“Move over, Mrs. Maisel,” says Robin Kauffman. “We were the real thing!”
Kauffman worked as a camp counselor at the Homowack Lodge in the Catskills during the so-called Borscht Belt’s 1970s heyday, when it was a thriving summer retreat for weary New Yorkers, many of them Jewish. That era is long gone, but Kauffman, 62, is recreating it for a weekend: She’s invited all those who worked in Sullivan County hotels to a reunion May 3-5.
“People are coming from all over the country,” she tells The Post of the three-day event at the Villa Roma Resort in Callicoon, NY, one of the last hotels of its kind. “At the time, we didn’t realize we were making history. We just knew we were having fun!”
Former hairdressers, waitstaff and even office personnel are expected for the weekend.
Kauffman says she got the idea for a reunion after hearing about her friend Jack Godfrey’s efforts to create a Catskill Resort Museum.
The weekend’s packed itinerary includes a presentation on tummlers — that’s Yiddish, for entertainers — plus plenty of eating, standup comedy and a lecture by the woman credited with inspiring “Dirty Dancing,” Jackie Horner, now 86.
“I was Penny, the bad girl,” Horner tells The Post, referring to the film’s Penny Johnson character, played by Cynthia Rhodes. “The one thing that was changed [in the film] was that it was one of my teachers who had an abortion.”
Though it was set in the Catskills, “Dirty Dancing” wasn’t shot in upstate New York, but in North Carolina and Virginia. Unable to visit the shoot, Horner sent instructions to its star, Patrick Swayze. “I put all the Latin steps and mambo steps on tape, so Patrick could have them,” she says. “He was a lovely, lovely man.”
She says Swayze, who died in 2009, was based on her dance partner, Steve Schwartz.
Horner taught dance at Grossinger’s, one of the biggest and best known of the resorts, from 1954 to 1986, the year it closed — and the year “Dirty Dancing” was shot. “I only came for a weekend,” she says of her first time at Grossinger’s, 65 years ago, “I ended up staying a lifetime.”
While she doesn’t currently know anybody else coming to the reunion, she’s certain she’ll bump into people she knew back when. “I’m sure I’ll know them when I see them,” she says.
Today, Horner keeps busy teaching dance at the Liberty Fitness Center in Liberty, NY, running her annual dance festival, now in its sixth year, and giving talks on her “Dirty Dancing” days. She still lives across the street from the remains of Grossinger’s, where she moved with her husband, Lou Goldstein, a famous tummler, in 1991. He died in 2012.
“Grossinger’s was just torn down two weeks ago — I can’t stand to see the foundation,” she says of the iconic hotel that inspired the Steiner Mountain Resort on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
“Dirty Dancing” makes her cry, she says, “because of everything that happened, and the things they did not film, and how close and personal it was, and how we loved those times and those years. I can’t sit through it.”
She doesn’t expect the Catskills to rise again, but she cherishes her many memories. “Every night was fabulous, she says. “It wasn’t until it was over [that] we realized what a jewel the Catskills were.”
For one weekend next month, she’ll be surrounded by many of the people who know exactly what she means.
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