Judge Judy inducted with elite alums on Madison’s wall of fame

Judge Judy (Class of ‘61) says she was an “undistinguished student” who never made it to the honor roll when she attended James Madison High School, even though her parents ran a tight ship at home and disapproved of her chewing gum, wearing sneakers outside of gym or “walking aimlessly on Kings Highway and hanging out at Dubrow’s” on East 16th Street.

“I had drive, street smarts and the gift of the gab, so I decided to be a lawyer,” quipped the TV personality, author and former Family Court judge whose real name is Judith Blum Sheindlin, and who replaced her trademark tartness for a sweeter tongue when she returned to her Midwood alma mater, May 16, to be inducted alongside seven other world-famous Madisonites on the school’s Wall of Distinction — an impressive panel boasting four Nobel prize winners, a US Supreme Court judge and three US senators, two of them holding office today.

Joining Judge Judy on the 2010 roster are late Brooklyn Dodger Cal Abrams (‘42), former US ambassador to the United Nations Herbert Okun (‘47), sportswriter Maury Allen (‘49), University of Maryland Dental School professor and pain research pioneer Dr. Ronald Dubner (‘51), historian and “dean” of presidential experts Dr. Robert Dallek (‘52), retired Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court Deborah Tobias Poritz (‘54) and director Joel Zwick (‘58), whose screen and credits include “My Fat Greek Wedding,” “Laverne & Shirley” and Broadway’s “Oklahoma!”

You can take a person out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take Brooklyn out of a person, and each of this year’s honorees — who grew up in and around the Madison area — embraced their old home turf bootifully, commented Dick Kossoff, president of the school’s alumni association.

“Nobody pushed their success, they were all down-to-earth people who came from the same background and they all talked about how thankful they were to Madison for preparing them academically and socially,” said the Class of ‘53 grad who spent two years searching for alums who “weren’t necessarily rich or famous, but who had impacted society in a positive way.”

“Joel Zwick was hilarious, he never talked about all his movies, he just talked about being a 17-year-old in Brooklyn and how the girls called him cute when he wanted to be considered handsome!” laughed Kossoff.

Actually, Zwick’s trip down memory lane ended up being more evocative than he had expected.

“It’s more emotional than I thought it would be,” said the director who has helmed 545 TV sitcom episodes and piloted 21 shows which became regular television series, but who devoted his time at the mic tawking about his years at Madison, and about “The Cosines,” a band he helped form with school chum Carole Klein (‘58), better known as songwriter, singer and producer Carole King — and a fellow honoree who was installed on the wall in 2004.

The pair is in grand company with this year’s nose count: Allen, who is ailing and didn’t attend the ceremony, was described by Kossoff as “the greatest living authority on the Brooklyn Dodgers.” Abrams was posthumously remembered as “the greatest baseball player in Madison history” by speaker Joe Dorinson. Dubner’s studies have helped to lay the groundwork for defining the anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and genetics of pain. Poritz, a former teacher who taught in underprivileged neighborhoods, began her law career at the age of 37 and rose to the highest legal position an individual can hold in the Garden State. Dallek is a former professor of History at Boston University who has also taught at Columbia University, UCLA and Oxford. Okun, who returned days before the wall ceremony from testifying at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at the Hague, joked to the crowd, “I talk more about [Madison] than I should!”

No small wonder when the school’s august alums include educator Stanley H. Kaplan (‘35), former American Federation of Teachers President Sandra Feldman (‘56), radio personality Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow (‘48), opera star Elaine Malbin (‘48), Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ President Sidney Ganis (‘57) and Paul L. Krinsky (‘46), who served as the superintendent of the United States Merchant Marine Academy from 1987 to 1993, attaining the rank of rear admiral.

It was only natural, said Kossoff, that they would all hail “from one of the greatest high schools in America” which, 75 years after opening its doors on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Quentin Road, continues to be a stepping stone to the American Dream for new generations.

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