Iren Koster has enjoyed a lengthy career as a musician, singer, song-writer, writer, film maker, producer and director. He is also the son-in-law of the late and much-missed legendary comic actor Phil Silvers.
Iren recently agreed to talk to the BPSAS about his life, his work and his personal relationship with Phil.
Iren, could you tell us something about your early years?
I was born in the Bronx, New York. I was the youngest of 9 children and had the best parents. Sure, they would verbally argue sometimes but there was no denying their love for each other and their children.
You’ve enjoyed a long and successful career as a musician, writer, director and producer. What was it do you think, that set you off on this particular path?
My Mother was very creative. She played ten musical instruments and sang beautifully. She also spoke and wrote fluently in five languages. I’m still having trouble with English! My father also played Mandolin and sang. Later he would sing as the Chazan (Cantor) in synagogue. I played Carnegie Hall at 5 years old for my violin recital.
You’ve enjoyed immense success over the years as a songwriter…...could you list some of the artistes you’ve written for and the songs they recorded?
I've written for:
The Stylistics - I Won’t Forget To Tell You That I Love You, Too Many Doors Closed Between Us.
The Chi-Lites - Half A Love
Peter Noone (The Tremblers) - I’ll Be Taking Her Out Tonight, Little Lover, You Can’t Do That.
Jack Jones - We Can Chase The Rainbows.
Joe Simon - You Don’t Know What You Got Until You Lose It, Gotta A Jones On You.
Frankie Valli - Can’t Get You Off My Mind.
The Dells - Superwoman
The Manhattans - Save Our Goodbyes.
Others: Beginning of the End, Peter Lemongello and about 20 others but who’s bragging?
Who were your main musical influences?
I use to watch every band, orchestra that I could. I was addicted to music.
Prior to becoming his son-in-law were you aware of Phil Silvers as a performer?
My Father and Mother wouldn’t miss the Bilko/Phil Silvers Show. My Dad would crack up laughing without fail.
Can you tell us when you and Tracey (Phil's eldest daughter) married?
Tracey and I married on April 11, 1987 but dated since 1975.
What was your relationship with Phil like?
Like Father and Son. I’m proud to say Phil would say I was the son he never had. He would also say, “Don’t talk, just sing. You sing like an Angel!".
How did The Bilko Growl come about and when and where did you record it?
I thought it would be a good idea for Phil to do a song. He loved writing songs and lyrics. No one, could write a lyric as profound and as quickly as Phil. What a genius! We recorded at a recording studio in Hollywood and Phil did his part from his house.
What did Phil think of the song and did he have fun recording his contribution?
Phil loved the song and doing his part. He loved working and to Phil it was like being on the set or studio.
Did Phil have a favourite story about his career that he particularly enjoyed telling?
When his partner Rags Ragland died he was still scheduled to do his show at the Copa Cabana. He was beside himself but as the saying goes - the show must go on. He took the stage to a standing ovation and cheers and started to perform when out of the audience - coming in to do Rags part - was Frank Sinatra! It wasn’t planned. Phil didn’t have a clue. Frank came in to help Phil through a sad time and brought down the house.
Which aspect of your career have you found the most rewarding (i.e. writing, directing, producing etc)?
That’s like saying which child do you like better? I love each one in different ways.
Are you still writing songs?
Did you ever talk with Phil about Sgt.Bilko?
Phil was a story teller. He told me every story that was in his head. Now I can’t get them out of mine. But that’s a good thing. Phil would say "You have an amazing memory!!...Well it comes in handy sometimes.
On this 29th anniversary of his passing is there one memory of Phil that stands out for you to this day?
I keep thinking of how he would go with me to the movies in Westwood, California (a college town of UCLA) and grab me by my hair and say, “That’s so unsanitary!” and sneak into the movies because I was afraid of getting caught and embarrassed. On one occasion the young ticket taker ran to the manager and said the man and guy snuck into the movies. The manager laughed and I overheard him say, “Putz, that’s Phil Silvers, he’s made millions of people happy, He can sneak into any movie he wants. He’s a comedy legend!".
What is your proudest achievement in life both personally and professionally?
That I picked the right girl to marry. Tracey and my daughter Meryl are my life. Professionally… I’m still going - let’s see what the future brings.
Did you ever see Phil performing live on stage?
At the Friars Club Roasts and at parties and trust me, he commanded the room’s respect.
There was so much gutter press written about Phil in the 1980’s concerning his health etc…..is it fair to say that contrary to the press rumours Phil lead a happy and contented life in his later years?
People like to talk negative. The same people knock success. Let me set the record straight: Yes Phil loved to gamble but it was his money and he always provided quite nicely for his family. They had whatever they needed including a mansion to live in. He was the most generous man I’ve ever known - example: I was invited to a get together with the President of 20th Century Records to talk about writing songs for one of their artists. It was at a Chinese restaurant. Phil was home alone that night and asked if he could tag along. “Well, of course!” Phil picked up the whole check. It was over $600. Yes, sometimes he would get a little down and that was because he loved being “ON.” He missed performing. Tracey and I would go to his apartment in Century City a few times a week. We would take him out or stay at the apartment to hear the stories and his clarinet playing. He played quite well.
So what does the future hold for Iren Koster? Do you have any upcoming projects that you can share with us?
I’m hoping to do an animation film and putting it together now. But Tracey and her sisters are dilligently working on Gilligan’s Island - The Movie. So be on the lookout!