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Richard Gross: If You Didn’t Know Him, You Missed Out (1934–2023)

By Lydia Hope Wilen / New York City


Classic Richard Gross, comfortable in his hat and Columbo raincoat
Classic Richard Gross, comfortable in his hat and Columbo raincoat

About Richard in Richard’s Own Words

On my sixth birthday, my father bought me a sketch book, an easel and a box of charcoal. He also bought me a set of boxing gloves. These gifts set the pattern for the rest of my life.


I was born in Philadelphia. I studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. I am an artist. I am also a writer. I was a boxer, actor, cement mason and migrant laborer.

My philosophy of art is that of William Faulkner. All great art must deal with the affairs of the heart.

Neighborhood Watch

Stevie Gross was never bullied, even in his rough and tough Philadelphia neighborhood. Why? Big Brother was watching. No one messed with Dickie Gross’s kid brother or with his brother’s friends. Dickie was their hero.

That never changed. The location changed when he moved to the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Also, his name changed from Dickie to Dick to Richard. The hero part stayed the same. Richard was just about everyone’s hero--in one way or another—throughout his entire life. And a colorful life it was.

To earn a living, Richard took whatever jobs were available, exposing him to, well to everything good and bad, awakening in him an interest in acting, in which he could use his eventful experiences on stage in terms of character studies and sense memories.

Headshots for work as an actor



Move Over, Marlon

Jack Heller, actor and director, met Richard at New Jersey’s Lake Hopatcong Summer Theater. Richard had the lead in A Streetcar Named Desire. Jack remembers that Richard was the best Stanley Kowalski ever. Richard gave an absolutely “stella” performance.

West Side Warrior

Jack moved into an apartment across the street from where Richard lived on Manhattan’s West 70th Street. In order to afford the apartment, Jack needed a roommate. He put an ad in the New York Times and was flooded with replies. When one of the prospects asked Jack what color eyes he had, Richard, who had been around the block (and not just on W. 70th Street) volunteered to sit in on the interviews and help Jack make the best selection. And he did. Richard always found a way to help, no matter how and where the need arose.

My sister Joany and I lived in that same building across the street from Richard. There was construction in the apartment below ours, causing an infestation of vermin in our apartment. Within a day, we found another apartment; thanks to Richard helping my father, we were moved out of the old apartment and into the new one two days later.

Those were a couple of diverse examples and everyday occurrences for Richard, the protector, the mentor, the networker, the caregiver, the beyond-thoughtful friend.


Ask Ellen Mensch, who, for over four decades, was the love of Richard’s life and his witness. She could tell you about the countless major and minor deeds done by Richard.


Ellen and Richard in love and on the stoop
Ellen Mensch and Richard Gross in love and on the stoop

Tiny Love Story by Richard Gross (The New York Times)

She was on top of me in the 3 o’clock in-the-morning darkness, in the summer heat. I held her in in my arms. She was staring down at me. -“Do you love me? I said -Yes. -How much? -Much, too much.” I looked up at her, at her burning eyes and blonde hair, wild and sil-houetted against the muted whiteness of the ceiling. -“ Me too” , I said. I knew I was at the edge, right at the very edge. What the hell, I thought; and I let myself go across. At the moment, I knew for sure, my life would never be the same.​

 A Gross gift
A Gross gift

Another Dose of Gross

One day, not that long ago, my housephone rang. It was the doorman, telling me someone dropped off a package. Hmmm. I wasn’t expecting anything. On my way down to the front desk, I thought of a few people that might be leaving a gratitude gift. (HA! Silly me.)

Much to my surprise, the package was from Richard. During a recent telephone conversation, we talked about acknowledgement for writing, including for his and my entries and acceptances in the West Side Rag (WSR), a popular, daily local online newsletter. I happened to mention that I never got the promised WSR mug for my published entry. Yup! As you may have guessed, it was Richard’s WSR mug. He felt bad that I didn’t get one, so he gave me his. Who does that? Richard!


Painting: The Acting Class by Richard Gross, Owner: Actress Diane Lane
Painting: The Acting Class by Richard Gross; owner: Actress Diane Lane

Richard Gross, Artist

Richard’s paintings are powerful and sensitive, heartwarming and heartbreaking, thought-provoking and impactful.

Richard was a great artist. There are many great artists. Richard was also a great person. There aren’t many of them…not like Richard.


CLICK ON PICTURE BELOW FOR A SLIDE SHOW OF RICHARD GROSS'S PAINTINGS

 

Lydia Hope Wilen had a successful collaboration with her late sister Joany as nonfiction bestselling authors (18 books), journalists, TV personalities, writers and talent coordinators on a Nickelodeon series hosted by Leonard Nimoy, Reading Rainbow episodes, skit writers for Dr. Ruth's TV show, Diet America Challenge on CBS, and writers of screenplays (optioned but not produced yet).

Lydia is writing on her own now and has just completed an extraordinary book for young people and their parents. It will have them laughing and learning...once she gets an agent and it gets published.


7 comments

7 Comments


Lisa Jones
Lisa Jones
Mar 09

Richard was the first person to befriend my mother when she moved, with me, to West 75th street.

I was studying at School of American Ballet. Everyday we would walk past Dick and Dutch as I finished a long day of practice. I remember a visit to his apartment/studio and standing in awe ! I inherited one of his powerful works " Children of the Crusades". It belongs in a place where it can be viewed by many. I would be interested in finding a home for this amazing work. If anyone has ideas of where this work can be displayed please email me at lhessjones@aol.com.

May his memory live on forever.

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Guest
Apr 02, 2023

I am sorry I missed speaking to him in my busy clinic. I was always sprinting from one room to another calling down the Spirits of the Damned on the whole Enterprise. He was in my peripheral vision as I zipped across the waiting room, eyeing me right back with close attention. Somehow, I just figured he was one of those Spirits. Sadly, this was an opportunity lost to the imperative of pleasing the Billing Department and the Dean’s Office. “Nunc Dimittis Tuum Servum, Domine.”

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Guest
Mar 06, 2023

Lydia, Thank you for sharing Richard Gross with us. He appeared like a very special human being, sensitive, compassionate, and very creative. Best Regards, Don Vasicek

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Guest
Mar 04, 2023

This is a touching tribute to a multi-talented man; the inclusion of his artwork adds another layer to the memorial, because we can see the striking pictures that so impressed Lydia. The writing is so good that you feel you've been cheated by not knowing the subject of the article.

Bob Pardi

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Guest
Feb 25, 2023

Dick, as he will always be to me, was the Mayor of West 70th Street. I moved to the block in 1975 and I always felt safe knowing he was there. He would stand guard with his faithful Dutch by his side. He worked on projects with me - my Dick built brick and sand patio has lasted for over 30 years. When I saw him at his doorway that day in 2003, I knew I had to snap the picture In this article. It is classic R.Gross. I knew he was fading and spoke to him about 3 weeks before he passed. What a life! You are missed, dear one.

Diane

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