The Independent Newspaper’s “A Walk Down Memory Lane” series features Phyllis Italiano this week. Italiano takes a look back at life on the East End over the years.
“It was my Aunt Mary’s tonsils that started my 35-year love affair with Long Island,” remembers Phyllis Italiano. “Aunt Mary worked in Macy’s in the corset department. She was a fitter and always walked around with a tape measure hanging from her neck. When it was decided that Mary would convalesce from her surgery at her boyfriend’s summer home in South Jamesport, my mother sent me and my cousin Joy as chaperones. Can you imagine that! Mary’s boyfriend was Bert Squires. The Squires’ family history on Long Island,” said Phyllis, “dates back to the 1600s.”
It was 1948 and the first time Phyllis had been to Long Island. The Squires’ house was on Little Peconic Bay. She remembers waking up in the morning and walking out the back door to the beach in her little pink acetate pajamas. She sat on a big rock and looked out over the Peconic Bay. It was then that she decided, “This is for me.”
Soon afterwards, Aunt Mary married Bert Squires and moved to Hampton Bays. Although Phyllis visited her aunt often, it wasn’t until 1960 that Phyllis came to live on Long Island herself.
Originally from the Bronx, she married, settled in Bayport, and had four children. In the meantime, her sister, Anna, known to the world as Anne Bancroft, had won an Oscar for Best Actress for her role as Helen Keller’s teacher in the film, The Miracle Worker. Five years older than Phyllis, the two sisters shared a special bond. “She was wonderful! She was my sister, but she was like my mother and my benefactor.”
Phyllis remembers when Anna met future husband Mel Brooks. “They were great together. You could see how much he loved her. We had such great times. We would rent a house on Fire Island and stay there for the summers. We did it for 35 years. Anna would come on the weekends or whenever she had a break from filming. We would leave our troubles on the dock as we climbed onto the ferry.
“One night, when we were at the Fire Island house, Mel came down with a flashlight and said to me, ‘Let’s go crabbing.’ He didn’t sleep well because he had crazy hours. We went down to the beach and caught a lot of crabs. I said, ‘We should put them in the refrigerator,’ but he wanted to put them in the sink with some water to keep them fresh. Needless to say, by morning, the crabs had climbed out of the sink and were crawling everywhere!”
Phyllis, whose career includes teaching and school administration, retired so she could take care of her sister when Anna became ill from cancer. Phyllis admits that she used to drive past her sister’s house in Water Mill after she passed away. “But I just can’t do it anymore,” she said with a tear in her eye. “Mel sold the house after her passing. He couldn’t do it anymore either.”
At a young 82, Phyllis is a celebrity in her own right, hosting and producing her own talk show on LTV called “The Democratic View.” Living now in Springs, she’s decided to write her memoir.
“I’ve been working on it for a while. I have about 110 pages done, but a lot more to go! I think I might call it ‘The Real Mrs. Robinson.”
If you are interested in telling your “Walk Down Memory Lane” story in The Independent, email email@example.com or call 631-324-2500.