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In the days when Coney Island had a sizable Jewish population, Lincoln High School was attended by a small, sickly boy named Melvin Kaminsky who learned to make people laugh in self defense. A tummler, or lead entertainer, in the Borscht Belt of the Catskill resorts, Mel Kaminsky took on the name of Mel Brooks and became what he would later call “comically aggressive.” A brilliant satirist, many of Mel Brooks early attempts at comedy were considered untouchable by studios of the time, especially “The Producers” which only recently became a Broadway hit production despite being written by Brooks in the 1960s. Turning his hand to outrageous spoofs and parodies, his comical take on the Western genre resulted in “Blazing Saddles” a smash hit in 1974 which launched his career and started its own genre. Best known for his screwball comedies, Brooks has also been a major producer of more serious films and an influential figure in the entertainment industry.
Another famous attendee of Lincoln High was Coney Island’s native son Neil Diamond. Born to Polish immigrants, his father Akeeba Diamond owned a dry goods store in Coney Island before moving to Wyoming to fulfill a military contract. While in Wyoming, his son Neil developed a fascination with the singing cowboys of the westerns, and when his father bought him a second-hand guitar at the age of 11, a future star was born. Returning to Brooklyn, the Diamonds set up shop on Flatbush and Neil attended Erasmus Hall High School at the same time as Barbra Streisand. Although they sang in the same choir, the two were not formally introduced until twenty years later, although the heartfelt connection they exhibited in their duet “You don’t bring me flowers” would seem to be evidence of a deeper relationship.
A pre-med major at New York University, Neil Diamond attended school on a fencing scholarship, a hobby he would indulge in before performances in later life. Dropping out of school 10 credits shy of graduation, he turned to songwriting instead. In 1966 he obtained a contract with Bang Records after a chance encounter and recorded his first of many hit recordings with “Solitary Man.” He also gained songwriting credibility after penning the smash hit “I’m a Believer” for British band “The Monkees” and working with Elton John on his first stateside appearance. A notoriously camera-shy performer, he did agree to star in a remake of the Al Jolson vehicle “The Jazz Singer” as a cantor trying to make it in the music industry. Despite the commercial success, he was awarded the “Razzie” for the worst performance by an actor. His songs have appeared in many films, most notably “Heartlight” in the Steven Spielberg “E.T.” and he wrote and performed the score for the inspirational film “Jonathon Livingstone Seagull.” Derided as the “Jewish Elvis” for his gold sequined pant suits of the 1970s, Neil Diamon also shows a deeply spiritual side in songs such as “Man of God” and remains a powerful force in