Andy the Prankster – A Family Tradition?

Was Andy the first prankster in the Kaufman family? No.

Andy’s father, Stanley, was known to pull his share of legs in his time. Stanley would often solicit groans and verbal frustrations from his intimate, social and/or family audience. “Stanley, I never know if you’re kidding or not!” “Stanley, you had me going. I can’t believe you had me fall for it again.”

Stanley was a story teller prankster, but nonetheless a prankster. His pranks were clever stories. As a child Stanley enjoyed “short sheeting” his friends’ beds, but seldom did Andy observe Stanley doing any such active pranks. How did Andy pick up on the prankster part, but evolve it into actual pranks, not stories? Andy’s pranks as a performer are legendary and largely compose the legacy he left behind, but few know about their humble beginnings.

When 5-year-old Andy, and his 3-year-old partner-in-crime brother, woke up early one Sunday morning they enjoyed walking up and down Robin Way in Great Neck, morning tossing each of their neighbors’ newspapers down the sewer. Story telling prankster Stanley didn’t think that was funny. Since the NY metropolitan area had the NY Times, Herald Tribune, Long Island Press, Newsday, Amsterdam News, etc. to choose from, Stanley went to each neighbor and asked which paper(s) they had had delivered that morning. Stanley then went to 3 or 4 stores that sold Sunday papers, since any one store would not have had all the papers Stanley needed to right the wrong of his sons.  

Perhaps Stanley’s father, Paul, was the first prankster in the Kaufman family and the catalyst for Andy taking it to a level beyond Stanley’s. Paul always purchased the newest anything. He purchased a phonograph for his Chrysler Imperial in 1956. He bought the first color TV that anybody could remember. He purchased a genuine juke box for his basement. Paul had a seltzer bottle where he enjoyed spraying it like Bozo the Clown. The grandchildren loved it! Paul also would always purchase the newest magic trick. One example is the one that would move a dinner plate by squeezing the rubber piece held in his palm. This egg-shaped rubber/plastic piece was connected to a rubber disc Paul had placed under a plate without anybody observing. During dinner, Paul would squeeze, unbeknownst to anybody, and keeping a straight face. When the plate would move, all the people gathered around the dining room table for a meal, save one, would laugh and turn immediately to Paul, thereby giving Paul credit for the occurrence. Paul’s wife Lillie was the lone dissenter. She would give Paul the disapproval. Paul pleaded ignorance.

Andy’s Bar Mitzvah was held at the Country Club where Paul and Lillie were members. The reception was near the men’s locker room. It was discovered that all the men’s golf shoes had been haphazardly rearranged and mismatched. It would make it impossible for anyone to find their own pair of shoes. Management immediately blamed Andy’s friends, and were quickly trying to find which one(s) had committed the offense. To their surprise, and disappointment, they learned that it was Paul who had engineered the crime.

Additionally, Paul oversaw entertainment at the country club. Whenever there was a special event, like Thanksgiving dinner, Paul was in charge of having the children entertained. In addition, there’s a silent home movie, where several adults are posing for this new moving camera. Paul was bored with just posing, so he would put his hand behind and kept taking the hat off one man’s head and putting it on another. After a few moments, when they each got used to the new hat, Paul would change it again.

In Andy’s novel, The Huey Williams Story, there’s a scene where Huey’s grandpa is dying, and will only let Huey/Andy in his hospital room. Grandpa tells Huey that he is only faking his illness and gets out of bed and dances. But then his grandpa dies. After Huey sobs, his grandpa tells Huey he was only kidding. This cycles on and on for a while. Did Paul’s personality influence Andy writing this scene for the story?

Is it any wonder where Andy got his inspiration from? Yes, it looks like Andy’s love affair with pranking was directly and profoundly influenced by his father and paternal grandfather.