Our Town: The man who makes magic from words

Dr Tom Ferraro

One of the perks of being a journalist is the chance to meet and to write about interesting people. 

This week I sat across the table from Michael Jan Friedman at Hildebrandt’s Luncheonette  and chatted with him about his career as a bestselling author who is also a local personality. 

The first thing I asked was what it feels like to have a writer’s life. He said “It is alternatively euphoric and torturous. I am doing exactly what I dreamed of doing in life but of course all the mundane aspects of life intrude as well. I am the one always expected to pick up folks at the airport since I supposedly have all this free time.”

I asked him the question that every young and aspiring writer wants to know which is exactly how he survived as a freelance writer.  He said “well it was mostly luck.” This of course could not be further from the truth and after much analytic prying what I discovered was that the way you wind up with a total of 11 books that made it to the New York Times bestseller list requires a combination of prolific writing, high I.Q., and tenacity or having the ability to ignore rejection and to keep trying. 

Since he is well known in the sci-fi comic book industry  I asked him about the history of comics in America. 

He remarked that the comic book is an American invention and is based upon the super hero story. The super hero is always a double image with one self being mild mannered like Clark Kent or Peter Parker but they can transform into someone with great powers and able to overcome all adversity. This is the true American story.”  

I asked him why so many comic books are made into movies and he answered “first of all  Hollywood likes to see a story in concrete form and all comic books are like film story boards so half the work is already done.  But oddly enough when these films are made it rarely boosts comic book sales.”

I wondered aloud why Popeye needed to eat spinach  and why Jeff Koons, the world’s most well-known artist makes sculptures of Popeye one of which billionaire Steve Wynn purchased for $28 million. 

Michael replied  “I guess you could say that Popeye was the ultimate American consumer, able to make something of himself by the power of consumption.”  

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

When I asked Mr. Friedman  what his favorite book was he said “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  

This reminded me of the skit Andy Kaufman once did of reading “The Great Gatsby” cover to cover to a college audience. Ouch.  

Kaufman was the comic genius who starred in the TV series “Taxi” and who first became famous with his skit about Might Mouse, “Here I come to save the day.”   

And thus we returned to the subject of comics and super heros. 

At this point I asked Michael if he might suggest a fun science-fiction story about Williston Park. 

I was deathly afraid he would say no because so often in the past I have asked famous artists to make up a little song or poem or story to add to the interview and uniformly I have been told “Oh, no I couldn’t do that…I can’t be expected to give away my talent!”  Ugh.

But alas I finally found a talented and confident and generous artist! 

And with that Michael leaned back in his chair, looked up at Henry Hildebrandt, the antique doll on the high wire above the tables and mused for a moment. And then he looked back at me and began.” Why don’t we call this story ‘The Tired Magician’ and it goes like this.  

Our story unfolds in Williston Park.  Unbeknownst to all the towns folk, Williston Park is in fact a special hamlet remaining in a 1950s time warp. It is protected by a powerful magician who lives in town. His magical power has kept Williston Park as a charming and safe town and has resisted the encroaching insidious  forces of big business  which desperately want to build a big mall on Hillside Avenue and drain the town of all  its charm and all its money.  But a great toll has been taken on the old magician for it’s exhausting to maintain this magic over the entire town. As the old magician became weaker he knew that he must transfer his magical power somewhere safe and alive.  He decided he would put his magic inside the little antique doll Henry Hildebrandt knowing that  no one  would think to look there.  In time the old magician died but not before he transformed all his magic to the doll and to this very day Henry Hildebrandt looks after the town and protects it from evil. And that’s why people feel so good when they eat lunch or have an ice cream Sunday  at Hildebrandt’s.”

Thank you Michael Jan Friedman for all your magic and your stories.  

You can read more about Mr. Friedman by going to michaeljanfriedman.net.  

Nice to have a resident genius so close by.

About the author

Dr Tom Ferraro

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