I met Maurice Zolotow when I was in Las Vegas in 1983 filming a documentary on The World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe Casino. But more unlikely than that random chance encounter was the fact that I knew who he was when we were introduced - I was a huge fan of his profiles of off-beat and oddball entertainers in his show business compendium "It Takes All Kinds".Our relationship only lasted the week that we were there filming, but this lively 70 year old became a central character in our documentary, as his witty and insightful analysis of the poker tournament and the personalities of the major players became a form of wildly colorful on-screen narration.
Later I learned more about his life as a chronicler of show business, including his biography of Billy Wilder, the first biography written about Marilyn Monroe, and "Shooting Star", his book about John Wayne.
But it was his portrait of Henry Nemo in "It Takes All Kinds" that forever endeared me to Zolotow.
If you don't know Nemo (and honestly, who would today or even back then), he had a bit role playing a version of himself in "Song of the Thin Man" one of the late entries in the popular William Powell/Myrna Loy film series. But as Zolotow memorably portrays him, the hipster/songwriter (he wrote "I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart" for Duke Ellington among other famous compositions) Nemo was one of the originators and foremost practitioners of the slang idioms that became the language of "Jive Talk" as it was known.
"The Neem" is "on the beam" was his fast-paced way of introducing himself. Believe it or not, this hep cat was credited with coining the expression "hep cat" as well as "in the groove" to describe a state of high functional efficiency and "out of this world" to denote a condition of ecstasy. Of course a "square from Delaware" was his way of describing that particularly unfortunate character who is completely "unhipped".
To hear Zolotow describe Nemo practicing what he preached is to sit in awe at the feet of a modern master who used language as a weapon.
"A square," Nemo shouts, contorting his large fat face, "he is a cockamamie type, he is a stale adventurer. He's a gesture taker, a discharge. He's not in my world. Somebody parted his brain the wrong way. He's an undecided bringdown. He's a sharpsville-12. I'm sharpsville-100. That's solid, papa."
Credit Zolotow for recognizing that this guy needed to be immortalized, and for doing the job so wonderfully.
Now THAT is solid, papa!