Celebrity Art in NYC: 1940s and 50s

Diana painted celebrity portraits while still in Toronto, probably in preparation for the posters, and then when she moved to NYC and went to school at the Art Students League and afterwards, she continued to paint famous people.

Here is a sample of what she did as a “kid” of twenty or so in Canada.

That is my favorite.

Here are a few more.

At some point after arriving in NYC, Diana embarked on at least two major painting projects. One of them was painting portraits of Broadway stars. She was allowed to attend rehearsals and would then paint the artists in one or more of the show costumes, as well as (sometimes) costumes from other shows he or she had performed in. She also painted some TV stars. Some of these were sold and some she kept. We have a few of the paintings . Here are three.

Ethel Merman

Ezio Pinza

I am not positive about this 3rd one, but it might be Katherine Cornell. I used to know, but right now my certainty has flown away.

The other project was painting the portraits of the jazz greats who performed at The Birdland nightclub. These were commissioned by the club and hung on the walls for years. The murals were saved from the fire at the club, and a grouping of them were eventually displayed at the Smithsonian museum.  A limited edition book was published about the club and the murals.

The portraits included Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and many others. Many of these are now owned by a private collector.

For an idea of what the murals looked like, as well as to read a poem I wrote about Diana’s art, check out this publication at The Ekphrastic Review.

 

Art for the Movie Theatres: early 1940s

This week I want to backtrack to Diana’s art when she lived in Toronto, before she attended the Art Students League in New York.

As a young woman, Diana worked as an usherette for the local movie theatres. You can find my post about her job at Proud to Be an Usherette. But Diana had another job for the local theatres. She was a film poster artist. Her posters were posted outside and inside the movie theatres.

The other day I wondered if she had ever wanted to be a full-time artist for one of the movie studios, but when I looked at the list of artists the studios used for any length of time they were all men.

These posters were painted (mainly in 1942) in Toronto. Here is 20-year-old Diana posing with one of them.

The “poster show cards,” as Diana referred to them, were painted on beaverboard, and most of them were 40×60. She rented some of them out to the 20th Century Theatre chain in Ontario, Canada. However, Century claimed they lost the posters and never returned any of them to Diana.

Taking Courses at The Art Students League in NYC: 1940s

Last week I posed the question of what drew Diana to New York City from Toronto.

What is known to me about Diana’s life in NYC before she married involved her education at the Art Students League, her survival jobs, and her painting. I believe it’s safe to say that what drew her was her artistic passion. From the time she was little, she was a talented artist. Her family first noticed it when they discovered that her “tracings” were drawn free-hand and were not traced at all.

The Art Students League of New York was well-known as a school for artists. Many famous artists had studied there, but perhaps two of the most important attributes of the school for Diana would be:

  1. Students can take classes as they wish–there is not a formal program of matriculation and coursework. She would not have had the funds to enroll in a full-time program.
  2. The ASL had a decades-long commitment to providing art study to women artists with the same respect it gave to men artists.

The following photo is what the Arts Students League looked like when Diana attended–and what it looks like today. It’s a landmark of NYC.

Here is a great article about The Art Students League: The Top 10 Secrets of the Art Students League

In the next photo, Diana is standing on the roof of the Art Students League. The water looks very close, which somewhat surprises me. I am guessing this is the Hudson River. Any NYC readers, what do you think? Diana wrote the location on the back of this photo, along with the year of 1947. She said her dress was wine-colored.

I plan on showing you a little more of her art in a future post, but here is something I discovered from 1943, when she was 21, and before she traveled to the United States for the first time. I guess it shows where her mind was at, even then. Please excuse the condition of the painting. Paint has chipped off it. It was in with her practice works, so not well cared for.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president of the United States. And a sign of the times, too.

Here is one more painting drawn from the news stories of the times Diana grew up in. Field Marshal “Monty” Montgomery. In the lower right corner, near her signature, Diana has written Toronto 1943.

Last year the gardener and I visited the Knoxville Museum of Art and saw an exhibition of the paintings of Joseph Delaney. He was an African-American painter who was born in Knoxville. He was a student at the Art Students League in NYC at the time that Jackson Pollock was a student, so a bit before my MIL’s time at the school. I was struck by this Delaney painting of the lobby of the Art Students League.

Seeing this painting meant a lot to me because I can see a lot of similarities between Delaney’s painting style and my MIL’s style. Was this taught to them at ASL? By a particular teacher, perhaps?

I know Diana cherished her time at the school. She sometimes mentioned it when she talked about her life in New York City. Diana remained a painter for the rest of her life.

Living Between Two Countries

The question of when my mother-in-law Diana Shulman moved from Toronto to New York City most likely cannot be definitely solved. It seems that it was a gradual move, according to the documents that I have discovered. The first document is 1945 (and does not indicate she was ever in the United States before), so I am going to assume that in 1944 she still lived in Canada. She was 22 years old in this photo taken on vacation in summer 1944. I do not know the location.

The first document I have found relating to her move is from 10 November 1945, documenting her crossing the border into the United States. Note that that is two months after the end of WWII. According to Wikipedia during this time period (1915-1954), crossings between Canada and the U.S. were only recorded at train arrival stations along the northern borders of New York and Vermont. Her crossing was at Buffalo, NY. She was 23, and the paperwork states that she was a saleslady.

I have a very hard time reading these index cards. It looks to me that she was traveling to her relatives, Mr. and Mrs. I. Z. Brand who lived at 1822 44th St. in Brooklyn. (This looks like an area of old brownstones). This would be Mr. and Mrs. Izidor Zangwill Brand, her mother’s younger sister Beatrice and her husband. They had three children, all a little bit older than Diana. On the line underneath her name, I have no idea what it says: SOMETHING in Canada.

There is a line that says “Last permanent residence,” and Diana’s parents’ address in Toronto is listed. Under “Purpose in coming and time remaining” it seems to say V-pl = 29 days. 

On the backside of the card, it seems to indicate that she should not be admitted without a SOMETHING visa. But I can’t read that word. It says “see file.” But what file if the index cards are usually the only thing recording a border crossing at this time period? Can you read what it says? Also, see near the top right: it says something about to 1/9/46–according to a reader, it probably says ext. or extended to 1/9/46.

Related question, in case you know the answer: are these index cards called a manifest or not? Obviously they are very different from a ship’s manifest because they are not a record of “everyone” on the same document. These cards do not, for instance, show if Diana was traveling with anyone else (although we believe she was usually or always alone).

This next card seems to be from 1947. I will post it as I downloaded it and then also the front and back sides separately so you can see better.

This time the card lists that Diana has been in the United States before: Var. visits and ?/1/46 – 2/21/47. She brings $50 with her and plans to reside permanently!

On this card she might be indicated she will live with her grandmother, Mrs. Isidore Shulman, who appears to live with the Brands (one of Diana’s grandmother’s daughters, of course) during this time period. I thought that Diana’s grandfather’s name was Harry, so I either have heard that wrong–or the card is a mistake, perhaps confusing Mr. Brand’s first name with Mr. Shulman’s?

Here is a card from, I believe, 1948:

Now we see where Diana resided last time she was in the U.S.: 542 ?. 112th St. Manhattan. This could be a fairly tall old apartment building. She says she was in the country from 3/26/47 to 3/28/46. HUH? Isn’t that backwards? or is 46 supposed to be 48? She has $12 with her this time, and is Res. Res. Perm., whatever that really means.


Perhaps these three documents would really help someone who knows more than I do about immigration genealogy. An understanding of the laws of the time would be very useful.

To me it looks like she traveled back and forth either to visit her family or perhaps because she was not allowed to stay any longer by the laws and had to go back to Canada and then re-enter the United States.

But what drew Diana to New York City?

(Next time!)

Proud to Be an Usherette

In this second post about my MIL, Diana of the Shulman clan (well, the family seems about as big as a clan), I want to address a job she had as a young woman while she still lived in Toronto.

First, let me mention that until she was an adult and chose the name Diana, she was not called Dinah Leah by her siblings, but Della. I don’t know what her parents called her, but in general to her family she was Della.

Della/Diana was an usherette during the early 1940s. This was a very desirable job for someone young. Movie theatres in those days were often beautiful venues and to make the entire experience pleasurable to patrons, usherettes wore smart uniforms and checked tickets, assisted people to seats, distributed refreshments, and were generally helpful go-tos for movie-goers.

One of the theatres Diana worked at was Loew’s, which was one of the big movie theatre chains. The link shows a photo of the theatre we believe she worked at.

Photos of Toronto’s Loew’s Downtown Theatre (now the Elgin)

It is possible that Diana is wearing the Loew’s uniform in this portrait. However, if we knew the identity of the man in the newspaper or magazine she is holding, it might help.

A nighttime shot of Loew’s is in a blog post about the old movie theatres of Toronto. Fascinating article!

Diana also worked for Famous Players in Toronto. In the following photograph it is easy to see that she was Head Usherette.

Seeing these photos does make me wish we still had businesses that are based on humans working face to face with other humans. Instead, our current culture has this push to automate everything imaginable.

 

Moving on to the Shulmans, and a Focus on Canada

So far this blog has focused on the gardener’s paternal family, the Scheshkos. As I mentioned a year ago, in a post called Murray’s Further Military History, the gardener’s father Murray married Diana Shulman, the sister-in-law of his friend Jack Blanc.

Now I will start trying to “reconstruct” the Shulman family history. Unlike the Scheshkos and my own family in my blog The Family Kalamazoo, the Shulmans are a large, artistic family who lived, after immigrating from “Russia,” mainly in Canada. Because of the size of the Shulman family, my unfamiliarity of Canadian records, and a lack of any concrete documentation of origins, I feel that I am dealing with an “unruly” mess when I try to work on this family.

Diana was born Dinah Leah Shulman, to Joseph and Dora Shulman, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. However, at the time, the family lived in the village of Aberdeen, just outside Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Winnipeg is about 480 miles from Saskatoon, and they had family living in Winnipeg. The story goes that Diana was almost born on the train, but whether Dora was intentionally traveling to Winnipeg to have Diana or if Diana came early, we do not know.

The best record of where the family was living in Aberdeen is the 1921 census, which was one year before Diana’s birth.

Here are the cropped entries for family members:

We see that Joseph is listed as 35, Dora as 30, daughter Edith as 13, Sarah as 9, Rose as 8, Harry, as 5, and Florence as perhaps 1.5. For the time being, that is good enough. Dora would have been pregnant with Diana at the time of the census.

What can be seen in the larger image is what the quotation marks in two columns mean. It means they were living as boarders in a hotel on Main Street. Imagine living as boarders with all those children. 

In this section we learn that Joseph and Dora were both born in Russia, as were both their parents. Edith, Rose, and Harry were born in Manitoba (surely Winnipeg) and Sarah and Florence were born in Saskatchewan. Why the back and forth between birth places, I do not know.

We learn that Joseph and Dora immigrated to Canada from Russia in 1905, and that they were still Russian citizens as of 1921. Their children were all Canadian citizens. They were listed as Jewish for racial affiliation and Jewish for religion.

All the family could speak English, but they could not speak French. I wonder how long it took Joseph and Dora to learn English. Everyone except the two youngest could read and write.

Column 28 is Months at school since Sept. 1, 1920: the 3 oldest children spent 8 months at school since that date. But why does it say X240 for Joseph???

For occupation, Joseph is listed as OA (owner) of a grocery something or other. I can’t read the second word, but know that he owned a grocery store.

Diana was born 29 January 1922 in Winnipeg. The gardener has ordered her birth record or certificate. For Canadian records, you have to wait 100 years before they become available unless you are next of kin! Other than his request, her birth record will not become available for three more years.

Notice that this portrait was taken in Winnipeg, not in Aberdeen. At a point, the family did move from Aberdeen to Winnipeg, but I have not yet found documentation of the family in Winnipeg.

From the time she was small, Diana was viewed as a little “tomboy,” the only one of the sisters. She got into a few scrapes because of her adventuresome spirit. One time she ran away to the circus and had to be rescued by big brother Harry. Another time she hid on someone’s running board because she wanted to venture out farther from home. Again, Harry came to her rescue, chasing down the car to bring his little sis back. She was pretty scraped up from that event.

The next time I see the family address documented is in 1940 when Diana was 18. In the voter’s record, the adult household members are living at 544 Spadina in Toronto. The gardener remembers the family still talking about the Spadina location when he was a kid, although they no longer lived there. I can’t be sure on Google Maps if the house is still there or torn down. See what you think.

In 1948, Diana immigrated to the United States. Her family was living at 34 Brunswick Avenue in Toronto.

In the 1949 voter’s record, 34 Brunswick is verified. This address is still in the electoral district of Spadina.

According to Google, the house still stands. See the red flag? That house has 3 sections. They lived in the middle section.

Does it really still stand? I don’t know. We traveled to Toronto this summer, and at the rate that old buildings are being torn down to build new ones, I wouldn’t be too sure.

In the 1957 voter’s record, the family still lived at 34 Brunswick Avenue, but Diana had been in the U.S. for a decade.

When exactly did she leave her home for New York City? Although the immigration form above shows 1948, she was most likely living in NYC as a student for at least a year before that–maybe two years. She traveled back and forth by train. The gardener says that she told him once she was turned back to Canada and not allowed into the states.

But eventually she did stay here for good. And in 1954, she married Murray Scheshko.

Here is a portrait of Diana taken just before her marriage.

Murray in His IDF Uniform

A year ago, I wrote in the post Murray’s Further Military History about how Murray went to Israel after WWII, where he served during the time of the Israel’s War of Independence. I mentioned that he served with a Canadian soldier who eventually introduced him to his own SIL, Diana Shulman. Murray and Diana eventually married.

In that same post I shared an AP news article showing Murray and his future brother-in-law as soldiers in Israel.

Recently I found a document in the same envelope with Murray’s U.S. Army transcript and discharge paper that proves that Murray served in Israel. This was a treasure to discover because Murray’s service during 1947-1948 has been unfindable up til now. We have his stories, which we know are absolutely true because Murray was not a “storyteller” and he was very realistic about his accomplishments.

You will see that one side of this document is written in Hebrew and shows Murray in his Israeli Defense Forces uniform!

My next door neighbor, who is Israeli, said that the Hebrew doesn’t say anything different than what the other side, in English, says, but he didn’t spend a lot of time translating it. If anybody knows differently, please let me know.

Here is the photo closer up:

Now the flip side of this document is a letter from the American  consul.

This is a document that will allow Murray entry back into the United States as a native-born citizen without a passport.

That is because his belongings, including his passport, were destroyed, according to this document on 21 June 1948 in Tel Aviv.

Murray was right in the middle of things when he was in Israel. He had some impressive stories. Without documentation, however, I don’t want to garble the stories or tell stories he might not want told on a public blog. However, he did know many of the movers and shakers of Israel from that period. He was on the Altalena when it was full of refugees fleeing Europe after the Holocaust. He was also around for the Altalena Affair, as well as other events. He did say, and I believe him, that if he had stayed in Israel he would have ended up a general, but he had family back home and decided to return to the United States.