Dr. Joe Friedman ’39 fulfilled a long-time dream when he published his autobiography recently.
“I had to write a book because everywhere I went I told stories,” said Dr. Friedman, who turned 94 in March. “I lived a blessed life and I know it. I want to tell people so they can live a blessed life, too.”
The St. Joseph native received an honorary doctorate from Missouri Western at the commencement ceremony in December 2013. His book had just been published, and he gave all the graduates a copy of his book.
Yossel in the book title, he said, comes from the Yiddish name for Joseph. “The way my parents said Yossel was always a barometer for me – it either meant I was in trouble or I had done something right,” he wrote in the book.
As a student at the St. Joseph Junior College, he often worked late at night at a local store and then stayed up to finish homework. He relates how his mother had to come in several times to wake him up in the morning. When she finally called him “Yossel” instead of “Joseph,” he knew he better get out of bed.
He was drafted in 1942 and served with the Army’s 320th Medical Battalion in World War II. His unit was the first to liberate a concentration camp, and Dr. Friedman said he never forgot it. When the war ended, he helped concentration camp survivors until he was discharged. For several years, he visited area schools to share his war experiences.
The book tells of how, at the age of 42, Dr. Friedman gave up a successful podiatry practice to follow his long-time dream of acting professionally, and he was very successful. His first professional theatre job was in Glenwood Springs, Colo. When the three-month stint ended, he moved to New York to pursue his acting career. “Here I was, 42 and balding – no matinee idol –and going into this crazy business,” he wrote in the book. “But I had to do this. I didn’t want to go through life thinking how my life might have been had I not done what I wanted to do.”
After several auditions, he got a part in “Fiddler on the Roof” and traveled all over the U.S. and Canada with the play. He noted that he was in 2,840 performances. “‘Fiddler on the Roof’ was my bonanza,” he says. To this day, it doesn’t take much persuading to get Dr. Friedman to sing something from “Fiddler on the Roof,” including “If I Were a Rich Man.”
Shortly after his run with “Fiddler on the Roof,” he and his wife, Gladys, moved to Los Angeles where he continued his active acting career. Dr. Friedman also did research for “Ripley’s Believe it or Not,” and he won an Emmy Award for his research on “National Geographic’s Secrets of the Titanic.” They moved to St. Joseph in 1994.
The autobiography is a tribute to Gladys, a singer he met in New York. They married in 1969, and she died in 1995. “She’ll be with me until the day I die,” Dr. Friedman writes in the book. “Even if I were a rich man, I could have asked for nothing more.”
“The book is also a bouquet to my upbringing, to my parents, to St. Joseph, to my religion and to my friends,” he said.
Deborah Butterfield and Sheldon Friedman, Dr. Friedman’s nephew, served as co-editors of the project that took more than six years. “Yossel the Dreamer” can be purchased on Amazon.com.
“I went from rags to great riches when I never thought I would leave rags,” Dr. Friedman said.