A ‘Not Famous’ life celebrated onstage
“I spent the early part of my life searching for fame, and I found the more meaningful things in life. So, it doesn’t matter that I’m not famous,” Barbara Minkus said in a recent interview.
Minkus may not be famous, but, as she tells the audience in her musical memoir, “I’m Not Famous” at the Santa Monica Playhouse, she leads a full life as a performer, wife, mother, grandmother and psychotherapist. Her one-woman show is a gently comedic, sometimes poignant, trip down memory lane, revealing the turning points in her life and challenges she has overcome.
While not a household name, Minkus is a seasoned performer whose career includes appearances on such television shows as “The Danny Kaye Show,” “The Merv Griffin Show,” “The Tonight Show” and “Love, American Style.” She also was the first Lucy in the off-Broadway production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
She has played three Jewish icons onstage, as well: Fanny Brice, in a touring company of “Funny Girl”; comedian Molly Picon, in “Picon Pie” at the Santa Monica Playhouse; and Catskill resort owner Jennie Grossinger, in the musical “Saturday Night at Grossinger’s.” Susan Morgenstern, who directed her as Grossinger, also directs her in this production, which she and Minkus wrote together.
In the show, Minkus talks at length about the eating disorder that ballooned her weight to 200 pounds as a preteen. She says she was ostracized by the other Jewish girls at school.
“The eating disorder came because I felt rejected — a lot of people go through this — by the kids. I was basically a homely person, and I didn’t know how to enjoy my look. I wanted to be like other girls,” she said. “That was a big hurt. But that’s long gone, long gone.”
She tells the audience a story about her first job in the Julius Monk New York revue “Bits and Pieces” in the early 1960s, when she learned something important from the New York sophisticates in the company, that people eat three meals a day.
“In my family, we ate all day long,” she said, “and then we sat down to eat three more times. I mean, I never knew that people stopped eating in between.” She tried eating only three meals and the weight came off, but Monk had hired her as a chubby cherub, so he ultimately fired her.
She said she struggled with closet eating until well into her late 30s.
“Once I worked that through with Overeaters Anonymous and having some goals, I don’t ever have to worry about being heavy again,” she said, adding, “The overweight issue isn’t with me at all anymore.”
Minkus also had to deal with learning disabilities. “Dyslexia wasn’t ‘in’ then, when I was growing up, and I felt very ashamed of the fact that I had learning issues,” she said.
Despite her learning difficulties, she earned a graduate degree as a marriage and family therapist in the mid-1970s and was valedictorian of her class. She then began parallel careers, as psychotherapist and performer.
However, until about two years ago, she said her patients, who knew her by her married name, Barbara Barron, didn’t know about Barbara Minkus, the performer. Nor did those who knew her as an actress know she was a therapist. With this show, she is bringing together her identities.
During her performance, Minkus discusses the blessings in her life, particularly meeting ophthalmologist Arnie Barron on a blind date and marrying him, in 1972. At last, she said, she was accepted as who she was.
“For me, that was a turning point — and, I think, having my children at a very late age. I never expected that,” she said.
The couple had agreed that they were both too busy to have children. But then they went to Israel.
“Something happened to me in Israel,” Minkus said. “I felt, maybe, a little bit about my Judaism, but I don’t think Israel is just about being Jewish. It’s about where it all began, for whatever belief system people have. Being there and seeing the generations of life that started there made me realize that I would like to pass on my generation to another person, to little ones.”
They had two children, Benjamin and Jennifer, who are now parents, and became active in Stephen Wise Temple, where their children went to school.
“My grandparents were the founding members of Temple Emanuel (a Reform congregation in Chicago). So being in temple has always been part of my life,” Minkus said. “But I didn’t have the spiritual connection until I married my husband, who came from a very Conservative background. So, together we met in the middle and decided it was very important to have a spiritual home.”
Minkus wants her audiences to leave the theater feeling that they’re not alone in whatever life journey they are taking.
“That’s what I’ve been getting after the show,” she said. “I go out and meet people, and they all say the same thing: ‘Thank you for sharing who you really are and being that open about your struggles. It’s helped me.’ Isn’t that the greatest gift a person can get?”
“I’m Not Famous” will be playing through July 22 at the Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. For tickets and more information, visit this story at jewishjournal.com.