By Karen Zautyk
The prolific Anthony Buccino (15 books and counting) has just published his latest work: “Nutley Notables,” profiling more than 150 “Men and Women Who Made a Memorable Impact on Our Hometown.”
Included, of course, is Annie Oakley, whom everyone in Nutley knows once lived here. (Yes, outlanders, she did!)
Almost everyone in Nutley knows that this was the hometown of Martha Kostyra, now Martha Stewart.
But do you know about Frances Goodrich? Or Uncle Fred? Or Grumpy the Clown?
You can meet them, along with political leaders, military heroes, businessmen, scientists, athletes, artists, writers, et al., in the pages of “Nutley Notables.” And you may be surprised at the wide array of talents who called this tree-shaded town home. Or as Buccino describes Nutley: the kind of place “Norman Rockwell only dreamed of illustrating.”
The author started accumulating material, including photos and sketches, about three years ago, doing research at the Nutley Historical Society and the Nutley Public Library. The library, he noted, “had five five-drawer cabinets full of clippings. I spent a couple of weeks going through those.”
In fact, his research produced so much information, he is already working on Volume 2 of “Nutley Notables” and has compiled a five-page list of names.
But back to the current book. We had a chance just to skim through it, but we did finally learn how Annie Oakley ended up here. The world-renowned sharpshooter performed with a circus that used to visit Nutley (performances were held on what would later become the Hoffmann-LaRoche property). She fell in love with the town and, in 1892, she and her husband, Frank Butler, built a house at 304 Grant Ave. Because of their travels, they lived in it intermittently for about 10 years. Alas, it was torn down in 1937.
Frances Goodrich was born in Belleville but grew up in Nutley. She and her husband, Albert Hackett, became celebrated screenwriters and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights and based the fan-favorite Nick and Nora Charles movie characters on themselves.
They also wrote the screenplay for that holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and Buccino has surmised that Goodrich based the Bedford Falls bridge, which has a key role in the plot, on her memories of the Passaic River bridge that joins Nutley to Lyndhurst. (It’s possible. The bridge is 100 years old. But if Goodrich saw its traffic mess today, she’d put it in a horror movie.)
When we found “Uncle Fred” in the book, we were gleeful. Fred Sayles hosted a long-long-ago children’s cartoon show called “Junior Frolics,” which was broadcast live from a studio in Newark. And it was on this show that your correspondent, at age 5 or so, made her television debut. As a member of the audience, sitting on a little grandstand with the host and a dozen other kids.
And because it was a Saturday, we got cake! (The Monday-Friday audiences got zilch.)
Grumpy the Clown (a/k/a Weary Willie) we had never heard of. “Nutley Notables” explains that Grumpy performed with a traveling circus in the 1800s. He carried a bag of gold coins, and if you could make him smile, you’d get the coins. Apparently, no one ever did.
When Grumpy died, he was buried in an unmarked grave in a potter’s field, now part of the cemetery at Franklin Reformed Church on Prospect St. There was no money for a headstone, the book explains, so when the circus came back to town the following year, his friends planted a pine tree on the grave. “Nutley Notables” has a recent photo of the now-stately tree. (You might like to pay a visit. Maybe that will finally make him smile.)
And if you’re wondering why we didn’t profile Martha Stewart’s Nutley links, it’s because we are not a fan of Martha Stewart. If you’re interested in her, read the book.