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International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame Expert, Joe Siegman

August 2, 2020 | by Mark Miller

Joe received the Lifetime Achievement Award for significant contributions to the State of Israel and society through sports.

In 2018, the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame presented Joe Siegman with The Lifetime Achievement Award, which is presented annually, honoring those individuals who have made significant contributions to the State of Israel and society through sports.

Organizer, author, athlete Joe Siegman is recognized for his decades of leadership and participation in Jewish-related and conventional sport activities. Siegman founded the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1979, which he organized originally as a fund-raising vehicle for the U.S. Maccabiah team. Subsequently, in collaboration with then Maccabiah Games vice-president Alan Sherman, the concept took on a life of its own in 1981, when the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame Museum was dedicated at the Wingate Institute in Netanya, Israel.

The Chicago-born television producer-writer authored The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, published in 1992. He has since published a series of four volumes titled Jewish Sports Legends, featuring Jewish sport history, biographies and photos of iconic Jewish sportsmen and sportswomen who have been elected to the IJSHOF.

Siegman was a member of five U.S. Maccabiah teams between 1973 and 1989: the 1973 Cricket team, and 1977 thru 1989 quadrennial Lawn Bowls teams. In succeeding years, in served as team chairman. He organized a series of fund-raising events in the Los Angeles area to aid the participation of U.S. Maccabiah athletes and sports teams. These events featured performances by comedians Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Crystal, Bill Maher, Shelley Berman, Milton Berle, Dick Shawn, and many others.

A pair of Joes – DiMaggio and Siegman

1977 thru 1985, Siegman was Western Regional Vice-President of United States Committee Sports For Israel, sponsors/organizers of U.S. Maccabiah Teams. In 1982, he wrote and produced the documentary, Two Weeks To Experience – A Lifetime To Remember, the USCSFI's first promotional film.

In 1969, Siegman, representing the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation, served as publicity director of the second Special Olympics Games.

From 1964 to 2003, Siegman (and partner) produced "Hollywood Stars Night" at Los Angeles Dodgers Stadium, an annual Hollywood exhibition baseball event that preceded the evening's Major League game. Over 39 years, more than six hundred celebrities participated in the contest, among them: Dean Martin, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Lewis, Kevin Costner, Billy Crystal, Tom Selleck, Robin Williams, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Gene Hackman, Mark Harmon, Keanu Reeves, Bob Newhart, Ray Romano, Kevin James and numerous others. His coffee-table book, Bats Balls & Hollywood Stars – Hollywood's Love Affair With Baseball, a homage to the event, was published in 2015.

As a television producer, his resume of "reality" shows includes the popular Celebrity Bowling series, which aired seven first-run seasons, and Celebrity Tennis, three first-run seasons on American television. Both series aired originally during the 1970s.

On the bowling green, Siegman won the (American) National Open Pairs Championship in 1989, and 2004 U.S. Championships Pairs. He (and partners) qualified for four U.S. Championships finals. He also served as manager of United States men's bowls teams that competed internationally 1991-2006, including the 1992 World Bowls Championships.

Off the green, he served as president of the Southwest Division of the American Lawn Bowls Association, was publisher-editor of the quarterly BOWLS Magazine 1992-2002, and twice represented the United States on the World Bowling Board federation.

Joe Siegman is an elected member of the BowlsUSA Hall of Fame and Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Where did you grow up, what did your parents do for a living, and what kind of childhood did you have?

I grew up in Chicago. Father owned a popular boutique-ish womens’ fashions store. Mother a homemaker. Enjoyed a happy middle class childhood. Oldest child, with a brother and sister. And Chicago Cubs season tickets (when an adult box seat was $1.80, and under-12, $1.20).

What was your career objective?

Wanted to be an entertainer or sportscaster.

Your educational background?

BS Journalism, at U. of Illinois.

What motivated you to pursue a career in show business?

Probably favorable attention at entertainment situations as a collegian and teen, along with encouragement of my parents.

With Mark Spitz

How did you come to produce the celebrity exhibition baseball series, Hollywood Stars Night?

Asked by then GAC agent Jack Gilardi to help him out subbing for his ailing client Nat King Cole to organize the 1963 HSN. Cole had been doing the job since the Dodgers first season in L.A. (1958). Cole died soon afterward and the Dodger’s marketing v.p. Danny Goodman asked us to continue until……. ‘Until’ was 2003. I wrote the book: “Bats, Balls & Hollywood Stars – Hollywood’s Love Affair With Baseball”, about the 40-year experience.

How did you get interested in sports? Did you ever play sports?

I’ve always been interested in sports. I played high school baseball and basketball, freshman baseball at U of I, college intramural sports, American Legion baseball, Hollywood Entertainers League softball (which led to the HSN involvement), tennis, tenpin bowling, and for the past 40-something years, lawn bowling. I’m a two-time U.S. national lawn bowls champion and a member of the BowlsUSA Hall of Fame.

What is the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, how did you happen to found it, and how did it come to have “International” added to it?

I chaired and underwrote an event – Jewish Sports Hall of Fame--in May 1979 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to call attention to and raise funds in support of the Maccabiah Games in Israel (so-called Jewish Olympics). It was called An Evening of Jewish Pride and honored 18 of the USA’s greatest Jewish sports figures. Ten of the 18 were on the dais that evening, along with family reps of four deceased honorees. Underlying level of achievement for the selection of the 18 was: “not the best Jewish athletes, but the best athletes who were also Jewish.” Theme was: “The Deeds of the Past Shall Inspire the Achievements of the Future”. There was no actual Jewish Sports Hall of Fame at the time. Its existence was virtual, before the word virtual in the current context was conceived.

The HOF event was magical and took on a life of its own. The following year, another class of great Jewish athletes/sportspersons was honored at the BH Hilton. A member of my committee went to Israel and made an arrangement for an actual permanent exhibit. Soon afterward, in 1981, during the framework of the World Maccabiah Games in Israel, the Ministry of Education got involved and the JSHOF added the word International to its title, and with it a museum – Yad Le’ish Hasport Hayehudi--was dedicated at Netanya’s Wingate Institute of Sport. That year, 18 international sportsmen and women were inducted to join the previously elected Americans. Thereafter, annual elections of worldwide Jewish Sports Legends have taken place. A total now of 42 years.

Any special memories/insights about your involvement with the Special Olympics Games?

One of my first clients when I hung up my own PR shingle was the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation and its new idea, the Special Olympics. Before moving to California, I worked on a special project for the Kennedy-Johnson Illinois presidential campaign. Kennedy won, barely, and JFL’s sister Eunice Shriver recommended me to get involved with its start-up Special Olympics. It was an invigorating experience. I got to spread my wings as a publicist, brought in involvement of the Hollywood crowd, and helped contribute to and open up public awareness of the S.O.

Norm Crosby and Lyle Alzado, promo for Jokes with Jocks fundraiser benefitting Maccabiah Games.

Shows like your celebrity bowling and celebrity tennis TV series, from the 1970s, don’t seem to be on the air anymore. Why were they popular then, but we don’t see them now?

The original “Celebrity Bowling” has been in re-runs here and there for nearly 20 years, and is likely still offered on some golden oldie cable stations. We never re-released the original “Celebrity Tennis” shows. I think the Bowling show would again succeed in today’s marketplace – we had 7 seasons – but that lies in the perception of today’s programmers. Also, there’s no tackling, body checks or blood-letting to stimulate contemporary producers to revisit the concept.

Hollywood Stars Night, your annual celebrity exhibition baseball event, aired from 1964 to 2003. Any special celebrity memories connected with that one? Why did it end?

The Hollywood Stars Night exhibition game never aired. It was a live event from its inception. It was celebrities being kids again, experiencing themselves as de facto big league players. Really trying to hit and field and catch and run. Until the new Dodger’s team owner’s marketing chief attempted to reinvent the wheel. He changed the tried and true baseball event into what was then labelled an MTV/rock ‘n roll type softball game…little game and lots of fun. The new concept couldn’t attract either stars or recognizable celebrities for Dodger ticket holders.

How did you get involved with the American Lawn Bowls Association, and what was the appeal for you? (And why wasn’t it called the American Lawn Bowling Association?)

Lawn bowling is to Bowls what ‘hard ball’ is to baseball. Same thing. Like Maccabee and Maccabi. The sport is internationally known as Bowls. And, there are more country members of the World Bowls Federation than most sports in the Olympic Games. It has nothing to do with tenpin bowling. Only the name.

I was selected to play on the 1973 U.S. Maccabiah cricket team. While in Israel, I was formally introduced to the game of bowls and international lawn bowlers staying at the same hotel as my cricketers. At the time, I lived a half-block from Roxbury Park, home of the BH Lawn Bowling Club. I saw it practically every day, but never knew what the old guys were doing. I approached the bowlers at Roxbury about learning the sport, and invited 30-40 guys to learn the game in anticipation of the 1977 Maccabiah.

How did you get involved with the stand-up comedy series, “The Comedy Shop”, and wasn’t it originally titled “Norm Crosby’s Comedy Shop”? How was that experience for you?

I came-up with the TV idea the way those of us prone to do so come up with show ideas. I already had the two Celebrity series as well as several other shows on the air. I was looking for something new.

I tried unsuccessfully for several years to sell the idea as Milton Berle’s Comedy Shop. Entertained a lot of conversation but no luck. Via left field I got a NY ad agency interested in the concept, but they had reservations about Berle. On a phone call with the agency one day a comic I knew, in the building to see his personal manager, popped in to say hello. “Hi Norm,” I said holding the phone to my ear. The agency guy asked who I was talking to. I said: “Norm Crosby.” “What a great idea” said the adman. And a deal to make a deal was hatched.

The first season of TCS was “The Comedy Shop”. The next two seasons it was “Norm Crosby’s Comedy Shop”.

What part does Judaism play in your life?

It has always been an integral part of my identity. My mother is from Tzvat (Safed), and her Goldzweig family dates back to the mid-1770s in the town. Said to be followers of the Baal Shem Tov. Although I am moderately observant, I less and less keep up with the rest of my family of rabbis, cantors and observant relatives. In case anyone cares, I’m a Cohain.

What are your hobbies and interests outside of show business pursuits?

I guess my hobbies are lawn bowling and writing books about special Jewish sports figures. I never intended either endeavor to hang around for so many years, but I’ve written 5 books on the Jewish sports subject, and for several years, until last month, authored a column, “Who Knew”, for the Jewish Sports Review monthly newsletter.

Any regrets in show business or in life? Anything you’d do differently if you were to relive your life?

Of course. But my choices fill cracks and crevices with much satisfaction.

Any tips or knowledge you’ve gained about growing older?

Keep your body parts well-lubed even if they exceed their warranty dates.

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