My Lithuanian Grandfather: The Co-Creator of CHICKENMAN
When I am interviewed about my career in radio – especially with regard to the ideas behind my hapless, hopeless hero CHICKENMAN- I always forget to mention the important contribution made by my Lithuanian grandfather, Isaac Bresnick, farmer, antique dealer and observant Orthodox Jew.
My grandfather died 30 years before I scribbled and voiced the series about the fabulous White Winged Warrior; however, starting when I was only 8, chickens played a vital role in our relationship.
In a tall barn at the rear of his home in Williamsport, PA, were stored the remnants of his farm years: rusty implements for farming, milking cows, a horse-drawn wagon and a chicken coop still housing chickens. Every Friday evening, I reported to his home on Park Avenue just 4 blocks from my own. As soon as I appeared, he went to the barn and chose a plump fowl for the Sabbath weekend meals. I’d follow his every step, including his taking the selected chicken into the pantry where he weighed it, skillfully tied its legs, placed it in a worn wicker basket and covered it with a towel. With a keen sense of making a powerful contribution to both the chicken and Shabbat, I gripped the basket handle and carried the bird 2 blocks to the butcher shop of the shochet, the kosher ritual slaughterer, Mr Malkin.
Only once did I observe Mr Malkin actually use his sharp kosher knife and immediately thrust the chicken into a barrel of hot water. That one time was enough for me, so I would wait in his store and inspect the interesting food items in his glass case. Mr. Malkin would
return with the wicker basket for the trip back to my grandparents. Often, I would accompany my grandmother to the basement where she deftly and rapidly did the plucking.
My next contact with the nude fella was at Saturday’s Shabbat dinner. There was apparently something about this activity with these winged creatures, some guilty mystical vibes that planted itself deep in my psyche.
My compensatory redemption came many years later when I worked as a production director for WCFL radio in Chicago. Program Director, Ken Draper, asked me to do a comedy radio serial take off of the popular BATMAN TV series. Something from the heavens flew down and reminded me of my debt to the hundred or more chickens I had carried to a man with a sharp blade on Park Avenue. And so it came to be that a mighty chicken superhero called CHICKENMAN was born and his comic adventures were heard all around the globe and brought good feelings to all of the listeners.
But the most recent and greatest payback came when I was again asked to donate CHICKENMAN for special airing on behalf of stations and organizations, this time to honor the 50th anniversary of AFVN, the Armed Forces Vietnam Radio network. So, it had come to be that thousands of those who served so valiantly in Vietnam had the opportunity, however briefly, to relieve their homesickness, their loneliness and fear by tuning in several times each day to the outrageous and side-splitting saga of CHICKENMAN, the Greatest Crime Fighter who ever lived. Thank God for the wonderful winged creatures He created.
Thank God for my grandfather and his parents for fleeing Lithuania and becoming proud immigrants to America. If they had remained in Lithuania, the odds are excellent I wouldn’t have made a weekly hike to Mr. Malkin, and I certainly wouldn’t have been given the assignment to create a costumed superhero.
And, Thank God for the thousands of brave men and women who continue to don the ‘suit of war’ and the many thousands of immigrants who continue to enrich our nation.