Published: November 7, 2023
Submitted by the Family
MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. — On October 27, Martin Scherer passed away in his house in Mount Vernon at the age of 92. He was born in Manhattan on August 19, 1931, but was raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, N.Y. “His Williamsburg,” as Marty wrote, was a place “where you could aggressively pursue your life’s dreams.” That sense of possibility took root, and throughout his life Marty dreamt big, leaving those in his midst feeling that they, too, could do anything or be anyone.
Marty was the oldest son of Ralph (Ralph Adolphis) and Rose (Prumpty) Scherer, which made him the older brother of Harvey (“TA” or Transit Authority) Scherer. (All of these monikers were thought up by Marty. Supplying nicknames was for Marty a lifelong practice.) Marty’s outsized personality — performer, funny man, over-the-top presence — was sown in the idiosyncratic soil of his boyhood household. When not at his drugstore, where pickles were served up alongside prescriptions, Ralph, a parade enthusiast, with a young Marty in tow, would dash off to any semblance of a processional, making no distinction between holiday fanfare and the solemnity of funerals. Rose, too, had a fixation: in her case it was stockings and garter belts, a collection that was ever-growing, leading her sons to wonder if their mother might be moonlighting as a stripper. Marty and Harvey, meanwhile, were lifelong Yankee fans on Dodger’s terrain. Marty’s dream of actually playing for the Yankees ended early, around the age of 9, when the parked car upon which he had placed his cherished glove, the one with a fur-lined strap, an extravagance that set him back $7.50, suddenly drove off.
In grammar school at Brooklyn’s PS, 141, Marty’s life was almost cut short. In an unsupervised class, Marty began to run laps around the classroom. Unaware that the teacher had returned, Marty collided with the teacher’s slap. Lifting him by his collar, the teacher stashed Marty in a closet. Then, it seems, she summarily forgot about him. And there, Marty remained, imprisoned for hours, nearly the entire school day. Marty credits his release to Sheldon Rappaport who late in the afternoon wondered aloud, “Anyone seen Marty?”
Marty graduated from Boy’s High School in Brooklyn, earning praise for his honesty from his classmates, who noted in his yearbook: “He never copies — he can’t read.” With these stellar credentials, Marty headed off to Tuscaloosa to the University of Alabama with his mother Rose, in tears, convinced that her son was off to Albania. There, he joined the Air Force ROTC and would eventually serve in Korea for 13 months. Alabama was merely a year’s stay, though, as it turned out, a much beloved one, adding to Marty’s roster of dreams; perhaps a son or daughter might finish what he started, he thought. Missing the hustle and bustle of New York City, Marty returned north, graduating from NYU with a degree in business. He noted, however, that on the train home, while other men read the business section of the New York Times, he was unwaveringly stuck on the Arts & Leisure section. While his cohorts counted hard numbers, Marty counted Hirschfield’s Ninas.
He thought he was seeing “a ball of fire with limbs…She seemed to be sprouting redness from every pore.” This is how Marty described the first time he spotted the love of his life, Rena, immortalized as “Little Red” in so many of Marty’s tales. They met on the beach in Jewish Rockaway. It was around then that Martin went on his only known date with a man. As the story goes, Rena was set to spend the day with a young man from Israel. The date did take place, but with Marty present every step of the way. Rena was mortified. The Israeli was frustrated. Marty was triumphant. Two years later, on October 20, 1955, Rena and Marty were married, and just recently celebrated their “Granite Wedding,” having been married for 68 years, though, if you consider when they began to go steady, their love affair comes to a grand total of 70 years.
Rena and Marty settled down, raising six children, Neil (Chickabee), Abigail (Gandergail/Straight-Kep), Lawrence (Ucki bird), Nancy (Peaches/ Curly-Kep), Aaron (The Popola) and Jennifer (Mommy Mouse), in their beloved house in Mount Vernon, N.Y. Yet settled as he may have been, after starting his company, Deviline, Marty began to travel to small towns all over the United States to sell Woto Cologne. On these road trips, he often took along one of his children, each of whom can attest to Marty’s ability to draw a crowd. He was Harold Hill in the flesh, only in Marty’s case, the cologne, not to mention “Woto Soap on a Rope,” was real. Of course, these sales pitches were all made incognito. The child accompanying him, instructed not to blow his cover, remained always a bit stupefied to hear Marty tell the potential buyer, “If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call the president of our company. His name is Martin Scherer.” In truth, the company consisted of three people: Marty, the creator, Marty, the president, and Marty, the salesman.
Marty also devoted himself to writing. During a period of unemployment, he authored Selling Out, a fictional account of Marty’s own highs and lows as a traveling salesman. Later, he would write Tuscalaurel, a fantasy filled to the brim with Marty’s humor, and My Williamsburg, in which Marty recounted his boyhood Brooklyn, as well as his unceasing wonderment over how he had come to journey from Williamsburg to Tuscaloosa.
Marty switched careers once again, after being taken under the wing of an American Art Gallery executive, E. Ives Bartholet. Under her tutelage, Marty acquired expertise in Nineteenth Century American paintings, later expanding his interests in paintings to Nineteenth Century frames. This all led to a gradual conversion of his Mount Vernon home into an art gallery “that never slept.” The latter phrase, most thought, referred specifically to Rena’s restless nights, having never gotten used to having to shuffle past paintings and frames that cluttered her beautiful home.
There was another dream of Martys, though never realized, never faded: to own a house in Vermont. For years, he, Rena and the children spent their summers in Pittsfield, Vt., a sleepy town, whose only contribution to the world was the folding brown grocery bag, a concept dreamed up by an anonymous townsman, perhaps while attempting to juggle more than three grocery items in his arms as he trudged up Hawk Mountain. Martin was so beloved by the town that he was wholeheartedly accepted as a Pittsfield Volunteer Fireman. After all, he had managed to keep tabs on the fiery red with whom he lived.
In their rental on Hawk Mountain, Marty would sit for hours on the porch, holding his beloved Little Red’s hand (it was always Henty-Renty time for the two of them), gazing at a trio of green mountains, wondering when he might spot a tiger. It took Farmer Ellis to disabuse him of the belief that there were tigers in Vermont. But you see, Martin never stopped being that Jewish kid from Williamsburg, dreaming that the world was large, the world was funny, the world was jam-packed with possibility.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the following: https://israelrescue.org/mymitzvah/martin-scherer-memorial/
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