As I continued to research the descendants of my four-times-great-uncle Marx Seligman, one thing kept bothering me. I had not yet confirmed one of the facts asserted in the second handwritten tree discovered by my cousin Wolfgang. That second handwritten tree, which had led me to Marx and his family, claimed (1) that Marx had remarried and moved to New York. That was true about the Marx I was following—he had married Sara Koppel and moved to New York City.
The creator of that second tree also claimed that (2) Marx and Sara had had a son who (also) married a woman whose surname was Koppel (or Coppel). That also proved to be true of the Marx I was following: his son Sigmund had married a woman named Charlotte Koppel, born in Germany (and likely related to Sigmund’s mother).
But there was one more specific fact that the tree had mentioned that I had not yet confirmed: (3) that the son had had a daughter who married a film agent. As I researched up to 1900, I had not yet uncovered anyone involved in the film industry who was related to Marx. Being a big movie fan, I was disappointed not to find a connection to Hollywood.
But then I entered the 20th century in my research. While researching the children of Sigmund Seligman as they entered adulthood, I found the answer. According to another family tree I found on Ancestry owned by Sharon Bolton, Sigmund and Charlotte’s first child, Mary, married a man named Joseph Brandt, who was born on July 20, 1882, in Troy, New York. I am always very reluctant to rely on anyone else’s tree, having seen so many that are unsourced and clearly carelessly done, but this one seemed very thorough and included many photographs as well as personal stories by Sigmund’s grandson, Steve. (I am now in touch with both Sharon and Steve, and they generously shared wonderful photographs and stories about Sigmund’s family. I will post more photographs in a subsequent post.)
According to Joseph Brandt’s record on the 1920 census, his father was born in Russia and spoke Yiddish; his mother was born in Germany.
I could not find Joseph on any census before or after 1920, and I could not find anything else about his parents or family. (Sharon also had nothing about his background on her tree.) Based on his birth date and birth place as recorded on Sharon’s family tree, the only other official records I could find for him were his 1913 passport application, his 1918 World War I draft registration card, and several ship manifests for his travels with Mary.
But his draft registration corroborated that third missing fact from the handwritten family tree. According to his 1918 draft registration card, Joseph was then employed as an attorney and assistant treasurer for Universal Film Manufacturing Company. Now I had evidence that the Marx Seligman I had been following was the same man discussed in the handwritten family tree: Marx’s son Sigmund had married a woman named Koppel; they had had a daughter (Mary) who married a “film agent.”
Of course, Joe Brandt was more than a film agent. In fact, he was much, much more. Once I saw that he was in fact involved in the film industry, I googled his name and learned more. From Wikipedia and his obituary in the New York Times on February 23, 1939, p.28, I learned that Joe Brandt was one of the founders and the first president of Columbia Pictures. Joe had graduated from NYU Law School in 1906 and had worked in the advertising industry for several years before being hired in 1912 by Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Film Manufacturing, today known as Universal Studios. In 1919 he and two brothers he had known at Universal,, Harry and Jack Cohn, formed their own film production company, known first as C.B.C. Film Sales (for Cohn Brandt Cohn) and later known as Columbia Pictures.
Joe sold his interest in Columbia Pictures in 1932 and then became president of two other film companies before retiring due to poor health in 1935. Joe died at the age of 56 on February 22, 1939. Joe and Mary had had one child, a son named Jerrold Thurston Brandt, who would also enter the movie industry.
But why couldn’t I find out anything about Joe’s background before entering the film industry other than his birth in Troy, New York, in 1882? From a link in the Wikipedia entry, I found this little snippet about him from a journal called Moving Picture World dated April 6, 1912:
Joe had changed his name from Brandenburg to Brandt. There is also a reference to his name change in this article from the February 1, 1913 edition of Motography:
Once I knew his original name, I had no trouble locating his parents and his siblings. Joseph Brandenburg was the son of Daniel and Rosa Brandenburg. Daniel was born in 1846 in Russia, and according to the 1900 census, had arrived in the United States in 1870. His wife Rosa was born in Prussia in 1847 and had immigrated to the US in 1865, according to the 1900 census. Daniel and Rosa had married in 1871, and by 1880 they were living in Troy, New York, where Daniel was working as a tailor. They had three children by that time: Albert, Lilly, and Anna. Joseph was their youngest child, born in 1882. At some point the family must have moved to New York City because the article reprinted above from Motography states that Joe was educated in the NYC public schools. On the 1900 census, Daniel and Rosa were living in New York City with all of their children, including Joe, who was already a lawyer, according to the census report. Daniel was still working as a tailor. Joe was still living with his parents as of the 1905 New York census and was still listed as a lawyer on that census record.
On October 20, 1907, Joseph Brandenburg married Mary Seligman in New York City.
He was still using the Brandenburg surname as of 1910, when according to the census, he was working in advertising for Billboard magazine. He and Mary were living at 3161 Broadway in NYC. Sometime between 1910 and 1913 when he applied for a passport, Joe changed his surname to Brandt, as that is how he appears on every document thereafter.
Joe Brandt’s story is another one of those remarkable American dreams come true. The son of a Russian Jewish immigrant who worked as a tailor, Joe not only went to college and law school. He became a major figure in the burgeoning American film industry of the early 20th century and an extremely wealthy man, according to his nephew Steve. In fact, if I hadn’t found the facts myself, I’d say it was just a Hollywood story made to perpetuate the myth of the American dream. But it is in fact a real story.
* From On the Waterfront, a Columbia Pictures film