With this being Oscar week, my thoughts turned to one of the best performers I’ve ever seen on local television.
I’m talking about Irv Weinstein, the Channel 7 news legend who now lives with his wife, Elaine, in sunny Irvine, Calif.
It wasn’t the only excuse I had for reaching out to the face of “Eyewitness News.” Weinstein also is returning to Buffalo on March 21 with Rick Azar and Tom Jolls, his former Channel 7 teammates, as part of the second annual Giants of Buffalo program at the Buffalo History Museum “that celebrates history-making individuals who made extraordinary contributions during their careers.”
Weinstein is a movie aficionado. Once upon a time his Channel 7 duties included reviewing films, so naturally it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to the Oscars. Weinstein and his wife remain regular moviegoers.
“This is kind of a tough year,” he said. “We’ve seen most of the contenders. I loved ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ ‘Wolf of Wall Street.’ We liked ‘American Hustle,’ ‘Nebraska.’ Emotionally, I’m pulling for Bruce Dern. But I don’t think it is going to happen.”
“This may be one of the toughest years to pick a best picture winner. There’s so much good stuff. I left out ‘12 Years a Slave.’ A fantastic film. What an emotional wallop. I think it is going to win more than one Oscar. I kind of have a feeling it is going to win as best picture. And it would be legit if it does.”
Turning 84 next month, Weinstein had a quick answer when asked what he does in an average day besides watching movies.
“As little as possible,” he responded.
His favorite things include getting up late, hanging out with his three children – two of whom live in California – and his grandchildren, heading to nearby Laguna Beach, or traveling to some other driving destination with his wife whenever they want to leave the house.
In other words, 15 years since signing off from his final Channel 7 newscast, a famous movie title summarizes his retirement: “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“Everything is good, considering my vintage,” Weinstein cracked. He had a hip replaced six years ago, but otherwise is in fine shape physically and emotionally.
“At this point in our lives, the most important thing is family,” added Weinstein.
He is expected to feel the love when he comes to Buffalo in a few weeks for a question-and-answer portion of the March 21 program. In my view, one of the best questions ever asked of Weinstein came from his grandson Herschel after Irv announced is retirement.
“If you’re not doing the news on TV, will you still be Irv Weinstein?” asked Herschel, who now is 24.
Weinstein said he is enjoying the anonymity of living 3,000 miles from where he made his name. But occasionally, he is asked by strangers in California if he is Irv Weinstein.
“I’m not going to lie about it,” Weinstein replies. “I plead guilty.”
Still, he enjoys returning to where everybody knows his name.
“We always look forward to getting back to Buffalo,” Weinstein said. “It’s like we never left. I’ve had people even now say to me, ‘Irv, I watch you every night.’ To which I reply, ‘you must have a heckuva antenna.’ ”
One place near the top of his Buffalo agenda is Chef’s Restaurant, which has the Irv Special on the menu.
“Of all the honors I’ve received, the Irv Special is probably right up there are at the top,” Weinstein laughed.
Weinstein has lost 30 pounds since leaving Western New York, thanks to a diet that includes eating only two meals a day and avoiding bread. That willpower might be difficult to maintain at Chef’s, where the bread is addictive.
He won’t be visiting Buffalo or Chef’s as much as he has recently because he is selling a home in Ellicottville that he and his wife have owned since 1991.
“We love it,” Weinstein said, “It’s been absolutely wonderful. At this point in our lives, we need to simplify. Plus flying across America is a schlep. It was great. But everything changes.”
Besides life in Irvine, which is about 50 miles south of Los Angeles and roughly equal distances from L.A. and San Diego, is pretty hard to top.
“I cannot describe to you what it is to get up every morning and seeing the sun pouring through the window,” he said. “The year-round weather is probably as good or better as anywhere else in North America.”
The sun finally seems to be preparing to come out again at Channel 7 now that the hedge fund that has controlled it has sold the station to E.W. Scripps. Weinstein still has some friends at the station, but he no longer follows the drama that found the once-dominant proud station fall so far into irrelevancy in Western New York.
Weinstein said he knows how fortunate he was to work at Channel 7 when it was owned by Capital Cities.
“I was incredibly blessed to work for Capital Cities,” said Weinstein. “It was just the absolute best. That is just one of those things that you can’t plan for. It just happened and it was great.”
It was so great that Cap Cities helped Weinstein and his wife live their wonderful retirement life in California.
“When I was a teenager, my father’s dream was being in a situation where he could do whatever he pleased,” Weinstein said. “I’m blessed to be in that position, thanks in part to Capital Cities.”
You could say that he is still the same Irv Weinstein, even if he is in a better place as far as enjoying the simple things of life.