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Max's World, his friends called it, a planet where a kid could proclaim that he was going to do the implausible--then do it. Sam, Harry and Jack, swept by the gravitational pull, followed Max to the studio each Thursday, learned the control room and assumed production of the show, which would last nine years. Sam Kellerman Live and Jack Kellerman Live would follow when Max moved on.
MaSaHaJa Inc., the brothers called themselves in the credits. It was the name their father had coined when they were little boys dragging and jamming their mattresses into one room while three other bedrooms lay vacant, staying up past midnight plotting the tribal raid they'd spring on America's media and entertainment giants, and the riches they would reap. Their ambition was a demand for justice: Their successes and rewards would vindicate all that Zeida had suffered. Their mother's belief, borrowed from a Buddhist monk, that all a man needed was one bowl, one shawl, one roof? Sorry, Ma. It never had a prayer.
Their Yiddish lessons made them feel as if they were the guardians of an ancient tongue on the verge of extinction. Each Saturday morning, on their way to the secular Jewish school that their father and his friends had founded, the four mop-haired boys would walk side by side. They were closer than brothers--more like survivors huddled together. That's what Max's longtime friend Steven Schneider said. They'd drop everything and come on the double whenever one of them called a Brothers Meeting. They'd play hooky and go to the movies en masse, kiss and caution one another when they parted. Walk into their home, and you couldn't help but smell the blood loyalty, the certainty that these boys were going places ... together, like fingers in a fist.
And so, of course, Sam had to climb the same grimy stairs as Max. All that Sam and his two younger brothers had ever had to do when they felt threatened was run to a phone, and Max would appear like an avenging angel, his Little League Reggie Jackson bat tucked in his jacket sleeve in case their enemies outnumbered his fists. But Max had just left for Connecticut College. Now it was Sam's turn to make sure that no Kellerman ever again became a victim.
In his senior year Sam climbed to the third floor above the Greek deli and the tailor shop on Times Square. He heard the machine-gun fire of the speed bags beyond the open steel door. He peered into Max's World ... and stepped inside.
Times Square Athletic Club wasn't where you'd look for a 5'8", 130-pound kid with a perfect 800 on his verbal SAT. Sam, to be honest, didn't really want to wallop anyone. He was the brother who'd sit and listen all day to old people whose loneliness and complaints annoyed everyone else, then walk them down Fifth Avenue with slow and tiny steps. The one who'd leap into the middle of a family fray and point to something so poetic and noble in each combatant's cause that both would feel as if their conflict had occurred in a play crafted by a master, and that resolution was aesthetically the correct choice. He was the Kellermans' glue.
Sam approached the boxing ring. Inside the ropes stood a black man two years older, five inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than he, cannonball shoulders throwing thunder at a sparring partner. Trainer Alexander Newbold, a strapping man from Harlem better known as Ness, suddenly turned to the newcomer. "Got your mouthpiece?" he barked.
Sam froze. "Why?"
"You boxin' him next."
"No way! Man, that guy can punch!"