Fanny Holtzmann Finds Origin of Broadway Humor in Poland
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Fanny Holtzmann Finds Origin of Broadway Humor in Poland

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Fanny Holtzmann is back. Back from London, scene of one of the greatest and most dramatic legal triumphs—her victory over Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the suit of Princess Youssoupoff for libel in their production of “Rasputin and the Empress.” For the Princess—Miss Holtzmann won a cash settlement that has been estimated variously at from a quarter to three-quarters of a million dollars.

Stories had preceded Miss Holtzmann’s return to her native heath. She had been the darling of Mayfair, London’s most talked of hostess. She—a petite, brown-eyed, black-haired young Jewess — had been hostess to England’s greatest celebrities, an intimate of royalty and of European big shots. Among her friends and clients at her Knightsbridge studio were Gertrude Lawrence, Noel Coward, Charles B. Cochran, the younger Fairbanks, Ina Claire, the Duchess of Rutland, and New York’s own “Jimmie” Walker and his wife, the attractive Betty Compton. There were others, too, England’s entire Mayfair set, the equivalent of our Park avenue and Broadway groups.

It was about these contacts in England that we expected to chat with her, and particularly about her amazing victory in the English law courts. But Miss Holtzmann displayed marked reticence about them. However, she was enthusiastic in discussing her experiences in Eastern Europe, which she visited in connection with the Youssoukoff case. There she discovered the colorful Eastern Jew. They, she told us, were the greatest thrill of her stay in Europe.


“If only we Americans,” she said, “could realize the impoverished and tragic condition of these people, we would each adopt at least one family to supply them with the bare necessities of life. A little means so much to them. Even five dollars a month is the difference between keeping a family together and utter starvation and disintegration. I am told that conditions today are far worse than the post – war conditions which aroused so much sympathy amongst the civilized nations. The children are pathetically tiny and for the most part the people look gaunt and hallow-eyed from lack of nutrition.


“While I stayed in the big cities I made it a special point to drive into the provinces. The country itself is beautiful. It seems rich in soil. But despite this the people live huddled together in tiny houses where most of them try to eke out an existence by working at a trade or running a small store, which is known as a ‘geveldel.’ The Jews do not seem agriculturally inclined over there.”

“I had the good fortune to spend one Sabbath in a very small town called Kozlow,” she related. “Little as the people had, they all came laden with their humble gifts to make me welcome. They sang their old melodies for me, and I found myself stirred by the real feeling that went into their chants. Their religion is sincere, and when one has faith. how little the other hardships seem to affect them!


“They are not devoid of a keen sense of humor, and I enjoyed some of my best laughs among them. They are endowed with a sharp wit. Now I see from whence so much of our Broadway and Hollywood talent springs. For the most part the men who contribute to the film and stage successes in America are but a generation removed from the people about whom I speak. The humor of these villagers is so much like that which brings huge fortunes on Broadway and Hollywood.”

Miss Holtzmann was undeniably sincere as she kept repeating her feelings for the oppressed Jews of Eastern Europe. Her eyes sparkled as she leaned across her massive desk.

“Ever since I left Eastern Europe, I have been receiving mail from many of the friends I made there. And I have made many, for my hotel door was never closed to poor people with relations in the United States. I offered myself to them as their ambassador to their families in America. With the aid of my assistants in the office, I am glad to say that my efforts seem to bear fruit.


“The trouble is that we don’t realize how terrible the situation is. It seems almost unbelievable, and worried and troubled as one is by present conditions in this country, one gives little thought to relatives and friends back there. Conditions can be described in no other way than tragic. People are either young or old. There is no middle age. Beautiful girls—and Hollywood might well turn to Eastern Europe in its quest for beauty, for never have I seen such beautiful girls—age almost overnight. In no time, they shrivel up under the hardships they must endure.

“The people,” Miss Holtzmann said in conclusion, “have no future where they are now. Their only hope is in the East, Palestine. The girls can’t even marry for lack of a dowry. If some relation of yours ever asks a few dollars for this purpose, don’t laugh about it. Treat it with great seriousness; the economic conditions there compel such custom; comply with it if you possibly can. For a few dollars may make all the difference in the world in a girl’s life.

Miss Holtzmann is so impressed with what she has seen that she plans to take lessons in Yiddish so that she can better understand her new friends whom she hopes to visit again. Her experience in Eastern Europe has convinced her of the value and need for Palestine. “No land with so beautiful an ideal,” she said, “can fail.”

Miss Holtzmann is in her thirties. She is a graduate of Fordham Law School, class of 1922, and has practiced law in New York, Hollywood and London ever since her admittance to the bar a year later.

Not particularly Jewish in background herself, Miss Holtzmann comes from a family that has taken an active part in Jewish communal activities. Her father, Henry Holtzmann, and her brother, Jacob Holtzmann, an attorney, have been active in the leadership of the Brooklyn Jewish Center. Of late years, however, her father has resided in Manhattan at 147 West Seventy-ninth street, which address is also the home of Broadway and Hollywood’s favorite Portia.

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