U.W.S. children’s author transformed postcards to grandkids into animal poetry books for children
Upper West Side Howard Eisenberg knows how to tell a good story, and at 87, he’s full of them.
The journalist, author and playwright remembers spending a summer in his early twenties writing about war veterans in Fort Worth, Texas, where he paid a dollar a day for a room with no air conditioning.
But mostly, he tells stories of his wife Arlene, who died in 2001 from breast cancer. His frequent writing partner on articles and medical books, Arlene wrote “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” the iconic parenting book, in 1984 with their daughters Heidi and Sandee.
“I never got her back after that,” Eisenberg said as he reclined in a plush red chair in his living room on West 80th Street, where he’s lived since he and Arlene bought the building in 1970.
His latest project is a recently published series of children’s poetry books based on postcards he sent his grandchildren while on a “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” publicity tour in Australia with Arlene, and he’s working on a book of poetry for toddlers, from poems he used to read to the audiences at Arlene’s lectures.
“She’d introduce me by saying, ‘If you’re going to have a toddler, you better have a sense of humor,’” he said.
Before starting his writing career, Eisenberg worked as a publicist for pop singer Eddie Fisher, and met Arlene at Fisher’s concert at the Paramount Theater. They married shortly after she turned 18, after she told him he had a month to decide if he wanted to marry her.
“I just heard a voice, like from heaven, that said ‘propose!’ so I did,” he said. “And we had 48 great years together.”
Eisenberg speaks slowly and deliberately, and tears up often when he talks about Arlene, whose influence hasn’t left their tidy home. A black and white photograph of the couple at her senior prom perches on the living room bookshelf, which is stacked high with ‘family books,’ some by Eisenberg himself, but mostly filled with copies of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” in various languages.
He acknowledges he hasn’t spent the years since Arlene’s death alone; he’s dated some, but doesn’t like to talk about his girlfriends, and his son, writer Evan Eisenberg, lives in the apartment unit upstairs with his wife Freda and teenage daughter Sara.
Eisenberg started writing his memoir before Arlene passed away, he said, and has a few chapters, but he put it down when his wife got sick and hasn’t picked up the project since.
But he’s still working. Outside of the children’s books, he’s writing a one-man show based on his 2003 book “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cooperstown,” which he wrote with 1950s baseball player Mickey McDermott.
He’s also writing a musical based on his friendship with Eddie Fisher, called “Million Dollar Bet,” a fictional piece with characters heavily based on Fisher, Arlene and himself.
“I realize I may never see it produced, but I’m in pretty good shape,” said Eisenberg, whose hair is white but still somewhat thick. He doesn’t take any medication, just vitamins, and has no trouble with the flight of stairs in his apartment.
He keeps copies of the “Million Dollar Bet” script in his basement office, the only cluttered room in the house, where framed covers of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” hang on the wall, and photographs of Arlene, including a newspaper cutout of the couple with Fisher, line the desk.
A row of shelves, each labeled with yellow Post-It notes, is stuffed with manuscripts and book proposals. The top shelf is the most jammed, filled with file folders and loose papers, and labeled ‘memoir.’
Eisenberg opened a manila folder with the script and lyrics for “Million Dollar Bet,” landing on the song, “Life Ain’t Over Til It’s Over.”
“That’s really the theme of my life,” he said.
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