Marty Rubenstein, a beloved figure in East Hampton Village and a noted sports enthusiast and poker player, died Sunday at Southampton Hospital. He had been suffering from bone cancer.
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Rubenstein was born in Manhattan on May 18, 1926 the son of Samuel Rubenstein and the former Jenny Muirstein.
He grew up in Harlem an avid Giants fan, and shined shoes to earn enough money to see the baseball team at the nearby Polo Grounds. He once hitched a ride on Babe Ruth's car, making him a local legend among the other kids.
Young Martin spent a fair amount of time on the streets – his siblings were much older. Growing up in Irish Harlem, his nickname was Mo. "The Irish protected him when anti-Semitism was prevalent," his wife related.
He left high school at age 17 to join the U.S. Navy and served in the Seabees during World War II. Stationed in Okinawa, he taught baseball to the POWs there. He would continue to coach informally for most of the rest of his life. After the war he lived in Culver City, CA working as a grip for MGM, where he made the acquaintance of Liz Taylor.
He married Lona Flam in 1956, a former U.S. table tennis champion, after meeting her at a ping pong tournament in New York. "He hustled me. He said he could beat me and he did --and he won a date," Lona Rubenstein said.
In 1965 the pair migrated to East Hampton. (Lona Rubenstein later chronicled the era in her fictional novel, From Away.) They raised three children, all of whom survive: David, of Laguna Beach CA, Amy Ruhle, of Montauk, and Scott, who is the proprietor of East Hampton Indoor Tennis.
His wife recalled that in 1968, before East Hampton had a junior high football program, Marty initiated and coached "pick-up" football team, "The Rubenstein Team." The youngsters played without equipment but won all their games.
Many of the members of the team went on to star for East Hampton High School including Billy McKee, David Dixon, Peter Bistrian, Henry Mund Jr., Frank McGuire, Kevin Cullum; Holmberg Brothers, Johnny Gale, David Rubenstein, and Scott Rubenstein.
Marty was a winner. He coached the local little league all-star team and co-hosted the Biddy League basketball team with Steve Marley. The team pulled off a huge upset and, as regional, went to New Orleans with Coach Ed Petrie to compete: future Bonacker legends like Ed Petrie Jr., Scott Rubenstein, Kenny Carter and Jerome Jefferson were among those who played on the team.
A former taxi driver in the city, Marty served as a driver for Speaker and Minority Assembly Minority Leader Perry B. Duryea Jr. in the seventies.
"My mother lent him the money to buy a [taxi] medallion in the city," his wife recalled. In typical Rubenstein style, he bluffed his way into the cab. "He didn't know how to drive – he never drove in his life," Lona Rubenstein recalled.
His competitive nature made him a natural card player. For decades he played with authors, police chiefs, politicians, playwrights, and fellow card enthusiasts. He won most of the time and, his wife recalled, the "losers loved playing with him. He was just that kind of guy. Sports were his life. He was a great athlete. He followed all the local games. He was Bonac's biggest fan."
Marty was not only a presence at local sporting events, he was a regular visitor to the local supermarkets over the years and befriended many of the workers. Customers would chat with him in the aisles, usually about sports.
In addition to his wife and children he is survived by his grandchildren: Matt, Brian, Rebecca and David.
His sisters Ruth Mendelsohn and Mildred Newman, predeceased him. Newman was the author of the huge bestseller, How To Be Your Own Best Friend.
There will be a wake at Yardley & Pino in East Hampton Friday from 2 to 4 PM and from 7 to 9 PM. The family suggests contributions in his honor be made to Wounded Warriors and the Animal Rescue Fund.