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Tammy Lazer
By MARTIN ZEILIG

Although she and her husband, Harry, and their two children, Hart and Shelley, moved to Los Angeles, California back in 1964, Tammy (née Steinberg) Lazer has always considered herself a true Winnipegger.

 

You can take the person out of Winnipeg, but you can’t take Winnipeg out of the person. Or, once a North Ender, always a North Ender.
Now, at age 88 this 4’9” bundle of energy with the engaging personality and sharp wit has returned to live here. And, does she ever have stories to tell about her over 30 year career promoting the City of Angels around the world for the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.
(Note: This writer has been friends with Tammy and her family for decades now.)
“Even when I was in L.A., I wore sweatshirts that said ‘Winnipeg’”, Tammy said during an informal interview with this reporter over coffee and a nosh at a local Starbucks. “Coming back here is a culture shock for me.
“I came back because I got very ill and was in the hospital for a lengthy time, and my children don’t live in Los Angeles where Harry and I were living.
“I actually found myself alone because my brother, David, is the only brother that I have that’s still around. He and his wife decided that they’re moving back to New York. I had to have a plan as to what I was going to do when I got out of the hospital and rehab hospital.”


Harry Lazer, who was a heart transplant survivor for 21 years, died of heart failure five years ago.
Tammy’s brother is none other than comedian, actor, writer, director, and producer David Steinberg. In December 2016, Steinberg was named a Member of the Order of Canada.
“I have two wonderful children, Hart Lazer - a yoga instructor in Montreal,” Tammy said between sips of her Caffè Mocha. “Our daughter, Shelley, is a sign language interpreter in Chicago. Shelley has been very instrumental in going to the hospitals when deaf people are there to communicate with the doctors.
“I’m very proud of both of them because they have become serious menschen. That’s very important to me. I have three grandchildren and one great-grandchild. They refer to me as GG.”
The family moved to L.A. because of the winter weather here, Tammy acknowledges.
“But, my brother David was already in New York and in television,” she says. “It was his heyday in the 1970s and 1980s.”
Her other brother, Fischel or “Fishy,” and his wife and children were already living in Los Angeles, says Tammy, stressing that her entire family had a very close relationship with each other.


So, they decided to go where the weather was beautiful year round and where her family was.
“We get to L.A., and it was very difficult (for a time),” Tammy admits.
“It was culture shock also, leaving Canada and going to the USA. But, we were very fortunate. We were steeped in the television industry and tourism industry as soon as we arrived in L.A.”
The move to southern California was also made easier because Harry, an accountant for a Winnipeg-owned company, met someone from Los Angeles not along after arriving, who was a senior executive for a well known furniture company.
That person was also an executive at the legendary Beverly Hills Hotel – also called The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows, located on Sunset Boulevard. One of the world’s best-known hotels, it is closely associated with Hollywood film stars, rock stars and celebrities (including politicians). The hotel is still referred to with affection as “the pink palace.”
“He asked Harry if he’d like to come and work for him,” Tammy continues. “It was a dream job for Harry.”
She recounts how the hotel’s owner told Harry that if he recognized any of the celebrities who stayed at the establishment not to acknowledge who they are – just treat them as regular clientele and respect their privacy.
“Well he didn’t have to tell him that because Harry didn’t know any celebrities,” Tammy says with a laugh. “The only person he thought was a celebrity was my brother David. He’d come home for dinner and he’d sit at the table with the kids and myself.
“He’d say, ‘You know, I think Elton John was at the hotel today.’
“The kids would say, ‘You know Elton John?’”
“‘He’s black isn’t he,’” Harry would respond.
“He really didn’t know or recognize any celebrity.”


Tammy also was, as she confesses, in the right place at the right time.
She went to work part time at the Beverly Hills Visitors and Convention Bureau.
“We oversaw the hotels in Beverly Hills, which meant that if there was a convention in any of the hotels we had a staff over 20 people,” she says. “They did the registration for conventions. I oversaw that group. I only had that job because the woman who had that job before me received a great inheritance from an aunt and she quit the job.”
Tammy was eventually appointed the executive director of the BHCVB.
She was in that position for almost seven years.


“Then, the CEO of the L.A. Bureau asked me to work for them,” Tammy says. “My territory when I started there was Australia and New Zealand. It was wonderful. I travelled and coordinated all the trips for the Mayor of L.A. and other city officials and executives.
“I became very close with John Ferraro, who was president of the City Council, and Mayor Tom Bradley (who served as the 38th Mayor of L.A. from 1973 to 1993. He died in 1998 at age 80. He has been the only African-American mayor of L.A., notes his online bio.). We started travelling to promote L.A. I was the speaker. When Mayor Bradley would stand up, he was very tall. I came up to his knees. He’d say ‘I don’t promote Los Angeles. Tammy Lazer does.’”
Over the years, Tammy and her team, which often included Mayor Bradley, promoted L.A. in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, France, the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe.
“When we landed at an airport, we didn’t have to go through customs or anything,” she says.
Other well known Los Angelinos accompanied them on some of the trips, such as lawyer Johnnie Cochrane (who defended O.J. Simpson for the murder of his wife – from whom he was separated, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman), and Cliff Moore, the head of the Department of Airports, Tammy noted.
She also travelled “everywhere” with movie actor Tony Curtis.
“I knew him well,” Tammy says of Curtis. “He was a wonderful ambassador for Hollywood and L.A. People in other cities who came to our functions didn’t come to see the mayor; they came to see Tony Curtis. He was fabulous to work with. A real mensch.
“We were getting back from a trip to Australia, and Tony was living in Hawaii at the time. I got out in Honolulu because I was going to spend a couple of days there. When I got up to customs, Tony was waiting for me and asked ‘What took you so long?’
“I said ‘I’m a Canadian.’ He said ‘What! You’re a Canadian and you’re promoting L.A?’
“I said ‘Don’t get so excited. I’m going to have dual citizenship. I just haven’t  done it yet.’


 “When Harry, my husband, had a heart transplant during the major earthquake (January 7, 1994), I decided that I was out of the country too much,” she says. “So, I did work right in L.A. It was a plum job. I got to meet so many people. I became very close friends with the vice-president of Qantas, George Howling.
“He was a real gentleman. He lived in San Francisco. Once I became friends with him, we were able fly business class to Australian, courtesy of George. It was a real coup. But, the mayor and Tony went first class.”
She developed an international reputation.
“I was interviewed on Good Morning Australia twice,” Tammy, who also “coordinated the hospitality” for the 1984 Summer Olympics in L.A,, says. “The place I really loved, where I did a seminar for five days, when all the European travel agents were invited, was Schladming (a small former mining town in the northwest of the Austrian state of Styria that is now a popular tourist destination) “It’s near where (former body building world champion/actor/ex-Governor of California) Arnold Schwarzenegger grew up.
“I get up on stage, and said, ‘Ich been ein Schlandminger.’ I didn’t have to worry who came to my seminars. It was wonderful. I spoke promoting L.A.”


But, perhaps, the most emotional trip Tammy ever took was to Iceland several years ago to visit the gravesite of her older brother Hymie Steinberg (August 14, 1925-December 19, 1944) at Reykjavik (Fossvogur) Cemetery.
Tammy wrote an article about her experience for the  JP&N.
“My older brother, Hymie Steinberg, was 19 years old, the youngest pilot officer serving in the Canadian Armed Forces when he was killed in a flight accident on December 19, 1944,” she said. “On a patrol out of Reykjavik, Iceland, after a day-long mission to protect Allied troop ships from German naval attacks, his aircraft crashed on its return approach to base.“I was 14. Ellen’s phone call yanked me right back to that day. The devastating telegram. The loss. The grief. The pain. There were no details. And to protect my mother, my father didn’t want them. Seventy-two years later, Ellin had the details. She had done the research. My brother’s flight had left before dawn, and now they were returning after dusk. The crew was exhausted. To save 45 minutes, they took a landing approach that was absolutely forbidden. The pilot knew it. Everybody on the flight knew it. But they would save 45 minutes and get back in time to see the comics from back home who had been brought out to entertain the troops. They didn’t make it.”
(Note: Tammy was referring to author Ellin Bessner, the author of “Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military, and World War II”.)
 “I’ve made some very wonderful contacts related to that visit to Iceland,” Tammy says. “Father Martin, who was the originator of Seven Steps for Alcoholism, was in and out of Reykjavik, and I asked if he would check my brother’s gravesite. And, he did. All he wanted in return was to meet my brother, David.”
She recited Kaddish at Hymie’s gravesite.


Tammy pauses for a moment as she sips from her coffee cup.
“I’ve met some wonderful people in the tourism industry,” she reflects.
“I had those types of experiences that were really amazing. I’m very proud of it. Harry had similar experiences too. We could talk about it and enjoy what we did. Harry and I were married for 62 years. Both of us are very much North End Winnipeg Jews.”
She is “starting to feel comfortable” at her south end retirement residence.
But, Tammy, who did return here many times over the years to visit family and friends, confesses that she’s looking forward to returning to L.A. in January for three weeks.
 “I’m involved with a Yiddish group there,” she says, noting that she also worked part time for a few years after leaving the tourism industry as a paid script reader for anyone who had written a screenplay. “Every Friday, I went to this group, and the mentor was 95 years old. It was fabulous.”
 Now, she’s back where it all began.
“I’ve seen the first snow in 52 years,” Tammy says ruefully.
“I’m going to have to see what the Asper Campus has to offer. I did, though, go to the Berney Theatre at the campus for a couple of plays. I’ve even started to go to the Yiddish Circle at the Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre. I have to keep myself busy,”
That won’t be difficult for her.

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