The “Holland Avenue Boys” are a group of 14 men who grew up on or near Holland Avenue in the Bronx in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. The “success story” is their enduring friendship and loyalty. With busy working-class parents, some immigrant, they spent most of their time together growing up and raised each other as much as their families did. Indeed, they were a warm and loving family for each other, and they remain that way with annual reunions and with an unbreakable connection of trust and loyalty. The “success story” is the story of that friendship. It gives the “boys” so much pleasure and support that one of the wives says, “My only regret is that I am not one of the Holland Avenue Boys.”
This documentary, made by one of the boys with financial support from some of the others, begins with memories of growing up, endless games of stickball and piling on top of each other. When they got to high school, some of them got jobs, and they always took care of each other. The one who worked at the movie theater let them all in for free and the one who worked at the deli fed them all for almost nothing.
Though they went in many different directions professionally and geographically, they maintained close ties. The 12 surviving boys and family members all speak candidly about their lives. Their trust and affection for the member of the group who made the movie shows as they tell the camera about their successes and failures at home and at work. One confides that he does not like to describe himself as “retired,” so he tells people he is “semi-retired.” Another speaks frankly about grappling with depression when his business got into trouble. Another talks about his divorce, and his pride in maintaining a loving relationship with the mother of his children. One talks about how he feels about not having had children. Another explains that he dreamed of being an engineer until a school guidance counselor told him that he would never get a job because he was Jewish.
One became a distinguished physicist, one a doctor, one a manufacturer. One ran a museum of jazz. One flew missions in Viet Nam and then lived in Morocco helping to set up air defense systems. Through it all, they made many friends and they loved their families, but the connection between the members of the original group remained important to each of them.
Families should watch this movie together and talk about how they define success. Who are the people they feel they could call to ask for anything they needed and get whatever it was without a question? Who feels that way about them? What does it take to sustain a friendship for half a century? It can be especially useful for children to see how important it is to these men to be in touch with people who share their childhood memories. Would you like to be one of the “Holland Avenue boys?” What do you need to do to make sure that the friends you have now stick together that way and for that long?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The Straight Story.”