with Alicia Mayer

If I had just one ticket for the time machine, this is who I would visit, without question.

~Sol Baer Fielding, October 15, 1908 – September 1, 1992~

Fingermans as children and as adults watermark

Esther, Samuel, and Solomon Fingerman in their father Samuel’s tailoring shop in Denver, Colorado; circa 1920s. The three siblings together again – Samuel, Esther, and Sol; circa early 1960s.

By now, if you’ve been with me for more than a couple of posts, you’ve probably heard quite a bit about the Mayer side of my family – Louis B. Mayer, Ida, Mitzi and so on. But I haven’t shared as much about my grandfather, Sol Baer Fielding, although you may also know that he produced a few films, including Harry Belafonte’s first movie, Bright Road (1953).

Mitzi and Sol honeymoon BIG

My grandparents, Mitzi and Sol, shortly after their wedding. Looks like the Rocky Mountains.

My grandfather, who was born Solomon Baer Fingerman (he later changed his name) in New York City, not long after the family emigrated from Russia, died on September 1st, 1992. Today is September 1st in Australia so as per the Jewish tradition of marking the anniversary of a loved one’s death, ‘yahrzeit,’ I will light a candle in his memory.

But to be honest, I think of my Popa Sol most days. He taught me so much – from the joy of raw red onion on burgers and breaking out into song now and again, to the importance of integrity and dignity. He instilled in me a love for Judaism and a deep hope for the State of Israel (the only time I ever saw him angry was when we were approached in a parking lot by a man wearing a ‘Jews for Jesus’ t-shirt).

Popa also showed me unconditional love, the kind that every child, every person, should experience.

I find it hard to believe it has been 25 years since his passing. I can remember our very last day together, watching him gently hold his only great-grandchild, my baby daughter. And while we laughed with joy, we both knew we would never see each other again because the next day my husband, baby and I would fly back to Australia, and Popa was dying of cancer.

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A portrait of actress Hedy Lamarr by my grandfather, Sol Baer Fielding. He apparently had several portraits along these lines in his production offices.

Two or three months later, my mother phoned to tell me he had passed. One should live regret-free, this is true, but it seems the only regrets I have relate to my grandparents, especially my Popa…

I am so grateful to have that remarkable photo of Popa as a very young boy with his angelic sister Esther and his older brother Samuel, in their father’s tailoring shop in Denver, Colorado. Once, when my children were little, I asked them to point out the telephone in the room. I saw them search the cutting table for something resembling a cellphone. It cracked me up to show them that huge black thing fixed to the wall and practically as big as the children.

The photo next to it shows the same three siblings in the early 1960s, only uncle Sam is the shorter one now – my grandfather was 6′ 1″. Samuel became an engineer, and as far as I know spent the majority of his career working on major infrastructure projects in Colorado. Esther moved to Los Angeles and married, and later worked for many years as the much loved and trusted EA to the head of Universal. It was a huge shock when she died of an aneurysm. Neither Sam or Esther had their own children, although Sam’s wonderful second wife, Sarah, who I loved, had two sons.

Visitors to Bright Road set 1953 Gerald Mayer + Dorothy Dandridge + Belafonte + Sol watermark

Bright Road (1953) cast and others on set. Director Gerald Mayer (far left), unknown visitors to the set, Harry Belafonte (middle), Dorothy Dandridge (3rd from right), producer Sol Baer Fielding (far right).

Sol and Esther loved each other’s company, and when I visited as a kid it was so much fun being with the two of them – always such silliness!

My grandfather was a hugely talented fine artist, and really wasn’t cut out for the movie biz. I so wish he could’ve spent his days immersed in his art. I hope that’s what he’s doing up in heaven…

Love you, Popa, with all my heart

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Toddler me on my grandfather’s lap with my cousins in my grandparents’ backyard on Kearsarge Street in Santa Monica. Must be summer of 1967.

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