Jews and American Popular Culture [Three Volumes] [3 volumes]

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A who's who of scholars, authors, and journalists examines the contributions of the Jewish people to American culture, from film, food, and fiction to television, music, sports, and humor.

Since they first began arriving in the United States in large numbers at the end of the 19th century, Jewish Americans have played a significant role in shaping American culture. The influence of the Jewish people is deeply and richly felt in many realms, including art, literature, politics, humor, and sports, to name just a few. The American film industry was pioneered by the likes of Adolph Zukor, Harry Cohn, and Jack Warner. Tin Pan Alley and Broadway sparkled with the creativity of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Stephen Sondheim. Where would rock 'n' roll be without Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, and the Beastie Boys? Jews and American Popular Culture examines the influence of a highly creative and resilient people who have flourished despite the myriad forms anti-Semitism has taken since their earliest arrival.

Chapters explore topics across a range of time periods and genres, including assimilation, stereotypes, and the Holocaust. In addition to examining the works of such compelling figures as Woody Allen, Philip Roth, Hank Greenberg, the Three Stooges, Allen Ginsberg, Wendy Wasserstein, and Ann Landers, a team of unparalleled scholars explains how a comparatively small, initially underprivileged group of people managed to overcome great odds and wield wide-ranging influence on contemporary culture. Shut out of more traditional fields, Jews in the final decades of the 19th century and the opening decades of the 20th century embraced the new technologies of film, radio, and television, as well as new industries and areas of commerce, from the department store to novelty toy distribution. What resulted is an American culture shaped by a resilient minority population. From Betty Boop to Barbie, from The Honeymooners to Friends, the creative spirit of American Jews defines our culture. Edited by acclaimed author Paul Buhle, featuring the work of leading scholars and journalists, and presenting a never-before published comic strip by Harvey Pekar (whose life was featured in the film American Splendor), this definitive, comprehensive three-volume set represents the first-ever work of its kind.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[W]hile not claiming to provide any definitive or comprehensive answer to the inevitable question—Why have Jews had such a central impact on American popular culture?—does move, in many of the pieces included, toward a suggestion: Shut out of more traditional fields, Jews creatively embraced the emerging technologies of film, radio, an television, as well as many new commercial opportunities from the department store to the invention and distribution of novelty games and toys. What resulted was an American culture shaped in large degree by a resilient and talented minority population….[t]his collection is a sturdy beginning to the description and analysis of the unendingly interesting subject of Jews and American popular culture."


Congress Monthly

"Editor's Choice This isn't just a quick and dirty survey of American Jews doing mass culture. It's 861 pages, with scores of references to further reading, that explains what Jews were doing what they were doing, when they were doing it, and what impact that had on other Jews and non-Jews alike. If you want to sound smart about Jewish pop culture—and we know a thing about this—there really is no better place to start your library."


American Jewish Life

"Though this set has the heft of a reference series, it works best in a circulating collection. It is not an encyclopedia but rather an insightful and eclectic compilation of essays by noted scholars and writers….There are many unusual but telling meditations on popular culture in this expansive series (e.g., The Jew and the Nose: Plastic Surgery and Popular Culture written by Beth Aviva Preminger, a plastic surgeon). One of the strong points of the series is that each entry has a list for further reading….Libraries with strong American Jewish studies collections should definitely have this set. Academic institutions and large public libraries should consider."


Library Journal

"In this collection of 51 essays, academics and journalists relate the contributions of Jewish creators and performers to American popular culture, covering the ethnic origins of the American obsession with the movies, moguls and the studio system, the social film and the blacklist, musicals, censorship, animation, talk radio, television drama, comedy writing, Yiddish theater, vaudeville, Broadway, drama, klezmer music, Tin Pan Alley, folk music, jazz, rock, protest, high lit, the pulps, children's literature, advice columns, satire, comics, baseball, boxing, basketball, the Olympics, amusement parks, the Catskills, fashion, toys, food, department stores, gangsters, porn, beauty, plastic surgery, popular front culture and the Internet. Think how much richer life would be if fewer talented people had to overcome anti-Semitism."


Reference & Research Book News

"Jews have had a central impact on many aspects of American popular culture, and this handsome three-volume reference set presents a scholarly, yet accessible, survey of the history of Jewish involvement in pop culture. Editor Buhle does an admirable job of grouping the essays by areas of interest. The more familiar areas of study, such as Jews in movies and literature, get the most attention. Other topics receive comprehensive treatment, such as jews in television and theater, radio broadcasting, and music. Jews in sports should be a popular section. Most intriguing are areas of popular culture given little coverage in past publications: fashion, toys, department stores, amusement parks, pornography, the Internet, gangsters, and the Jewish nose….The never before published comic strip by Pekar is a nice bonus. Highly reccommended for academic libraries as well as large public libraries."


Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter

"Buhle has made an important contribution to the understanding of the impact of Jews on popular culture in the US. The encyclopedia is a compendium of 52 essays that cover a diverse range of subjects, from David Wagner's The Social Film and the Hollywood Blacklist to Albert Fried's The Story of America's Jewish Gangsters. Additional topics include Jews and Beauty, Food in Jewish American Culture, and Fashion, all by scholars or writers with expertise in their fields. Buhle's introduction examines contemporary Jewish history within the context of US popular culture, and notes that it has taken five generations of Jewish participation in popular culture to disprove the argument made by anti-semites such as Otto Weininger that Jews had a talent for the superficial arts as compensation for their inability to create real art. Also included in the introduction are illustrations by Harvey Pekar, the famed cartoonist. The three-volume work includes photos, suggested readings that accompany each essay, and notes on the contributors. Given the quality of the essays as a whole, the encyclopedia should become an indispensable resource work for scholars and students engaged in research on the Jewish experience in the US. Essential. All levels/libraries."



"Given the surprisingly ground-breaking nature of the collection, the quality of its contributors, and the breadth of the ground it has broken, this project is invaluable….[a] fascinating and broad collection of essays."



"[T]his engaging and learned series of essays traces the achievements of Jews in many American entertainment forms. The complex history offers numerous examples of innovators moving into the center of the American entertainment industry from its margins….Like their subjects, Buhle's essayists deserve a widespread audience for their lively studies of progressive and popular American culture."


Science & Society

Library Journal

Though this set has the heft of a reference series, it works best in a circulating collection. It is not an encyclopedia but rather an insightful and eclectic compilation of essays by noted scholars and writers. Buhle's (history & American civilization, Brown Univ.; Popular Culture in America; Encyclopedia of the American Left) work cannot be called comprehensive; for instance, the volume on sports covers baseball, basketball, boxing, and the Olympics but not football. The essays are either overviews (e.g., "Television Drama of the Golden Age") or very creative points of entry into a larger topic (e.g., "Making a Scene: Jews, Stooges, and Censors in Pre-War Hollywood"). There are many unusual but telling meditations on popular culture in this expansive series (e.g., "The Jew and the Nose: Plastic Surgery and Popular Culture" written by Beth Aviva Preminger, a plastic surgeon). One of the strong points of the series is that each entry has a list for further reading. There are some useful illustrations, though they are limited. The lay reader will enjoy a browse through, but scholars and students will benefit the most. Libraries with strong American Jewish studies collections should definitely have this set. Academic institutions and large public libraries should consider.
—Paul Kaplan

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780275987930
  • Publisher: ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 12/30/2006
  • Pages: 992
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 10.40 (d)

Meet the Author

PAUL BUHLE is Senior Lecturer in the History and American Civilization departments at Brown University, a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians, and author and editor of 29 books, including Popular Culture in America and Encyclopedia of the American Left. He is Contributing Editor to Tikkun magazine and a contributor to The Forward, Jewish Currents, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Guardian, and many other publications.

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Table of Contents

Volume One: Movies, Radio, and Television


Introduction, A Cartoon by Harvey Pekar and Barry Blitt

Chapter 1. The Movies: Notes on the Ethnic Origins of an American Obsession by Dennis B. Klein

Chapter 2. National and Local Movie Moguls: Two Patterns of Jewish Showmanship in Film Exhibition by Judith Thissen

Chapter 3. The Studio System by Bernard Dick

Chapter 4. The Social Film and the Hollywood Blacklist by Dave Wagner

Chapter 5. Jews in Hollywood Musicals by Bernard Dick

Chapter 6. Making a Scene: Jews, Stooges, and Censors in Pre-War Hollywood by Dan Bronstein

Chapter 7. Animation by Tom Sito

Chapter 8. The Jewish Film Festival by Deborah Kaufman and Janis Plotkin

Chapter 9. A Brief Introduction to Jewish-American Radio by Henry Sapoznik

Chapter 10. Jews on the Radio, 1920-1953 by Ari Y Kelman

Chapter 11. Jewish Talk Radio: Programming in Our Time and Place By Ariana Green

Chapter 12. Television Drama of the Golden Age by Judith Smith

Chapter 13. Intellectual Pogrom: How the Blacklist Purged Political and Cultural Discourse in Early Television by Steven W. Bowie

Chapter 14. Jewish Comedy Writers of the 1950s and 1960s By Kathy M. Newman

Chapter 15. Bring in the Klowns: Jewish Television Comedy since the 1960s by Vincent Brooks

Volume Two: Music, Theater, Popular Art, and Literature


Chapter 1. Yiddish Theater in America by Edna Nahshon

Chapter 2. Vaudeville by Pamela Brown Lavitt

Chapter 3. Jews and the Broadway Musical by Andrea Most

Chapter 4. Jews in American Drama by James Fisher

Chapter 5. Star-Spangled Bulgar: The Story of Klezmer Music in America by PeteRushefsky

Chapter 6. Jews, Tin Pan Alley, and the Rise of American Popular Music by Derek Seidman

Chapter 7. Folk Music by Ron D. Cohen

Chapter 8. Jewing Jazz/Jazzing Jews by Josh Kun

Chapter 9. Jews and Rock n Roll by Danny Goldberg

Chapter 10. Justice, Justice, You Shall Pursue: Jewish Political Artists by Paul von Blum

Chapter 11. The (Un)forgotten Singers of Struggle by Hershl Hartman and Miriam Hartman Flacks

Chapter 12. Entertaining New Americans: Serialized Fiction in the Forverts (1910-1930) by Ellen Kellman

Chapter 13. Lower East Side Literature by Sanford Sternlicht

Chapter 14. A Yiddish Odyssey: Jews and the Pulps by Gerard Jones

Chapter 15. Bohemians and Beats by Jonah Raskin

Chapter 16. Jews in American Childrens Literature by Julia Mickenberg

Chapter 17. Advice Columns by Gabrielle Birkner

Chapter 18. Putting on the Shpritz: Postwar Jewish American Political Satire and Parody by Stephen E. Kercher

Chapter 19. Comic Strips/Comic Books by Eddie Portnoy and Paul Buhle

Volume Three: Sports, Leisure, and Lifestyle


Chapter 1. Jews, Baseball, and American Fictions by Eric Solomon

Chapter 2. A Sport At Which Jews Excel: The Search for Basketball in American Jewish History by Ari Sclar

Chapter 3. Boxing by Douglas Century

Chapter 4. American Jews and the Summer Olympics by Chris Elzey

Chapter 5. Jewish Sportswomen by Linda Borish

Chapter 6. Amusement Parks by N. Popper

Chapter 7. The Jewish Community in the Catskills by Phil Brown

Chapter 8. Fashion by Elizabeth Greenberg

Chapter 9. Jews in the Toy and Novelty Industry by Lawrence Bush

Chapter 10. Food in Jewish American Culture by Jennifer Schiff Berg

Chapter 11. How to Make a Poet: Jewish Department Store Moguls and the American Dream by Jennifer Segal

Chapter 12. The Story of Americas Jewish Gangsters by Al Fried

Chapter 13. Jews and Pornography by Rachel Shtier

Chapter 14. Jews and Beauty by Alana Newhouse and Rebecca Spence

Chapter 15. The Jew and the Nose: Plastic Surgery and Popular Culture By Beth Aviva Preminger

Chapter 16. Popular Front Culture by Paul Buhle

Chapter 17. Present in the Future: Jews and the Internet by Steve Bergson

Afterword: Hammerin Hank Greenberg: Folk Hero for the Game He Didnt Play by Aviva Kempner

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