How TV Host Marc Summers’ Bar Mitzvah Changed His Life
Simply put, Marc Summers has been a fixture of television for decades. Most likely you first discovered Summers for his work as a host of game shows (“Double Dare,” “Couch Potatoes,” “What Would You Do?”) and food-based programming (“Unwrapped,” “The Next Food Network Star”), yet Summers has also found success behind the scenes as a television producer (“Restaurant Impossible,” “Dinner Impossible,” “Food Feuds”). Later this month on HDNET Movies, Summers will be the host of the day-long “Thanksgiving Movie Feast” on Nov. 22.
Beyond hosting the aforementioned “Thanksgiving Movie Feast,” Marc Summers keeps busy with a variety of projects. This includes touring with “Double Dare Live!,” which is in addition to a recent tour he wrapped of screenings of the forthcoming documentary – as executive produced by Summers – “On Your Marc.” The Indiana native has also popped up in cameos from time to time, including appearances within “Workaholics,” “Robot Chicken,” “The Cleveland Show” and a Good Charlotte music video.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Marc Summers – born Marc Berkowitz – by phone. He was every bit as warm, jovial and energetic as an interviewer would hope for. In addition to the highlights featured below, more of my chat with Summers will be featured on an upcoming episode of my podcast, the Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz.
Jewish Journal: How’s your day been going so far? Fine?
Marc Summers: Yeah, Darren, it’s been fantastic. You realize you’re talking to Marc Berkowitz? My real name. (laughs)
JJ: I was going to ask you about that later on.
MS: Paltrowitz and Berkowitz. (laughs) Yeah, my grandfather came over from Hungary, and he was here for years. His real name was Max Berkovitz. He thought it was too Jewish, so he changed it to Max Berkowitz. (laughs) I thought that was the best story ever. (laughs)
JJ: Where did the moniker “Summers” come from?
MS: I woke up one day and the “Son Of Sam” was discovered and they said his name was David Berkowitz. I thought, “Oh for the love of god, of everybody out there, it had to be [Berkowitz].” The guy was adopted, it wasn’t even his real name. But Berkowitz, my agent called 10 minutes after it was on “Good Morning America” and said “Change your name, I won’t be able to get you a job anywhere.”
So there was a DJ in Indianapolis, where I grew up, his name was Dick Summer, who I admired a lot. When I went to college in Boston, I did radio up there, and I just took an “s” and added it to “Summer,” and it became “Summers.”
Of course we know that some of the most anti-Semitic people in show business are other Jews, so when I was Berkowitz, I couldn’t get a job. When I became Marc Summers, I was working like crazy. Howie Iskowitz, a very funny comedian, trying to work like crazy, couldn’t get arrested. Changed his name to Howard Stevens, started to work a lot. People in our industry who are of the faith were somehow negative about using our real names back in the day.
I don’t think that holds anymore. I think you can be anything you want these days. But when I started, back in the 60s and 70s, it was different.
JJ: I’m surprised that you didn’t do the thing where you use your middle name as the last name.
MS: You know, I don’t have a middle name, which is fascinating. The story goes is that when I came out, I looked so strong that I didn’t need a middle name. I’m just Marc Berkowitz, a.k.a. Marc Summers, at this point. The only one in the family that doesn’t have a middle name, so there’s nothing to choose from.
JJ: What can you tell me about your bar mitzvah? Did it have a theme? There were not a lot of bar mitzvahs in Indianapolis back then I would assume.
MS: (laughs) No, back in the day there were no themes. That started after me. I was bar mitzvahed in 1964, Nov. 7, so tomorrow will be the anniversary of my bar mitzvah, in fact. It was actually a turning point in my life in many ways and I’ll tell you why.
I liked getting in front of people and telling jokes and stories, but I didn’t know about performing. When I got on the pulpit and was doing my bar mitzvah, it was a very powerful moment for me. It was at that point that I decided I wanted to be in the entertainment business.
For many years I thought I wanted to be a rabbi – I talk about that in my book “Everything In Its Place” – I was so inspired. But then I got into my love of television, and the assistant rabbi at our synagogue Rabbi Weitzman, had originally majored in radio and television broadcasting and then had become a rabbi. I rode my bike at age 13 over to the synagogue, knocked on his door on Monday at 4:00 p.m. and said, “Can I talk to you?” He said, “Sure.” I said, “I know you started in radio and TV and you became a rabbi.” He said, “Why do you want to become a rabbi?” I said, “I want to help people.” He said, “I want to tell you something. In the entertainment business, you can help a lot of people a little, as a rabbi you can help a small amount of people a lot. No matter what you choose, I think you’ll make the right decision.” I chose to help a lot of people a little.
Marc Summers can be found online at www.marcsummerstv.com.