Last Word: Marcia Bass Brody Shows Her Southern Charm on TV, in Book

Marcia Bass Brody is a white woman standing outside holding a long string of lottery tickets and smiling.
Marcia Bass Brody on her 94th birthday after receiving 94 Pennsylvania lottery tickets | Courtesy of Susan Sonenthal

In “The Brady Bunch”, a young Jan whines “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”, lamenting how her sister always seems to get acclaim effortlessly.

The same seems to be true of, not Marcia Brady, but Marcia Brody the 94-year-old whip-smart Cheltenham resident.

Brody was a guest in a 1992 episode of “You Bet Your Life,” hosted by Bill Cosby, where her deadpan humor and tales of growing up in the small town of North, South Carolina, charmed, if not befuddled, her audience.

Among the other contestants on the show were a professional storyteller, the youngest Justice of the Peace in the U.S. and a jazz pianist. 

At the time, Brody was a secretary in Cheltenham. But her bit was a hit: Her time on the comedy quiz show has merited tens of thousands of YouTube views since a clip of it was uploaded in 2019.

Brody, with a thick drawl that betrayed her Southern roots, stuck out from the pack.

One of the contestants turned to Brody on set before the taping and asked, “What is your speciality?”

Upon explaining that she was just a secretary, the other contestant replied, “Are you the fastest typist in the country?” Brody said no, she used a computer and not a typewriter.

When the contestant asked if Brody was the best secretary in the country, Brody said, straight-faced, “Not really.”

Finally, exasperated, the contestant asked, “Why are you there?”

“Because I was picked,” Brody responded.

Three decades after her fifteen minutes of fame on “You Bet Your Life,” Brody still has plenty to say. In April, she self-published a book of poetry she’s written over the years. 

The book, “Age is Only a Number”, contains over 35 poems Brody has written in years past, mostly inspired by notes she scribbled on sheets of paper she kept.

“It’s more a book for the elderly, really,” Brody said, “Things I was experiencing — I slowed down a lot — changes occurred in my life.”

Brody’s poems are concise and honest, many of them focusing on the details of becoming older or reflecting on growing up in a family of seven children (of whom Brody is the fifth). In spite of, or maybe because of, the seriousness of the topics, Brody approaches each verse with waggish comedy.

“Itch, Itch, Itch/ Scratch, scratch, scratch/ That is what happens when your skin gets old,” Brody writes. “…This can happen in weather that is hot or cold. / My son is now scratching/ On lottery tickets he bought today. / I hope his scratching continues/ And mine will go away.”

Growing up in North (which is about 90 miles southeast of the South Carolina town of Due West), Brody, born Marcia Bass, and her family were the only Jews in town.

The Bass family belonged to an Orthodox synagogue in Columbia, South Carolina, the state’s capital, but traveled 30 miles from their home town to attend a Reform Sunday school.

Despite being a minority, Brody doesn’t remember experiencing antisemitism growing up, though her father used to hide Black town residents in his dry goods store when Ku Klux Klan members entered town. 

Brody’s father, Nathan Bass, was a Lithuanian immigrant who came to the U.S. at 16, not knowing how to read, write or speak English. He and his cousin were supposed to travel to Charleston, West Virginia to work in the fall and winter, but a mistake at the train station yielded two tickets to Charleston, South Carolina. Bass, with growing success with a dry goods store, moved to North, a town of 800 people.

North remained a small town. Brody had nine students in her high school graduating class, and a small social pool became even smaller when her parents put limitations on her dating life.

“The girls in our family had a late social life because we weren’t allowed to go out with non-Jewish boys,” Brody said.

That changed, however, when Brody met her to-be husband in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she relocated after graduating from the University of South Carolina in 1948 to take a secretary position. Brody was volunteering at a Sunday school and was active at her synagogue; the executive director, a Philadelphia native, took an interest in her, and the two married. Brody was involved in Haddassah chapters in both Charlotte and Philadelphia.

Brody moved to Cheltenham with her husband and daughter, and had two sons after the move. She and her husband divorced after 28 years of marriage.

But family remains the most important thing for Brody; she still sends out a family newsletter three times a year. Brody still works to take care of her children, paying her bills and feeding herself three square meals a day. She insists she’s got plenty to do.

“Life keeps me going,” she said.

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