By Menachem Wecker
(JUNE 5, 2023 / JNS) Some 15 or 20 years ago, Mort Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, saw a man who looked a lot like entertainer Ed Ames at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington.
“He was tall. He stood out among everyone,” Klein told JNS. “I knew it wasn’t Ed Ames, because he was at an AIPAC conference. Ed Ames wouldn’t be at an AIPAC conference. He’s not a Jew!”
Klein asked the 6-foot-3 man if anyone had ever told him he looked like the singer and actor. “He said, ‘Sir. I am Ed Ames,’” Klein told JNS. “I said, ‘I bet you tell that to everybody. I can’t believe you’re Ed Ames. What are you doing here at an AIPAC conference?’”
Ames said, “I’m a Jew and a Zionist,” Klein recalled. “I said, ‘You’re Jewish? Ed Ames is Jewish?’ I didn’t know.”
After producing his driver’s license for Klein’s inspection, Ames cleared the matter up. “I said, ‘Oh, my God. You are Ed Ames,’” Klein said. “He said, ‘I just told you that.’”
‘To hell with speeches, sing a song!’
Klein and Ames became fast friends, particularly as they realized that they shared very similar views on Israel. (Ames died at 95 on May 21, and Klein has been mourning his close friend since.)
“He was an ardent, farbrente Zionist, deeply committed to Israel,” Klein told JNS. Like Klein, Ames saw that many Palestinians wanted to wage war on Israel and Jews, with no interest in peace. “He understood it early on. Before people began to understand that looked like a tragic probability,” Klein said.
When Klein spoke at Los Angeles-area synagogues, Ames would come to hear him, and soon Ames was a “nice” ZOA donor.
“He would arrange for me to speak at the entertainment synagogues, to which the actors and actresses belonged. He would introduce me. He was so effusive, beyond any credible truth, about how great I am. He was really very kind,” Klein said.
Whenever Klein was in Los Angeles, he would dine with Ames, often at his house with sweeping views of the city. When they watched television together, Ames would tell Klein which Hollywood colleagues were mensches and which were jerks and primadonnas.
“This was his people,” Klein said.
Whenever Klein and his wife saw tapes of Ames singing being played on television—for example, on “The Ed Sullivan Show”—he would immediately call the singer, hold the phone up to the television and tell Ames, “You have one of the greatest voices I’ve ever heard.”
“Deep and resonant. It was a unique voice,” Klein told JNS.
When ZOA elected him president of its California chapter, Ames said, “Before I undertake this position, I demand a recount. This cannot be accurate,’” Klein recalled.
Ames would sing—pro bono—at ZOA galas with just a pianist accompanying him.
“He would bring the house down, and the people who would have to speak after his performance—it was terrible,” Klein said. “People kept screaming for Ames to come back and sing. ‘To hell with the damn speeches. Sing a song!’”
‘A smart, articulate guy’
Ames was born Edmund Dantes Urick in 1927 in Malden, Mass. He was the youngest of nine children, who survived, born to David Urick and Sarah Zaslavskaya, who immigrated from Ukraine, according to a New York Times obituary.
Ed and three brothers—Gene, Joe and Vic—performed together as the Urick Brothers, then Armory Brothers and finally Ames Brothers, and they achieved widespread success. They sold 20 million records, according to the Times.
Ames left the group in 1960 to perform in theater and on television. “I thought I’d go out of my skull if I had to sing the same song again,” he said. He is best known for starring as Mingo, an American Indian, in the NBC show “Daniel Boone” in the 1960s.
He drew extended laughs when, in the process of teaching Johnny Carson how to throw a tomahawk in 1965, the ax he threw caught a sheriff, drawn as a target on a wall, between the legs. “I didn’t even know you were Jewish,” Carson ad-libbed. (Two years prior, Ames had played another American Indian character, Chief Bromden, on Broadway in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”)
Growing up, Ames went to Boston Latin School, which was and remains very strong academically. Klein figures Ames must have been a good student. The singer did not go to college until later in life, when he earned both a bachelor’s degree and master’s at UCLA in his 40s and 50s.
“He was a smart, articulate guy,” Klein said.
“He was not a leftie liberal like all of his colleagues,” Klein said. Ames was friends with Charlton Heston, Jon Voight and Fess Parker (of “Daniel Boone” and “Davy Crockett”), all of whom were conservative too, according to Klein.
When Klein told Ames that he must have many famous friends, the singer told him that he must, too. “That’s true,” Klein responded. “Ed Ames.”
The article was originally published by JNS and can be viewed here.