Jerry Springer will keynote book festival

BY DAVID BAUGHER, EDITOR

The St. Louis Jewish Book Festival will celebrate its 30th anniversary with talk show host Jerry Springer opening the event on Sunday, Nov. 2.

Springer hosts NBC’s popular variety competition America’s Got Talent though most Americans probably know him from his controversial long-running talk program The Jerry Springer Show which became famous for its often sensationalistic content and on-air fights between guests. Marcia Evers Levy, who heads the festival, noted that the choice of Springer to keynote the event had been in the works for awhile.

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“I’ve actually been thinking about him for a couple of years,” she said. “In the past, he’s been a little too controversial for the festival. The last several years though, he’s been doing a lot of things in the public eye that have really made people look at him in a different way.”

The child of Holocaust survivors who escaped from Nazi Germany in 1944, Springer was born the next year in England and came to the United States as a child, according to a fact sheet issued by the festival. Later, after earning his B.A. degree from Tulane University, he received his law degree from Northwestern University. He entered politics in Cincinnati, Ohio becoming a councilman and later the city’s mayor. Springer journeyed into the broadcasting world on talk radio and as a local political reporter and commentator for the Cincinnati NBC affiliate where he won ten local Emmy Awards.

“If you scoop out the ‘crazy show’ as I call it the rest of his background, experience and career is very impressive,” said Evers Levy.

She said Springer is a very engaging speaker and that the choice was “a good fit.” Springer is the author of the autobiography Ringmaster. Evers Levy has heard Springer speak before.

“He talks a lot about what it was like being the child of Holocaust survivors,” she said. “I know I heard him tell a story about how his father always kept the car gassed and ready in the garage so that at a moment’s notice they would be able to leave because he could never quite get away from the issues that he had faced.”

Evers Levy said that she thinks Springer will have “some fascinating things to say” and hopes that the community will be open to his talk despite his sometimes controversial background.

“I think people will be very curious about him,” she said. “I hope people will give him a chance, come hear him, listen to what he has to say. He’s a really nice guy.”

She noted that the original format of Springer’s show was far less sensationalistic. The program was initially put on the air to replace The Phil Donahue Show.

“The guests he had on that show were very impressive. They were all political figures, government figures, world affairs figures,” she said. “I’m looking forward to hearing about his experiences, his journey and his Jewish identity.”

Evers Levy said that Springer is very active in charitable work for AIDS, famine relief, breast cancer and domestic abuse. He is the father of a physically-challenged adult daughter. She said he once appeared on the television show Dancing with the Stars so he could dance at her wedding.

“He is by all accounts an adoring father, very supportive,” she said.

Tickets for this year’s keynote, which will take place at 5:30 p.m., Nov. 2 at the Jewish Community Center Wohl Building, are $35 but patrons can also obtain admission by purchasing a series ticket for $60 which will admit them to all festival programs. This year’s festival will feature more than 30 authors and run through Nov. 12 with bonus events on Nov. 17 and 18. No events are scheduled for Nov. 4 due to the upcoming presidential election.

For more information on the festival, call 314-442-3299.