“Kenigsberg’s world … is one where the ordinary is never more than a few steps from the oddball.” —David Guarino, former correspondent, San Antonio Express-News
“Easy and enjoyable to read, Abby’s story is a rare and refreshing glimpse into the life travels of one bright, sassy and determined woman. Loved it!” —Sally Worthington Campbell, contributor, Texas Living Magazine
Like so many other young women in the 1950s, Abby Bogin went off to college for one purpose only: to find a husband. “You can fall in love with a rich boy just as easily as you can fall in love with a poor one,” her mother told her.
Abby Kenigsberg’s lively, funny book, Shenanigans: A Memoir, recounts her journey from marriage and motherhood to a groundbreaking career as a media watchdog in the news industry. It’s also a great book club choice with lots of topics for lively discussion.
At Wellesley College, Abby was drawn to plays and performances. She became president of the college’s Shakespeare Society and was accepted at the Yale School of Drama. Her focus on character and plot would serve her well.
She soon also met her future husband, Ken Kenigsberg, a doctor on his way to becoming a pediatric surgeon. Abby found him handsome, smart, funny and “not boring.” Within a year, they became engaged.
Kenigsberg believed in marriage and her husband’s career. With a little behind-the-scenes maneuvering on her part, Ken found a hospital position on Long Island, and they settled into domestic bliss. But six months after their first child was born, she realized she needed more from life. “I’m going off the wall,” she told Ken.
“Well then, get out of the house. Find something you want to do,” he said, like a jailer unlocking the door.
After hearing her next-door neighbor give a restaurant review on the radio, Kenigsberg approached the local station and offered to do theater reviews. That slot was filled, but she became the station’s movie reviewer, learning to write “for the ear and not for the mind or the eye.”
At the time, in the mid-1960s, cable television was becoming widespread. When her stint at the radio ended, she sought a job at a nearby cable station and became a feature news reporter, again learning on the job.
Her descriptions of the budding media are enlightening. “One thing I learned about local feature television news: It needed a couple of factoids about people, food, history, babies, comments about the weather or the choppy sea or the hole in the boardwalk—whatever made a visually intriguing moment—and not much else,” she writes. But the station soon closed its features department, and she returned to being a wife and mother.
Several years after the birth of her third son, Kenigsberg got an unexpected phone call from a friend, who asked: “How would you like to be the executive director of the Long Island Coalition for Fair Broadcasting?”
It was a new position for a new organization tasked with convincing New York City television networks to provide more Long Island news. After recruiting a board of directors, Kenigsberg found herself working with politicians, corporate bigwigs, and public relations heads. She organized fundraisers featuring TV broadcast personalities: Dan Rather, Connie Chung, Tom Brokaw, Charles Osgood, Mike Wallace and Cokie Roberts. Leslie Stahl was “one tough customer,” writes Kenigsberg, describing Stahl’s annoyance with having to speak at the annual event.
Kenigsberg enjoyed “trawling” for celebrities, whose appearances at fundraisers paid off well. Her account of how she snagged Alan King is a study in pure persistence and wiles.
OF REBELLION AND LOVE
But throughout the book runs a vein of discord: the relationship between Kenigsberg and her mother. Abby was a rebellious child; she realized years later that her destructive pranks were a cry for her mother’s attention. “She didn’t understand what I needed, and I didn’t know how to explain it. She craved beauty and elegance, and I craved hugs and kisses,” Kenigsberg writes.
Her charming, graceful mother had majored in music at Wellesley and used her talents to play Chopin piano pieces when in need of solace. Her mother “yearned for a life of Anglo-Saxon elegance.” Instead, Abby chose to marry the son of Russian immigrants, who told Jewish jokes with a strong Yiddish accent. Her decision to marry Ken is fraught with tension, as the good daughter realizes her life is her own. True to its title, Shenanigans is a book of rule-making and rule-breaking.
In college, when a Wellesley professor asked Kenigsberg to define “biography,” she wrote that it was “one man’s opinion of another man’s worth.” She received a D on her essay; her social-history memoir, however, deserves an A+.