Kathryn's Blog

JDate Scores Again!

Who says you don’t meet good people online?  This lovely love story was featured in the NYTimes “Vows” section—and they met on JDate!

October 26, 2008
Marilyn Michaels and Steven Portnoff

FOR Marilyn Michaels — comedian, impressionist, actress and latter-day vaudevillian — the prospect of marrying again at 65 seemed like the set-up for a Catskills gag about old age.

“God help us!” she exclaimed. “Get me under the huppah in time!”

Ms. Michaels, a Broadway baby whose parents performed on the Yiddish stage and at the Metropolitan Opera, hails from the borscht belt school of rat-a-tat punch lines and dead-on impressions, skills that have brought her acclaim on stage and screen. She radiates more energy than actors half her age.

And yet, in early 2005, the twice divorced Ms. Michaels found herself lonely and tired of “New York hippie-dippy guys,” she said. She opened a profile on JDate, where Steven Portnoff’s black hair and twinkly eyes stopped her cold.

“He called himself a straight arrow — I wanted that,” she said. Imagining herself with this divorced lawyer, she mused, “Just think of all the people you can sue!”

The opening line went to Ms. Michaels, who teased him about his age. “You can’t be 60,” she wrote. “You look like 40. What’s your secret?”

“Pick your parents carefully” was Mr. Portnoff’s retort.

Mr. Portnoff of Freehold, N.J., now 63 and retired, said he was not impressed by celebrity. But he told Ms. Michaels that he was already familiar with her work.

He relayed a memory of his father, whom he lost to Alzheimer’s. “In 1991, I took him to a Broadway show,” he wrote. “After the show, all he would say was, ‘That woman was so funny.’ The show was ‘Catskills on Broadway.’ You were the woman. Thank you for the memory.”

Their first date was in the theater district. It was quickly apparent that Mr. Portnoff, with his Mickey Spillane cadence, could keep pace with the comedian’s one-liners.

In the middle of lunch, she kissed him. “I was very forward,” Ms. Michaels said. “I said, ‘Let me get this out of the way.’ ”

Unfazed, Mr. Portnoff asked: “Can I swallow my scallop first?”

Next came a trip to the Cloisters in northern Manhattan, where Ms. Michaels was horrified to see her suburban suitor surveying the flora for gardening ideas. “How could I survive in the wilds of Freehold?” she recalled thinking. “I’m a Woody Allen New Yorker. I don’t drive. My whole family is driving impaired.”

At first, Ms. Michaels kept him at a distance. She was nervous about leaving the city — and also about losing her heart. “I got married very fast,” she said of her earlier unions. “It’s not difficult to get married. It’s the staying married.” She sighed. “I was afraid.”

For his part, Mr. Portnoff was smitten. “Every date I laughed so hard my ribs hurt,” he said. “Sometimes as we are speaking, she will morph into one of her impressions.”

For months, they dated infrequently. Then Ms. Michaels decided she had had enough. “It was around Valentine’s Day,” Ms. Michaels recalled, her voice cracking. “I said, ‘I don’t know what’s happening, I’m getting in too deep, I’m scared, I’m scared.’ ” She added, “Even though I knew I wanted him, I had to see if it was real.”

A Dear John letter arrived in Mr. Portnoff’s in box. It was a case this lawyer was not willing to lose: “I tried calling her. She didn’t answer the phone. I e-mailed her. She didn’t respond.”

He moved to cross-examination in an e-mail message: “I have all these great qualities and you don’t want to see me anymore? Am I in a Kafka novel?”

It was certainly a trial of a sort. “I wanted to see how I would feel, how I would miss him,” Ms. Michaels said.

It was Mr. Portnoff’s persistence that lured her back. “He kept pursuing,” Ms. Michaels said. “I heard that need in his voice. He was patient. And nothing got in the way of that.”

She said that after two marriages and a life in show business: “It always has been important for me to have a quiet place, a place where I feel secure and confident. And Steve is very much a grounded person. He doesn’t build castles in the air.”

After a wary reunion, “We seemed to come together closer and faster,” Mr. Portnoff said. But they compromised on their living arrangements: New York on weekdays; Freehold on weekends.

They were married by Rabbi Joseph Potasnik on Oct. 5 before a sweeping view of the Hudson in the bride’s Upper West Side apartment. Ms. Michaels, wore a wrap dress and a white flower behind one ear. Her eyes were wet and her voice shook as she and Mr. Portnoff held hands by a piano.

“She is a handful,” said Dr. Judy Kuriansky, the sex therapist and Ms. Michaels’s best friend for decades. “She is high maintenance. She needs a solid guy. I told her, ‘Do not let this guy go, whatever you do.’ ”

A congratulatory phone call came in from the comic Rich Little, with whom Ms. Michaels once traded impressions on television.

Then the bride crooned tunes from “Funny Girl,” a starring role for her in the 1960s.

Few shows go on without a hitch. Ms. Michaels was momentarily in a tizzy when the rabbi did not arrive on time. The bride was not amused: “I wasn’t planning to have to take that much Valium at my own wedding.”



What a great story! I can now feel that there is still someone out there for me. Wish me luck.

That’s a nice story and very inspiring as well. Thanks for sharing.

I always find people interested in selfish desires and bad intentions. But maybe i’m not looking well or in the right spots.

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