Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Marvella Bayh’s Eggplant Parmigiana Brings Back Childhood Memories

 During the pandemic lockdown, many of us found ourselves revisiting family cookbooks for gems from the past. In our family home in Harwich Port, Massachusetts, my nephew Clark and his wife Jenn were diving deep into my late mother’s well-worn cookbooks when they found three pages of a recipe along with a note on U.S. Senate stationery reading:

                                                                                    May 5, 1970

Dear Mrs. Clark,

     Here is the Eggplant Parmigiana Recipe that Brooks seemed to like.

     I hope you all like it as much as we do. I’ll be anxious to know.


Evan Bayh, who lived a few blocks down Garfield Street, was one of my neighborhood friends who walked to and from school past my house. In a visit to their home, I must have devoured Mrs. Bayh’s eggplant parmigiana with relish, and in a phone conversation with my mother, she offered to send my mom the recipe.

Sharing recipes is a time-honored way to nurture social bonds. In this case it was an especially gracious way for my classmate’s mom to reach out to a fellow mom she hadn’t yet gotten to know. Sometimes recipe-sharing can nurture intergenerational bonds as well.

Jenn and Clark knew that Marvella was the late wife of Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, known as “The Father of Title IX” for his role in writing and passing the 1972 legislation that banned discrimination based on gender in education, athletics and activities that receive federal financial assistance. I was pleased to mention to them that Marvella, who had met Birch when she beat him in a college debating contest, had applied to the University of Virginia Law School in the early 60s but was turned down because of her gender. She made sure this injustice was very much on Birch’s mind as he worked on Title IX.

My mother and Marvella had plenty of opportunities to interact as Evan and I made our way through high school. In the fall of 1971, my mother took our neighborhood gang to the Washington Senators’ last game before they departed for Texas. The game ended in a riot, and my mother got lost on the way home. Evan had to make a call home from a pay phone—all on a school night. My parents also took us to see The Last Picture Show, the rather racy version of Larry McMurtry’s novel about growing up in a north Texas oil town. Not pleased, Mrs. Bayh said she came from an Oklahoma town not too far from the fictional Anarene, and that was most certainly not how she grew up. Through it all, she was always very kind to me, and I still treasure the U.S. Senate pen and mechanical pencil she gave me as a high school graduation gift.

In those years, Mrs. Bayh was diagnosed with breast cancer. As she fought her battle, she served as a courageous president and spokesperson for the American Cancer Society. She died in 1979 at 46.

Jenn showed the recipe to my sister, Kathy, who made it for our vacation arrival dinner. We arrived after our two-day drive and —Covid protocols in effect—ate it on a picnic table outside with appropriate social distancing. It was especially gratifying to share this meal with family of several generations.

I emailed Evan about the many memories the eggplant parmigiana had brought me. He replied, “Thanks so much. I probably enjoyed that dish a hundred times growing up, and seeing my mother’s recipe and handwriting is especially evocative.”

Monday, April 15, 2024

Moonshine Myths: So Who Was That 'Mountain Boy' From 'Thunder Road'?

The article below ran in Metro Pulse in April of 2014.  On the 70th anniversary of the (fictional) events of "The Ballad of Thunder Road," we re-look at the clues to the identity of Robert Mitchum's mysterious moonshiner.

Let me tell the story, I can tell it all

About the mountain boy who ran illegal alcohol.

His daddy made the whiskey, son he drove the load,

When his engine roared,

They called the highway Thunder Road. …

On the first of April, 1954,

The Federal man sent word he'd better make his run no more…

"The Ballad of Thunder Road" was written and recorded by Robert Mitchum in 1958 to go along with the movie he wrote and starred in. Backed by a twanging guitar, Mitchum sings of "the mountain boy" ignoring the federal man's warning and "roaring out of Harlan, revving up his mill, he shot the gap at Cumberland and screamed by Maynardville," then "blazing right through Knoxville, out on Kingston Pike... right outside of Bearden, there they made the fatal strike."

With the song's specific points of our local geography, Knoxvillians above a certain age—who might have grown up singing the tune's infectious chorus in campfire sing-alongs and had the movie's dramatic crash into an electric switching station emblazoned on their psyches—generally tend to assume that the song was based on a real crash on the backside of Bearden Hill. Whether the song refers to something that really happened or not, the legacy of Thunder Road is a touchstone of our cultural landscape on the order of Vol football, TVA, and the Civil War. Local poet/singer/songwriter R.B. Morris even recorded a soulful version of the song in 1997 and for years thereafter ended his live shows with it.

So, this month we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the action behind that song and offer something new: the best lead yet on the identity of the actual "mountain boy" whom Mitchum used as the model for his movie and song, brought to us by a relentless historical researcher named Kate Clabough.

Theories and Suspects

In her search for the mountain boy, Clabough has, to quote Isaac Newton, stood on the shoulders of giants. It is an inconvenient truth that there is no record of a crash of a moonshiner on or around April 1, 1954. That would have been too easy. In these pages, 10 years ago, Jack Neely pointed out the delightful coincidence that April 4, 1954, saw the first official NASCAR event ever held in Tennessee, at the Broadway Speedway. The formal NASCAR circuit had sprouted from the rich tradition of dirt track drivers, many of whom had learned their driving chops running moonshine.

In that story, Neely also posed the tantalizing idea that Mitchum might have heard stories about East Tennessee moonshiners in 1955 from Knoxville native James Agee, who had been the screenwriter for The Night of the Hunter, in which Mitchum can still spark audience nightmares as the murderous circuit rider Harry Powell, with "L-O-V-E" and "H-A-T-E" tattooed on his knuckles. In fact, Mitchum's brother Jim confirmed to Neely that Agee and Mitchum were drinking buddies on that film.

In response to that article, Neely got several calls. "One man said he remembered vividly hearing about the original wreck from his sixth-grade teacher in Fountain City in 1953. ‘I believe I can assure you that it was real,' he said on the message. I tried to call him back on the number he left, but wasn't able to reach him."

Buddy Wagner said it happened in 1952—April, he thinks—when Wagner was a Fulton High student of 17. He offered many details of hearing about a bad wreck and walking to actually see it, at an electric substation near Papermill Road.

A fellow named Don Palmer said there was no crash, but that the story was based on his father, Dan, who once told bootlegging stories to Mitchum on a fishing trip that also included Kirby Grant, star of the TV show Sky King.

Although none of these detailed, interesting accounts could be verified, it's possible that many of these stories helped Mitchum develop the idea for his movie. In his 2001 Mitchum biography, Baby, I Don't Care, Lee Server notes that "Mitchum had been fiddling with the idea for years" of a movie about moonshiners outrunning treasury agents.

In 1957, Server writes, Mitchum joined up with Texas newspaperman/mystery novelist James Atlee Phillips. "Mitchum had worked up a story line concerning an ex-soldier returning to his Smoky Mountain home, running illegal alcohol across the state, trying to outwit and outrace the authorities; and another writer, Walter Wise, had done a draft, but it needed a lot of work. Mitchum wanted more details, an inside feel for the milieu."

Mitchum and Atlee traveled to Washington, D.C., where Atlee's brother David, "a rising star at the CIA," helped gain them access to the files of the Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division. There they spent days gathering details about the government's many-fronted war on Appalachian moonshining. Some of the lyrics of the song, even the date, have the ring of an official report.

After stopping in Asheville to talk moonshine with treasury agent John Corbin and Al Dowtin, head of the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, Mitchum returned to Hollywood to put together a cast and crew. Perhaps the saddest fact about Thunder Road was that Mitchum offered the role of the younger brother to Elvis Presley, who had just had his respectable movie debut in Love Me Tender. Since Col. Tom Parker's asking price was half the budget of the picture, the role went to Mitchum's son Jim, and Elvis lost one of his last chances for an interesting dramatic role.

When filming began in autumn of 1957, writes Server, "[t]he working atmosphere was extremely relaxed, the script vestigial." Server quotes actor Gene Barry, playing Treasury agent Troy Barrett, saying, "I found they were making it up as they went along. … Jim Phillips was constantly writing new scenes, taking advantage of local color they found, and some of the people were very colorful."

In two editions of his book Return to Thunder Road: The Story Behind the Legend, Lenoir City writer/physicist Alex Gabbard explored every part of the moonshining culture, parsed every name in the movie for clues, traced the route described in the song—from Harlan, Ky., on Highway 33 through Maynardville, Knoxville, and "out on Kingston Pike, right outside of Bearden, where they made the fatal strike."

Gabbard interviewed a West Knoxville man, John Fitzgerald, who swore convincingly that he saw the crash right there where Mattress Direct and Walker's Formal are today. Fitzgerald described the smell, the way the driver was lying on the ground, and the misty green '52 Ford he had crashed. Gabbard never found any account of such an incident.

Though Gabbard never found the real mountain boy, the quest for this particular Holy Grail remained his passion. Over the years, like Neely, he's gotten many calls from people claiming it was their father, or grandfather, or uncle. "This is the nature of legends," explains Gabbard. "These are the stories people have heard growing up, and they are a part of their lives."

And this is the power of a legend that fits and illuminates our collective past. Like King Arthur or Robin Hood for the English, the story is more powerful for what we don't know, precisely because it informs so much of our regional history and our culture. Robert Mitchum tapped something powerful, real, and enduring when he wrote a story about a father who made moonshine and a fast-driving son who delivered it to their customers—and who died one tragic day.

Enter the Gangsterologist

Kate Clabough grew up in Holdrege, Neb., but she had been born in Denver, Colo., while her parents were visiting doctor friends. Her mother, Bev Klamm, was a seamstress, and her dad, Dick, was an electrical and electronics technician with Platte Pipeline, later bought by Marathon Oil. After Kate was born, a childless couple walked into the Rocky Mountain Osteopathic Hospital and offered Beverly $10,000 and a Cadillac for her.

"She obviously didn't sell me," says Kate. "But when I got in trouble, she would occasionally remind me, ‘You know, I had an opportunity to sell you.'"

Kate grew up hearing her family stories. Like Uncle Oscar, who everyone said robbed the same bank in Jefferson City, Mo., three times, then got hit on the head and had amnesia for 10 years then showed up back home when his memory came back. Or her Grandma Alice and her sister Eva, who knew their way around the Prohibition speakeasies of downtown Kansas City. "Eva was a true flapper," says Clabough. "She had a Model T she'd ride around in, and they knew all the gangsters of the day."

The stories had always made Clabough want to find the truth. "I'm pretty good about not taking people's words for things," she says. "I went back and found Uncle Oscar's prison records, and I saw that he really did rob the same bank three times. I can't find any records about his amnesia." In later life she joined the Oklahombres and a gangsterologist group that helped her track down the names of bad guys she'd heard from Alice and Eva. "If there's information out there to be found, I'll find it," she says.

After graduating from Kearney (Neb.) State, her curiosity about records and local history got her a job at the Hoesch Memorial Library in Alma, Neb., which doubled as the morgue for the local paper and where she was trained as a researcher.

In 1997, Kate moved from Nebraska to Louisville, Tenn., to marry David Clabough, a dairy farm manager turned graphic designer. David told her about many aspects of Appalachian life and culture, including our storied history of moonshining, fast cars, and Mitchum's cult classic movie and song. "David, his dad, they didn't exactly tout it as a true story, but as a story that could be true."

"I wasn't fascinated just with Thunder Road, I was fascinated with the whole moonshine culture and East Tennessee mountain culture in general," she says. "It was a totally foreign concept to me. Being from the Midwest, moonshining was all Chicago and Al Capone. I had never really heard stories about mountain-men moonshiners. I love studying people and places and eras and culture. I love the why and the where and the what for. I'm also a natural born skeptic. I don't believe a lot of things. I noticed right off that the movie and the ballad didn't match." (The movie was filmed in and around Asheville, with the crash supposedly occurring somewhere in West Tennessee, not Knoxville.)

Along with area historians like Gabbard, Clabough first looked in Harlan to find the roots of Mitchum's story. She wrote letters to people all over that area. "Not one lead," she says, "not a glimmer of recognition. It didn't take me very long to figure out it was Hollywood legend."

In around 2001, Clabough also talked at length with John Fitzgerald and found details in his descriptions—like treasury agents buying a Grapette soda—compelling. Says Clabough, "In the clippings, I never found a moonshiner's wreck from those years, but I did find a story about federal agents testing a new fangled technology—radar. John may have seen them testing radar that day, and everything he described may have been exactly as he saw it." When Fitzgerald died, in April 2005, his wife, Lylan, gave him a Thunder Road-themed funeral.

Clabough, meanwhile, vowed that she would someday find the mountain boy, even as she was writing dozens of stories and keeping up with her blended family of five children. She checked newspaper microfilm, police reports, and funeral-home records and found nothing. She interviewed Knoxvillians with memories of similar crashes of moonshiners or stories they'd heard about some of our area's great dirt-track drivers, or their grandfathers, or friends of their grandfathers.

One elderly woman called and told about a crash off North Central, where the car turned over and the upturned bottles in the trunk poured whiskey all over the street.

Another caller said the movie was based on moonshine-runner Gus Mathis. Clabough called Mathis' widow, Grace, at her Cocke County home. Grace said, yes, indeed, Gus ran his car over Swann's Bridge headlong into a police car, ended up in a full body cast, and got 13 years in prison in Atlanta. But he was not the subject of the movie.

From the very beginning, Grant McGarity, longtime head of the Knoxville office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, told Clabough he had always heard the real subject of Mitchum's movie was from Cocke County. This was logical, since Newport had for many years been the nation's capital of moonshining.

Following this lead, Clabough sent a letter to the editor of The Newport Plain Talk. It was a short note, saying she was looking for the identity of the person in the movie Thunder Road.

Within days, Clabough received an unsigned letter, written in a neat script, probably that of an elderly female, on two sides of lined notebook paper.

It was postmarked Knoxville. It said that the facts, "as told by my mother," were that "the person in Thunder Road was from Mountain Rest in Upper Cosby, now in the National Park. Pinkney Gunter was a maker of moonshine. His son, Rufus, was the ‘runner' and delivery man. … According to my mother, his parents were approached about making the movie, but his father refused. Eventually, his mother did sign the release."

Days later, Clabough received a second letter, also postmarked Knoxville but in a different hand and signed. (The 84-year-old writer wished her name withheld.) "It included a list of names and addresses I could call to verify," says Clabough. The writer said Gunter went off a bridge into the lake, and she went "to watch when they were dragging the body."

Then Clabough got a call from Cocke County Judge Ben Hooper. "Thunder Road was based on a man named Rufus Gunter," Hooper told Clabough. "He didn't die like Mitchum's character, but he certainly lived like him. I remember my Uncle George Poe taking me to see him race in Knoxville. He talked him into giving me a ride. He drove a '37 or '38 Ford. I remember the car had no passenger seat so I sat down low on the floor. The car bounced all over. I was scared to death. I wouldn't say it was a good experience."

Hooper said that in December 1955 Gunter was being chased on Asheville Highway, just outside of Knoxville, when he ran off the J. Will Taylor Bridge crossing the Holston River, and drowned.

Ronnie Moore, son of racing legend Ralph Burdette "Duck" Moore, told Clabough that his father knew Rufus Gunter well. They raced against each other in the '40s and early '50s, until Gunter's death took him off the circuit.

The colorful Eddie Harvey, late proprietor of Eddie's Auto Parts on Broadway in North Knoxville, had souped up engines for Rufus Gunter. In a 2007 Fred Brown story in the News Sentinel headlined "The End of Thunder Road," Harvey, himself a former moonshiner and race-car driver, described the events surrounding Gunter's death. "He outran the law all the way to the French Broad River and then stopped for some reason," wrote Brown. "Harvey says he must have thought that he would swim across to the other side. But Gunter may not have calculated accurately." [Ed. Note: Metro Pulse ran a profile of Eddie Harvey in 2000 by Betty Bean with a similar account.]

Said Harvey, "It was ice cold and Rufe was red hot from driving that car. He jumped for it. When he hit the water, he took a cramp and went under. It took me a week to find him."

If Gunter stopped his car and jumped, that would account for there being no accident report or news story.

In the News Sentinel interview, Harvey didn't explicitly say that Gunter had been the model for Thunder Road. So Clabough called the Harveys. She spoke first with Eddie's wife, Barbara, who confirmed that Eddie "absolutely knew that Rufus was the model for Thunder Road." Then, sitting at their kitchen table, Clabough heard more. "Ed said they didn't find the body for three days," says Clabough. "He said they found him about 75 feet from where he went in. He borrowed a boat and rowed out to get the body. He said Rufus was hooked up on a tree."

Gunter's death certificate lists the time of injury as Dec. 23, 1955, but says he was found dead on Feb. 12, 1956. So he may have been in the water for longer than Eddie Harvey remembered.

In the context of Cocke County moonshining, it's not surprising that it took more than 50 years for outsiders to get three sources for the name and tale of Rufus Gunter. Though it's "colorful regional flavor" to historical researchers, it was dangerous organized crime to those who lived it. Some might say that even today there are secrets in Cocke County that prudent souls might not want to ask too many questions about.

Real Life in the Smokies

For Clabough, the search for Thunder Road led her back in time. Following a lead, Clabough visited the home of an elderly Jean Costner Schilling near Newport. During the Depression, Schilling's father, Ike Costner, had been the biggest moonshine distributor in East Tennessee.

He did time in Leavenworth and, with Al Capone, was on the first trainload of convicts sent to newly opened Alcatraz in 1933. Ironically, Costner had learned to make whiskey at a government-run distillery in Cocke County before Prohibition.

Schilling gave Clabough a boxful of materials, including newspaper clippings describing her father as the "Newport Bad Boy" and several volumes of poems by Schilling's aunt, Ike's sister, Ella Costner, the Poet Laureate of the Smokies.

The volumes included Ella's memoir, Song of Life in the Smokies, a frank and chilling portrait of desperate poverty, Godliness and violence, good souls and bad, in early 20th-century Cocke County. Ella's father was a preacher and a good man. She became a Navy nurse, saw the world, came back home, and wrote about it all.

Ella Costner knew the Gunters. Her book includes the names and genealogy of the families in the Cosby area, including "Pink" Gunter, his wife Susie—called "Ollie," maiden name Ramsey—and their son Rufus. "Rufus was killed when his car went in the river," wrote Costner. "It was thought the law chased him."

Born about 1920, Rufus was 33 when he died on Dec. 23, 1955. Not exactly a boy, but still the beloved son of Pink and Ollie Gunter. "This is about a movie and a legend," says Clabough. "But it's also a story about the death of somebody's loved one."

Ella Costner describes an awkward encounter with Pink, in which he shook her hand, then scratched her palm with his fingernails as he drew it away. This was a standard invitation to sex, delivered right in front of Ella's parents, more or less as a remembrance of old times.

Clabough is using her boxful of research to write a full biography of Ike.

"Ike's biography got put on hold for a few years as I did a couple of local history books for Arcadia Publishing—the History of Lenoir City and the History of Farragut and Concord—and a novel, Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Murder, and helped care for aging in-laws," says Clabough.

"Then there was that little event in our lives when our triplet grandbabies were born. We'll just label that joyous chaos. They're 3 now and it's time for me to get back to writing full-time again.

"These topics always seem to come back to me. It's like a thing I throw out the door and it comes back. A gangsterologist friend wrote and said, ‘My grandmother had a bed and breakfast in Baltimore, and Ike Costner used to stay there all the time.' It comes back and it comes back. And Ike is at the top of the list. His story is uniquely East Tennessee and I think people around here will find it interesting. A bit of trivia: Every time the local band Pistol Creek Catch of the Day plays ‘The Ballad of Thunder Road' and I'm in the audience, they dedicate it to me. "

Nashville native Brooks Clark started singing along to "The Ballad of Thunder Road" in a station wagon with his five older siblings at the age of 3. They still sing it at family gatherings today.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Hazel Stewart Liberman Arnett (1922-2023), author, TV producer, magazine editor


Hazel Liberman Arnett; 100, died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on August 27, 2023.

      Hazel Stewart Liberman was born in New York City on December 14, 1922, the third of four daughters of Bertha Bayer Liberman and Isaac Liberman.

      Throughout her long life, she was open and vocal about her role as the black sheep of the Liberman family. “I was unwanted,” she said to Brooks Clark, biographer of her younger sister Sally L. Smith. “When I had the nerve to come out female, that was a disappointment. I don’t know if I was supposed to be a sort of surrogate heir when my father strangely chose Stewart for my middle name. Well, I say this because it seems I’d been named after his store at the time, Stewart & Company.” I chuckled a little. “You laugh,” she said to Clark. “But it wasn’t funny. In fact, I felt so ashamed of having a boy’s name that whenever I was asked what the S stood for, I invariably lied, answering, ‘Susan.’

       “Not only was I not forgiven for not being the wished-for male heir, but also for not having my siblings’ light skin. My father, for some odd reason, overlooked the fact that my dark skin had come from him! As a result of being made to feel different, my image of myself was that of an ugly duckling Yet there were those who saw me through another lens, like Sally’s Bennington College buddy Ruth Lyford, who said, ‘Hazel was absolutely gorgeous and so different from the older sisters. She did things her way.’

   “Yes, I was the maverick in the family. I was the rebellious one. Although Sally was less so, I knew there were times when she looked up to me. Contrary to her memory, however, she was strongly supported emotionally by our parents. She was what you might call their golden girl. Whatever—putting perceptions aside, I am enormously proud of my sister, who left a giant footprint in the field of teaching children with learning differences.”

      Other aspects made Hazel different from her sisters. As she admitted to Clark, “I was a loner and a culture vulture, which I still am. I would often spend Saturday afternoons at a museum by myself. Or sit in the last row of the balcony to see a Broadway show, would you believe, for just fifty cents!”

       With high hopes of becoming an opera singer, Hazel started her training at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music while enrolled as a liberal arts student at the University of Cincinnati. “Unfortunately,” says Hazel, “the conservatory was not at all good.” So, she returned to New York, where she entered the BS degree program at the Juilliard School of Music as a voice major. Although the basic music program was superb, the voice department was not, forcing her to change her major. “I soon discovered the vocal faculty had always been notoriously weak, and when the outside teacher I eventually chose heard me sing he exclaimed, ‘Oh, another Juilliard wreck!’ That he took me on was incredible considering he had produced such stars as Todd Duncan, the first Porgy, and one of the Metropolitan’s greatest baritones, Leonard Warren.”

         With tuition having been paid by her parents, it fell to Hazel to pay for the lessons. This meant getting a job. At first she found part-time work at Columbia University “punching an IBM machine” and tabulating true-false exam scores. After a year she was hired to do research for a music-loving advertising executive who had contracts for a monthly music page in Good Housekeeping and articles for the programs handed out at the Met. “To my shock and amazement,” she told me, “this man also expected me to become his ghostwriter! Who? Inexperienced me? In all honesty, I had never considered writing my strong suit, but somehow I rose to the challenge and managed to muddle through. Since part of my job was to conduct interviews behind the curtain, I got my first taste of backstage life. Although thrilling at first, it soon became quite the tutorial on the less glamorous side of stardom.

      “As time passed, plus the unpredictable vicissitudes of life, I was to switch gears and, with the help of many kind folks, was able to gain a footing in my new trade. Early on I racked up credits as a radio music continuity writer in New York and for a show produced by the Marshall Plan in Paris starring film actor Jean-Pierre Aumont.” Following that, Hazel scripted another show for the Marshall Plan called The International Women’s Program, which was in essence an exchange of inspirational ideas beamed to four other European countries.

       Back in the States, Hazel worked as a TV writer and producer for two years at CBS crafting scripts for Mike Wallace and three years at NBC working for Hugh Downs and Arlene Francis. Later she wrote and produced industrial films for AT&T and Dow Chemical.

      Hazel also enjoyed a magazine career. While in Paris she worked as a reporter for Line, an American start-up publication created for Seventh Avenue fashion houses that couldn’t afford to view haute couture shows in person. There, Hazel’s beat was to cover runway shows, as well as culling boutiques for newsworthy items to copy. Years later she was to edit Sew Fashionable, a sewing magazine. After that she spent two years as Fashion Editor of Woman’s Day, landing next at Family Weekly as its manuscript editor. Her final stop for five years was as executive editor of Science Digest. 

       Hazel published two books: I Hear America Singing (1975), about two centuries of folk songs, and Converso (2005), a three-generational novel tracing the legacy of the Portuguese Inquisition and the “crypto” Jews it created.

       As mentioned earlier, Hazel did things her way and, as was her wont, she set her course in another way. Whereas all her sisters had had huge Jewish weddings, Hazel said, “I eloped with Russell Arnett, a non-Jew, and we promptly moved to France for him to learn filmmaking at the prestigious Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographique.”

       Toward the end of his studies at IDHEC, Russell served an apprenticeship with motion picture producer Alexander Salkind on two features, one made in Spain, the other in France. On returning to the United States, he was employed as an assistant director on the Army’s Signal Corps training films. From there he became assistant director of the Guy Lombardo TV series for two years before moving on to feature films. Among several well-known directors he assisted were Bud Yorkin and Peter Bogdanovich. As a director, his specialties were TV commercials and industrial films. His major clients for industrials were Lederle Laboratories and Singer Sewing Machines; for commercials, the production company Screen Gems.

       After fourteen years of marriage, Hazel and Russell had her parents’ only granddaughter, Hayley. Approximately six years later the couple divorced. 

       In 1984 Hazel moved to Saint Louis to head the media arm of a famous institute. Within a year she met her second husband, Wayner Swenson, a successful contractor and realtor. After seventeen years, the very happy union of two culture vultures suddenly came to an end when Swenson died in 2001.

       Hazel remained very active through her nineties. At one point she submitted a different ten-minute play to two playwriting festivals and was working on an original feature film treatment. Living as long as she did, Hazel Arnett’s childhood memories date back to the Roaring Twenties and the remarkable coming-to-America story of her parents and their families.   


A Gray Homburg and Spats on West End Avenue                

On Sunday afternoons in the late 1920s, Isaac Liberman would don his gray spats and matching homburg hat, pick up his wooden cane with a gold band around it, and usher his wife, Bertha, and three daughters into their elevator at 272 West Ninetieth Street in Manhattan. From the front of their building, they walked a few steps to the corner, where Liberman turned and took the lead as they promenaded on West End Avenue, showing off the family to the neighborhood. Ike, as he was called, a trim five-foot-four and dapper, walked with a stride that was measured and determined. Bertha, barely five feet and fuller of figure, struggled to keep up at the best of times. “My father and mother never walked arm in arm,” remembered Hazel Liberman Arnett, who trailed behind with her older sisters, Ruth and Irene. Unlike the schoolgirls in the Madeline books, they did not walk in a straight line. “It was more of a rotating formation,” said Arnett.

       This was the West Side of Manhattan in the last days of the Roaring Twenties. Just a block to the west, fashionable figures like Babe Ruth, George Gershwin, and Damon Runyon steered their roadsters along the tree-lined curves and rises of Riverside Drive, which had been finished just nineteen years earlier but still felt like the modern world come to life.

        Sundays were the Libermans’ family time. The rest of the week, including Saturdays, Ike served on the board of New York’s oldest specialty store, Arnold Constable, at Fifth Avenue and Fortieth Street, for the middle class and ran Stewart & Company, the specialty store he had founded, serving upscale customers. “My father was a workaholic,” said Arnett. “We didn’t see him, except on Sunday. He went to work before we got up and came home after we went to bed. On Sunday, we’d put on our coats and walk the neighborhood.”

      By any measure Ike Liberman had plenty to show off. Since 1901, when he had arrived as a seventeen-year-old at the Castle Garden pier from Lithuania, he had founded and built Stewart & Company into one of Manhattan’s largest specialty stores, and in 1925 he had been asked to join the board of Arnold Constable.

      As the decade Lindy hopped toward its crescendo, Liberman was still on the rise, determined to build his fortune, burnish his name, and take his place in fashionable society. As with J. P. Morgan on Wall Street, the initials I. L. were identifier enough for Isaac Liberman in the retail world.

       In 1928 he had supervised the creation of the inaugural gown for the wife of the newly elected governor of New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The process of creating the gown included the input of Eleanor Roosevelt’s mother-in-law, Sara Delano Roosevelt. “I had picked a group of dresses that made her look younger,” said Liberman. “I had to show them to Mrs. Roosevelt’s mother-in-law. She said, ‘This is terrible.’” Liberman, being diplomatic, helped Eleanor and Sara settle on another style, although he knew it was not as flattering as the first group he had shown. Eleanor said to Liberman, “You know, you’ve been wonderful with my mother-in-law.” Later, he said, “Eleanor realized she’d made a mistake.” 

      It turned out to be the first of two inaugural gowns Liberman made for Roosevelt, who became a longtime friend and ally in philanthropic causes. At her behest, Liberman became an early and loyal supporter of the Wiltwyck School for Boys, which was located across the Hudson from the Roosevelts’ home in Hyde Park and served the needs of emotionally disturbed “juvenile delinquent” African American teenagers. 

      In the spring of 1929, while Bertha was pregnant with their fourth child, Liberman was busy with another venture—joining his friend Sam Golding in starting the Sterling National Bank and Trust Company. As it happened, the bank opened on May 7, 1929, the same day Bertha gave birth to Sarah Bayer Liberman, named after Bertha’s mother. Eddie Cantor, then starring in Whoopee! on Broadway, attended the bank’s opening celebration. “We compared births,” said Liberman. “Sally was my fourth daughter. Cantor said, ‘I can top that—I have five.’” Sally’s birth was long and painful: “The only one that had caused her such pain,” Sally remembered her mother saying, “the only one to make it necessary for her to go to the hospital.” [Hazel strongly disputes that her mother had to go to the hospital for Sally’s birth. Nonetheless, these are the words that Sally heard from her mother.]

       As he had before the birth of Hazel, Isaac Liberman had strongly hoped for a boy to carry on his business, and he expressed his disappointment in Bertha for not producing the right gender.    

        “I do remember the day Sally was born,” said Arnett. “I was in kindergarten downstairs in the building where we lived. There was this beautiful bassinette and inside there was this beautiful, fair-skinned baby. Later, in the summer, when we rented a hundred-acre estate in Dobbs Ferry, New York, I remember that beautiful bassinette next to my favorite tree, which I liked to climb.”

        “I was amazed about this fun little cherub,” said cousin Abba Bayer, always called Abby, who was about the same age as Arnett.     

        Thereafter, when the Libermans took their Sunday strolls on West End Avenue, the baby Sarah stayed back in the apartment with Anna MacDonald, the Scottish nurse who had been with the family for eleven years.[1] “She just took charge,” said Arnett. “Our time was all with the nurse. It wasn’t with our parents—just on Sunday.”

      MacDonald’s influence on the household can be gauged by a switch she made soon after the baby’s arrival. “Anna the nurse had the gall to change her name to Sally,” said Hazel, “which turned out to be her sister’s name. It was scandalous!”

       That summer, Liberman’s perspective as board member of a bank may have led him to take a close look at the surging stock market. Or perhaps he had a moment like that of Joseph P. Kennedy, who said he realized it was time to exit the market when taxi drivers offered him stock tips, the man shining his shoes gave him the latest financial news, and his cook had a brokerage account. Liberman may also have noticed the large numbers of his customers who were buying on credit. In fact, charge operations were making up 45 to 70 percent of his business, as they were in stores like Lord & Taylor, Best & Co., and Abraham & Strauss. Whatever Liberman’s reasoning, he, like Joe Kennedy, sold short before Black Friday, October 29, 1929. In the aftermath of the crash, as Arnett put it, “He made a killing.”

        Although Liberman had been savvy enough to sell his own stocks, he couldn’t save Stewart & Company. In unfortunate timing, Liberman had built a new location at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Sixth Street and opened it on October 16, 1929. The building featured an entranceway that was described in The New York Times as “a stupendously luxurious mix of limestone, bronze, platinum, and hammered aluminum . . . At the very top of the façade were limestone relief panels of two nearly naked women brandishing large scarves, as if dancing. The interior was just as opulent as the entrance: murals, decorative painting, and a forest of woods: satinwood, butternut, walnut, cherry, rosewood, bubinga, maple, ebony, red mahogany, and Persian oak.” An invitation to a luncheon preceding the inauguration ceremonies, which Eleanor Roosevelt attended, read, “signalizing through architecture and decoration a new era of art in fashion.”

     After the crash, with Stewart customers unable to buy anything, Liberman closed the new store and sold it to Paul Bonwit, who had for some time been urging him to make a deal for the location. “They were on Thirty-Eighth Street,” Liberman remembered. “He said Bonwit Teller belongs uptown.” Uptown it went, and there it remained for fifty years or so until a young developer from Queens tore the building down and erected a luxurious glass skyscraper that he named Trump Tower after himself.

      In the next phase of Liberman’s business life, he took over as president of Arnold Constable as it navigated the wreckage of the Great Depression. Part of his strategy anticipated the rise of the suburbs. Under Liberman’s leadership, Constable expanded into New Rochelle in 1937, followed thereafter by the Long Island towns of Hempstead and Manhasset; the New Jersey outposts Hackensack, Trenton, New Brunswick, and West Orange; and Upper Darby in Pennsylvania.

     In 1933, the Liberman family—Ike; Bertha; daughters Ruth, Irene, Hazel, and Sally; and Anna MacDonald, the nurse—moved to the East Side and a twelve-room apartment at 1000 Park Avenue, at Eighty-Fourth Street. Ike, as driven as ever, spent little time with the women at home. As his and Bertha’s social profile grew, she was consumed with raising money for Jewish charities and carrying out her role as a lady of New York society. She ran her household with the help of a cadre of live-in employees that over the years, along with MacDonald, included chambermaid and waitress Marie Sebek from Czechoslovakia; cook Lou Michael from Germany; and chauffeur and butler Al Crain from the horse country of Kentucky, where he had been an aspiring jockey (before he grew too tall) and a stable hand thereafter. A Runyonesque character, Crain loved to bet on the ponies, smoked cheap cigars, taught Hazel to drive, and served the family for many years. The live-in help was complemented by seamstresses and laundresses who came in for the day.

     The three older daughters went to Fieldston, the high school of the progressive Ethical Culture Society, in a leafy section of the Bronx. “It was peer pressure,” explained Hazel Arnett. “All of my parents’ friends’ kids had been sent to Fieldston, so we were, too.”

       Sally, meanwhile, attended Public School No. 6, the Lillie D. Blake School at East Eighty-Fifth Street, named after suffragist Lillie Devereaux Blake. Each morning MacDonald walked Sally from their door on Park Avenue one block up to Eighty-Fifth Street then one block over to Madison Avenue, then walked her back when school let out. Sally loved her dearly.

     Each winter Isaac and Bertha spent a month in Florida, leaving the children in MacDonald’s care. “None of us traveled,” said Hazel. “Here we are, rich kids. But we didn’t feel rich. We didn’t go to Bermuda like some of the other kids in our schools. Other than camp in Maine in the summer, none of us went anyplace.” 

      In this protected environment, “the baby” Sally spent most of her time at home alone with her dolls, her books, the games she made up, and Anna MacDonald. Sally’s was a privileged Park Avenue childhood that contrasted dramatically with the remarkable coming-to-America stories of her father and mother, just a generation before.

The Rise of Isaac Liberman

In 1900, a fire roared through the inventory of the yard-goods store owned by Isaac Liberman’s parents in the tiny rural shtetl of Ramygala, in northwest Lithuania, then still a part of the Russian Empire. In the aftermath, the government-run insurance paid just 10 percent of what the fabrics had been worth. Liberman, then sixteen, looked around at Ramygala (literally, “Quiet End”). Nestled in the highlands, it was remote from everything— except, from time to time, the bootheels of the Czar’s dragoons. Almost half of Ramygala’s 1,326 people were Jews, but that didn’t help when the pogroms came—or maybe it made things worse.

      To one extent or another, waves of violence against Jews were a recurring part of life in Czarist Russia in the latter half of the nineteenth century. It was said that things had been better in Lithuania’s capital city of Vilna, ninety miles to the southeast, where Poles, Latvians, Estonians, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Germans, and Russians had lived together in a cultural stew. But the Czar’s soldiers had seen to it that each pogrom was bloodier and more brutal than the last. Throughout the 1890s, Isaac’s four older brothers and sister, like thousands of Lithuanian Jews, had emigrated. His oldest two brothers, Udol and Zalman, had gone to Israel. Philip, Meyer, and Rose had left for New York City. Their letters home from Manhattan described a city where they could make a living. As the old joke went, “America is paradise. We work only a half day: twelve hours.” 

       Isaac had been born in 1885. In later life, not knowing the exact date of his birth, he picked December 25, because it was a day of the year he wouldn’t have to have his store open. In later life he also made it clear that he had no fond memories of the poverty and the injustice of having everything swept away in an instant. His grandson Randy Smith once asked him, “Don’t you ever want to go back?” Liberman paused and answered, “Why?”

       Isaac’s path of immigration likely took him through Poland and East Prussia to Hamburg, where steamers departed for America. Rose and Philip met him at the Castle Garden pier on the tip of Manhattan. It was 1901, and Isaac started working for Philip straight away. “My brother ran retail stores,” said Liberman, “convenience stores.” They sold dry goods, clothing, and notions. “His main store was on Eighth Avenue and Fortieth Street.”

      The family lived above the first floor, and Liberman lived with them. “I was of considerable help to him,” said Ike. “I didn’t know what ‘hours’ meant. I’d work six in the morning until ten at night, Sunday night until twelve. We used to stay open on Sunday morning until twelve, twelve-thirty. In spring and summer the streetcars were five cents a ride, which was itself interesting. On Sunday afternoons I’d take a ride on the streetcar up to 110th Street, where they had a regular Coney Island up there.”

     Throughout his life, Liberman generally pronounced v as w and vice versa, as in “ewentually” and “vuz.” The following sentence is rendered as spoken to provide a feeling for the way Liberman spoke. “My job ewentually vas to open up some of these stores and see that they were vell stocked vith merchandise, at Canal Street and Broadvay and places like that. Eventually ve opened up a big one on Broadvay opposite City Hall. One of the big stores had occupied that corner. They moved further uptown and my brother took over that store.”

      Liberman remembered that Frank W. Woolworth had his offices on that corner. “Mr. Woolworth used to come in to the store, and he asked me some questions. He was very pleasant, very nice. Eventually, he put up the Woolworth building, one of the first skyscrapers.”

        One day in 1903 or thereabouts, Philip made Isaac an offer. “My brother said to me, ‘I’ve just taken another store, and I’m going to make you a partner of mine in that store.’ I was naturally delighted. I thought that was wonderful of my brother to have done. So we went down and saw where the store was, and he had laid out exactly what was happen to open the store, and he said to me, ‘We’re going to call it either Liberman Brothers or Philip & Isaac Liberman.’ I couldn’t sleep that night thinking that I would be in business with my brother.

      “We opened up and it was very successful, we were doing business, but my name did not appear over the store, so I spoke to my brother. I said, ‘I thought I was to be a partner of yours and we were going to call it Liberman Brothers or Philip and Isaac Liberman.’ He said, ‘I’ve thought it over, and I thought you were too young.’ He thought that I ought to wait. ‘Eventually,’ he says, ‘we’ll do it. But you’re too young yet.’ So I was very disturbed about it. He was probably right, but youth doesn’t understand that. [It] can’t wait. I said, ‘I hate to do it, but I can’t put my efforts to the best if I’m thinking that my name wouldn’t be up,’ and I said I would like to step out of the business. He said, ‘Well, that’s all right, but I can’t pay you out.’ I said, ‘I’ll take one half of the merchandise, if you will permit me to keep it in the basement until I get myself located,” and so it was. I must have been about twenty.”

        This was Liberman’s sanitized version of this episode, rendered with seven and a half decades of perspective. In fact, this parting of the ways was considerably more bitter. Philip later moved to Florida, where he started the first commercial bank in Miami Beach and his son Marcie served as mayor from 1947 to 1949. Liberman did not approve of Marcie because he was unpolished, was often quoted for his malapropisms, and reportedly socialized with mobsters.

       In later years, Liberman also broke off social relations with his older brother Meyer, even when Meyer was working for him at Arnold Constable. Liberman was self-disciplined and assiduous in his personal habits. He held everyone around him to his own lofty standards of behavior, appearance, and achievement. As apparent as these traits were in later years to Liberman’s wife and children, they were also fully present when he was in his early twenties, beginning to build his business.

       “My first store was on 1418 Broadway right opposite the Metropolitan Opera House,” Liberman recalled. “It was an empty store and I took it. I went to the resources and they all welcomed me very nicely and they gave me credit, and I bought nice merchandise to add to what I had. Since that store was located next to the opera, in the middle of the block, and there was plenty of activity until about twelve o’clock, and so I stayed open until twelve o’clock. I was very envious of the papers, particularly the Sunday papers, and all the advertising there. I thought, “If I could only afford to spend some money on the advertising.” I checked it out, and I thought it was too expensive. I went around to the newsstands and I asked them, if I was to print a circular, would they put it in the Sunday section of the papers. They wanted to know what I would pay, and I said, ‘Whatever you say as a tryout, but you’ve got to be reasonable to start with,’ and they said yes. The Sunday paper came out, it was the same size as the newspaper pages, and it was successful. That was my first experience in advertising, but it didn’t last long. The newspapers put in a restriction because the loose flyers fell out of the papers and into the street.

      “We were going along, the store was too small, and there was a store a block and a half away, near Forty-Second Street, opposite the Imperial Hotel and Broadway. The store was successful, doing good business. I was in that store for quite a few years. I operated under the name Stewart and Company because Liberman Brothers was taken.”

      His first Fifth Avenue store was between was between Thirty-Eighth and Thirty-Ninth. His next store, offering “Correct Apparel for Women & Misses,” was at Fifth Avenue and Thirty-Seventh Street.

      Around this time, Liberman helped organize the Fifth Avenue Association, which shaped the future of that storied commercial district. “Between 1913 and 1920,” writes William Leach in Land of Desire, “streets were widened, trees planted, public space freed—to the ‘extent that it was possible’—of ‘riff-raff,’ as the association’s notes reported. ‘Isles of safety’ for pedestrians were created on the streets and garish billboards were demolished. At the urging of the association, the city adopted new subway stations and rerouted bus service to serve the retail district better.”

       At that point, Liberman decided to take a buying trip to Europe, “particularly to France.” He and his two closest friends, a lawyer and an engineer, started out in Paris. “We made an arrangement with the commissionaire there, had everything lined up so we can place orders. So it was.” Next they took the train to Venice, because Isaac wanted to see what Venice looked like. “I didn’t know if there was anything I was interested in purchasing in Venice, and I just couldn’t take the smell of the canals.” His friends said he was too fussy. “I may be too fussy,” he told them. “But I can’t breathe. I can’t fall asleep.”

      So they adjourned to the Adriatic oceanfront at Lido Beach. “It was beautiful,” Liberman recalled. “It was a great place for schoolteachers, and”—a memory that plainly endured— “they used to bathe nude.” Then, said Liberman, “a Sunday morning came along and there was an extra: Austria had declared war against Serbia. ‘Oh my God,’ I says. ‘What’s that going to mean?’ We were supposed to leave on Monday morning to Trieste.” They asked Cook’s travel bureau what they should do. “They said, ‘Oh, don’t pay attention to that Austria Declares War. They’re going to walk in and that will be the end of it. Go ahead.’ And that’s exactly what we did.”

      The three Americans found that their original itinerary would take them into the war zone. They were told that a big inland city, Vienna, would be safer. They ended up stuck in Vienna for three or four months. Fortunately, the manager of their hotel had managed the Imperial Hotel across the street from Liberman’s store in New York. Liberman and his friends had to obtain passports from the American embassy because up until that time, as he said, “you didn’t need ’em.”

       Eventually they made their way back to Paris, hoping to pick up some merchandise, but with nothing available they went on to England and home. “I was a different person when I stepped off the boat,” said Liberman. True to that statement, for the rest of his life, he never again left the United States.

A Match Is Made

       By 1916, Liberman had established himself as a successful entrepreneur and a respected civic leader. “So it was time for him to find a wife,” said Hazel Arnett. In line with the culture of the day, his introduction to twenty-two-year-old Bertha Bayer was the work of a matchmaker. If the matchmaker was not named Dolly Levi, no matter. We can still picture Barbra Streisand at Luchow’s arranging to bring Isaac Liberman and Bertha Bayer together. 

       To Bertha, the matchmaker might have said, “So what if he’s nine years older? He owns his own store. He’s full of energy. Everybody who tries to keep up with him at Stewart & Company knows that. He doesn’t drink or smoke. He’s fit and trim—never touches dessert. He even has good teeth—never had a cavity in his life. Let’s face it, Miss Bayer, a person could do worse!”

       To Ike, Mrs. Levi might have cooed, “Miss Bayer is pretty and young—plenty of time for lots of children. She comes from a good Lithuanian family. Good businessmen. They’re devout, very orthodox. She was born in this country, even. [She wasn’t, but coming over at eighteen months is close enough.] Remember, Mr. Liberman, you’re no spring chicken.”   

       To properly express his intentions, I.L. would have been introduced to Bertha’s father, Samuel Bayer, at 54 an owner of Bayer Brothers, a thriving textile business with offices at 53 Fifth Avenue and a mill across the Hudson in Paterson, New Jersey. Bayer was a dignified gentleman, with a white moustache and goatee, his white hair swept back, with the piercing eyes of a man who, like Liberman, had made his way in New York business and thrived on his hard work and savvy. In fact, when Liberman called upon Bayer in his apartment at 2 West Ninety-Fourth Street, he met a man whose journey from Lithuania to America had much in common with his own.   

Meet the Bayers; Ike and Bertha’s Life Together

In the year 1900, Eldridge Street between Canal and Division was crowded with pushcarts, fruit and vegetable vendors, and horse-drawn wagons. It was a hub of life for thousands of Eastern European Jews on the Lower East Side, much of it focused around the massive, ornate façade of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, at No. 12. Two doors down toward Division Street, at No. 8, stood a typical tenement house. Among its twenty-four tenants were Samuel and Sarah Bayer, their six children—Annie, fourteen; Henry, eleven; Alexander, ten; Mortimer, nine; and twins Bertha and Isidor, four—and Samuel’s younger brother Jack, who had come over from Vilna the year before. Samuel himself had emigrated in 1894. Sarah and the children, including the twins who were then only eighteen months old, had followed in 1897.

        On a Saturday morning, the family might have walked the two doors up to the synagogue. Samuel and Jack would have settled in with the men downstairs. Sarah and the children would have climbed the wooden staircase to sit in the balconies. In the records of the congregation, the Bayers are not listed among its members. There were hundreds of synagogues in the neighborhood where they might have felt more comfortable or where Samuel’s older brother, Phil, and his family might have chosen to worship.

        The Bayers had been textile merchants back in Vilna, selling undyed cotton, or what was known as gray goods. When Phil had come over in the early 1880s, he had transplanted the business and encouraged Samuel to join him. As Samuel prospered, he joined many Jewish and Italian immigrants in moving his family to Harlem, first to 251 West 112th Street, two blocks north of Central Park. By 1910, they lived at 187 West 118th Street, where they were doing well enough to employ a Polish maid.[2] As Samuel prospered more, he moved the family to 2 West 94th Street, on the corner of Central Park West. In time, he was a founder and first president of the uptown Talmud Torah. He was also a founder and president of the West Side Jewish Center at 131 West Eighty-Sixth Street. 

          When Ike Liberman started looking for a bride, the Bayers’ oldest daughter, Annie, was still living at home. She eventually married her uncle Phil—not exactly ideal, but sometimes things happen that way. Henry, Al, Moe, and Iz were working for Bayer Brothers. When the United States joined the Great War, Moe registered for the draft, became a doughboy, and showed off the portrait in his uniform for the rest of his life.

The Covenant of Marriage at the Astor Hotel

In later life Ike Liberman said, “I met my lady at one of the functions. I don’t remember which one it was. She appealed to me. I was around 31 years old, and she was about 22. So it was I asked her, and she was foolish enough to say yes.”  At other times he told a story, almost certainly apocryphal and having the ring of a line from a vaudeville routine, about meeting Bertha when she fell off a bicycle. “I helped her,” he said from time to time, “and her father made me marry her.”

    If the marriage was the work of a matchmaker, she earned her fee. Isaac and Bertha were married on February 25, 1917, in the Grand Ballroom of the Astor Hotel. The service was performed by M. Hyamson and Rabbi Oraih Chaim Congoly.

The witnesses were Gus Nathansoly and Wolf Kufeld. 

From the certificate of the day:

This Certificate Witnesseth

That on the First day of the week, the Third day of the month Adul in the year 5677, A.M., corresponding to the 25th of February 1917 the holy Covenant of Marriage was entered into at New York between the Bridegroom Isaac Liberman and his Bride Bertha Bayer.

The said bridegroom made the following declaration to his bride:

“Be thou my wife according to the law of Moses and of Israel. I faithfully promise that I will be a true husband unto thee. I will honor and cherish thee, and will provide all that is necessary for thy due sustenance, even as it beseemeth a Jewish husband to do. I also take upon myself all such further obligations for thy maintenance, during thy life-time, as are prescribed by our religious statute.”

And the said bride has plighted her troth unto him, in affection and in sincerity, and has thus taken upon herself the fulfillment of all the duties incumbent upon a Jewish wife.

This Covenant of Marriage was duly executed and witnessed this day, according to the usage of Israel.

        The commemorative photo, by Drucker & Co. NY, shows guests in formal attire, mostly white tie, seated around some twenty-one round tables in the grand ballroom, with six chandeliers and twelve Beaux Arts statues on each of the decorative supports leading to the domed ceiling. The bride and groom, with the latter in a top hat, are standing to the left and back in the photo, at a table with Sarah and Samuel Bayer (also in a top hat), a rabbi, and the rest of the Bayer children.  

        Isaac and Bertha set up housekeeping in an apartment at 135 West Eighty-Ninth Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus, with a French maid and a Bohemian cook who knew how to keep kosher. Bert, as Isaac called her, pious and observant, went to an Orthodox synagogue on West Eighty-Sixth Street. When daughter Ruth arrived on January 7, 1918, the Libermans hired Anna MacDonald, then fresh off the boat from Scotland, to take care of her.

      The next year Liberman was part of a group of merchants, led by Percy Straus of Macy’s, who founded the School of Retailing, which later became the Institute of Retail Management, at New York University. “Retailing in New York had a problem,” said Liberman. “No one was doing anything to develop any people in the retail field. None of the colleges had a retail course. We had to bring in some young people and train them, which takes years, before they could be of importance. We thought some of the colleges would be interested in developing a retail course so that people can go and be taught retailing in a year, year and a half, and have some talent.”

        As described by William Leach, “the first start-up meetings were held at the Strauses’ private offices at Macy’s and in the Mandarin Room at Lord & Taylor’s on Thirty-Seventh Street and Fifth Avenue. More than twenty merchants from stores in Newark, Manhattan, and Brooklyn attended these meetings, along with people from the New York City Board of Education and New York University.” Liberman found himself lecturing at NYU along with colleagues like Straus and Samuel Reyburn, head of Lord & Taylor.

     After Irene was born March 1, 1920, and Hazel on December 14, 1922, the family moved to the larger apartment at West End Avenue and Ninetieth Street. “We lived in a fourth-floor duplex,” Hazel Arnett remembered. “The address has since changed to 610 West End Avenue, even though the front door is still on Ninetieth Street. The apartment had a room-sized foyer, living room, kitchen, maids’ rooms, dining room, and parlor on the first floor. We had a huge icebox in the pantry, so the iceman cometh. On the second floor was our parents’ room and dressing room, a room where our two older sisters slept, and a room for the nurse, the baby, and me.”

      In the middle of the Roaring Twenties, Arnold Constable & Co., established in 1825 and the oldest specialty store in New York, was having management problems. “Arnold Constable was being run by an advertising man,” said Liberman. “He knew nothing about retail. Our attorney, as it happened, represented the Chase Bank, which held 50 percent interest in Arnold Constable. My lawyer, George Haight, asked, ‘Are you having lunch in the same spot, at the Waldorf?’ He said, ‘Give me some figures. What kind of a deal would you like?’ I said, ‘It seems to me that it’s kind of a deal where we ought to make a merger—Stewart & Co. merges with Arnold Constable.’ He said, ‘You are in that business. It seems to me that you ought to be able to work up a deal whereby we could merge and make a success.’  Within twenty-four hours they had it all written up and I accepted, just as they had written it.”

      That was 1925. “It took a few months to reorganize,” said Liberman, who led from his position on the new board. As the stock market soared and the economy boomed, Stewart & Company—serving the upper crust of New York society—and Arnold Constable—catering to the middle-class market—prospered together.

      In 1928 Liberman helped found the Hundred-Year Association, an organization of New York companies in continuous existence for at least a century. It was a promotional effort that ended up with more than 400 members. It took considerable effort for Liberman to get Cornelius Vanderbilt and the New York Central Railroad to take part. “I’m only the president,” Vanderbilt told Liberman. “The vice president, he’ll work with you.”

       On May 9, 1929, came the birth of Sally and the Sterling National Bank, followed by the Crash and the demise of Stewart & Company.

     Although Liberman had exited the stock market, his in-laws had not. “They lost everything,” said Hazel Arnett. “The tables were turned.” The Bayers, who had previously been considered the more established family, now needed Liberman’s help to get back on their feet. His annoyance at this burden was evident to Sally. She saw it as a source of tension between her mother and father, whose relationship was chilly and distant at best. In 1932, Liberman got his nephew Merwin Bayer, just seventeen, a job at Arnold Constable. He was successful enough that in 1938 a New York Times story announced that he was part of an “executive committee” of younger employees who would “take over merchandising during the store’s 113th anniversary celebration.” The team reported to Liberman’s brother Meyer, who was then the vice president and treasurer.

        In 1945, a young Eileen Ford was hired in Constable’s advertising department, reporting directly to Liberman as a stylist and working on some of America’s first story catalogues. “‘They were pages—whole sections in the catalogue—that had a running theme with an editorial feel,’” she recalled in Robert Lacey’s biography Model Woman: Eileen Ford and the Business of Beauty. “‘And it was at Arnold Constable that I learned about accessorizing: what goes with what when you’re styling photographs and presenting clothes.’”

      Most of all, Ford recounted, she dived deeper into the modeling business. “‘It was my job to hire all the models for Constable’s advertising campaigns and catalogues. So I was on the telephone a lot. I got to know how all the different agencies worked, and I made good friends with a lot of the models. I learned a big lesson when Mr. Isaac Liberman saw what I was paying for some models per hour. He was not happy, and he let me know it. So we had to work much quicker in the photo studio.’”

      Lacey writes, “Negotiating with photographers and modeling agencies, arranging photo shoots, and devising the marketing campaigns for one of the city’s most eminent department stores, Eileen rapidly made a name for herself as she bustled around the high-pressure world of New York City’s fashion business. Lively, self-confident, and efficient, the young Mrs. Ford was clearly a rising talent, and it was not long before the headhunters came calling.”

     “‘I made a terrible mistake,’” recalled Ford. “‘I let a recruitment agency, a lady called Betty Corwin, talk me into leaving Arnold Constable. It was partly the money, but also the idea that, in fashion terms, Arnold Constable was getting a bit homely and had become out of date.’” Nonetheless, the lessons she learned from Liberman at Constable came in handy when she started her own modeling agency.

        In the early fifties, Liberman, as president, replaced Meyer as chairman and took over the job himself, one of many instances over the years when he grew impatient with his less polished older brothers for not living up to his high standards. Amid the Roaring Twenties, Liberman’s older brother Philip and his son Marcie had started a chain of clothing stores in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. In 1929, they moved to Miami Beach, where Marcie, a rotund, lovable bachelor, became a liquor wholesaler. In 1931 Philip, as his brother had two years before, started a bank. It was the Mercantile National, Miami Beach’s first commercial bank. When Philip died in 1937, the bank went to Marcie and his sister, Bertha Miller, back in New York.

        As mayor of Miami Beach from 1947 to 1949, Marcie was known for his malapropisms. When he was named mayor, he said he had reached “the pinochle of success.” Sometimes he fell asleep during long city council deliberations, then woke up and said, “I move that we abdicate for today. I got work to do.” His obituary in The Miami News notes, “He admitted that he sometimes dreamed up other assaults on the language to break the tension at council sessions. ‘If I can get those guys laughing, they may forget what they were arguing about.’”

       “Marcie was quite a character,” said his second cousin Jon Low. “Ike apparently despised him because he was so wild and ostentatious. He always took Mom and Dad [Irene and Jerome Low] to showy restaurants, then to clubs. He consorted with Mafiosi, show girls, etc. He was a high liver and a great guy. Never let anyone pick up a bill.”

        Marcie lived for twenty years at the Albion Hotel, where friends could always find him in the lobby or in the barbershop across the street. “He was a shrewd businessman, a millionaire, and one of the area’s most generous philanthropists,” reads his obituary. He and his father helped build the Beth Jacob Orthodox Congregation at the beach, and he “without publicity, contributed fortunes to Miami Sinai Hospital, the University of Miami, and many other institutions.”   

        Perhaps a less driven, less perfectionist Liberman could have been more forgiving of his relatives. In the years to come, he amplified the prestige of his role as president of Arnold Constable by continuing his charitable and civic activities. He was a founder of the Businessmen’s Council of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies and a longtime executive board member of the New York chapter of the Boy Scouts.

       In 1947 he and Bertha established the Bertha and Isaac Liberman Foundation, which supports worthy causes, many of them in the arts, to the present day. Liberman ended up supporting Eleanor Roosevelt not only in the Wiltwyck School for Boys, but also in the American Association for the United Nations when she assumed her role with the American delegation to the UN. [3] 

[1] Although she gave her full name as Anna MacDonald Fosdick to a census taker, the Libermans knew her as Anna MacDonald.

[2] The Bayer Brothers firm was eventually sold to Cannon Mills in 1938.

[3] Isaac Liberman remained president of Arnold Constable until 1963 and retired as chairman in 1970. He died at 97 on August 2, 1983.