Chapter XIV

THE JEWS, THE THEATRE, AND THE WOMAN-MARKET

 

On Shaftsbury Avenue, London, within a strong man's stone's throw of Piccadilly Circus, there stood, in 1920, a very elegant house which conducted its peculiar business in a manner picturesquely unusual. The young dandy (or the old baldhead) patron turned over an admission fee of a crown to a man on guard before the entrance, and in return for it got back a little yellow slip which gained him admission to the office in the first floor. One's first entrance to this office was inevitably sensational. There was absolutely no furniture in sight. Nor was it attended by any living human being. Just before one entered, the yellow slip was taken away from one by another attendant at the door whom one did not see when one approached and could not find, if one wanted to, a moment after this transaction with him was over. Once inside the patron found himself in a sort of picture gallery. There were thirty seven photographs in all, each of a young girl in a more or less nude and lewd state of undress. To every one of the pictures was attached a white electric button with a black number on it. If the number was alight when you approached it, it was understood that the lady was disengaged. The patron pressed it, and the light instantly went out. He then had only to to seek out the room of the same number as the one on the button, and he would find the lady of his fancy waiting for him there, stretched out on her dark red velvet cot in precisely the state and position assumed in the photograph. The owner of this unique and highly successful enterprise was a continental Jew who, I was told, conducted similar establishments in Paris, Berlin and Vienna. The most ravishing English girls were at his command. He had only two rules by which he chose them, one a positive, the other a negative. To get into the establishment the girl had to be very beautiful, and she must not be a Jewess.

In 1923, upon my return to New York City, I went to an opening of the Ziegfeld Follies in the New Amsterdam Theatre. The Follies were always the most sought for review in town, and it had, not without justice, got the reputation of also being the most decent. So fancy my surprise, when the late Mr. Ziegfeld's delighted chorines streamed out into the limelight of that vast stage, to see a large readable numeral engraved in silk on every pretty costume. The program that was handed to me did its part, too. It listed every girl's number next to her name to enable a man to identify, for whatever evil purpose he might have in mind, the girl who happened to catch his eye. The next morning I bought the newspapers to see how the critics took it. I was not mistaken. The critics, too, understood perfectly. They railed, jeered and bantered the producer about it. What led the producer to the abandonment of the practice I do not really know. The girls might have objected. It might have been the irony of the critics. And it might have been the iron arm of the law.

Of all the Jewish producers on Broadway, the late Florenz Ziegfeld probably came closest to exhibiting a real streak of genius of showmanship. His chief asset, as it seemed to me was an unfailing feeling for delicacy in human ensemble, especially feminine. He selected his peculiar miniature style of beauty in women so unerringly that he might almost be said to have created it. I think it was Sir Francis Bacon who, in his Novum Ogganum, pointed out that, in the very last analysis, man does not ever really add anything to the world. What we call a creator is, according to Bacon, a man with a genius for rearranging the things in the world which please him. Looking at the matter in this light, Ziegfeld was, as an artist, infinitely superior to Sargeant. In his review, which he alone of all the showmen in the musical comedy field gave any semblance of character, he made not only the least vulgar of all theatrical displays: he actually touched what we call the aesthetic sense. If he did not possess positive good taste (and that's really too much to ask of even the best of Jews, which Ziegfeld was not) he was at least shrewd enough to realize that one might please America with woman-stuff without staggering its sense of appreciation with droll demonstrations of anatomy. But the Jew in him had to come out, as it did in that single and singular performances of the Follies which I witnessed in 1923.

However humble may be Isaac's position in Wall Street, on Broadway his position is unquestionably that of an uncrowned sultan. If you buttonhole Isaac and ask him what he is doing on Broadway he will reply that he is staging the entertainment of a continent.

"But you are apparently such a sad fellow, Isaac," you say to him. "How have you suddenly become so merry?"

"I am not merry," he replies majestically. "In my heart, every day, it is as sad as on the ninth of Ab, the anniversary of the destruction of Solomon's Temple. But I am holding down this job because I alone have the secret. I know what the public wants."

"Yes," Isaac continues mournfully. "I am the only one because I am the only one who knows how to do it."

"Indeed," you say.

Make no mistake about it either. He knows what the public wants, and he supplies it at a very reasonable rate. It's a very valuable secret, I assure you, and he is even generous enough to share it with that continental Jew who runs those interesting houses in London, Paris, Berlin and Vienna.

Every great race and nation has made some significant contribution to the development of the drama. for the theatre is the only church to which all the nations and races come independently, with the understanding that they remain on equal terms. What is goodness in the theatre in Portugal is also goodness in the theater in Rome. What men applaud in a theatre in Brussels is also applauded in a theater in New York. The variance in the prices of admission make no difference in the standing of the sites: the silk hats, if I remember correctly usually occupy the orchestra seats front, yet the ambitious mimes usually play the gallery. All the absolute human values are recognized in this international church, the only one in which no sides are taken, wherein no embarrassing questions are asked.

The very first plays we know of, those of the Asiatic Indians, attained an enviable literary excellence. Centered about the fantastic working of a dominant and domineering fate, they resemble in effect the sea stories of the late Joseph Conrad: they lack only the element of personal charm. They aspire to a very lofty ethical life, and but for their lack of humor one might almost call them modern.

The Chinese, on the other hand, conceived of their stage pieces as festivals and made a performance by combining songs and dances and stringing them together on a very flimsy story. But for their quaint habit of taking it for granted that the characters in the plays speak not only for themselves but for their authors, too, the Chinese might have made more of the business of the drama for the drama and for themselves.

As is their worst in other delicate matters, the Japanese, in the theatre, did exactly like the Chinese only that they employed a coarser language and made infinitely more noise. The Japs lack sensitiveness in their moral attitude towards individuals and nations, and yet, by reason of their European contacts, the need for it makes itself felt in their very use of words. The violence and noisiness of their stage life is their subconscious effort to drown out the insistence of this "still small voice!"

The Greeks, of course, gave us the very best we know of in tragedy, comedy, and satire. How the Jews, living as near as they did to the Greeks, failed to be infected by the fever of this yielding to form and rhythm - unless they were by nature incapable of being touched aesthetically - I cannot understand. But it is significant in this respect to remember that the Greeks created their theatre long before the drama was conceived of as a means of making money, and the Jews have never devoted themselves to anything which did not offer an immediate prospect of profits.

In Rome - in spite of the efforts of Terrence, Plautus and a score of other minor dramatists - the drama begins the decline which became so absolute in the Middle Ages. Like Europe later on, it weltered in a series of miracle plays that were almost obscene in their stupidity.

But the spirit of renaissance in the drama sprouted early in Europe: for Corneille and Racine raised gay banners in France, Ariosto in Italy, Lope de Vega in Spain, and Shakespeare and his vital mob in England.

All this time, what were the Jews doing? They had failed to learn anything from the Greeks. [32]  And now, while a Frenchman was putting the story of Queen Esther into immortal verse, they were writing and enacting Purim plays [33] as a form of refined beggary, and inventing droll stories of what happens when a Jew met an Italian, an Irishman or a Frenchman, or all the three at once. It was not till the drama ceased being a form of religious observance and began to become a part of the business of professional entertainment that the Jew began to conceive a real interest in it. No one was required to pay for attending a religious festival. But when it came to partaking in a night's entertainment, money could be asked. That made quite a difference - for the Jews.

The Jew makes his appearance in the theatre of the world as the Hebrew comedian of the old Irish Joke Books. If he may be said to have created  a theatre of his own, it is that which is known as Burlesque. Only it does not seem proper to say that such a thing has been created. Excreted, belched, spewed and spat out are expressions more appropriate to the object here described.

Equipment for entering the theatre the Jew had very little of. No sense of form or even the capacity to enjoy its expressions in others. Ditto traditions. No spiritual experiences to explore and set into a fine mold. No reverence for dramatic performances of the past or even hope of the future. The Jew had only one thing - a secret. He knew what the people would pay to see. Had he not been running brothels for Europe ever since anyone could remember?

The Jews succeeded in the business of the theatre in no small measure. Three quarters of the millions of dollars made every year in the entertainment world goes into the pockets of Jews. This money is made in night-clubs, in vaudeville, in burlesque, in private entertainments run for the blasť rich, and in stag affairs run for the vulgar poor; in reviews such as Ziegfeld's Follies and George White's Scandals, all glorifications of the spirit of burlesque. Now and then something very fine blunders its way into one of these reviews: the dancing of a Harriet Hoctor, the lariat-philosophizing of a Will Rogers. But in the main the Jew has only one contribution to make to the theatre. By making it, he links up the theatre with the rest of his charnel houses in America and on the continent. [34]

I have no doubt that the presence of a Jew in the theatre is the one great impediment to the development of the drama on its more spiritual side. You have only to glance at the history of the theatre to realize that the art of playwriting and the arts allied with it flourished only where the Jews were not in a position to interfere with them. Because it was a sort of state church the Greek theatre was absolutely Jewless. Whatever Jews lived in England and in France during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries kept themselves well under cover. They certainly would not risk outraging Christians with appearances as public as attending the theatre. The moment the Jew enters the theatre a sort of impotence falls over the scene. Witness contemporary England where the stage is held by trite luminaries such as Shaw, Galsworthy and St John Ervine with the Jew Pinero as a sort of mock crown over all; then compare with the dramatic achievements of the Scandinavian countries where Jews are comparatively few, and almost entirely out of the theatre.

In America, the Jew is in the theatre and on top of it. Occasionally beauty comes to Broadway, of course. But when it does, it is in spite of the obstacles placed in its way by the Jews who run the street. The Jew has not the simple divination with which to recognize, before actually seeing it produced by someone else, the merits of a fine play. If he did recognize a really vital drama he would not have the gallantry to promote it properly. For the Jew, the theatre means only two things: an easy way to make money, and a woman-market. [35]

Broadway is the richest woman-market in the world. It supplies, first of all, the wants of the thousands of rich manufacturers and brokers in the domestic market. And it is quite a market, my boy. This is, as you probably know, a monogamist country. As if that were not bad enough, we are also in principle opposed to a red-light district in which illicit love might be conducted in an orderly and hygienic fashion. Unfortunately, morality does not change human nature. So our gentlemen of means and leisure, unable and unwilling to maintain harems, and forbidden the luxury of the licensed brothel, take as a substitute the next best thing, the house-of-call. The house-of-call gets its recruits from the theatrical agent who, nineteen out of twenty instances, is a Jew. The surplus of these poor delightful things is shipped out, with our over production of cotton, potatoes and copper, to China, Japan, Panama, South America and every port-of-call in the obscure regions of the Pacific Ocean where woman-hungry men willingly pay dearly for the dainty white meat of Broadway.

What I am telling you here is known to every good newspaperman in New York, Chicago, and the coast. Occasionally, after slobbering around some night-dive into the early hours of the next day, the boys get drunk enough to write the story up. But to date no editor of a newspaper has been drunk enough to publish such a story. The printing of one such story the editor knows, would be quite enough to ruin his newspaper and lose him not only his present job but the hope of ever again finding another one.

In America, the Jews do not any longer have to pay agents for getting them recruits to the numerous brothels with which they dot the planet. Shanghai-ing, expert pimping or even coaxing are no longer necessary. The victims come of their own accord. They come to Broadway to become an actress. The come to Hollywood to become movie stars. They are the sweetest and most beautiful women in the world. Mainly Christians, too. Jewish parents are very strict in forbidding their daughters to leave home. Besides, remember our continental Jew's prejudice against admitting Jewesses to his fine establishments?

Actors and actresses, for stage and cinema, are rarely hired directly by producing companies. Usually they come to work, on the lot, or in the theatre, through special agencies. To these agencies, with offices on Broadway and in Hollywood, streams the feminine beauty of America. A few, indeed, are picked for legitimate roles. The rest? It would be the human thing, of course, to tell them to go home, and try their luck in domestic pursuits. The agents might do that - if they did not have a further, more profitable use for them.

But how, you may ask, is this evil accomplished? These girls come to Broadway and to Hollywood to act, not to whore. They think of glory; how can they possibly let themselves sink into such ignominy? That's just it. The poor girls are thinking of glory. And the agents sell them glory - in somewhat the following fashion:

Agent: Hello, girlie. Here again, bright and fresh as usual. Don't get me wrong girlie. You know what I mean by fresh.

Girl: Of course. Is there any opening today?

Agent: No, not today.

Girl: But you've been saying that for six weeks.

Agent: I gotta, girlie. Why? Because you got no stage experience. There's plenty of calls for girls with stage experience. But I can't say you've got acting experience when you haven't, can I? I'd be getting in wrong before I knew it. See?

Girl: But a girl's gotta get a job somewhere some time if she's ever to make a beginning.

Agent: Say, girlie. I don't think I ever noticed it before. But you've got spunk, guts. You're alright. I guess I've simply been overlookin' you. I always thought you was a swell looker, good figure and all that sort of thing. But you've got lots more than that, I can see. You've got real guts. You're really out to make a career, aren't you?

Girl: I told you that at the very beginning.

Agent: Sure you did. But that don't mean a thing. Just because a girl wants a career don't mean she's willing to go through with experience in order to get somewhere. Believe me, we can't take stock in every girl who comes in here. But you look to me like the real thing. So I'm going to let you in on something real, something good.

Girl: Wonderful!

Agent: How would you like to appear in a music hall review?

Girl: Would I? Just try me.

Agent: Thirty dollars a week to start with.

Girl: I'd work for half of that to get the experience.

Agent: But you don't have to. I treat my girls right. It's thirty dollars a week.

Girl: When do I start?

Agent: In about two weeks. That's how long it'll take you to get there. But you'll be paid for your time and the traveling expenses.

Girl: Two weeks? Where can it be?

Agent: Panama.

Girl: Panama!

Agent: Why, what's wrong with Panama?

Girl: I don't know. But it sounds so strange. . . .

Agent: What's so strange about Panama? It's America, isn't it? Or don't you know that Panama is American? Sure. It's as good as being in the United States. When you come back from there you'll be prepared to do almost anything. (This is literally true. And if her sense of decency is too sharp, she'll probably never have the face to come back at all.)

Girl: I don't really know.

Agent: There you are. It's just a question whether you got the guts or not. You want stage experience. I'm offerin' it to you. Take it or leave it. If you take it, it'll mean the beginning of a career.

The girl can resist almost everything but this. She might put aside scornfully offers of jewels, automobiles and penthouse apartments. But almost never does she put aside the offer of a career. And what is the career the agent offers her? Not much more than the dull, pitiable routine of a south sea brothel where every vestige of decency and moral cleanliness is sure to be blotted out in her.

By far the greatest number of these innocent seekers after lighted careers on Broadway and in Hollywood are distributed either among the local call houses and night-clubs, or shipped out to foreign ports. Their spirits broken by their experiences abroad, these girls eventually return to the United States to join one of the hundreds of traveling companies of girls who play one-week stands at the thousands of little traveling brothels throughout the country. These places guarantee their patrons a change of girls once a week.

If we have produced in the American theatre nothing beyond the rough, arrogant, unauthentic moods of Eugene O'Neill and the thin (though occasionally gratifying) whimsies of Phillip Barry, it is the fault of the Jew who, because of the instinctive timidity of good taste, is permitted to set the standard of entertainment in America. The average American play-writer and producer, who feels deep in his heart the need of recreating in artistic miniature the life forces which move him, has to face this very grave problem: how far may he dare to stray from the obvious titillating of the Jew, and still hope to be able to survive competition with him?

It is not such an easy matter for the honest play-writer or the honest producer. For the Jew has entrenched himself on Broadway not merely with the elementary vagaries of the Minsky family. If all that the Jewish showmen had to display was high chests and bare behinds, the indignation of the good sense of the mass of theatre-goers would have wiped them out long ago, so that the problem would have solved itself. But for every whirl of a hip in the Eltinge Burlesque there is a Ben Hecht swashbuckling violent Chicago nuances into hilarious comedy, drama and melodrama. For every lifted skirtlet in the Republic Theatre there is a Morrie Ryskind inventing political conundrums with familiar questions that are easier to answer  in a theatre lobby than in a voting booth. For every off-color song screeched out in the blistering darkness of the Central Theatre, Samuel Hoffenstein devises a quip which brings him closer to the heart of Minsky and still farther away from the spirit of Heine to whom, when he started out on his Broadway rounds, he bore such startling resemblance.

I have just thought of a really sound and happy example of how the working of the Jew on Broadway interferes with the development of an American national dramatic literature. It is the case of George S. Kaufman, the most cunning contriver in the theatre of our generation, and, let us hope, for a long time to come. It was reckoned up last year in one of the more reliable Broadway columns that Mr. Kaufman's average earnings from the play and screen royalties of such favorites as Dinner at Eight, The Royal Family, Beggar on Horseback and Once in a Lifetime come to approximately eight thousand dollars a week. I believe I have seen every play Mr. Kaufman ever produced on Broadway, which is an admission that he has entertained me, for I do not go to the theatre out of habit or on principle. I will go even farther and say that Mr. Kaufman's plays have entertained me hugely. No one can go to see a play of his without being caught in the web of his rambling good humor; but neither can you help feeling, on leaving the theatre, after a performance of one of his plays, that you have only witnessed some very remarkable pranks, that the whole business was meaningless, and as pointless for you as it must have been for Mr. Kaufman unless he happened to be thinking of his eight thousand dollars a week.

Don't misunderstand me. No damage is done by giving Mr. Kaufman eight thousand dollars a week, for he probably provides his family well by it and invests the balance wisely and well. I suggest, however, that it would be better policy for the American people to pay Mr. Kaufman  eight thousand dollars a week on the promise that he will not write plays as long as he gets paid. For as long as Mr. Kaufman continues to collect a revenue of eight thousand dollars a week from his plays, he sets a very dangerous standard for those American play-writers who might really enrich our theatre. Eight thousand dollars a week is a lot of money with which to attack the imagination of the hungry play-writer. The Barrys, Howards and O'Neills know that it is useless for them to hope of ever achieving such a figure. But they cannot help asking themselves occasionally, during their dramatic ruminations, how far they can stray into the temple of art and yet not get too far away from this precious figure. That is probably the real reason why the work of Sidney Howard still mantles chaos, why Phillip Barry threatens to remain whimsical into his gray beard, and why Eugene O'Neill, like an evil chemist, continues to brew Ibsen and Freud in the same pot.

In Hollywood as in Broadway the Jew is the dominant figure.

Is it anything less than a misfortune that the motion pictures should have developed into an industry out of the penny arcades of the Jews? How much more precious a development might we not have witnessed had the first pictures been planned, at least, in the studio of photographers curious about the artistic possibilities of their medium? As it was, the penny-arcade owners, sensing that there were fortunes to be made in the extraordinary phenomenon of pictures moving about like living people, sought financial stimulus in the clothing industry.

The net result for the United States is that whereas there is a creditable cinematic art to be found flourishing in Germany, Russia and France (and an occasional fine picture comes from time to time, even out of England and Italy) America, which practically dominates the industry, has produced maybe two or three good pictures - and these only under the direction of European actors and directors imported for short spells into Hollywood.

But nature has her own way of taking her little revenges for these things. Recently one of these Russo-Jewish pants pressers, who rolled up a fortune in the manufacture of stamped celluloid, decided to erect an office building to serve as a monument to his triumph. This office building was also to house a huge theatre for the showing of the productions of his own company. The erection of this monument and its furnishings cost well above five million dollars. The very best architects in the world were called in to devise it. But man, like God, can create only his own image. In spite of the talents of artists and advisers, this gigantic monument to a stupid and obscene industry, reared on one of the busiest corners of the world, resembles, seen from afar, the figure of a humped Jew.

Maybe the image is also that of the Jew who runs those interesting houses in London, Paris and Berlin.

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[32] The Book of Job is occasionally set forth as an example of Hebrew contribution to the drama. But Horace Meyer Kallen, a Jew and Zionist leader, has proven amply that Job is really an obscure Greek play that was adapted by a Hebrew writer.

[33] Purim is the Jewish holiday which celebrates the victory of the Jews over their enemy Haman - the Hitler of his day in the court of the great Persian monarch Ahasueres. The Purim play, of which there are literally thousands, simply reiterates drearily and unimaginatively, the incidents leading to Haman's humiliation - ad nauseum.

[34] I do not want to appear to minimize the importance of dramatic creations such as mark the productions of Habima, The Wilna Troup in Europe, and Maurice Schwartz's Yiddish Art Theatre, in America. But what do these theatres offer the world in general? The scope of The Dybbuk, for instance, is as wide and deep as anything in Greek or in English. But presented in any but a Jewish language, it yields nothing but gossip for the curious. When Yoshe Kalb, the delight of the present-day Jewish world, is produced in English (as Mr. Schwartz himself must if he is ever to lose all the money he has made out of its presentation in Yiddish) no one will benefit unless you count the scene shifters, ushers and ticket-choppers.

[35] At this point I can almost hear some rabbi begin to lecture me on the Jews' conception of the sanctity of womanhood and the home. Yes, I know. But the Jew, alas, believes only in the sanctity of Jewish women, and in the sanctity of the Jewish home. This aggravates, rather than lightens, the case against him.