IN LOVING MEMORY OF
MITCHELL EDWARD NUTICK
1931 - 2020
Mitch - the dancer AND tennis player captured in a single photograph. Who knew?
Eric Dodson Remembers
I think most people who had spent more than a minute with Mitch Nutick will have some sort of lasting memory of him. The one that sticks out by far for me was an afternoon in the mid 90s. Mitch and I were competing against each other in singles; I barely knew him then. It was a typical Saturday Team Tennis match at the long-gone Tennis Place on 3rd Street near La Brea Avenue. We had just finished the match, I could sense the 65-year-old Mitch was engaging me in banter, taking his time to vacate the court to catch his breath. It was my first win against him; I had finally figured out that the key to beating the “craftsman” was to make him run (at least more than me). He was half-heartedly griping about how a good friend and regular doubles partner had an awesome, massive serve but couldn’t get the f***k-in’ thing in more than once a match. He growled, “What good does a 100-mph serve do when it hits my ass more than it crosses the net?” I burst into laughter, spraying a mouth full of water, which made him laugh too, which made him start to cough. He came out of the prolonged coughing jag kind of quiet and looking embarrassed. I tried to lighten the mood, “You can admit this to me,” I said, curious, “I bet…with your striking blue eyes you were quite the looker when you were my age.” He raised an eyebrow and held it there a bit (I winced inside, I realized my intended compliment could be construed as patronizing to a senior), but he grinned back at me with amusement, his eyes dancing a bit, and said, “I wasn’t so bad.” I wanted to know more. He proceeded to surprise me, revealing he was once an actor and a dancer. I shared that I once too had designs on being a professional dancer about 15 years prior and had seriously studied jazz and ballet, and then asked him what kind of dance he did. He said he did a bit of it all, but his specialty was tap. I smiled politely (I shallowly had no vision beyond the 65-year-old smoker in front of me). “Wow,” I said, “tap dance…the frickin’ hardest of the bunch.” I asked him if his legs still remembered any routines; I told him I still have a few my feet will retrace now and again. In a snap he replied, “Oh yeah…” and then he bounded up in front of me and gave me about 10 seconds of a little time step with a shuffle ball change into a spin finish, like he was 25. He suddenly had my full attention, and then he proceeded to ramble off a few titles of stage musicals he had danced in, and where my eyes went really wide was when he got to the “Bells Are Ringing” run with Judy Holliday. By his description I recognized instantly that he’d been in the original Broadway production. I was engaged, and fascinated, but still a bit unbelieving. The following week at team tennis he took me aside and pulled out an envelope. He produced a couple photos of him in his 20s, a dancing full-out Mitch Nutick, in costume, on the legit stage, and then the amazing shot of him doing the forward scissor kick over the tennis net with racquet in hand (shown above). Immediately, the photo evidence turned the myth into the once-upon-a-time Broadway showman, but all I could think of in the moment was DAMN! Old blue eyes…was…a LOOKER! And that thought just came blurting out of my awestruck mouth, almost insensitively as though that wasn’t him in the pics and that wasn’t him standing right there next to me. But Mitch zeroed in on the compliment, and as his eyes were known to do, they twinkled like fireworks above an impish grin (which was his notice to me that I had stumbled upon a very rare—and fleeting—clue to what lies beneath), “Told ya…”, he put his photos back into his envelope, “…I wasn’t so bad.”
Teenage Mitch tapping for his hometown
Mitch's Deer Park High School Senior Photo. Should have been voted "most likely to achieve something special"
With Good Friend Norm, Always Smiling!
What I have come to find out in these past few months is that “what lay beneath” our Mitch was a lot, but he was not the stereotype of the actor who talked up his resume. His closest friends and relatives (those still with us and—of those—the ones I could reach) had some great memories of what they witnessed themselves, but could recall only bits and pieces of what he told them about his early years as a performer, because he only shared bits and pieces. Let me thank these folks now for their anecdotes and photos, take note of their names, I relied on them frequently to tell Mitch’s story: Shannon Valle (his great niece), Eileen, Abbey and Gene Gaske longtime friends dating back to New York, Larry Asher the friend at his side these past eight years and roommate, and then some of his closest buddies from LATA through the years: Don Alexander, Tony Abrahano, Norm Tucker, Jim Kloes, Kenny Hansely, Mitch Kohn, Karl Lott and Indiana Jerry. And…if you haven’t seen it yet, I was lucky to get a Cameo message from his good friend and fellow thespian from the 50s and 60s (find it below in the “remembrances” section), the popular “Laugh-In” star, Ruth Buzzi. I also want to thank George Gallucci, who had the foresight to interview Mitch some 22 years ago (to honor him then as the only member to have remained a member of LATA for its first 20 years), and then wrote a terrific, lighthearted, but also enlightening article about him for the SCORE. We have reprinted that in this tribute SCORE as well.
What I have also come to realize about our Mitch was that at his very heart he was a family man, maybe not in the traditional sense, because surprisingly he nested in several different families concurrently, and as he seemed to prefer it, separately. He had his blood relatives whom he didn’t see as often as he would have liked once he moved to L.A., but he maintained a lasting connection with them. He had his lifelong New York friends, with whom he honed and unleashed his perceptive and oftentimes outrageously blunt sense of humor; and then, of course, his L.A. family (tennis and bowling), which was the family he ultimately chose to grow old with. What I could discover about early Mitch was limited because his life spanned 88 years and there are fewer people around now to document some of it. Some of Mitch’s performing timeline I could piece together from photos Mitch had in his possession which Larry Asher loaned to us; we share most of them with you here. Unfortunately, pretty much all of them came without captions, but even without they do show a side of the man he himself rarely talked about. And then the Mitch of LATA lore began in 1978, and here fortunately we still have many people around to attest to who he was as a founder, guide, member, and friend to our organization from its inception to the day of his passing this year. Following this article please read the dozens of anecdotes from this family of friends who worked and played alongside him spanning four decades. Even though I could never do him the justice of providing his life story in searing detail, I am hoping the members of his three families who read this may learn something about their Mitch they didn’t know before.
That being said, I know (substantiated by every one of my recent interviews) that one thing everyone in his life will recognize, is Mitch’s implied mischievous grin behind every word he growled or teased or barked or unapologetically shocked us with throughout. He was a very funny man, he matured in—and honed a great sense of humor in—musical comedy, and he delighted in making himself and everyone within earshot laugh. His closest friends were drawn to him (and he to them) because of it. If you laughed at blunt, then he gave you blunt. If you laughed at raunchy, he gave you raunchy. If you could take and appreciate a funny insult, then he would find the right moment and serve one up to you. If you cracked up at the old curmudgeon in the room dropping F-bombs to get his point across, then he kept them coming. Mitch would stake out his audience, and if he knew someone within earshot was laughing (even if it were just to themselves), mission accomplished. So with that in mind, here we go, this is what I could piece together of the life and times of our friend Mitchell Edward Nutick.
Mitchell and his older sister, Mary Alice - (an Ozzie and Harriet childhood)
Broadway dancer taking a break with family
Mitch the Nurturer (unknown baby)
Mitch at age 13 (June 2, 1945)
He was born September 13, 1931 in Terrace Park, Ohio, a northern suburb of Cincinnati. When I inquired about his childhood, quite a few of his friends referenced the famous “5-way chili”, a kind of chili on top of spaghetti that is a legendary dish popular in that region (also known as “Skyline” Chili after the midwestern restaurant chain that is known for it). It was the first thing his friends would mention, so it’s the first thing I’m going to mention with a shrug of my shoulders. I guess Mitch must have talked that up every time he told people where he was from.
He told Larry he grew up in a modest home and specifically described his family life as a “typical family, like Ozzie and Harriet”. His father was a factory worker and his mother was a homemaker. His only sibling, his sister Mary Alice, was a year older (she was Shannon’s grandmother whom Shannon called ‘Nanny’). Mitch and his sister stayed close and in contact through their lives no matter where Mitch was (she passed in 2013). In the late 60s, about the same time Mitch moved to Los Angeles, Mary Alice settled with her husband in Tom’s River New Jersey (just inland from Seaside Heights) where he was newly employed. Mary Alice and her husband raised Mitch’s niece and three nephews there in a massive five-storey home that became the family gathering center from Mitch’s 40s on. Shannon got to know her great uncle Mitch, (Uncle Sonny as he was called) from visits maybe every two or three years at Christmas. He wasn’t exactly a natural at uncle-hood early on. When she was about five, the family gathered at the Las Vegas airport for a family vacation and she recalls him barking at some little girl Renee to stop running around the terminal. Only when Shannon’s mother scolded Mitch telling him, “…Your niece Shannon isn’t going to stop when you call her Renee”, did Shannon understand what was happening. Uncle Sonny waved off his hands back at the child and barked “whoever”. Ultimately though, once he got her name down, Shannon remembers him as spoiling her; he would take her out to get ice cream together, his favorite Haagen Dazs, come back to the home and spend the rest of the evening playing Boggle together or any board game she wanted. She also notes that Uncle Sonny had a special connection to her mother Mary, his niece, who family called Renee (rhymes with beanie, and hence the airport confusion). Shannon says as long as she can remember, her aunts and uncles and cousins all knew that her Uncle Sonny was gay, and although he never talked about it outright with family, she believes Uncle Sonny probably first confided this to her mother Renee a) because of their bond and b) because the younger Renee came from a generation more accepting. She believes that her mother was the one that first tried to break this revelation to her mother, Mitch’s sister, but Mary Alice insisted her little brother couldn’t be gay, “…he’s dating that funny actress who was on that TV show Alice.” Apparently occasionally when Mitch was on family visits in New Jersey, if he wanted to skip out to New York City for the evening, he would tell his sister he had to meet Ruth in the city (aka Ruth Buzzi), the implication for his sister—even though he probably never actually said it—was that he was meeting up with his girlfriend. Mitch told Larry that at some point he privately came out to his sister face-to-face, and her response that day was, “So you think we didn’t know that?” Although the family at large quietly understood Uncle Sonny’s sexual orientation, talk of it, and much less men in his life, never came up at the holiday dinner table or anytime, but Shannon does remember, he would talk a lot—A LOT—about tennis.
(l to r) Mary Alice (sister), Aunt Renee (father's sister), and Mitch
1947 Yearbook Photo
Mitch and his sister Mary Alice
Mitch with his nephews Tommy (left) and Les (right)
Mitch with Ruth Buzzi (1960's New York City)
Deer Park High School Tennis Team
Trombone brilliance! ("or maybe not," says the girl seated far left)
Private Nutick, US Army
During the early days in NYC, Mitch studied many dance styles
Shannon recalls that both her mother and Uncle Sonny had a love for dance in common. As a teenager Renee had set her sights on becoming a prima ballerina, studying ballet, jazz and tap, performing in “The Nutcracker” when she was about 17; thirty years earlier Mitchell Edward began taking tap lessons when he was 14. Attending Deer Park High School in Terrace Park, he was a drum major, played trombone in the band, was a cheerleader, and part of a very small tennis team. He had a good friend, Ralph, who was gay but we do not know when they discovered that about each other; the two friends remained in contact for life. But by Mitch's own account, as a teenager his real passion was tap dance and he was singularly focused at getting good at it; good enough at it to make it his profession in life, and he did just that.
It appears that Mitch’s first opportunity to showcase his talent professionally was in the Army. With the U.S. involvement in the Korean War in the early 1950s, a nationwide draft swept Mitch up and assigned him to a non-combat post in Germany. The Seventh Army, a U.S. occupational division headquartered in Stuttgart had established a Special Services branch with the purpose of producing variety show-type entertainment to not just perform for the troops but tour civilian bookings across Europe. This is what Mitch did during his tour of duty: he danced. In 1953 Special Services plucked up and coalesced well-known stage writers, directors and talent (that just happened to be serving in the U.S. military in Europe at the time) to develop and produce its very own original Broadway-size musical comedy called “Xanadu: The Marco Polo Musical”. Mitch was cast for his tap dance skills, the successful musical debuted in the Spring, and Mitch (sporting Asian face) toured Europe with the show until his tour of duty ended.
This taste of being on tour gave him the acting bug. After the Army he bounced around North America to promote his career. In the mid 50s he came out to L.A. for a short stay and enrolled in courses at the Pasadena Playhouse, which was then a full campus with classrooms, dorms and five theatres, and had established itself as an accredited college specializing in a myriad of theatre arts and even TV production disciplines. It was much sought after by young actors; alumni in the 50s included Eve Arden, Charles Bronson, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and a teenage Ruth Buzzi who shared a lot of laughs with Mitch there. They talked a lot about their goals for their respective careers and tried to keep in touch in the years that followed but that became difficult as they crisscrossed the country pursuing jobs. In 1955 Mitch was cast as a regular dancer, singer in a Canadian weekly TV variety show called “The Denny Vaughan Show” (much akin to The Lawrence Welk Show) which taped at the CBC Network studios in Toronto. The show was short-lived but starred Steve Lawrence and Edye Gorme and was directed by a young Norman Jewison. By 1957 Mitch had firmly planted himself in New York City; he was dancing for regional theatre and music variety showcases, and continued to hone his craft taking classes in tap, ballet and ballroom dance. His first Broadway hire was a musical called “The Body Beautiful” which opened January 23, 1958 starring Steve Forrest and Jack Warden, the show closed after a month. This was the stepping stone to get him cast in “Bells Are Ringing” which had opened in late 1956, but was a big hit and still going strong in 1958 when he took over a role from one of the original dancers. The run ended in March of 1959. He followed that up with two more Broadway musicals (unfortunately, both flops) “The Girls Against The Boys” starring Dick Van Dyke and Nancy Walker, and “13 Daughters” starring Don Ameche. In the early 60s he was dancing in musical revues, showcases and revivals all over Long Island and upstate New York mixed in with an occasional job on Broadway. He was cast in the Broadway revival of “Pal Joey” starring Bob Fosse in 1963, and a limited revival run of “Guys and Dolls” at the New York City Center in 1965 starring Jerry Orbach, Sheila Macrae and Anita Gillette, and a Rochester New York revival of “Stop The World I Want to Get Off” with Julie Newmar. Also in the mid-60s Mitch became a favorite hire of Mitzi Gaynor, becoming her go-to back-up dancer for several of her tour shows and TV appearances. Starting 1961, Ms. Gaynor’s live show was the hottest ticket around in the wake of her star turn in the movie version of “South Pacific”. She performed on Ed Sullivan several times and opened her own show in Vegas. Mitch also danced back-up for the very popular singer Helen Grayco, touring with her show in the U.S. and Canada.
Mitch on tour with "Xanadu"
Postcard home while on tour with Xanadu
With Ruth and Jim Reed (friend from his Army days)
"The Party's Over" - Judy's signed photo to Mitch
Don Ameche (center) with Mitch dancing behind (couple on the right) in the Broadway musical "13 Daughters"
Mitch giving Mitzi Gaynor a place to sit
Mitch (left) tapping back-up on tour with Mitzi
On tour with singer Helen Grayco's ensemble
Mitch told Larry that as a young stage performer he was disciplined; he made it a point to avoid ‘partying’ with his co-workers and stayed clear of the sexual temptations of his work environment. He was too busy. He bounced from job to job weekly, learning new steps by day, performing late into the night, and took his incredibly demanding dance career very seriously; he needed his sleep. By the mid-60s, however, the professional tapper was in his mid-30s and dance gigs were tougher to come by, so his social life picked up some. He met a few people who would become his friends for life. The first was Lenny Holmgren who was a professional theatre dresser Mitch met while both were employed on “Pal Joey”. Mitch’s account is that he noticed Lenny backstage drooling over the same dancer that Mitch was drooling over; after neither man ended up with the prize, the two compared notes, and with Lenny always trying to top Mitch in the “funny” department, they hit it off as pals. And even though friends recall that Lenny was the (ultra) flamboyant sidekick to Mitch’s macho straight man, Lenny’s nickname for Mitch was “Sissy”. They were two ‘wild and crazy’ theatre bachelors in New York City, and soon found themselves rooming together in an apartment near Columbus Circle.
Taking his 650cc BSA bike for a spin in upstate New York, leather outfit on order
Mitch's time with Lenny, led him to meeting another of his lifelong buddies, Gene Gaske. Gene's neighbors—a gay couple, and both stage performers—were good friends of Lenny, and so Mitch and Lenny would hang out with them and Gene most days. Gene recalls Mitch and he became quick friends because they had that same in-your-face, New York street, sense of humor, and as it turned out, they developed a mutual interest in motorcycling. An acquaintance of Mitch from ‘the business’, a courier for NBC, got Mitch interested in biking, and so Mitch purchased a 650cc BSA and found and started riding with a gay leather bikers’ group. He eventually got his (heterosexual) friend Gene, who had a Triumph bike of his own, to ride along. Gene remembers he and Mitch going on regular organized rides with the gay bikers called Treasure Hunts. A dozen or so leather riders would be shown a playing card from a deck with the goal to find its match, and so—with a set of clues—motor off to upstate New York in a race, haphazardly rolling into sleepy community coffee shops and antique stores in leather chaps and vests asking in their sweetest biker voice, “Hey lady…ya holdin’ a Jack-a-spades?”
Gene Gaske (left), Mitch, and his friend, Kirk (NYC, 1965)
Gene soon met his future wife, Eileen, who moved in with him. Eventually Lenny and Mitch and Gene and Eileen were the Seinfeld foursome of the mid-60s, who Eileen remembers as laughing non-stop, sparked by Mitch and his insistence on presenting always as the super macho unshaven gay; the group nicknamed him Gabby Hayes (a 1940s-50s B-western actor known for playing the woman-hating, cantankerous, bewhiskered sidekick). By the late 60s Mitch was a fixture of the Gene and Eileen family; he was present when each of their two daughters were born, and eventually when their daughters’ children were born as well. To this day Gene laughs about the summer he and Mitch hung out on the Jones Beach boardwalk where Mitch was performing in showcases on an outdoor stage. Mitch had devised a foolproof method for getting the attention of any hot male target in his radar. He had coached Gene’s two-year-old daughter Abbey (cute as a button) to go over to the perfect stranger Mitch
Mitch's little man magnet Abbey Gaske (pictured here age 3 she was too old for the job)
pointed to and grab the preoccupied man’s hand, and then when he looked down at her, point her tiny finger in Uncle Mitch’s direction, tugging him over to where the unsuspecting mark would be received by—first—Mitch’s phony shock, and then sincere apology, a warm and lingering handshake, and, of course, the piercing blue eyes. Gene calls it Mitch’s [per]version of the [already perverse] Tennessee Williams’ stage play “Suddenly Last Summer”.
KNITSOFRENIA celebrity customers
In the late 60s Mitch had a brief romantic relationship with a guy he had met at a leather bar, one of the very few live-in romantic situations of Mitch’s life. Gene describes Lee Schmink as someone Mitch would go for, “he was tall, thin, quiet and BIG, (ahem) if you know what I mean”. Although the romance didn’t last longer than a year, the two stayed friends and eventually became business partners. With the dance paychecks not coming in, Mitch was looking for other ways to generate income. He and Lee came up with a plan to start a knits clothing store in New York’s garment district together. They leased a 3,500 square foot storefront on 8th Street and 3rd Avenue in the East Village and named the store KNITSOFRENIA. Lee had the knit sewing machines and knew how to make the garments, Mitch designed the showroom and handled sales. Within their first months of opening, they acquired two celebrity clients—regular customers—Mr. and Mrs. Sonny Bono who were already big stars when
KNITSOFRENIA on display, Cher Knit Dress
Cher Bono had stumbled upon the store. Gene remembers Mitch being extremely excited the day she had come in, purchased some bellbottoms, and placed a sizable order for more items. She subsequently brought in Sonny who would come back pretty regularly on his own while the store was in business (and, uh-oh, while knits were still in style). Despite the promise of a high-profile clientele the knit fad gave way quickly to polyester and Mitch and Lee’s business succumbed inside of two years. Shortly thereafter Lee moved on to San Francisco, leaving Mitch with some turning point decisions to make about his own future.
Posing at the 1996 Palm Springs Open - surrounded by several of his 'travel posse' buddies
Souvenir from the Vic Braden Tennis Camp
Working another tournament front desk
In his 80's working the tournament named after him
LATA 2017 Picnic
In 1969, Mitch made a big decision to follow in his friend Lenny’s footsteps and move to Los Angeles. Lenny, originally from the L.A. area, had moved from New York to West Hollywood a couple years prior. The impetus for Mitch was two-fold: 1) at 38 Mitch knew his best years as a dancer were behind him, and so he was ready to reinvent himself, and 2) Lenny’s next-door neighbor was giving up his apartment (which would turn out to be Mitch’s long-time bungalow on West Mount Drive). The two of them arranged for Mitch to take over the lease. Mitch put himself—and his motorcycle—on a plane, moved out to California, and moved in next door to his former roommate. Once he settled in, his first job was as a hotel custodian, which gave him the income and the means to go to school. While sweeping sidewalks by day he took bookkeeping courses at Los Angeles City College, earning an accounting credential. He initially found a job with an accounting firm, but decided the 9-to-5 way of life wasn’t for him, so he started building up a clientele and became his own boss. Eileen Gaske remembers that although his client base was small, his clients were very loyal to him, most of them staying with him for decades. He delivered a very personal and honest service, and took pride in keeping his rates low. But she points out, even as accounting technology had changed and aspects of it became sophisticated beyond his scope over time, his clients loved him, he was friendly and he was funny. He was still maintaining a couple clients when he was hospitalized last year; and they were still officially his clients when they were notified of his passing.
It was Mitch’s accounting career that was the connection to the group of seven guys plus himself that quickly coalesced into a gay tennis league in West Hollywood in 1978. The original inspiration was the brainchild of Don Alexander who had been playing in a gay baseball league for some time. He thought, “...Why can’t we start a gay league for tennis players?” He started talking it up; he knew this person played, this person knew that person who knew someone else, and someone else worked with so-and-so. Don doesn’t remember exactly who recruited who and where from, which ultimately resulted in the assemblage of the inaugural ‘Gay Tennis League Gang of Eight’, but Don believes Mitch was the accountant to one of the other seven, most likely Lee Hampshire. The original eight were Don Alexander, Lee Hampshire, Steve Hastings, Mitch Nutick, Rick San Miguel, Ron Scott and Jeremy Tran. They had three court locations for practice and competition: West Hollywood Park, Plummer Park, and one of the players, Joe Carberry, opened up his plush Los Feliz home and private court (which came with score placards, a fully stocked ice chest, and a courtside canopy for shade while one waited to play). The gang had a plan in mind to expand their numbers, and with enough players divide themselves into new teams each season and the teams would play each other. Not knowing how to make that work, Don went to the Forum business office of the L.A. Strings (both the Forum and the Strings were owned by Jerry Buss) where they supplied him with information on how to balance out player skills to form teams, plot out the team match-ups, and structure the scoring for a season. Word of mouth of organized team tennis play in West Hollywood spread so rapidly the original eight grew to four teams of eight within months. Once the players were assigned to teams, Mitch and the others went out and found sponsors: The Blue Parrott, a West Hollywood gay bar, and The Carriage Trade, an elderly gentleman’s restaurant on Sunset Blvd, were among the first team sponsors in the late 70s.
As the first season ended, and the group began realizing decisions needed to be made to maintain the organized structure they had now implemented, league meetings were convened on court after play on Sunday afternoons. The core members kept things running without an official Board. Don remembers Mitch as “not shy” but very likeable because of that. “If he had something to say, he was not subtle about saying it”, which was crucial to the ad hock organization staying the course in its early days. In those early years, however, it wasn’t Mitch’s admin skills that Tony Abrahano remembers most about him, it was his presence. It was the gay mentoring that Mitch, Jim Leyva and the older members extended to him as a confused 22-year-old. Tony was a young man who grew up on Molokai, mostly in the closet when he came to L.A. after college. His Molokai community was small and traditional; he was told if you were gay you were feminine and that was shameful. It made him afraid to be himself; he said as a young man he didn’t like himself. His being around these role models who were new friends and also gay athletes, helped him get past that. Mitch often organized (and attended all of) the league weekend picnics in Griffith Park and nights out in West Hollywood. Tony specifically remembers Mitch giving him personal tips on what to wear when going out, “…white tee, leather jacket and jeans…”, and how to wear it “And…you can send a message by leaving the bottom button open on your jeans.” And while Tony continued to show up in painter’s pants (because that was the style in 1980 and he wasn’t a 52-year-old leather queen—yet), he much felt and appreciated the Mitch Nutick desire to be a role model; and the more and more time he spent with his new and unusual family, Tony began feeling included and accepted and ultimately confident in who he was and what he had to contribute to the world. So confident in fact that one day he got up the courage after a match to ask Mitch a question we have all wanted to ask him, “When are you going to stop smoking?” Mitch barked back in his signature mock annoyance, “Oh, get out of my face,” and then after a beat, “…I’ll stop smoking when you become butch.” Tony remembers that moment with fondness because that was the moment he was officially inducted into the Uncle Mitch comfort circle; as we all know, that process is: insult = initiation = hug.
Within its first five years the club expanded its activities well beyond the Team Tennis platform. The beginnings of an annual inter-city competition between L.A. and S.F. kicked off in 1980; a Challenge Ladder was created in 1981; and then the newly renamed Los Angeles Tennis Association hosted its first annual LATA Open Tennis Championships over Labor Day weekend in 1983. In 1984 the organization had enough money in its General Fund to open its own bank account, which was a call for Mitch to take over as Treasurer. The variety of activities attracted even more new members and Mitch’s circle of tennis friends grew. And then in 1985 Mitch’s very good friend Gene Gaske relocated from New York to Los Angeles to pursue a new job. Mitch put him up at his apartment while he searched for a place for Eileen and his younger daughter, Samantha, to live (his older daughter, the little siren on Jones Beach, Abbey, was now in medical school), and of course Mitch convinced (heterosexual) Gene to join LATA. Gene remembers one of the first people he competed against in the league was original LATAer Rick San Miguel. And he also remembers, very sadly, a couple years later he found himself attending Rick’s memorial service.
By the late 80s the world watched helplessly as the AIDS pandemic devastated gay communities in all corners, but particularly hard hit were the large metropolitan areas like Los Angeles. LATA suffered a proportional loss of its members, including three of its founders: Jim Leyva, Rick San Miguel and Steve Hastings. Eileen remembers Mitch being particularly hit hard by the loss of so many friends—and young friends—in such a short time, attending several memorial services for what seemed year after year. For Rick in particular, Mitch arranged for The Racquet Center—one of the more frequented facilities where the league played—to plant a tree and affix a plaque on site in honor of his good friend. When the Racquet Center property was sold, Mitch had the plaque taken up and had it sent to Rick’s family. Through the crisis Mitch had a new mindset, to scrape together whatever monies the completely non-profit LATA had at the end of each calendar year, to give to the most notable charities in L.A. fighting for the cause. In a ten-year span over $3,200 went to Homestead Hospice, over $5,000 to AIDS Project Los Angeles, over $20,000 to Project Angel Food with an additional $5,000 going to smaller hospices and healthcare centers. I can’t tell you how many LATA banquets I’ve been to where I watched Mitch ceremoniously hand over checks to these recipients with great pride and tears in his eyes.
Aside from his duties keeping LATA fiscally sound, Mitch also enjoyed his tennis as a competitor. Despite the fact, as his friend Kenny Hansely describes it, Mitch would always arrive on the court with a cigarette in his mouth, stub it out in a nearby planter, and then pick up and light that very cigarette butt on his way out, he won two medals in the Gay Games in San Francisco in 1986, and a third medal in the Vancouver Games in 1990. When Norm Tucker joined LATA in 1989, Mitch was the first member to greet him, and they have been close friends, and often times doubles partners, ever since. Norm describes Mitch’s game as very crafty, accurate and competitive. Tony Abrahano recalls Mitch having a very precise backhand slice (I have always believed that dancers have a leg up to becoming exceptionally good tennis players). In the late 90s Mitch and his posse of buddies traveled together all over the country, San Francisco, Chicago, Las Vegas playing in the GLTA Open circuit. His core traveling companions included Norm, Craig Schmitt, Jim Alvarez, Sean Evelyn, Donn Short, and David Goldstein. Mitch got Norm hooked on slot machines; the Barona Casino in San Diego was one of Mitch’s favorite destination getaways. By the 90s Mitch was, by far, the most well-known member of LATA, which was reaching annual membership numbers over 500. With Board meetings, tournaments, attendance at nearly every tennis league party, banquet, barbecue, Bingo night, etc., and then also enjoying just plain weekly casual tennis play in between tournament play, his social calendar was packed. He had regular group dinners with Norm, and Board members Kenny Hansely, Mitch Kohn and Karl Lott, and in later years with good friend Indiana Jerry. Mitch K. remembers Mitch N. staking out his favorite spot on Norm’s living room floor in front of the coffee table for all those dinners, “I guess we’ll be eating in the living room”. And then of course every Board member remembers at one time or another having dropped by Mitch’s tiny bungalow apartment to sign things or pick up checks or documents, where he would welcome you in with a bleary smile, maybe his hair looking kind of slept on, and invariably—with gruff love—he would nudge his gray cat (Betty) off a stack of tax returns to set down an ash tray; or—as Karl Lott vividly remembers in one of his visits—the tax returns buried under printouts of internet porn Mitch had sort of forgotten to put away.
A trip to Palm Springs (r to l) Mitch, Eileen Gaske, Ralph (Mitch's friend from High School), Don (Ralph's partner), Abbey & Samantha Gaske
In the year 2000, Gene and Eileen’s daughter Abbey, now a Doctor of Medicine in Urology, found a position in L.A. which allowed her to also be closer to her family, and of course Uncle Mitch too. There were family excursions and dinners with Mitch that oftentimes included Lenny; she remembers getting stoned in Mitch’s Thunderbird on the way to Palm Springs to visit Mitch’s high school friend Ralph. There were the numerous short weekends to Vegas for which Mitch would save up a thousand dollars for the purpose of losing it all at the slot machines. Eileen remembers every time he’d get two out of three or three out of four matches he’d shout out “Close!”, as he shoved in the next coin. They loved Uncle Mitch’s company, they loved the scoundrel who played by his own rules. When he opened his first AOL chat room account Abbey remembers her 69-year-old uncle using her younger sister’s 22-ish boyfriend’s photo as his own.
Uncle Sonny at Jeremy's Bris
The evening of the day he was diagnosed with diabetes and was ordered to cut all sugar from his diet, the Gaskes met him for dinner in WeHo to lend support. His mood was down and he excused himself after the main course telling them he was tired and was going home to bed. The family didn’t believe him, so they all quickly hustled out of the restaurant, followed his Thunderbird down Santa Monica Blvd., and then surprised him as he exited a mini mart with a pint of Haagen Dazs in a bag under his arm. Getting busted tickled him; Abbey said, “The moment he saw us he laughed, and so did we.” Abbey became a single mom in 2008. Mitch was at the hospital when her son Jeremy was born, and shortly thereafter sported a yarmulke to celebrate Jeremy’s bris, and voila, Uncle Sonny had another loved one to spoil and con. Abbey still has a $20 dollar bill taped to her refrigerator with a note on it in Mitch’s handwriting, “Jeremy’s college fund”.
With best friend and roommate Larry Asher
Larry Asher and Mitch met as members of the Tavernguild Bowling League, a gay league, that Mitch joined about ten years ago. The league competed at Pinz Bowling Center in Studio City, Mitch was their oldest member and, of course, with his sense of humor he became a fixture among his fellow bowlers as well. Because he and Larry weren’t initially on the same team, they had very little conversation early on, but heading into the holiday weekend (Larry thinks around 2012) Larry asked Mitch what he’d like for Christmas. Mitch replied (to this casual acquaintance) in his signature crusty dead pan that he was actually hoping for a big c** c*** (rhymes with ‘what wok’). They both laughed, Larry loved the bluntness. When they ran into each other after the holiday, Larry asked Mitch if he had been a good boy and got what he wished for from Santa. Mitch lowered his eyes and growled, “Hell no, that f**kin’ bastard passed right over my house.” That’s when Larry knew he’d found a true partner in crime. Actually, looking back, he feels that he and Mitch were a pairing meant to be. The laughs were, of course, the start of it all, but Mitch had the heart of a lamb under all that surly, and the two friends grew to have each other’s backs. When Mitch’s longtime landlord passed on and his daughter served Mitch with an eviction, Mitch took some time to assess his situation and his options, he eventually came to Larry asking if he could rent out his guest room in his East Pasadena home. Although Larry would have made the offer himself, he knew Mitch’s macho pride well enough to know he would not have accepted an invitation which might be perceived as an act of charity. Mitch came to him with a carefully worked out roommate proposal, which Larry accepted on the spot. Later on, Larry contracted a life threatening bladder infection that resulted in him falling, hitting his head and passing out on his bathroom floor. Mitch was home and came to his aid, called for paramedics, and got him to the hospital. The infection caused Larry to experience temporary blindness lasting several weeks, during which Mitch became his sole connection to the world, nursing him back to health and essentially being Larry’s eyes. And then in turn yet again, it was Larry who looked after Mitch when he began suffering from spells of dizziness late last year resulting in dangerous collapses. Although Mitch resisted at first, Larry got him to the hospital when it was absolutely necessary, and then saw him through to convalescent care, attending to Mitch’s needs as though he was his closest relative, a caring brother. Larry was the last of Mitch’s friends to see him and trade insults with him in his senior care room; he was indeed the friend Mitch was most comfortable around, who could take his mind off—at least momentarily—the embarrassment of the macho man’s convalescent state. He made it a point to see Mitch several times per week until the facility went on lockdown in March.
First LATA Hall of Fame Inductee in 1995
Well before the 20-year anniversary of LATA in 1998, the other seven original members of The Los Angeles Tennis Association had moved on to other sports, other interests, retirement from tennis, or had—way too early in life—passed on, while Mitchell Edward Nutick was still member, organizer and Treasurer then, and he continued this full participation until 2017 when his body finally could no longer keep up. In that span of time, as our chief money officer, Mitch was instrumental in keeping the Organization afloat as it faced some extreme challenges: a defamation lawsuit that threatened LATA’s existence; the AIDS epidemic; the designing and facilitating four league websites; researching and accommodating for new technologies in payouts and fee collections (“Paypal…what the f**k is that?!”); the year-after-year addition of tennis activities, social events and excursions to keep up with demand for a Los Angeles Tennis Association that at one point was averaging a yearly membership of over 600 and could boast being the largest gay and lesbian tennis association in the world (600+ people who joined, and rejoined, because first, the league provided a comfortable environment for gay people to play sport and make friends at a time when such places were few and far between, and second, because this league—due to the planning and maintenance of its caring leaders—continues to be well run, very well run). But what truly set our precious Mitch apart from anyone who has or ever will come along, was his not-so-obvious lifelong service as LATA’s chief cheerleader. That’s the contribution we miss the most now. He was perhaps—in his later years—the most curmudgeonly cheerleader an organization has ever had, but our most passionate cheerleader nonetheless.
Our #1 new member greeter on Ranking Day posing with 'crafty' veterans (l to r) Eric Dodson, Norm Tucker and Indiana Jerry
I would venture to say every one of us in the league upon meeting the man initially did not know anything about his history as Founder, Treasurer, blah blah blah. Like with his stage career, he did not advertise himself as the George Washington of LATA, though he could have. He was simply the guy that showed up for nearly every event, with something funny to say, genuinely curious and happy to be there, and knowing just about everyone in the room. He did that for over three decades. Mitch was the Board Director who when a banquet or draw party lost its leadership in the tenth hour, or needed a last-minute replacement venue or caterer, would take up the slack, take on the task and get the job done. He was the guy who, when he felt there weren’t enough league events outside of tennis, would go buy a block of tickets to the Mercedes Benz Open at UCLA and organize a very memorable LATA field trip. When it was my job to recruit members to assist with our famous ‘ranking days’ which I organized for 10 years or more, Mitch was my front desk greeter by his own request—every ranking session. He wanted to do it, he wanted to meet the new faces, he wanted to be the first person in our league to light-heartedly escort a novice—and possibly nervous player—to their first court. The man was dedicated to keeping the organization well-oiled and warmly represented; I’m sure there was an inner founder’s pride (like an owner’s pride) motivating the nurture in him that wasn’t so obvious to us then because he was simply good ol’ Mitch to us, but now that we can look back on decades of caretaking, we can see it.
Mitch had a special place in his heart for David Newlon who helped him compile "The 30 Year History of LATA"
In 2008, heading into LATA’s 30th anniversary, then President David Newlon wanted ideas from the Board on a project to commemorate the 30-year history of the organization to present at the year-end holiday party. As most of us know Mitchell came up with the idea and volunteered to research and write “The 30 Year History of the LATA”. It was a daunting task and required pouring through every LATA Newsletter (the SCORE) written up to then, collecting, organizing and getting the names and stories behind every archived photo of its members he could get his hands on. He had handpicked some of us older members to meet at David Newlon’s Nichols Canyon home where he would bring every SCORE then published, every photo he had unearthed, so we could possibly identify an obscure occasion or former member in those vintage images. When Peter, my husband, and I pulled up to David’s front door, we saw Mitch sitting all alone on the curb looking dazed and dusty, a torn sleeve, twigs sticking out his collar and hair, bleeding lip and forehead, truly like he’d lost a bar fight and was tossed out the saloon doors into the tumbleweeds blowing down Main Street. Agitated, but thankfully essentially unbroken, the 76-year-old explained that he had parked his Thunderbird, gone around to the passenger side of his car, lifted out a heavy box of some 300 plus newsletters, tripped backwards over the curb behind him to tumble some 50 yards or so down a steep canyon hillside with the 300 newsletters cascading along with him, now spreading out with the stiff breeze amongst the oak bramble and canyon rocks of David Newlon’s stunning but vastly treacherous—and now wholly littered—mountainside view. While David was bravely finishing up plucking newsletters out of brush and creek bed below (sidebar: after all were inventoried he managed to retrieve all but two newsletters which to this day are probably lining a deer’s nest somewhere in Nichols Canyon), Peter and I tried to attend to Mitch inside, who waved liquids and bandages off insisting he was fine (he seemed a bit quiet, but I felt only because he was extremely embarrassed). When the other invitees arrived and absorbed the news of the trauma, it was assumed the meeting would be rescheduled. Mitch would have none of that. The beleaguered and dusty stuntman, realizing he had a golden opportunity with this rare gathering of old-time members at his disposal, morphed into this kid in a candy store, bouncing from table to table proud to show everyone all the photos he found and had displayed for us around David’s living room. He had post-it notes and pen in hand to write down what we knew; every face we could match to a name was—for him—digging up a pirate’s treasure. That’s the day I first glimpsed a hint of our family’s Uncle Sonny in our good ol’ Mitch, one of many days in which he gave us his all, his everything—and this day nearly literally his life—for his passion.
Abbey Gaske bought this sweater immediately after her son told her the good news
As I was interviewing Abbey Gaske by telephone a couple months ago, she disclosed that her son, Jeremy, for whom Uncle Mitch has been in his life since birth, had just the week before celebrated his twelfth birthday. As part of his inching closer to teen-dom, he shared with his mother for the first time that he was gay. This was of course for Abbey and Jeremy a very important moment in their lives and relationship, and I could tell Abbey, being the ever-present mother, and a woman who grew up around Mitch and his friends thus knowing a lot about—and being comfortable around—the gay community, settled into this all-important conversation providing loving support first and foremost, and then a listening ear, some sharing of her experiences with the community, and then an easygoing discussion about the responsibilities that come with sex in the modern world. It turns out that Jeremy was surprised to hear that his Uncle Mitch was gay, not such a stretch because Mitch was—after all—the Gabby Hayes of the gay community. What occurred to me while talking to Abbey was how someday Jeremy, should he want to pick up a tennis racquet, should he want to get out—meet—hang out with a group of gay people for an afternoon, be able to text or phone someone in his part of town who can meet him for a tennis match, and while there talk freely about what he does, what he likes, what he stands for, who he loves, he has a place to go to do just that; a place that his very own Uncle Mitchell built. That is the heart of our Mitch’s legacy in a nutshell, and I’m absolutely certain Mitch is somewhere smiling down on our family—all his families—and thinking, just for that, this was all f**kin’ worth it.
TENNIS CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
LATA Hall of Fame (1995)
GLTA Hall of Fame (2000)
1st Place Team (1990)
C Doubles Finalist (1995)
CAN YOU FIND MITCH IN THESE ENSEMBLE CAST PHOTOS FROM HIS COLLECTION? SOME ARE EASIER THAN OTHERS. IF YOU ARE HAVING TROUBLE, THERE IS A CHEAT SHEET AT THE BACK END OF THE SCORE.
Cast and crew of "Xanadu: The Marco Polo Musical" produced by the U.S. Army Special Services Division in Europe 1953
AN INTERVIEW WITH MITCH NUTICK, FOUNDING FATHER (DEC. 1998)
[Some] memories about a friend of mine from the Pasadena Playhouse whom I met back in the late 1950s, Mitch Nutick: Mitch was four or five years older than me in a class or two ahead of mine, probably graduated with Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman. Mitch was a nice guy. He always had a big smile and something funny to say. If he was ever troubled or down, he was more likely to keep it to himself. Mitch loved spreading joy and humor everywhere he went.
We talked about where we wanted to go in our careers. He wanted to eventually star in big Broadway musicals and I wanted to get into the movies, on the big screen. I had a bit of luck in that area with “Freaky Friday”, “The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again”, and a few other feature films, but fate always isn’t kind, and Mitch never really grabbed that brass ring. Just out of college, he landed a TV show with two iconic entertainers, Steve Lawrence and Edie Gourmet. He was a back-up singer and dancer on the show, got some good exposures and close-ups.
A few years later he ran into me at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. I had done lots of television by then, so I was signing autographs and posing for pictures when he came up and hugged me, telling me how happy he was for my success. I asked him how his career was going. He said he, “…started at the top and was busy working his way to the bottom of show business.” Oh dear. Mitch asked me if I knew the difference between a trained theatrical dancer and a two-and-a-half-pound chicken. I said I had no idea. He said, “…a two-and-a-half-pound chicken can feed a family of four”, then he threw his head back and laughed. That was Mitch, a positive person with a great attitude, who loved spreading happiness wherever he went. And that’s how I will always remember him: smiling and laughing. Rest in peace, dear friend. I love you Mitch.
When I heard the news that Mitch Nutick had passed on, I was very sad. He was funny, cantankerous, kind, brutally honest with no filter and had a heart of gold. He helped build LATA. He was part of the foundation and losing him is not only losing someone who put in endless hours of volunteer work but also losing our last remaining connection to someone who witnessed the beginning.
I served on the board for four years as Team Tennis Director. Whether he meant to or not, Mitch provided years of memories for me. He took his job as Treasurer very seriously. He came prepared to every meeting with his report. Every once in awhile, he would get a few things not quite right. Like when he would call Travis Siems, Trevor or he would call me Brett. (To this day, I still call Travis, Trevor.). There was one time he misplaced a stack of checks from Team Tennis that he was given at a board meeting. For weeks, he frantically tore up his apartment looking for them. He was mortified that we may have to ask players to resend the checks. I’ll never forgot the email he sent when he finally found the checks in his glove compartment in his car.
Mitch was not one to embrace the ever changing digital landscape of the 2000’s. He could not understand why people were on their Blueberries (which we knew he meant Blackberry). As we worked to make changes in the organization, he dug his heels in wanting to make sure any change was the right change. When we moved the Score online, he was adamant about still having one physical mailing a year
I grew to appreciate this part of Mitch that clung to the old traditions. I knew when I had an idea to change something in Team Tennis, I would have to come to the Board having done my homework and present my information thoroughly. Rest assured, Mitch would have to be convinced. He didn’t always agree with my ideas. Sometimes he voted for them and sometimes he voted against them. But what I did appreciate about Mitch is that if he vehemently disagreed with you, it ended at the vote. He didn’t treat me any differently afterwards. He was still supportive.
Even though it was hard for him to understand the digital age, I loved watching Mitch slowly become a Facebook fan. Once he got the hang of it, he was commenting and liking left and right. He was big fan of Selma. I don’t think there’s one picture of her that I posted that he didn’t gush over. He embraced the change; it just took him some time to get there.
I joined in 2003. I never saw Mitch play tennis. I don’t know when he stopped playing or why, but that is one of the things that speaks to who Mitch was and how important LATA was to him. It wasn’t the tennis for him, it was the people. Even though he didn’t play tennis, he still dedicated his time. That really speaks to me. Sometimes it’s hard to get volunteers from those who do participate in what LATA has to offer, but Mitch did it for years without playing tennis.
During this time where we have all been separated because of the pandemic, I miss tennis but mostly I miss my LATA family. I miss the people. When I think of Mitch, he represents the part of LATA I love the most which is the relationships. I’ll be happy when we can all finally be around each other again. I’ll be sad that we won’t be able to see Mitch there, but I will be forever grateful for what he did for LATA in helping create and preserve this family.
I was honored to serve as LATA's president in 1996-1997 with Mitch as LATA's treasurer. While Mitch and I shared a common purpose-serving the best interests of LATA-we didn't always agree on the best approach to get there. Mitch and I agreed and disagreed on all sorts of things and while we both had strong personalities, I believed then as I believe now that we both cared about LATA and only wanted it to succeed and thrive.
Years after I left LATA leadership, I found myself battling cancer. It was a difficult time in my life as it is for everyone who has to go through that experience and I was very fortunate to have a great support system personally and professionally. When Mitch heard of my struggles, he reached out to offer his support and friendship-we spoke on the phone and he sent me a get-well card with his own heartfelt personal wishes towards my recovery. I was genuinely moved by his thoughtfulness, caring, and kindness-expressions he happily shared with me privately which stood in contrast to his own public gruffness. Adversity can be character revealing and Mitch revealed his character to be that of a true "mensch".
His impact on LATA and his character will be missed but we are all better for having Mitch be a part of our lives.
Very sad to hear this news. Mitch was always a friendly face & a pleasure to serve with on the board. He will truly be missed.
So I first met Mitch when I joined the board way back when. It was in 2008 that the board took on the project of memorializing the organization’s history for its 30th anniversary. Mitch was a walking talking source of LATA’s history. It was great to hear his descriptions of events and players through the years. It was obvious he loved this organization.
It’s true, during the board meetings, the best description of Mitch was “cantankerous”. I recall Mitch’s comments were short and brief and delivered in a perfectly grumpy tone. Spend money on a new website ... “why the hell do we need that?” At one particular board meeting where parking was anything but easy, Mitch being Mitch, parked his blue Ford Thunderbird on the front lawn. It was Mitch’s way of dealing with the parking issue and not being late for the meeting.
But as “cantankerous” as Mitch was during the meetings, he was equally sincere and caring. The organization had established the Gary Sutton fund to help members with a need. I referred a member to Mitch to seek such help. Mitch took immediate action, got the approvals and almost instantly helped this guy out. Mitch gave me a hug at the next event where we saw each other. He was thankful he was able to do something good for one of our players and simultaneously honor the name of his friend, Gary Sutton.
While Mitch could be the “grumpy old man”, he was also one of the first to give you a hug and smile. That’s something I will miss at the Club Champs where that was an regular occurrence.
I remember a Board meeting when we were talking about moving the Score to a blog. The conversation was going back and forth : " the blog will provide".... "with the blog we can do" ...."the blog this...the blog that".. etc.
Mitch was very quiet, listening to the discussion, taking it in, processing the idea. Then he turned to Richard Podolsky, (i believe) and in his "quiet", "Mitch like" way, asked: "WHAT THE FUCKS A BLOG?!!!"
I will forever remember that board meeting, smile and continue to laugh about it.
Mitch was one of my first friends in LATA, I met Mitch during my first LATA Team Tennis Season (circa 1989).We became fast friends and I always found Mitch with a big smile. Mitch's laughter always made me smile and a chance chat with Mitch gave my heart a certain warmth. Mitch was one of the great "Lights" in the life of LATA. I'm sure that Mitch is on a court, maybe "holding court" in heaven, until we all meet again-rest in peace my dear friend.
I will miss seeing Mitch’s wonderful smile. Heaven has gained an angel and I’m sure he’s smiling at all of us from above. RIP my friend.
Mitch was one of the first people I met when I joined LATA over 30 years ago. He was welcoming, warm, and always quick with a joke. Mitch tirelessly gave his time and services to LATA. He will be missed.
One of the first guys I met in LATA. Will always remember you, Mitch, for being so welcoming and your warped sense of humor.
I knew and worked with Mitch many years with LATA and we often had dinner together in West Hollywood when we both lived there. He was rough and gruff on the outside but had a very big and kind heart. He was appreciative, supportive and dedicated to LATA more than anyone I ever knew. Not many players warmed up to Mitch but I knew him as a kind friend and the most loyal supporter of LATA.
The most interesting thing I knew about Mitch is that as a young man he had a career on Broadway as a "chorus boy'. He had success in several big shows of that era. He lived in West Hollywood many, many years and ran his own accounting business which was a little additional income for him. He lived in the same apartment probably forever. He was very fond of his low rent in a high rent district having resided there for so long.
Mitch should be remembered as a formidable supporter of all things LATA and the gay community.
I've been a member since I moved to LA in 1988! Mitch was of course one of the first people I met. I was on the board with him briefly somewhere around this time.
I remember sitting at a tournament desk at the old Studio City Racquet Club and Mitch talking about his days in NYC. He told all of us sitting there that he'd routinely work Central Park in middle of the night and roam around naked at 3 or 4 in the morning, looking for sex of course. And that it was completely safe. We were all stunned at that, partly that he'd admit it...and even more so that it was actually true at one point in time. Ah...the good old days for some!
Anyway, I always think of that crazy story when I think of Mitch.
From the first time I met Mitch, he always greeted me as if we had known each other forever. He was always great to be around because he had a sense of humor that constantly kept you engaged. I will always be grateful to have been able to share our inside joke about Tom of Finland whenever we saw each other. My life was definitely enriched by having crossed paths with Mitch.
Mitch – It was a pleasure to meet you and see you at LATA social events even in these last couple years. I didn’t have the opportunity to know you well, but I have learned from the relationships I built in this great organization how your hard work is what gave LATA the solid foundation to grow and thrive. LATA is an organization so many people can look to, turn to, and find solace and love, especially during some times when being gay and being different was a much higher uphill battle. LATA is so much more than tennis – it’s a community and you’ll always be a part of it. Thank you for your lifelong dedication to the board and the members.
Sorry to hear of Mitch’s passing. I didn’t really know him, but I am very grateful to him for his outstanding leadership as a founder of LATA. Because of LATA, I have made many new friends and always look forward to playing matches with our respectful members. I hope, we as players can continue to honor Mitch’s legacy with our amazing sense of community and sportsmanship. Each time I look at the tournament name badges that hang on my tennis bag, I will smile and be thankful for him and this talented organization. He will be missed!
My favorite quote from Mitch came in 2000, between matches during a 35-and-older tournament. We were sitting on metal grandstands, in the shade, at the University of Nevada Las Vegas courts. Mitch was nourishing himself with a full-sized package of Oreos. He leaned over to offer some, and couldn’t resist saying “Do you want a cookie, little boy?” in his best dirty-old-man voice. I thought about that line every time I saw Mitch for years to come.
So my memories of Mitch range from always being at every event ready with a witty, smart-ass comment about whatever was happening and always making me laugh. He always brightened my day every time I saw him. I also remember him smoking on crossovers which I found very funny……especially when he was beating someone! Mitch was always himself which is a rare and wonderful thing.
There’s an old phrase, ”Eighty percent of life is showing up.” And Mitch did that 100% of the time. That pretty much tells you how full of life he was. I’m very proud to call him my friend.
I joined LATA in the spring of 1988, and the first tournament I played was the Club Championships. They were held in June that year at the Racquet Center in Studio City, and being as this was the valley, it was already quite toasty by that time.
I may have met Mitch or seen him before this tournament (I honestly don’t remember), but I’d never played against him before. This would be our one and only singles encounter. We were assigned an inside court away from the street, which made it seem even hotter for some reason.
We started playing, and Mitch, probably realizing he wasn’t going to win from the baseline, began rushing the net. Here he was, in his mid-50s, coming in time and time again, trying to overcome the heat and an opponent who was almost 30-years his junior. It was quite admirable.
I won the first set comfortably, 6-2, and could see that he was getting frustrated by the slices, off-pace balls, and my patented drop shot/lob combination. The second set was more of the same, and before long I was up 4-2. Mitch came in on one of his frequent forays to net, and as I’d done several times before, lobbed the ball above his head.
That was enough for him. He kept walking toward the net, waved his hand at me in a dismissive way and said, “You can have it.”
To this day I laugh when I recall that match, not because I won, but because of Mitch’s response. He didn’t mince words, and that was one of the many things that made him so special.
I worked with Mitch as part of the LATA Board for the greater part of the 2000 decade. I was the national tournament director in '01 and '02, and worked closely with Mitch during tournament time with the now gone Centre Court Championships over Labor Day weekend. Since there was money involved (collecting and spending), I got to work with Mitch.
Through the years in doing what I did with LATA (national & club tournament director, social director and president), I immediately knew Mitch had LATA's back in everything he did. He was an awesome treasurer for the organization. He cared about what everyone on the board was doing for the organization. He also was LATA's historian. You got to know everyone who came before us through Mitch. On the 30th anniversary of LATA, he and then president David Newlon (who was my dear friend) produced a booklet outlining the history of LATA. I am so happy that they put this together! LATA has such a rich and varied history, and I loved that they worked to put it all down for the membership to have and refer to.
The one thing I really liked about Mitch was his honesty. You knew where you stood with Mitch at any given time since he woud let you know. But it was in a good way as he always had the best interest of LATA at heart. He was the best financial guardian of the organization for so many years, and I am thankful to have known Mitch and worked with him all those many years.
If you have any questions or would like more info, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. Thank you for putting together a tribute to Mitch as he is one who truly deserves to be remembered for all that he did for LATA through the many years he served the LATA membership.
Mitch was, and always will be, an LATA legend.
I have known Mitch since becoming the second wave of LATA players and friends. I played my first ever US GAY Open in San Francisco in 1984…four years out of the closet, and nervous about being "exposed". Arriving at Golden Gate Park for the tournament, I ran into the voice of Sheeba Coleman, and almost went right home. Then, I met Mitch. He helped me get real. I was the part of the second wave of players with LATA.
I had the honor of being his roommate for Gay Games / NYC in '94. We were hosted at NY City University. I was so lamely serious about the competition, that, to have a roommate, like Mitch, going out and regaling me with the stories (every night!!) about conquests of the night, that were fun and funny. He will be sorely missed.
Heartbreaking news about a true LATA legend. Will miss him.
My second favorite memory of Mitchell happened in 2012; it was a year in which one of LATA’s past Presidents, David Newlon, passed away. Mitch, who had a soft spot in his heart for David because of David’s mentoring him through the 30 Year History project (oh yeah, and rescuing him from the bottom of a ravine), had spearheaded a successful campaign to get David inducted posthumously into the LATA Hall of Fame. David deserved the honor, I had great respect for him as President, actually quite impressed by his organization and thoroughness; I was on the Board for 3 of his 4 years in the position. Mitch and Indiana Jerry arranged for LATA to be a presence at his memorial service at the Gay & Lesbian Center in West Hollywood. When I arrived, Indiana took Mitch and me aside and informed us we would be speaking to honor David in front of his many, many close friends and loved ones; we would start the proceedings and I was to be up first. Completely unprepared for this surprise assignment, I told Indiana—begged Indiana—to NOT include me. I was not a personal friend of David’s; didn’t know anything about him other than what I witnessed during the 90 minutes he ran our Board meetings each month (and that had been more than 2 years ago). What I couldn’t say to Indiana in that moment was unless I have something prepared, something to read (and even that would need to be well-rehearsed), I am a dry-mouthed nervous wreck in front of an audience; awkward, rambling; I have a history of causing listeners to be noticeably embarrassed for me. A few words from me in front of sixty of David’s dearest friends this afternoon was not going to happen. I reiterated and reiterated to Indiana—with Mitch by my side—to please not introduce me. I turned to Mitch and asked him if he could speak for the both of us, “Indiana will go straight to introducing you, I really don’t have anything prepared, I didn’t know David personally, I can’t think of anything to say right now…” Indiana responded by suggesting to just talk about David’s qualifications for the Hall of Fame. I panicked. I was pleading, “please no no, do not introduce me unprepared, I’m a horrible speaker on the fly. I really REALLY don’t have anything.” Mitch stood next to me very quiet, I could sense him surprised to see me turn white as a ghost thinking “it can’t be that bad”, but it seemed he was absorbing a bit more than Indiana and casually volunteered, “I can talk about the Hall of Fame thing.” I breathed a sigh of relief, told the two of them I would stand up front alongside while the two spoke, and visually represent as a fellow member of the LATA Hall of Fame.
About five minutes later, when Indiana got up to the microphone, he welcomed all of David’s friends and then introduced Mitch at his side as a fellow Hall of Famer who would present David with the Hall of Fame honor, and then I heard him say, “and to his left is Eric Dodson who would like to say some words about David. Eric…?” Indiana stepped aside to leave the podium wide open for me; I felt every pair of eyes in the courtyard settle on me. I remember feeling unable to feel. I was envisioning my body move to the podium in an out-of-body state, I was so paralyzed with fear. I was scrambling to find a thought about David, any thought. I remember looking out at two lesbians sitting in the front row (certain that they were David Newlon’s very best friends who were anticipating something sweet and memorable to come out of my mouth). All my brain could do is obsess on my predicament: this is a memorial service; David’s loved ones are mourning his passing; everyone in the room knows him better than I do; what can I possibly say? I remember reaching for the first thing that came to my mind, “David was so…(long, long, longggg pause)…organized.” I kept my eyes on the lesbians’ smiles. The rambling began, and I could hear myself saying things, but there was no connection from mouth to brain, “He was so... And also he uhm... David also, and then… I just…. And the best thing he…”. I couldn’t buy a single noun to complete one simple sentence. I exaggerate not when I say I made the infamous tongue-tied Miss Teen South Carolina look like Michelle Obama. In under 20 seconds the lesbians’ smiles flatlined. I finally slid away from the podium mumbling a high pitched and barely audible, “We uh…we miss you Dave…David”. I walked with what felt like my tail between my legs directly to the back of the room, to stand next to a good friend who had come with me that evening. He had a wry smile on his face, too embarrassed for me to say anything to me in my state of horror. With my head hung, I listened to Mitch take the podium and then speak very plainly and assuredly about someone who he admired. It was simple, it was brief, it was sincere, it was Mitch; it made the Gay & Lesbian Center come back to life.
About 15 minutes later that evening, I was standing at an out-of-the-way high-top by myself hiding away in stupor reliving the embarrassing 40 seconds or so over and over again in my head, when Mitchell appeared out of nowhere and cheerily slid next to me. He looked at my perturbed expression with that signature twinkle in his eye and poked me in my side. “You were so right,” his gravelly voice had a smirk in it buried in his mock seriousness, “…you really had nuttin’.” Using a back-and-forth hand gesture to punctuate, he continued in a kind of sing-song, “You almost… Not really… Kind of… But then…”, and then he cut the air with a flat hand, “…Nuttin’.” I could tell he wanted to laugh, but I wasn’t there yet. He went on, “Oh well. The awesome thing is…” pause for effect, “…at least ‘I’ didn’t suck,” he mugged at me deadpan trying to pry the smile out of me. “You know what kiddo…?...” he teased poking me in the ribs again, “…when I f**kin’ kick the bucket, remind me to have you speak at my service. Not!” He had me then; my self-pity finally broke into laughter, in which he joined me—for some Mitch Nutick big, recuperative, laughter.
Well my friend, your request granted—not. I had quite a bit more material on you (than I did for David) and I simply had to share. I miss you terribly as do all your friends. I’m guessing wherever you are right now they assigned you some special angels, ones that certainly appreciate a good F-bomb now and again, placed precisely so.
DID YOU FIND MITCH IN THE ENSEMBLE CAST PHOTOS FROM HIS COLLECTION? THE ANSWERS ARE BELOW.
Cast and crew of "Xanadu: The Marco Polo Musical" produced by the U.S. Army Special Services Division in Europe 1953