Let’s put on a show!

Mitzi posterFor the last few months I have been working with Judi Garner of the Jewish Heritage Center, here at NEHGS, on an exhibit of twentieth-century Jewish photographers and their subjects, and we are finally finished. The photos are framed and hung; the labels have been written, proofed, and attached to boards; a short show catalogue has been created; and my lecture has, largely, been written…

Tonight I will speak here in Boston on the show and its subject: Mitzi Hajos (pron. Hoy-uss), a Broadway chorine who became a one-name star along the lines of Cher or Madonna. Through photos of Mitzi, and the images taken by contemporary photographers of Broadway and Hollywood stars, we can trace the changing aesthetics of theatrical portraiture and the growing influence of the flickers – the photoplay – the movies that were, increasingly, produced in California.

Greta Garbo is The Temptress for lecture
Greta Garbo by Ruth Harriet Louise.

There is an art to a show like this. First and foremost, we considered which photographers, and which portraits, to include. Some of the original photographs that it seemed important to include were in poor shape, and for them we created posters to replace the damaged image. Most of the photos are 8x10s, but what about 10×13 or 11×14 prints? – did they have the presence to be hung in groups instead of being placed inside a case?

We ended up with three horizontal cases, where you stand before them and look down at the images and their labels, as well as a two-level vertical case where we could place a variety of images and open photo books. There are also three free-standing posters and separate groupings of three and six photos – all displaying the work of Herman Mishkin and his sister Marcia Stein, Maurice Goldberg, Ira D. Schwarz, Nickolas Muray, Ruth Harriet Louise, and others.

Paul Muni by Van Vechten for lecture
Paul Muni by Carl Van Vechten.

In addition to Mitzi, the show includes images of George Jessel, Miriam Hopkins, Otis Skinner, Elsie Ferguson, John Garfield, and Colleen Moore. Mischa Auer is present, seated on a bed of nails, while Max Baer is shown in fighting stance in a 1933 photograph by Clarence Sinclair Bull. Carl Van Vechten’s Paul Muni is a question mark, eclipsed in studio darkness, while the mysterious Ethel Sager – in an image by Ben Magid Rabinovitch – dances in a cruel light.

Appropriately, for a genealogical society, the show is about connections and influences, including the family kind. Herman Mishkin and Marcia Stein are siblings; Hollywood star Carmel Myers and photographer Ruth Harriet Louise are cousins; Nickolas Muray photographed Mitzi and, perhaps, served as Louise’s mentor in the long-ago days before she went west to MGM as the first, and last, woman to head a Hollywood portrait studio.

But if their names elude memory, the faces in the show do not. The photographers, as well as their subjects, deserve the credit for capturing – for expressing – the glamour we associate with old Hollywood (and the even older Broadway).


More information on Mitzi! Jewish Photographers and Stars of Broadway and Hollywood, 1910–1940 may be found here.

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

6 thoughts on “Let’s put on a show!

          1. There are many contemporary photos in newspapers and magazines, for example, _Opera News_ described Sari in 1914, now available at the New York Public Library and online at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433012208058;view=1up;seq=141. I happen to know about Broadway actor/singer Charles Meakins because he was a cousin of one of my great grandmothers. Three of Charles’ four wives (Edith June Bradford, Cynthia Perot, and Muriel Greil) had Broadway careers and his daughter Beth was the first wife of composer Alfred Newman.

            Charles initially studied and briefly practiced medicine, but apparently his first love was music. His younger brother, Jonathan Campbell Meakins, became a pioneering physician (see, for example, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/clc.20495/pdf) and author of a popular medical text book, _The Practice of Medicine_. (The first edition of the text book is available online at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.b4333489;view=1up;seq=7.)

            Another interesting genealogical note about Charles Meakins is that his ancestry can be traced to William Marshal (c. 1147-1219, a Google preview of William’s biography is available at https://books.google.com/books?id=me2yAwAAQBAJ) and to Edward I (1239-1307).

  1. Hello! I am looking for information on Ethel Sager. I believe she may be an ancestor of mine. Do you know where I might find information on her? I know there is an archive of her photos. Does she have a biography? Her resemblance to myself and my mother is uncanny. I am also a dancer and Theater professional!

    Thank you!
    Rachel Stevenson ( yemaje@hotmail.com)

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