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.