Shirley Juris is 100! This former tambourine shaker, nightclub dancer, factory worker, hard-partier and mother hit the century mark last week at her home in the Palm Gardens Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Kensington. “It’s been 100 years of trouble!” she said. After celebrating the milestone, she checked in with one of The Brooklyn Paper’s youngest writers, Aisha Gawad, and talked about living for the entirety of the so-called “American Century.”
Brooklyn Paper: What’s it like to be 100?
Shirley Juris: First of all, I thank God because I never expected to reach 100! All my brothers and sisters are gone, and I wonder why I was the one chosen to outlive them. When I was young, I thought I would be lucky to reach 60!
BP: Any tips?
SJ: I watched my diet. Well, not all the time, let’s say 75 percent of the time. And I stopped wearing makeup when I was 20 years old. A natural face is better. And now people say I don’t have that many wrinkles. I also lived a very active life. I was always running somewhere, jumping, climbing.
BP: Wait a second, climbing?
SJ: I took a class in rope-climbing. I enjoyed life through activity. And you know, my mother’s sister also lived to 100, so maybe there’s something in the family.
BP: Did you ever have any brushes with fame?
SJ: Well, there was this nightclub on the East Side and one day, they started advertising for girls to sing “California Here I Come,” and shake a tambourine. They were looking for 16-year-olds. One of my girlfriends convinced me to go even though I was only 15. Oh, and how I hated a lie! But to keep my friend happy, I went and they took me. Then they asked to take a picture of only me and they put it in a glass case next to a photo of the director. My brother saw it one day and started yelling, ‘My sister is an actress!’ I wasn’t an actress, of course, it was just a picture, but it was an honor. It made me feel important at the time, I wanted to live it up and it was wonderful!
BP: What about brushes with death?
SJ: When I was 15, I was dragged by a train. The conductor shut the door on my leg while the rest of my body was still on the platform and he started to drag me. The screams of the other women on the platform was the only thing that saved me. I ran home and licked my wounds like a dog and didn’t tell my mother, but I still have the scar. And there was another time when I was almost burned to death. I was wearing an organdy dress and it caught on fire from the stove. I had third-degree burns! But then Mitch Parish’s mother saved me — he was this fellow who wrote the lyrics for Broadway shows — she smelled the smoke, realized there was a fire and came and saved me. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here. And oh, was she beautiful! She looked like a Scotch lassie — red hair and green eyes — you would never guess she was Jewish. Imagine that, having your life saved by Mitch Parish’s mother!
BP: Forgive me. Who’s Mitch Parish?
SJ: Who’s Mitch Parish? He wrote the lyrics for “Stardust” in 1929.
BP: Oh, OK. You said your life has been 100 years of trouble. What do you mean?
SJ: Well, it hasn’t always been easy. My brother went missing in World War II. He was in the Air Force, and his plane was shot down by the Japanese over the Pacific. He was only 24, and one of the best characters I ever met. And then my sister died when she was 28, and that was really tough, too. I am very happy to have lived this long, but I went through hell for some of it.
BP: Did you enjoy your 100th birthday?
SJ: My daughter-in-law gave me a tiara. A tiara, can you believe it? I looked like a queen! My grand-daughter played the flute for us and she was dancing while she played and I yelled out: ‘Shake it, don’t break it!’ She looked like a nightclub dancer!
BP: Maybe some things run in the family.
SJ: [Laughs] Oh, I don’t know about that, but she did look marvelous!
©2009 Community News Group
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