July 28: Judith Martin and the Paper Bag Players

MARTIN-obit-articleLargeJudith Martin, the co-founder and director for half a century of the children’s theater The Paper Bag Players, died at 93 on this date in 2012. “The troupe’s approach,” wrote Douglas Martin in a New York Times obituary, “was to do quick, witty skits — 12 to 15 in a one-hour show — on aspects of children’s lives, from sleepovers to homework to taking baths. Bouncy music from a harpsichord or piano propelled the antic, vaudeville-like capers” — and paper bags and similar household paraphernalia served as costumes and props. Martin’s co-founders were Shirley Kaplin, Sudie Bond and Remy Charlip. She created and performed in more than 35 shows before several million audience members in 37 states and countries around the world. Martin helped run the dance project of the National Youth Administration during the New Deal, studied dance with Martha Graham, and performed with Merce Cunningham and Anna Sokolow. To see the contemporary Paper Bag Players in action, look below.

“Ours is a lovely field to work in. It compels you to do something more basic, more fun-loving, more joyous. It is a great support to your imagination.”—Judith Martin

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July 27: William Wyler

wyler-hepburn crGerman-born film director and screenwriter William Wyler, whose films three times won Academy Awards both for Best Director and Best Picture, died at 79 on this date in 1981. Wyler came to Hollywood in 1923 and began to work his way up (his mother was a cousin to Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Pictures). His best-known films include Ben-Hur (1959), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Mrs. Miniver (1942), which were his Oscar-winners. He also directed Dodsworth (1936), Dead End (1937), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), The Heiress (1948), Roman Holiday (1953), Funny Girl (1968), and numerous other movies that brought Academy Awards fourteen times to his performers. Wyler was known as a difficult director who reshot scenes over and over. This approach allowed him to use fewer, longer takes in his finished films, but resulted in few actors performing in more than two of his films — with the notable exceptions of Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn, and Walter Brennan. To see Audrey Hepburn getting a haircut in Roman Holiday, look below.

“From the early 1930s, William Wyler was either planning or directing films that tackled such issues as capitalism, class struggle, war and pacifism, and repressive politics . . .” –Gabriel Miller, William Wyler

William Wyler: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Most Celebrated Director – See more at:


July 26: Ai T’ieng of Kaifeng

200px-Jews_of_Kai-Fung-Foo,_ChinaAn Italian Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci, wrote to his superior in Rome on this date in 1605 about a visit to him in Beijing from Ai T’ieng, a Jew from Kaifeng. Ricci’s letter bore the first news to reach Europe about the presence of Jews in China since reports by Marco Polo in the 13th century and by one or two other Christian and Muslim travelers in the 14th. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Jews arrived in Kaifeng, the capital of Hunan Province in Central China, in the early 12th century from India or Persia. (Oral reports hold that Jews came to China as early as the 1st century CE, following the Roman capture of Jerusalem in 70.)  In Kaifeng, they were “an ethnic unit of approximately 1,000 in all. It is believed that their daily language was New Persian and presumably they were experts in the production of cotton fabrics. . . The first Kaifeng synagogue was constructed in 1163.” Assimilation took its toll, however, and “by the middle of the 19th century the Jews of Kaifeng preserved only a rudimentary knowledge of Judaism and only the ruins of the former synagogue were left.” They are not considered a national ethnic minority by the Chinese government today. In the 19th and 20th centuries,Jewish merchants arrived in China in the wake European imperialists, and several thousand Jews resided there, most of them temporarily, to escape the the Nazi onslaught.

“When Matteo Ricci walked the streets of Beijing more than 400 years ago, he was a celebrity. The Jesuit was the first Westerner to enter the gates of the Forbidden City. He impressed the emperor by predicting solar eclipses. He created an enormous map that gave Ming dynasty Chinese a sense of the rest of the world for the first time. He spoke and read Chinese well enough to translate Euclid.” —Debra Bruno, The Atlantic


July 25: Elias Canetti

icanett001p1Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981, Elias Canetti was born to a Sephardic Jewish family in Ruse, Bulgaria on this date in 1905. He lived in Vienna from age 7 and became fluent in German, the language in which he chose to write. He also spoke English and French, in addition to Bulgarian and his native Ladino. A leftist, Canetti participated in the July Revolt of 1927, an uprising and general strike in Vienna, and fled to London after the Nazis entered Austria in 1938. His best-known books were autobiographical memoirs of pre-Anschluss Vienna, a modernist novel Auto-da-Fé, and a study of crowd behavior ranging from worship to mob violence, Crowds and Power. He was also a playwright and travel writer.  Canetti died at 89 in Zurich in 1994.

“The process of writing has something infinite about it. Even though it is interrupted each night, it is one single notation.” –Elias Canetti
Alex Katz: Dark Brown Hat, 2002

July 24: Alex Katz

Alex Katz: Dark Brown Hat, 2002Alex Katz, who destroyed some thousand of his own works of art before finding his style in the 1950s — a figurative, cartoonish style that has been called a precursor to Pop Art — was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1927. His flat, mostly large-scale paintings are predominantly portraits and landscapes; his 1968 series, One Flight Up, consisted of more than thirty portraits New York artists and intellectuals, on both sides of aluminum slivers shaped into silhouettes; his 1977 Times Square commission consisted of twenty-three portrait heads of women, each twenty feet high. He is also a prolific printmaker using a variety of techniques. Since 1951, Katz has had more than two hundred solo exhibitions in the U.S. and abroad. To visit his studio, look below.

“Taking cues from Cinemascope movies and billboards, his . . . deadpan evocation of flat, bright figures had an everyday quality that linked them to commercial art and popular culture.” —Cathleen McGuigan, Smithsonian Magazine


July 23: The Manhattan Transfer

urlJanis Siegel of the four-member vocal group The Manhattan Transfer was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1952. The quartet, which covers many styles of song from jazz to pop, is directed by Yaron Gershovsky, and the other three ongoing vocalists are Alan Paul (with whom Siegel has recorded Jewish music), Cheryl Bentyne, and founder Tim Hauser. (Some websites identify them all as Jewish, but Jewdayo has been unable to verify this.) Siegel has been with the group since she was 20 and has earned nine Grammy Awards for her music, both with the Manhattan Transfer and with other projects that have taken her all over the world. To see her singing lead on “The Boy from New York City,” look below.

“Four-part harmony singing used to be part of popular music and we felt that it should stay there. I feel we’ve done a great service in keeping it alive and keeping the art of vocalese alive in particular. We definitely recognize that there are many young groups now all over the world that are picking up the torch and we’re very proud. We’re like proud parents.”—Janis Siegel


July 22: Augusta Fox Bronner and Juvenile Deliquency

BronnerprofilePsychologist Augusta Fox Bronner, who redirected the study of juvenile delinquency to social and environmental rather than biological causes, and to character rather than intelligence, was born in Louisville, Kentucky on this date in 1881. After training at Columbia University’s Teachers College and spending several rewarding years as a classroom teacher, Bronner attended a Harvard summer seminar at which she met and joined forces with William Healy, whom she married after co-founding the Judge Baker Foundation, a model center for guiding adolescents through the trials of youth. Bronner kept the Foundation (later called the Guidance Center) running throughout her life, and became a model for hundreds of child guidance clinics in the U.S. and other lands. Her 1917 book, The Psychology of Special Abilities and Disabilities, and her 1927 book with Healy, A Manual of Mental Tests and Testing, were significant in both clinical psychology and criminology.

“Particularly significant was their development of the widely adopted ‘team’ concept in psychiatric practice — which brought the psychologist, the social worker, and others into a case conference with the physician.” —Notable American Women, the Modern Period, Volume 4

Jerzy Bielecki

July 21: Jerzy Bielecki’s Christian Foundation of Auschwitz Families

Jerzy BieleckiJerzy Bielecki, a Polish social worker who survived for four years in Auschwitz, escaped with the Jewish inmate he loved, Tzila Cybulska, on this date in 1944. Bielecki had been captured by the Gestapo while crossing the Hungarian border in 1940, and was on the first transport of 728 Polish political prisoners to the newly built camp at Auschwitz. His fluency in German allowed him to be assigned work at an Auschwitz subcamp, where he made contact with the Polish anti-Nazi resistance and also met Cybulska, who was suffering through hard labor. Bielecki and Cybulska managed to walk out of Auschwitz with a fake order forged by Bielecki, who was wearing a stolen SS uniform. They trekked for ten days — sometimes he carried her — until finding shelter with his family and friends. Bielecki became active in the resistance, and the lovers were separated by the end of the war, each believing that the other had died. In May 1983, the two of them met for the first time since in thirty-nine years. Bielecki co-founded and chaired the Christian Association of the Auschwitz Families, and was inscribed by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations in 1985. He died at age 90 in 2011.

“Sometimes I cried after the war, that she was not with me. Fate decided for us, but I would do the same again.” —Jerzy Bielecki


July 20: A Nazi Ban on Jewish Olympians

d42-7The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on this date in 1936 that the Nazi government in Berlin had forbidden all German newspapers from “reporting anything about the activities of Jews on Olympic teams or to comment on participation of Jews in next month’s games… One of the purposes of this measure was believed to be to prevent Jewish papers in the Reich from mentioning that Greta Bergmann, a champion high-jumper and one of the two ‘non-Aryan’ member of the German Olympic team, has been eliminated from competition.” Thirteen Jews (or people of Jewish descent) nevertheless won medals in the Nazi Olympics, including six Hungarians and one German, Helene Mayer, a mischling fencer (mixed-race, in her case with a Jewish father) who had fled the Nazis once Jewish athletes were expelled from sports associations, but returned to compete on the German team, wearing a swastika on her sleeve. Roma people were also purged from German sports. Two days after the 1936 Olympics, Captain Wolfgang Fürstner, head of the Olympic village, killed himself after being dismissed from the military because of his Jewish ancestry.

“In 1940, the Olympic games will take place in Tokyo. But thereafter they will take place in Germany for all time to come, in this stadium.” —Adolf Hitler to Albert Speer, Spring, 1937



July 19: Max Fleischer

7fbdbcd5413d216a1a313a23a814b442Animation pioneer Max Fleischer, who brought Betty Boop, Popeye the Sailor, Koko the Clown, and Superman to the big screen, was born in Krakow, Poland on this date in 1883. He came to New York at age 4 and eventually married his childhood sweetheart. Trained as an illustrator at Cooper Union, he created the Rotoscope, a device that allows frames of live-action film to be traced and translated into animation. He and his brother Dave used the Rotoscope to make their first cartoon in 1914. (Richard Linklater would revive the Rotoscope to make his 2001 film, Waking Life.) The Fleischer Studios also introduced the “follow the bouncing ball” singalong and introduced many other innovative — and risqué — elements to their cartoons, with far more artistic khutspe than Walt Disney, their main competitor. They were the first studio to synchronize sound and animation, which they brought to tremendous heights, using jazz music and pulsating, dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish animation. They also produced two 20-minute educational features that combined live action and animation to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. To watch Max Fleischer (and Koko) battling a fly, look below. To see his Einstein film, look below that. To see Betty Boop vamping for Halloween, look at the bottom.

“The ‘Out of the Inkwell’ series set the trend for Fleischer cartoons to come; they had a certain self-awareness about them, it was as if all participating (Koko included) knew that they were part of a cartoon and in turn they worked the medium accordingly. Fleischer was certainly not the first animator to mix the real world with the cartoon one, but he certainly did it like no other.” —Noell Wolfgram Evans, “The Technical Innovation of Max Fleischer