal every one of  her scenes. And she did.

Izzy and Sam the Pickle Man didn’t live happily ever after… or did they? Irving and Riegert confessed neither of them believes the odd couple was destined for lifelong bliss after the freeze frame that ends the film after Izzy finally agrees to go out on a date with Sam. (Silver said she’d never thought about it.) Riegert said he was too cynical to expect a happy ending, while Irving said she pictured the duo reconnecting years later via the Internet. Sounds like a good plotline for Crossing Delancey 2!

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