[78-L] Piute Pete, aka, Morris Kaufman

Dennis Flannigan dennis.flannigan at gmail.com.invalid
Tue May 2 16:07:14 PDT 2017

Found this article, which offers only faint praise for Piute.

MY NEW YORK Mel Heimer To him, sq. d. is n. s. g. Titusville (PA) Herald
Dec. 12, 1955 NEW YORK—Saloons In this town, like saloons everywhere, tend
to come and go. Yesterday's speakeasy becomes today's Stork club and
tomorrow's parking lot. Offhand I would say that few of them have lasted as
long in Manhattan as the Village Barn, the Eighth street cafe-restaurant,
and it may be that the cold, stark reason for this state of affairs Is the
square dance. Consider the square dance. I know wholly that any attack on
the square dance is an attack on America, the Brooklyn Dodgers, Mom's apple
pie and the United States way of life—but I do wish that someone would come
front and center, do-si-do, swing his partner and tell me wherein lies the
charm of this bucolic form of rope-skipping. Now, of course, ordinary
ballroom dancing is absurd enough, with persons who often are virtual
strangers holding each other in their arms—and shuffling around a floor in
furtive attempts at co-operative rhythm (oh, he is waspish today, isn't
he?)—but when they embellish this grotesque ritual with the hooking of
elbows, the wild discordant cries from the hog-caller on the bandstand, and
so on, the result becomes childish. It all resembles a batch of drunken
infants playing hopscotch with loaded pieces of glass. * * * * FOR SOME
REASON, however, many men and women enjoy this abortive pastime, possibly
the way others like to eat opium or collect postage stamps. There are a
handful like this in Manhattan and, together with great hordes of visiting
firemen who presumably don't get enough of these ridiculous didoes at home,
they find their way to the Village Barn and square dance to their dark
heart's content. Well—today I would like to take them down a peg by
explaining that one of the chief sq. d. callers at the Barn, known
superficially as Piute Pete, is a man named Morris Kaufman, who was born on
the lower East Side and used to be a customs clerk. Kaufman bills himself
as the "greatest hog-caller east of the Rockies,'* and I will lay a
farthing or two that Morris has never set foot in one of those Ozark
gymnasiums where square dancing is supposed to have been born. According to
reliable dispatches, Morris has called the turns for more than three
million souls in the last 10 years. If the aficionados would like to be
further dismayed, let them consider that Morris took up the whole thing,
years ago, because he had arthritis. Square dancing looked like a nice,
mild exercise, so off he went, turning and leaping and crying hoarsely Into
the night. He now has become so celebrated in his strange field that he has
lectured on it at New York University and even has introduced it in the
Virgin islands, Puerto Rico and Canada, as well as in nudist colonies,
mental wards, churches and homes for the aged. * * * * BACK IN OTHER DAYS,
the Village Barn had a genuine hill-billy—well, reasonably genuine—in the
caller spot. This was Zeke Canova, a brother to the fetching Judy Canova,
who, incidentally, also once entertained at the Barn. Morris has company
these weeks in Sophie Parker, a 285-pound cutie known as "The Sophie Tucker
of the Ozarks," but the most distinguished caller in the Barn's history was
J. Russel Eshback, a one-time professor of economics at St John's, who
today has four college degrees and a 1,100-acre farm on the Delaware river.
If you didn't know it, square dancing evolved from an attempt by early
Americans to get away from the Puritans' stern way of life. Musical
instruments and dancing were illicit then, so these hell-bound New
Englanders clapped their hands, sang and began square dancing—rather
sneakily calling it "play parties," in which they acted out little stories.
Personally, I like to think of Morris Kaufman, rustic as all get-out,
slapping his thigh and crying out the orders for his childish dances and
reels—and then putting on his camel's hair coat when work is through and
going up town to Tandy's for some strawberry cheesecake, and a quick
thumbing-through of Variety

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