She studied at a private school for actors in New York, where one of her classmates was Milton Berle. While in school, from age 14 to 17 she traveled across the country from New York to California and back, with a Vaudeville Act for RKO Radio Theaters. “I had my school books with me to study, but I used to hide them, because I did not want the others [the other actors and dancers in the Act] to know how young I was,” Lillian said.
After she graduated from High School at age 17, Lillian starred in many Vaudeville Acts and Broadway shows in New York from about 1926 through the 1930s. She danced in Rain or Shine with Joe Clark, and co-starred in shows with Jack Benny, Bob Hope, James Cagney’s wife Frances, and other stars of the day. The Burns & Allen Vaudeville Show had 5 Acts, and Lillian, dancing her solo acrobatic dance routine, was one of the Acts.
Recalling her acrobatic dance routines, Lillian said, “I used to walk on my hands, do splits, ‘tumblesaults’ in the air without placing my hands on the floor, spin on my ‘head, and other acrobatics.”
It was at one of her acrobatic dance shows in the Catskills where she met her husband, Maurice Berkowitz. “Maury and his Mother were in the audience, and he came up and talked to me after the show,” Lillian recalled. “I thought he must be a pretty nice man because he was with his Mother.” Asked if it was love at first sight, she quickly responded, “Not for me. Maybe it was for him.” “I was too busy dancing on stage, and I made him wait a few years before we married,” Lillian explained.
She and Maurice had a long and happy marriage, the only one for each of them. They had two children. Lillian’s daughter Bonnie Rosenblatt and her husband live in New York, and her son Barry Berkowitz and his wife live in Connecticut. Barry recently retired from a career as an engineer and businessman. Today, Lillian has four grandchildren, and seven great grandchildren.
After they married, Maurice Berkowitz, Lillian’s husband, was busy with his toy manufacturing business, and Lillian gave up dancing to raise their family. But she remained very active through the years.
“She was a great Mother,” her son Barry says. “And, she was always active, constantly on the go.” She took college courses at Brooklyn College, including courses in nutrition, and even in self-hypnosis, among other subjects. She was devoted to physical exercise, practiced yoga, and kept up her daily exercises all her life.
Lillian lived independently in her own house in Oceanside, New York until she was in her early 90′s. “She did drive,” Barry noted, “but she insisted on walking with her brother to the supermarket and carrying the groceries home, just to get the exercise.”
Lillian moved to Florida in her early 90s, and lived alone in her own condo. She made new friends easily, and kept in touch with all of them. She used to go out with her friends to dinner and a show or a card game, every Saturday night, Barry recalled.
Then, at age 96, she rode out Hurricane Wilma alone in her condo. The condo was destroyed in the Hurricane, and Lillian lost all of her furniture and belongings. Undaunted, at age 96 she moved, with her children’s help, to another condo and then to a retirement community in Delray Beach, Florida, where she now lives in independent living, with her aide and companion Cassie.
“I used to go up to New York and spend a month up there with my children each year, until I was 100,” Lillian said. “Now my children come down here and see me. They come very often.” “I like it here where I am,” says Lillian. “Everybody is my friend.”
Asked what is the secret of her longevity, Lillian says, “Exercise!” “Every day, I walk three times a day, 15 minutes each time. I walk after breakfast, after lunch, and after dinner. I walk one mile or more every day.”
“And, she walks fast! Sometimes it is hard for me to keep up with her!” Cassie adds.
Lillian is a life-long strong believer in exercise and fitness, and she practices what she believes. At age 102, in addition to walking (fast!) a total of about 45 minutes a day, Lillian does leg lifts, arm exercises, resistance training, and a whole routine of exercises – by herself – every day. “She is always exercising – non-stop – all day,” says Cassie. “Even while she watches TV, she is doing some exercises with her legs or arms or hands. She is always exercising.”
“She used to stand on her head when she was 90,” her son Barry told us. That was even after a hip-replacement. “I think she was disappointed when her doctor told her she better not stand on her head any more,” he said.
What about diet? “I do love sweets,” Lillian proclaims proudly. But, Cassie will tell you that Lillian is also very health-conscious. She takes a daily vitamin and very few, if any, other meds, and she chooses healthy foods, like blueberries, Greek yogurt, lots of fruits and vegetables, and she weighs herself every day to monitor her progress. “She is very disciplined,” says Cassie. “And, she never smoked or drank her whole life.”
So what happens at age 102 if you are Lillian Field Berkowitz and follow her secrets for a long life? “She is so sharp and fit. More like someone younger than 80,” says Cassie. According to Barry, his Mother at 102 is like an encyclopedia of knowledge about Broadway shows and movies and the actors who performed them. “She knew most of the actors who appeared on Broadway and in movies during the 1930s, and she remembers their names and almost everything about them. If you see any show with her, she can tell you who every actor is, who was married to whom, when the divorces occurred, what theaters they acted in…”
And Lillian isn’t stopping her activities at age 102. She recently took up dancing again. “I gave up dancing when I married, and raised a family, but now near the end of my life, I’ve started all over again,” she said.
Pictured above (at age 102!) with her current dance partner and instructor, Phil Palma, Lillian recently participated in a dance competition, where she did a showcase tango, complete with perfect posture and leg lifts.
And, actually, this performance was rather impromptu, according to Phil. “Lillian and I only practiced for four 15-minute sessions before this performance,” Phil told us. Who else but Lillian Field Berkowitz could do a tango like this – at age 102 – after only four 15-minute practice sessions?
Watch Lillian’s Tango Showcase – at age 102! »
Lillian’s dance partner and instructor Phil Palma and his wife Tanya teach ballroom dance at studios in South Florida. They are independent instructors with more than 20 years of experience, teaching students at all levels of dance, from beginners to advanced dancers. In fact, Phil counts among his students at least four dancers who are over 100 years old! For more information about Phil and Tanya Palma and their ballroom dance instruction, see their website at: www.learndance.us.
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