Every romantic comedy needs a meet-cute: an amusing or charming meeting between two characters that leads to the development of a (usually) romantic relationship. An exceptionally good meet-cute will also foreshadow the relationship dynamics or hint at future conflict the couple will need to work through.
To make up for the relative dearth of quality romantic comedies set or shot in Pittsburgh, I went looking for a real-life Steel City meet-cute.
Sam Wasserman, communications manager in Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey’s office, has a familial meet-cute he loves to share.
“This is a story I tell people when, like, I'm trying to make small talk at one of the mayor's fundraisers,” he tells Pittsburgh City Paper in a phone interview.
Sam’s grandparents, Lee Wasserman and Dorothy Boharas, met in 1948 when they were both students at the University of Pittsburgh.
Lee, then 29, had just finished his military service in World War II. He decided to follow one of his war buddies to Pittsburgh to take advantage of the GI Bill’s promise of a free college education for returning veterans by enrolling at Pitt.
The semester was about to begin, and he was struggling to find housing. Eventually, he found a student looking for a roommate, but he had an unusual requirement. The last two men to move into his apartment had gotten married mid-semester, leaving him responsible for their half of the rent, and he didn’t want to see this repeated.
“His biggest thing,” Sam says, “was like, ‘You're not dating anyone, you're not planning on dating anyone, you won't leave me for, like, at least four months.’”
Sam says his grandfather didn’t date much and was, frankly, expecting to be too busy for romance between school and his part-time job. Satisfied Lee was planning to stick around, the roommate invited him to move in.
Dorothy was 28 years old at the time and was living with her family in East Liberty.
She first spotted Lee while he was working in the university dining hall and was immediately attracted to him. She wanted to meet him, but the room was crowded, and Lee was hard at work. Sam says Dorothy went after him but didn’t find him.
A few days later, Dorothy spotted him again in the audience at a political rally. Lee was surrounded by people, trying to make his way through the crowd. Dorothy pushed her way to him, grabbed his arm, and introduced herself. He walked her home. They sat on her parents’ porch, and talked through the entire night, which is how they went on to spend every night for a week.
“At the end of the week,” Sam says, “my grandfather happened to run into his roommate at the apartment who turned to him and asked, ‘Are you sure you're not seeing anyone? Because I haven't seen you at home all week.’ Lee replied, ‘I'm sorry to tell you this, but I'm getting married,’ though he hadn't even proposed to my grandma yet!”
Spoiler alert: He did, and she said yes. The two were married just weeks later on Thanksgiving Day 1948.
But, first, Lee had to meet Dorothy’s family.
Her older sister spotted Dorothy and Lee walking around the East End one day. Lee, never one to spend much time out in the sun, was very pale with blue eyes and light brown hair that could sometimes appear blonde in the right light.
“All of her boyfriends before this were non-Jewish men,” Sam recalls, and “her family was not having it.”
Based on Lee’s appearance, Dorothy’s sister grew suspicious that Dorothy had found another gentile suitor and reported this to their parents.
Instead of correcting her family, Dorothy invited Lee over for Shabbat dinner where he recited all the appropriate Hebrew prayers, and when Dorothy’s family made side comments in Yiddish thinking Lee couldn’t understand them, he impressed the whole family by showing that he could.
The kicker was when Lee said goodnight to the family in Russian – a nod to their ancestry. “Although they weren't engaged yet, my great-grandfather finally welcomed him to the family, and then casually asked, ‘By the way, young man, what's your name?’ as he was walking out the door.”