Posted on October 21st, 2015 by Rachel
Ok, I was very excited when Paul Simon: Words & Music was installed in the Feldman Gallery. I loved seeing all of the objects and images relating to Simon’s amazing music career. But, I have to admit that I was “over the moon” when I saw the image of Lucille Ball in the exhibit on the cover of the United In-Flight magazine dated November 1968. The label indicated that Simon scribbled the first draft of his famous, “The Boxer song in the magazine.
For those that don’t know – I am a closet “I Love Lucy “freak and I try and get a dose of her daily. I have been watching reruns of I love Lucy since I was a little girl. I even have my own little I Love Lucy/Lucille Ball memorabilia collection proudly displayed throughout our home. I actually squealed from excitement when I saw Lucy’s image in the Paul Simon exhibit.
So that got me thinking- what were the Jewish connections to Lucille Ball and “I Love Lucy”? Here are some tidbits that I found in connection with Jewish Lucy!
Before I Love Lucy came on the air in 1951, the pioneer radio show, The Goldbergs was a popular show for over 17 years featuring Gertrude Berg as Molly Goldberg. Berg created an endearing but somewhat scatterbrained homemaker whose good intentions often led to comic mishaps—which was not unlike her contemporary, Lucille Ball’s Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy. “The Goldbergs” blazed the trail for I Love Lucy and all other sitcoms to follow!
Jess Oppenheimer was the creative force behind the I Love Lucy show as series creator, producer, and head writer. Lucille Ball called Oppenheimer “the brains” behind I Love Lucy. In Laughs, Luck…and Lucy, Oppenheimer’s son Gregg recalls growing up in his home with his famous dad. “He said in order to be a comedy writer, you had to be seriously maladjusted as a child (laughs). He wasn’t raised Jewish but his mother said if anybody asks, tell them you’re Jewish and proud of it.”
In looking for Jewish references in the 180 episodes of the show, I discovered that there is a Jewish connection in the third episode of the series, “The Diet.” This is the first time where we hear the name of McGillicuddy as Lucy’s maiden name. It was originally supposed to be Teitelbaum, but the writers decided that the name might sound too Jewish.
The Diet Episode
Lucille Ball was not Jewish. She was born into a Protestant family and she identified herself as a Protestant throughout her life, although she flirted with superstition and numerology.
When Lucille Ball married Desi Arnaz, many predicted they would have difficulties due to their religious differences. Arnaz came from a devout Cuban Catholic family and was also partially adherent to the Afro-Caribbean religion Osha, which was practiced by a large proportion of Cubans. Many trace Arnaz’ famous “Babalu” song to these Osha roots. When Arnaz and Ball were having difficulties conceiving children, Desi’s mother believed that this was because “Lucy and Desi remained unmarried in the eyes of the Catholic Church.” Lucy and Desi had a Roman Catholic ceremony eight years after their initial wedding.
Lucy’s second marriage to comedian Gary Morton, a comedian who worked the Borscht Belt circuit, was Jewish. According to Wikipedia, Morton was born Morton Goldaper in New York City, and he and Lucy were married in New York City’s Marble Collegiate Church. Lucy had attended this church for years because of its pastor, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. The influence of Peale’s “positive thinking” (about oneself, as well about much else) philosophy on Ball was profound. She is often quoted as saying: I have an everyday religion that works for me. Love yourself first, and everything else falls into line.
The influence of Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy is evident in modern sitcoms. Will & Grace was not only the first prime-time TV show to portray openly-gay main characters, but it also was one of the first shows to feature a Jewish lead female character. The show chronicles best friends and roommates Will, a gay lawyer, and Grace, a straight Jewish interior designer and their wacky friends. Grace, played by Debra Messing, is a redhead, dubbed a modern-day Lucille Ball. Grace, who has a pervasive Jewish sensibility, peppers her dialogue with funny Yiddish words and references to Jewish camp and her bat mitzvah.
I Love Lucy is often regarded as one of the greatest and most influential sitcoms in history. I Love Lucy can lay claim to so many pioneering ideas. It was the first television comedy to use the three-camera format in front of a live studio audience.
It was the first television series to show an interracial couple. It was also the first show to feature a pregnant woman being played by a pregnant woman. The show is still syndicated in dozens of languages across the world, and continues its popularity with today’s audiences. It will and will continue to be my all -time favorite!
Ilene shows her Lucy Love!
A blog post by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click HERE.
Posted on September 24th, 2015 by Rachel
Sandwiched between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Ilene Dackman-Alon and I attended the 75th annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History, held this year in Louisville, KY. It was a great opportunity to tour museum sites, confer with colleagues, discuss industry trends and return with ideas to improve JMM. Here are a few of the highlights:
1. Serving the Visually Impaired – Ilene attended a workshop at the American Printing House for the Blind. Founded in 1858, APH is the oldest organization of its kind in the United States. From 1858 until the Civil War began, APH organized its operation and raised funds to create embossed books. After the war, APH produced its first tactile books. By the early 1870s, APH was operating on a national scale. APH is the official supplier of educational materials to all students in the U.S. who meet the definition of blindness and are working at less than college level. We saw the actual printing of pages with Braille letters as well as the binding of the books.
An APH educator
It was fascinating to hear from museum educators (who happened to be visually impaired as well) about how they experience museums and the importance of making museums accessible to all types of learners using a variety of interactives and engaging materials for all of the senses. I loved seeing all of the different tactile materials that are produced at APH in so many subjects (music, math, science, English arts, social studies). They even showed us the Braille version of the program from President Obama’s Second Inauguration.
A display on music at APH
I was pleased to see that that many of the steps that the JMM has taken to serve the visually impaired under the leadership of Robyn Hughes are in line with best practices at APH. As we move forward in creating new exhibits at the JMM, I hope we can implement some of the ideas such as wheel-chair level chair rails, Braille texts and panels to create a richer museum experience.
Trilobite touch wall at Falls of the Ohio State Park.
Marvin took a tour of neighboring historic sites and also had a chance to see some interesting work being installed at the Falls of the Ohio State Park (just across the river from Louisville) where a firm had integrated tactile exploration into every part of its core exhibit.
2. We also enjoyed hearing the keynote speaker, Sam Wineburg, author of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts. Wineburg is an educator at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. He recently developed the Reading Like a Historian Curriculum which has been downloaded over 2 million times. The curriculum engages students in historical inquiry, one of the basic pedagogic skills that is a thrust of the Maryland Career and College Ready Standards and Common Core curriculum. Each lesson revolves around a central historical question and features sets of primary documents designed for groups of students with diverse reading skills and abilities.
Wineburg used the term “digital natives” to describe the generation that has grown up in the digital age. The Internet provide us with so many different websites . One of the questions that he raised, Who is an Informed Citizen in the Digital Age? How much of the information on the web should be believed? Wineburg spoke about “The Digital Tookbox” and questions that one must ask to realize if the information and website really come from a reliable source. He spoke about a case study that took place in Los Angeles, where teachers gave the students three websites and had them write about the reasons for the Holocaust. All three website had not been vetted, and many students took the information on the website as absolute facts. They went on to write essays with claims that the Holocaust never took place.
3. The history relevance campaign – a group within AASLH (among the leaders, Baltimore’s own John Durel) is trying to create energy on a national campaign to promote the value of history. The effort was a response to the marginalization of history as a subject matter, both in schools and in the public conversation about cultural institutions. The organizers are stressing a common vocabulary that organizations like ours can use in making the case for greater civic and foundation support: http://www.historyrelevance.com/#!value-statement/ca2m. In the coming months I will be urging Historic Jonestown Inc., the Greater Baltimore History Alliance and the JMM Board to add our voices to this national movement.
4. A different way of looking at historic sites. The archeologist giving the tour at the Farnsley-Moremen House began his talk by saying “no one famous or important ever lived here, it was not the site of a battle or any other monumental event.” He went on to demonstrate, however, that it was a great site to talk about historical thinking and to engage the public in the process of uncovering history. It caused me to think deeply about the balance we need to achieve between fixing our gaze on the important historic events that took place in our synagogues and on our block – and the illustrations we can offer through these spaces about “how we know” the lives of average Jewish Marylanders.
At the Falls, Jay was just a stiff, at Farnsley-Moremen House he was our very lively guide.
5. “Unfolding Events” – in many ways this was the most thought-provoking session I attended. It was an open forum discussion about how museums could/should respond to “unexpected events” that have strong impacts on the cultural community – examples included Ferguson and Baltimore, the legislative struggle over gay rights that especially impacted Indiana, and the debate over Confederate flags, statues and emblems that is raging within and without Civil War sites. One of the most interesting side-bars was the question of the obligation of museums to collect materials on political and social controversies that impact their respective communities. This is a topic we raised at this week’s JMM Collections Committee.
6. One more honor for Mendes Cohen. Ilene and I have to admit that one of the highlights was taking home the Leadership in History Award for the A-Mazing Mendes Cohen project. What a great tribute to the whole team that put together this incredible project. On the morning of the awards ceremony, Ilene and I staffed a booth explaining the background of the exhibit and living history character. The most bittersweet moment was that nearly everyone who came by the booth said “when can I come and see it” and we had to explain the unhappy fact that the project had expired. It certainly was an inspiration to bring back some of this experience within our new core exhibit.
Our poster presentation
7. Finally – full confession – we also had fun. Marvin attended a workshop on “gamification” of museum content. For someone whose two top passions are board games and museums this was as good as it gets. On Thursday night we took a stroll down “Whiskey Row” – now home to several museums including the Frazier Museum (with a great homemade exhibit and theater program on Lewis and Clark) and the Louisville Slugger Factory Tour. Here you see me holding Mickey Mantle’s baseball bat (but that’s only because Hank Greenberg’s wasn’t available).
A true Louisville Slugger
But by far my most unusual Louisville experience was attending a small reception at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. This is the home of a business that proclaims itself Kentucky’s first commercial distiller. It is indeed still a family owned business – except that family is not the Williams’ it’s the Shapira’s that have owned the parent company, Heaven Hill, for seven generations (for those of you who attended the Schnapps with Pops program in June, this comes as no surprise). The tour of the faux factory was entertaining and it ends with a bourbon tasting. I’m afraid the 23 year old bourbon was wasted on my uneducated palette.
Video screens informed you how to properly “taste” the bourbon.
Next year this conference moves to Detroit. I’ll let you know if they let us test drive a Corvette.
A blog post from Executive Director Marvin Pinkert and Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Marvin click HERE. To read more posts by Ilene click HERE.
Posted on August 5th, 2015 by Rachel
I love walking into the Feldman Gallery and looking at so many movie posters from the past . I love the way that Joanna and our interns have delved into research to seek out the images of the movie theaters that actually showed the movies during the 1930-1960’s. I have enjoyed listening to our visitors reminisce of the past but I do have to admit….I am missing the Amazing Mendes Cohen! I miss not seeing Mendes’ face in the Feldman Gallery, both donning a turban and also posing as a young man in the early 19th century. I miss not hearing the piano music of Charles -Valentin Alkan, as you enter the gallery; one of the first Jewish composers to incorporate Jewish melodies to his music. I miss the puzzle pieces and watching groups of students working together to put puzzle pieces in place. I see Flat Mendes every day- but I still miss the Amazing Mendes Cohen in my life at the JMM.
This past weekend- my hubby and I decided to play tourist in Baltimore in the hope that I could get “my fix” of Mendes Cohen. On Sunday we started our day at the Farmer’s Market underneath the Jones Falls Expressway. After buying two coffees, pastry, and two kinds of string beans; we headed north to Mount Vernon. In particular, I wanted to climb the Washington Monument which was rededicated on July 4, 2015; 200 years after the initial cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1815. I wanted to see the building where Mendes and the famous Cohen brothers were instrumental in the state – funded lottery business that helped to raise the money to build the first monument dedicated to the first President of the United States, George Washington. I wanted to see some sort of mention of Mendes Cohen at the monument.
Washington Monument, 1890
Robert Mills is credited with the design of the structure of the Washington Monument. I understood that the citizens of Baltimore were particularly proud to erect this monument to Washington in light of their recent role in securing American liberty during the Battle of Baltimore, a turning point in the War of 1812. Baltimoreans were also proud that the monument was built of local white marble, from quarries north of the city.
I was excited to begin my 160 foot climb to the top. I thought it was interesting to see how the bricks were laid on their sides in a circular ring as we hiked up the steps.
Washington Monument bricks – circular staircase
I also thought it was interesting to see how narrow the space was and I understood that the staff at the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy only allows five people to climb the monument at any given time during tours.
As we continued our climb up the narrow steps, I was happy to see a marker dated 1818 noting that we had climbed 106 feet.
That’s a lot of steps!
I also noticed some graffiti where someone had written “1908” in black on the walls. By 1829, the main column of the monument was completed, and the statue of Washington, sculpted by the Italian artist Henrico Causici, was raised to the top. As we were getting closer to the top, I was excited to see the view- and I wondered if Mendes ever climbed the steps to the top and saw the spectacular view of Mount Vernon Place.
When you get to the top of the monument, you do get a chance to see Baltimore from all directions north, east, west and south. However, you must stay inside and behind the glass to take your pictures….. a bit disappointing. At the top, you begin to understand how the Washington Monument quickly became an important symbol of the city and state of Maryland. President John Quincy Adams, who assisted in composing the text of the bronze inscriptions on the monument’s base outlining the key events in Washington’s life, dubbed Baltimore “The Monumental City.”
View From the Top
As we climbed down, I realized how lucky we were to have had the opportunity to climb to the top. I am certain the citizens living in Baltimore in the early 19th century were in awe of this impressive structure built and dedicated to the nation’s first president. It was fun to imagine Mendes Cohen wandering the grounds where the monument was built in the early 19th century. The structure is a wonderful testament to the builders of Baltimore and a beautiful place for citizens to gather and enjoy all that Baltimore has to offer.
The wonderful Kelly Suredam Potter
I want to thank JMM Museum Educator, Kelly Suredam Potter, who also works at the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy for telling me about the opportunity to climb the monument. It was a lot of fun to climb this iconic landmark as well as try to appease my longing to connect with the Amazing Colonel Mendes I. Cohen. Long Live Mendes!
A blog post by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click HERE.