Not Bad for Delancey Street: The Rise of Billy Rose

Not Bad for Delancey Street: The Rise of Billy Rose

by Mark Cohen


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He was amazing. “A little man with a Napoleonic penchant for the colossal and magnificent, Billy Rose is the country’s No. 1 purveyor of mass entertainment,” Life magazine announced in 1936. The Times reported that with 1,400 people on his payroll, Rose ran a larger organization than any other producer in America. “He's clever, clever, clever,” said Rose's first wife, the legendary Fanny Brice. “He's a smart little goose.” Not Bad for Delancey Street: The Rise of Billy Rose is the first biography in fifty years of the producer, World’s Fair impresario, songwriter, nightclub and theater owner, syndicated columnist, art collector, tough guy, and philanthropist, and the first to tell the whole story of Rose’s life. He combined a love for his thrilling and lucrative American moment with sometimes grandiose plans to aid his fellow Jews. He was an exaggerated exemplar of the American Jewish experience that predominated after World War II: secular, intermarried, bent on financial success, in love with Israel, and wedded to America. The life of Billy Rose was set against the great events of the twentieth century, including the Depression, when Rose became rich entertaining millions; the Nazi war on the Jews, which Rose combated through theatrical pageants that urged the American government to act; the postwar American boom, which Rose harnessed to attain extraordinary wealth; and the birth of Israel, where Rose staked his claim to immortality. Mark Cohen tells the unlikely but true story, based on exhaustive research, of Rose’s single-handed rescue in 1939 of an Austrian Jewish refugee stranded in Fascist Italy, an event about which Rose never spoke but which surfaced fifty years later as the nucleus of Saul Bellow’s short novel The Bellarosa Connection.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611688900
Publisher: Brandeis University Press
Publication date: 09/04/2018
Series: Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life Series
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.25(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

MARK COHEN is the author of Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman and of two previous books. His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, New York Newsday, the Daily News, American Jewish History, Forward, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Modern Judaism, History of Photography, the Journal of Jewish Studies, the Saul Bellow Journal, and Tablet Magazine. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Table of Contents

Introduction • Illustrious Ancestors • Clever Isaac • Not Bad for Delancey Street • “Since Henry Ford Apologized to Me” • Crazy Quilt • A Cosmic Scale • Jumbo • It Can’t Happen Here • Let’s Play Fair • Saving Kurt Schwarz • We Will Never Die • Abracadabra • A Flag Is Born • Uncaged Tiger • Israel Museum • Epilogue • Acknowledgments • Abbreviations • Notes • Index

What People are Saying About This

Zachary Leader

“A meticulously researched study of the impresario/philanthropist Billy Rose, a figure rich in contradictions: on the one hand, an anonymous altruist (working to rescue Jews from Nazism), on the other, a hard-nosed self-publicist, possessor of what Saul Bellow called ‘a buglike tropism for celebrity.’ Fascinating.”

Janis Freedman Bellow

“Who remembers Broadway Billy: shorthand wizard, impresario, songwriter, columnist, promoter? Cohen’s Billy proves more audacious, kinkier, more full of mystery than your grandfather’s Billy or the Billy you read about in novels. There are endless surprises here, from the number of beautiful lyrics we owe to the man to unforgettable accounts of his intersection with major historical figures. To have amassed millions seems the least of his many triumphs—perhaps most astonishing was the creation of a full American life in which he openly embraced his identity as a Jew. In the pages of this meticulously researched, probing, and affectionate biography, Cohen grants Billy Rose the revival he deserves.”

Stephen Whitfield

“A biography packed with psychological nuance and more than a few surprises.”

Noah Isenberg

“Cohen leaves few stones unturned in his richly detailed, painstakingly researched, and highly absorbing critical biography of the great theater and music impresario. The story he tells is at once individual and universal, specifically Jewish and entirely American.”

Eric Alterman

“Billy Rose was at the same time unique and yet also representative of a rich and powerful moment in the Jewish American experience. Cohen’s prodigious research and storytelling skills bring him to life, and we should all be in his debt for this literary and historical rescue mission.”

Customer Reviews