Edna Ferber: American Author and Playwright

“A Closed Mind is a Dying Mind.”-Edna Ferber

As a child, I enjoyed reading the books by Edna Ferber and also seeing movies and plays based on her books. Ms Ferber also was a playwright and wrote “Dinner at Eight” and “Stage Door,” both with playwright, George S. Kaufman.

In her day, she may have been Wisconsin’s most famous Jew.The title character of Ferber’s one novel that treats Judaism, Fanny Herself, attributes her success in life to her Wisconsin girlhood. But Ferber, in her 1939 memoir, “A Peculiar Treasure,” attributed her own success to being Jewish. …”Two thousand years of persecution have made the Jew quick to sympathy, quick-witted (he’d better be), tolerant, humanly understanding… It may be that being a Jew satisfied the frustrated actress in me. It may be I have dramatized myself as a Jew… [Jews have] acquired great adaptability, nervous energy, ambition to succeed, and a desire to be liked.”The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

I remember enjoying 3 movies based on her writings: “So Big,” (Pulitzer Prize in 1925) “Giant” (with James Dean) and “Showboat” and in 1994, I took my daughter to Broadway to see a great revival of “Showboat” starring the talented actress, Lonette McKee. “Edna Ferber’s sudsy 1926 novel about life aboard a Mississippi River boat, librettist Oscar Hammerstein II and composer Jerome Kern had fashioned a sprawling and serious musical that dared to look directly at America’s great racial divide in the early 20th century.”Steven Winn, Sanfran Chronicle

 “She was born on August 15, 1885, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the second of two daughters of Julia and Jacob Charles Ferber. Her father was a Hungarian immigrant who had a family store. His sight and health caused the family to move a number of times to different cities until he died.

 In her autobiography, Ferber describes some of the anti-Semitism she experienced when she was a young girl. Her father wouldn’t come home for lunch from the store on Saturdays. She would bring him a full hot lunch and she had to be careful so as to not spill the soup. As she walked down the street, the other children would taunt her with remarks like “Here comes the sheeny!” or “The sheeny wets her bed!” (“Sheeny” is a derogatory word.) On the next street, she encountered men in their twenties who would make anti-Semitic remarks as she nervously walked by them.

 She was proud that she was Jewish. She recalls being one of eight to attend a dinner party of a society woman in New York. The woman didn’t know that Ferber and two other guests were Jewish. She told them that she threw away a book when she learned that the author was Jewish. It was at this point that all three Jewish guests, including Ferber, told her that they were Jewish and walked out.”-Seymour Brody

I hope that the 21st Century will finally rid itself of all forms of prejudice.





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