REALLY SOMETHING!: Mordecai Siegal

He was going to be a playwright.  He was repped by the William Morris Agency.  He drove out to California to make a movie, and when that didn’t pan out, he drove South during the civil rights marches.  He came back to New York to write some more.  He summered in the Hamptons. And then he met Matthew Margolis.  The rest is pet writing history. 

An astounding 34 books  later, including the Cornell Book of Cats and the U.C. Davis Book of Dogs and 38 columns in our own , his keyboard is now silenced.  Mordecai Siegal left this life on earth April 1, 2010.  But what a life he lived.

Although he was from Philadelphia, he was a consummate New Yorker and lived in the Village.  He knew the ins and outs of theater, publishing, journalism, of just living there.  He loved living in New York, he loved being “in the biz.”  He and his wife raised three wonderful children there — who he often praised and spoke about in our conversations of raising my own children and working.  When I would miss New York from afar, it was time to hear his latest tales.

He helped me launch while president of the Dog Writer’s Association of America.   Boy was he smart.   He had the gift of  the well-turned phrase, be it in conversation or the written word.  His talents showed in “The View from Mordecai Siegal” — the 38 personal columns he wrote for   As soon as he would turn them in, he wanted to know what I thought.  Did I like the headline, was it snappy enough?  We would sometimes debate the placement of a comma, was a reference correct?  As if I knew better!  After a few more tweaks, he was satisfied.

He was multi-faceted, and as with many a New Yorker, he didn’t know the term “stand down” when he felt strongly about an issue.   His life was a complicated dichotomy.  He introduced me to many fine writers and publicist friends.   He helped many along in their writing careers.  When I told him about a particular piece of good business news he would say, now THAT’s really something.

He was REALLY SOMETHING.  He was extraordinary and he will be missed.  Farewell, my friend.


7 Responses

  1. i’ve met him over the years ,really enjoyed his wit & knowledge & the entire pet world will miss him

  2. Thanks Lea-Ann,

    The first time I met Mordecai Siegal was in the press room of The Westminster Dog Show where he was holding court. Dog trainer and writer, Steve Diller introduced me to him. Clad in a white suit and white hat, he cut a fine figure and it is an image I will never forget. Because he lived close to my music studio in the Village, we started to meet at his favorite cafe, Mojo. I cherish our coffees, our laughs together and his mischievous expression when he’d connect with something or someone! He was a Villager through and through, and yet his knowledge and panache made him a true “citoyen du monde.” My friendship with Mordecai reminded me of another Village friendship I had with songwriter Jim Friedman. Like Mordecai, Jim called me “Babe.” Old school.
    I have a feeling that the last guy to call me “Babe” is gone.

    • Murray, thank you so much for sharing this… I think he would just love that story too…Lea-Ann

  3. It was interesting seeing the name Dino Barbarisi in your Blog. I remember visiting his NYC (Queens?) facility in 1976.

    I have Online audio of Mordecia Siegal with Virginia Belmont:

    Virginia Belmont’s son Robert gave me the tape of the show.

    Thank you,

    Anthony O

  4. Thank you, Lea-Ann for this blog. Back in the early sixties when Greenwich Village smelled of warm, Italian fresh bread and fresh fish, the sidewalks looked like patent leather after a midnight rain, and jazz groaned in the background at 3:00 AM, I met Mordecai Siegal. I was nineteen and just escaped from the womb of Brooklyn Heights to land with a pack of friends at The Hip Bagel on MacDougal Street. What a feeling.

    There was this man wearing a black turtle neck, a beard, smoking a pipe with serious, concerned, dark eyes – the kind that could tell you what you had for dinner the night before. He was sitting at a table framed by other men and some women. And with a wit lit like a bonfire.

    He was writing a novel that began, and I will never forget, “The sun
    is sweet in Tierra Del Fuego and so are the chocolate lips of the
    women in that downthere place.” His Leroy Street apartment
    with the bathroom in the hall and the shower in the kitchen had a huge fish tank filled with the most well-cared for and spoiled tropical fish imaginable and a cat named, “Alice.”

    For the next six years this brassy, “tootsie” was to discover Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eugene O’Neil, Faulkner, Barbara Tuchman.
    Morty was always, always, reading and talking about literature. To know Mordecai was to be embraced by words. He was
    a teacher and master of the written word.

    It was the sixties and most were restless. He went on to marry, write 34 books, had three children. I went one to live in Los Angeles, become a screenwriter, work on feature film. Eventually I married,had a daughter who now has a daughter and that was that…

    He loved opera and hated ballet, he loved Mozart and jazz and vodka
    and chicken salad sandwiches. He taught me exactly how to slice
    an avocado, and make the best cup of coffee I ever had. He introduced Jewish tradition into my life and sent my daughter a mennorrah on Hanukah. He loved his children, his friends and were proud of all. He loved movies, especially World War II movies. And he loved history. The last book I remember him reading was “Team of Rivals,” the story of Lincoln’s Cabinet which he (Lincoln) intentionally selected because they of an opposite political party.
    Most of all, he loved the process of writing books – the research, the organization, reading galleys, working with editors. It was his passion.

    Years and years, and 34 books later we remet and I had the distinct privilege of working with Mordecai on “Dog Spelled Backwards” published in 2007. It was performed and read at a Barnes & Noble on a hot,summer night with a party following at MoJo, across the street from where he lived on Charles Street.

    When I think of Morty now I think of him being greeted by all the
    beloved animals in his life: Pete, Orson, Alice, Texas – all at play
    in the fields of the Lord.

    And I also hear him whispering in my ear – “Suzie, you are telling
    them more than they need to know.” Edit, Edit.

    There is a part of me missing today. I do hope that part – Morty has.

  5. Mordecai Siegal was not only my Uncle, but he was more of a father to me than his brother. My father left my life very early so it was left to his brother to help. What I remember most of my childhood was visiting him in the summer at the Hamptons. My brother and I made him see Jaws that summer, telling him that it was a comedy. He took us and never went in the ocean again.

    Over the years my relationship evolved into more than a “father-son” relationship. He was a mentor, a friend, and a confidant. He helped me through some of the darkest days of my life and I like to think that I helped him through some of his.

    I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that he will be remembered and missed. Thank you all for your kind words. I sit here and realize that there was an entire part of my Uncle’s life that I didn’t know. To me he was just Uncle Morty.

  6. If someone has a way to contact Suzannah Schiff Holiday article dated April 14 2010 i:50am….please give her MY e-mail address. I found some old things in a trash that belong to her…If she is the right suzannah Schiff…I know she was born 5/4/1943

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