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Neighbors: George Heitler

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  • | 5:00 a.m. February 29, 2012
George Heitler performed in Don Wallace’s “The Scam on the 17th Floor” Tuesday, Feb. 28 and Wednesday, Feb. 29, at Plymouth Harbor. Photo by Mallory Gnaegy.
George Heitler performed in Don Wallace’s “The Scam on the 17th Floor” Tuesday, Feb. 28 and Wednesday, Feb. 29, at Plymouth Harbor. Photo by Mallory Gnaegy.
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Retired lawyer George Heitler had a hand in drafting the Blue Cross plans.

But the 96-and-a-half-year-old Plymouth Harbor resident doesn’t want to talk about business — he brushes it aside. He wants to talk about the “fun” stuff.

“I’ve been singing all my life,” the basso profundo says with a tinge of a New York accent.

His mother, Celia, was a talented pianist and singer and tried out for the Metropolitan Opera Company when she was 16, but instead of pursuing it professionally, she eloped with Heitler’s dad, Jacob. Heitler grew up singing Broadway duets with his mother.

He started at age 7 when he sang in the temple choir, and by age 12, he was starring in “The Student Prince.” He was also in the glee club throughout his schooling.

In Chicago, he secured the leading roles in two reading-play groups.

After moving to Connecticut, he was the president of the Summer Songsters, and he sang with the Heritage Singers and also Morning Musicale. He used to give several performances at Whitney Beach after moving there in ’82 and used to lead a sing-along at Bayfront Park Recreation Center once a month.

“I sang in (so many) plays and musicals for all the years,” he says. “I used to try to imitate Ezio Pinza in ‘Some Enchanted Evening.’”

Heitler abruptly halts the conversation and breaks out into a passionate rendition of “Lovely to Look at” by Jerome Kern in the Broadway musical, “Roberta.” He uses his right hand to emphasize the flowing notes and slightly lifts his brow as if he’s performing on stage.

“Is quite my most impossible scheme come true/Imagine finding a dream like you/ You’re lovely to look at/It’s thrilling to hold you terribly tight/For we’re together, the moon is new/ And, oh, it’s lovely to look at you tonight.”

As quickly as he jumps into song, he stops and says, “Oh, I know what else I should tell you,” as if the display of talent never happened.

He has been leading a “birthday bash” in the retirement community for 11 years. Once a month, he celebrates the Plymouth Harbor residents’ birthdays with song. He also leads weekly singalongs at area retirement homes, assisted-living facilities and Alzheimer’s units with help from friends Don and Peggy Wallace.

“I’m a ham!” he says with a big grin.

But for anyone who meets him, that’s common knowledge.

Don Wallace, a playwright, also lives at Plymouth Harbor and has created a series of original plays in which the residents take part. So far, Heitler has been in “Dog on the 17th Floor,” “The Ghost on the 17th Floor” and, now, “The Scam on the 17th Floor.”

“I’ve made a lot of very difficult decisions in my long career, but one of the best I’ve ever made was moving into Plymouth Harbor 11 years ago,” Heitler says. He has enjoyed acting with the other residents.

He used to take on major roles when he was younger, but now he doesn’t think he’d be able to learn all of the lines. However, it’s apparent, even in a small role as the announcer in ‘The Scam on the 17th Floor” — Heitler was made for the stage.