Abie’s Irish Rose: One for My Copyright Students

After the very productive first two decades of the 20th century when Milton Goldsmith published at least ten books and had a play produced on Broadway, his output seemed to drop off after 1920. Although he published some puzzle books for children during the 1920s, he did not publish another novel or non-fiction book until 1930.

Milton Goldsmith, The Book of Anagrams, (Whitman Publishing Company, 1930).

The 1925 New York State census record is a bit of a mess so it’s hard to know how reliable it is. I think the enumerator was a bit confused. For example, for Milton he first wrote that he was born in Russia, as was the case for the person in the line above his entry. Then he crossed that out and correctly entered “US.” However, he left the entry that Milton was an alien, not a citizen. So can I trust the listing for Milton’s occupation as a store manager? I don’t think so.

Especially since the line below for Milton’s wife Sophie says she was in advertising and the line below that for Rosalind (spelled “Roseline” here) said “housewife” and was then crossed out and replaced with commercial artist (which she was). So I think that the enumerator had all the occupations off by a line and that Milton was still, as he had been since 1910, in advertising. And I’ve no idea why the enumerator completely crossed out Madeleine (“Madline”) and the servant living in the home.

Milton Goldsmith and family 1925 NYS census
New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1925; Election District: 51; Assembly District: 09; City: New York; County: New York; Page: 30
Ancestry.com. New York, State Census, 1925

Despite these confusing entries on the census, I think it’s safe to assume that Milton was still working in advertising and that his wife and daughters were still living with him at 353 West 85th Street in New York City. Both daughters were now in their twenties. I was not able to learn much else about their lives in the 1920s; there were no news articles of interest or directory listings or other records that shed any light on how they spent that decade.

There was, however, one mention of Milton in a news story that was of particular interest to me as a former teacher of copyright law. One of my favorite cases to teach was Nichols v. Universal Pictures,1 an opinion written in 1930 by the renowned jurist, Learned Hand, of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was brought by Anne Nichols, the author and copyright owner of the play, “Abie’s Irish Rose,” which was a hit on Broadway in the 1920s.  She claimed that Universal Pictures had infringed her copyright with its movie, “The Cohens and the Kellys.”

Both works involved a story of an interfaith marriage between a Jew and a Catholic and the conflict it creates for their parents, who don’t approve of the marriage. There were a number of differences between the stories (which my copyright students better remember in detail, but aren’t relevant here), and both the trial court2 and the appellate court3 ruled in favor of the defendant movie studio, concluding that the theme of star-crossed lovers, one Jewish, one Catholic, was something in the public domain and not protected by copyright law.

How did Milton Goldsmith become entangled in this dispute? He was a witness for Universal Pictures at the trial in 1929, giving testimony about his own work, Rabbi and Priest and the play based upon it, The Little Brother. Although his testimony was not described in detail in the New York Times article that covered the trial, I imagine it was used to support the defendant’s argument that conflict between Jews and Catholics is a common theme used in many works, including Rabbi and Priest, and not original to Anne Nichols play, Abie’s Irish Rose.

“Abie” Not Unique, Professor Finds,” The New York Times, January 5, 1929.

It would have been fun to mention this family connection to the case when I was teaching, but alas—I knew nothing about my cousin Milton at the time.

Although Milton released updated versions of some of his earlier books in the 1930s and 1940s, his last new book, first published in 1930, was Old Mother Earth and Her Family, a geography book for young people.4 His daughter Rosalind did the illustrations for this book.

Milton Goldsmith, Old Mother Earth and Her Family (G. Sully & Company, Inc., 1930).

I was unable to find Milton or any of his family on the 1930 census, but I was able to find  Milton, Sophie, Rosalind and Madeleine on several ship manifests in 1930 and 1931 that showed that their home address was still 353 West 85th Street in New York City.5 I used stevemorse.org to search by that address in the 1930 census, but no members of Milton’s family were listed at that address. I wonder whether the whole family was traveling or living abroad when the 1930 census was taken.

The next decade would bring some more changes for Milton and his family.

 


  1. Nichols v. Universal Pictures, 45 F.2d 119 (2d Cir. 1930). 
  2. Nichols v. Universal Pictures, 34 F.2d 145 (S.D.N.Y. 1929) 
  3. Nichols v. Universal Pictures, 45 F.2d 119 (2d Cir. 1930). 
  4. Milton Goldsmith, Old Mother Earth and Her Family (G. Sully & Company, 1930) 
  5.  Year: 1930; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 4663; Line: 1; Page Number: 11; Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. Ancestry.com. UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 (Departure from Southampton, England, September 6, 1930, Lancastria).  Also, Year: 1931; Arrival: New York, New York;Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957;Microfilm Roll: Roll 4903; Line: 1; Page Number: 75; Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. Year: 1930; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 4822; Line: 1; Page Number: 13. Description
    Ship or Roll Number: Roll 4822. Source Information Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. 

31 thoughts on “Abie’s Irish Rose: One for My Copyright Students

  1. Amy, I agree with Milton Goldsmith that interfaith conflict arising from marriage between a Catholic and a Jew is so common a concept that the charge of a copyright violation appears to be ridiculous. The tragic story of my wife’s mother immediately came to my mind when reading your post, who as a Catholic could not marry a Jew and attempted to force her family into acceptance of the frowned-upon marriage by a having a child. Before the child, my wife’s half-sister, was born, her beloved died in a motorcycle accident.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember that heartbreaking story. So sad in so many ways.

      As for the case, there were many plot similarities in addition to the theme of interfaith conflict. It’s an interesting case!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Peter, I agree with you and Milton! A variation of the same story played out in my Dad’s family. His mother left the Orthodox Jewish community and his Dad proposed despite all objections from his family. Although with Amy’s mention that there were similarities in plot could point to infringement of copyright, we can also look at it that in certain situations people may behave in a similar manner?

      Liked by 3 people

      • One of the arguments in the case was that the story of star-crossed lovers with fighting parents dates back at least as far as Romeo and Juliet. I agree that there was no infringement. But I wanted to make it clear that there were more similarities in the two plots than just a story of an interfaith couple.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Rosalind was quite an accomplished artist. I am assuming the book cover was her work. So of course now I am wondering if she did anything else in the art field. Were you able to find anything out about her? Darn it, if you had known about the copyright case while you were teaching, what a teachable moment that would have been! It’s still amazing considering that it came full circle in connecting you and Milton.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The cross-outs on the census look, as far as I can tell, as though they’ve been written with a different pen – it’s thicker and deeper in tone than the written names. So maybe it was done at a different date?

    I’m wondering why Milton had a decade in which he didn’t write or didn’t publish any books. Would the approaching Great Depression have anything to do with it, do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, stevemorse is an incredible site. But it’s amazing to me how many of my relatives are not found on census records. I can reverse search for the address, and either that address is missing completely or it’s an apartment building, but my relatives are not among those who were enumerated. Scary to think our electoral districts are based on such sloppy records….

      Like

      • Amy, you also can never tell how an entry was created to an online database, either. I have seen many bizarre renditions of my Dad’s surname. I just got lucky when I found them because of other clues like children, spouse’s first name and general whereabouts at the time.

        Liked by 1 person

    • LOL! No, not at all. And when I taught this case, I always said, “No, I am not related to those Cohens.” The students always thought that was funny, knowing that Cohen is about as common a Jewish name as you can find (along with Levy).

      Like

      • So is the name Johnson in the US and Canada like the Chins in China. My mother was most outdone when my husband and I announced our engagement. She said, “Couldn’t you have chosen a young man with a better family name?” What she did not know (nor did I at the time) was that the Johnson name was Danish and originally Sorenson. There were Soren’s sons and Soren’s daughters. His mother’s name was Braun (also connected to the Weibb clan)–directly from Russia, to Germany first and then to Canada. You might recognize those Jewish appellations. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Milton Goldsmith: Final Chapter | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  5. Pingback: Friday's Family History Finds | Empty Branches on the Family Tree

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