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Ben Gailing (1898-1999) Papers

 Collection
Identifier: P-607

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains Yiddish playscripts, "Yo a Mame, Nit a Mame" (Yes a Mother, Not a Mother) by Ben Gailing, and "Oy iz dos a Yingel" (Oh, Is This a Boy) by Hershel Glick; a copy of Gailing’s 1949 book, Git a Shmeykhl (Smile) autographed to his parents; Yiddish sheet music; Yiddish theater programs from Boston performances that Gailing produced; and photographs of Ben and Frieda Gailing and other actors and actresses from the Yiddish theater.

Dates

  • undated, 1924-1975

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is in Yiddish and English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at mmeyers@ajhs.org.

For reference questions, please email: inquiries@cjh.org

Biographical Note

Benjamin Gailing was born on December 25, 1898 in Krasnopol in the Suwalki province north of Bialystok. He had a traditional cheder education, but also wrote poems and songs and performed in a choir at his shul. When he came to the United States in 1913, he had been planning to continue studying in a yeshiva, however a visit to the Lower East Side Yiddish theater inspired him to instead become an actor. He soon joined Maurice Schwartz’s Yiddish Art Theater, where he sang, danced, acted, and played the violin during performances. He also joined the Hebrew Actors Union and toured the Yiddish theater circuit, traveling to Philadelphia, Boston, Montreal, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Chicago, and Toronto. At the same time, Gailing wrote articles, poems, and humorous pieces about Yiddish comedy and theater in various periodicals in New York, Montreal, and Philadelphia. He also composed several plays and published original songs and Yiddish translations of American popular songs.

In the 1920s, while living in New York, Gailing had a radio show on WABC and was a regular on the Socialist radio station, WEVD. These experiences would later inform his long-running Yiddish radio program in Boston. When Gailing realized that Boston did not have its own Yiddish theater troupe, he and his wife, Frieda Letwin, who he married in 1921, moved to Boston. He directed and produced Yiddish performances at Boston’s Grand Opera House, John Hancock Hall, and the Franklin Park Theatre, 1930s-1970s, with performers hailing primarily from Boston and New York. Gailing also had a column for the Boston edition of the Forward, “Ben Gailing Shraybt” (Ben Gailing Writes), and was active in the Labor Zionist movement, working and performing at Workmen’s Circle camps around Boston.

In 1931, Gailing, calling himself the “freylekher kabtsn” (happy pauper) after a Yiddish comedic play, launched the weekly “Yiddish Radio Show.” The show featured live skits, songs, editorials, celebrity gossip, history, and politics, all delivered in well-crafted Yiddish rhymes. He also read excerpts from his weekly humor column for the Forward, “Git a Shmeykhl” (Smile), which he wrote c. 1930s-1950s, and which was collected in a book, Git a Shmeykhl, a bukh fun laykhtn humor un satire far ale teg fun a gants yor (Smile, a book of light humor and satire for every day and all year), published in 1949. The show ran for sixty-eight years, until Gailing’s death, and served as a focal point for the Boston Yiddish-speaking community.

In the early 1960s, Gailing became the cantor at his synagogue, Temple Beth Abraham in Canton, MA, a position he held for twenty-six years. His wife, Frieda, died in 1988. Gailing moved to a nursing home in 1991 but continued to record the “Yiddish Radio Show” every Sunday until his death from pneumonia on March 27, 1999 at the age of 100.

Extent

0.5 Linear Feet (1 manuscript box)

Abstract

This collection contains the records of Ben Gailing (1898-1999), a New York and Boston-based Yiddish theater actor and radio host. Collection includes two Yiddish playscripts, "Yo a Mame, Nit a Mame" by Ben Gailing, and "Oy iz dos a Yingel" by Hershel Glick; Gailing’s book, Git a Shmeykhl; Yiddish sheet music; Yiddish theater programs; and photographs of Ben and Frieda Gailing and other actors and actresses from the Yiddish theater.

Arrangement

The collection has been arranged alphabetically in one series.

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Acquisition Information

Donated by Ben Gailing in 1988.

Related Material

The American Jewish Historical Society Library has a copy of Gailing’s 1949 book on Jewish humor, Git a Shmeykhl, a bukh fun laykhtn humor un satire far ale teg fun a gants yor. The American Jewish Historical Society Archives has the Theater and Film Poster Collection of Abram Kanof, P-978, which contains two Yiddish theater posters for plays that Gailing was in, "I Sinned and I Paid" and "For the Sake of a Woman." The YIVO Archives, in addition to numerous Yiddish theater collections, has the Records of the Hebrew Actors Union, RG 1843, which contains some of Gailing’s correspondence.

Separated Material

There is no information about materials that are associated by provenance to the described materials that have been physically separated or removed.

Processing information

Processed by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation. The collection was refoldered.
Title
Guide to the Ben Gailing (1898-1999) Papers, undated, 1924-1975 P-607
Status
Completed
Author
Processed by Rachel S. Harrison
Date
©2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Sponsor
as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.
Edition statement
[This version was derived from BenGailing_P-607.xml]

Revision Statements

  • October 2020: EHyman: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States