Don Rickles of Jackson Heights: ‘Merchant of Venom’ 1

The childhood home of comedian Don Rickles at 32-05 81 St. in Jackson Heights as it appeared in 1941.

Max Ryklansky was born Aug. 12, 1897 in Russia. At age six, his family of six children immigrated to America via Antwerp, Belgium on the ship Kroonland, landing in New York on Oct. 14, 1903. At immigration their name was changed to Rickles. Max Rickles married Etta Feldman, 23, in Manhattan on June 17, 1924. On May 8, 1926 they welcomed a baby boy they named Donald Jay Rickles.

Max, a successful clothing salesman, moved the family out to a new apartment building at 32-05 81 St. in Jackson Heights. After graduating Newtown High School in 1944, young Don joined the Navy and was honorably discharged in 1946.

He wanted to become a serious dramatic actor. Frustrated by not getting many roles, he worked as a standup comic in clubs to pay the bills. His fortunes changed when responding to hecklers in the audience. His insults got more laughs than the prepared joke material.

In 1965, at age 39, the longtime bachelor married Barbara Sklar and they had two kids. Don rocketed to fame as an insult comedian: the “Merchant of Venom.” He died April 7, 2017, four weeks short of his 91st birthday.

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