Pittsburgh entertainer opened for Joan Rivers
From the Pittsburgh Playhouse and tri-state performance tours, to one-woman shows at the Village of Sherman Oaks senior living community in Los Angeles, Esther Schwartz Lapiduss loved to delight an audience with a song, joke or show.
Her daughter, Maxine Lapiduss, said her mother “Was an uplifter. That was her mission in life, to uplift people.”
Mrs. Lapiduss, a well-known Pittsburgh personality and nightclub entertainer who appeared in some of the region's most-famous venues and crossed paths with countless local and national celebrities, died Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 in Los Angeles. She was 96.
Mrs. Lapiduss was born in Donora in 1920 to Saul and Gertrude Schwartz. She attended Allderdice High School — where in 2010 she was voted a distinguished alumni. She spent most of her life in or near Squirrel Hill before moving to California in her later years so she and her late husband Saul Lapiduss, also known as Saul Doll, could be closer to their daughters.
Maxine Lapiduss described her mother's upbringing as tough, with the family facing the sort of financial strains common during the Great Depression. But her Depression-era youth had an important impact on Mrs. Lapiduss, especially during the early encounters with show business she got accompanying her father, a tailor, while he mended drapes at local theaters in the '30s and '40s.
It was at the Nixon and other vaudeville and burlesque palaces of the day that Mrs. Lapiduss became enamored with the sheen of show business, its contrast to both her Orthodox Jewish upbringing and the Depression world around her, and of course, applause, Maxine Lapiduss said.
Mrs. Lapiduss attended classes at the University of Pittsburgh, graduated from beauty college, worked at the cosmetics counter at Kaufmann's Department Store in her 20s, and began entertaining at local venues.
In the '60s and '70s, she was an opening act for Phyllis Diller, Henny Youngman, Joan Rivers and many others at the famed Holiday House Supper Club.
She also worked as a television entertainment reporter and appeared regularly on local radio programs.
Mrs. Lapiduss and her husband Saul opened Forbes Travel Service in Squirrel Hill. As a notable hostess, her home was always open to a colorful cast of characters — from educators to drag queens to politicians, all hungry for Esther's home cooking and a great story, according to her obituary.
“We grew up in a house full of laughter,” said Maxine Lapiduss, who along with sister Sally Lapiduss now works as a comedy writer in Los Angeles. “It was very opening and inviting.”
Mrs. Lapiduss volunteered for many charities and organizations, and was a member of Temple Sinai and later, Rodef Shalom.
She is survived by her two daughters, Sally Lapiduss and spouse Francesca Bartoccini; and Maxine Lapiduss and spouse Hillary Carlip.
A celebration of Mrs. Lapiduss' life will take place in Pittsburgh at a later date. Donations may be made to the Saul H. and Esther Lapiduss Arts Education Fund: JCC of Greater Pittsburgh, 5738 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15217.
Michael Walton is a Tribune-Review staff writer.