Makeup Tips From Auschwitz – Last year, Tommy Schnurmacher hung up his microphone and retired from CJAD after 20 years of hosting his own mid-morning talk show, where he talked about politics and the issues of the day in his own inimitable, yet sometimes combative, style. And before that, he spent the previous 20 years as Montreal’s best-known gossip columnist, entertainment reporter, and bon vivant for the Montreal Star, the Montreal Gazette, CFCF, FM-96, CHOM-FM, and a number of American entertainment publications, not to mention authoring three books.
And like any new retiree who just ended their working career that took up about half their lives, Tommy must have thought about what is he going to do next? So last summer he decided to share some stories of his life and career, not to mention life with his mother Olga, who passed away last spring at the age of 100.
However, Tommy chose to write and share these episodes from his life in a manner that is rarely utilized these days. Echoing the examples set by Charles Dickens and Stephen King (in particular, his 1996 novel The Green Mile), Tommy wrote his autobiography in quasi-daily installments that he posted on his Facebook page. As the late summer of 2018 wore on, many of Tommy’s Facebook friends and followers (myself included) eagerly awaited every morning for every subsequent autobiographical installment that he churned out. Why? Because each installment that Tommy chose to share with us gave us a glimpse not only into his fascinating media career, but also into his private life that not many readers were aware of, especially the exploits he had with his mother, who was not only a brave soul, but also feisty, audacious and compassionate when it came to her husband, son and daughter. These installments were entertaining, funny, and at times, heartbreaking.
By the time Tommy decided to end the Facebook installments of his life, the demand for more was overwhelming. That’s when he decided to take the next step, and put these installments not only on his website, but finally into book form. And the end result is his fourth book Makeup Tips from Auschwitz.
The book is a collection of 51 “pieces”, many of which originally appeared on his Facebook page, with a few new stories added especially for the book. And like those Facebook installments, you want to read each subsequent “piece” as eagerly as you would have originally done so via that mode of social media.
First of all, you get a well-rounded portrait of the public and private Tommy Schnurmacher; his celebrity stories are a joy to read, and proves how fearlessness and a degree of chutzpah can get you places in the showbiz media world (check out his stories about how he got to cover the Oscars for the first time, his somewhat disappointing encounter with Richard Dreyfuss in 1974 after the world premiere of “Duddy Kravitz”, and of course, how he managed to ease his way into John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s suite at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel during their May 1969 “Bed-In for Peace”, and ended up being a babysitter for her daughter Kyoko).
But if this book has a star, it’s his mother Olga, who truly defines what being a survivor is all about. Born in Hungary, Olga survived the hell of the Auschwitz concentration camp, where her affinity for self-respect, dignity and keeping up appearances (she managed to get herself some needle and thread and altered her issued – and ill-fitting – camp dress to fit her dress size) caught the attention of Irma Grese, aka “the Beautiful Beast of Auschwitz” and her gutsy explanation to why she altered the dress saved her from certain death (hence the book’s catchy title). As well, she survived the violent Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and escaped the turmoil with her husband (Tommy’s dad, who was a rabbi and started his own congregation) and a young Tommy to the safety of Canada, in particular, Montreal.
The picture you get of Olga Schnurmacher is that of a strong-willed, fearless, sometimes hard-to-please and very loving, empathetic wife and mother whose dark, attractive looks she was quite proud of, and never failed to mention that she could be a dead ringer for Elizabeth Taylor. The pieces that deal with her and Tommy (he as the dutiful, patient good son) boldly shows how complex and dynamic a mother-and-son relationship can be, and are vividly exhibited with such incidents as trips to New York City (where she allowed Tommy a 15-minute visit to the museums of his choice if he accompanied her on shopping jaunts to some of the city’s finest stores), adventures at the Oscars (where during one visit to the press room in 1981, she loudly asked Robert Redford if he was going to run for President of the United States), or incidents where she would constantly change her mind about certain things she wanted, then didn’t want anymore (case in point: her pet Maltese dog Bijou, which Tommy bought as a gift for her). But be warned. The final pieces in the book that deal with her last days, as she was dying from heart and respiratory problems, will require a few sheets of Kleenex to be within arm’s reach.
Makeup Tips from Auschwitzis a book that many of Tommy Schnurmacher’s longtime admirers have been waiting for, and it is certainly worth the wait. We get to discover what made Tommy Schnurmacher the multi-dimensional personality that he is, from gossip columnist, to celebrity and showbiz maven, to spiritual being, and most important, to loving, devoted son.