Murray’s Military Career, Part 4

Diana’s husband Murray Scheshko, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, was in the Air Corps of the U.S. Army in WWII. There is a little question as to whether he was in the 353rd or 352nd Fighter Group or perhaps both.

We knew he had bronze stars and a purple heart, but wanted to order his full records from NARA (National Archives) in St. Louis, MO. Well, the gardener and I ordered them, but we received an unsettling response. Apparently, his records were lost in a fire.

According to NARA, the only hope we have for information is to send $25 for the “final pay voucher.” The idea is that there is information on that document that might be helpful. Why the original documents were not better taken care of, I do not know. Thank you VA for taking care of our vets in yet another way (sarcasm alert).

I’m going to order the final payment voucher. Wish me luck! Also, if you have had to do this, please let me know in what ways it helped your research.

Dina’s Birth Certificate

This post is a backtrack. I ordered and received Diana Shulman’s birth certificate. You can see that her Canadian name at birth was Dina Shulman. Her middle name Leah is not listed. According to this document, Diana was born at 533 King St. in Winnipeg. I would like to find out if this was a hospital or residence, but I can’t find the information readily available in a google search.

I need to go back and correct Moving On to the Shulmans because I spelled her name Dinah, mentioning she was born Dinah Leah Shulman. I do think her Hebrew name was Dina(h) Leah, but her legal Canadian name until she changed her name to Diana was Dina.

 

Post-War Survival Jobs in NYC

Last week, I told you about Diana’s celebrity paintings. She considered herself a celebrity portrait painter. I have a couple of interviews I did of her that I slowly am listening to. As I get more information, I will share it. One thing I forgot to mention last week, though, that comes from my paper files is a mention of Diana by a very cool columnist. From Rodgers and Hart’s song “The Lady is a Tramp”:

I follow Winchell and read every line
That’s why the lady is a tramp

That’s right; Diana was mentioned by Walter Winchell under the professional name she was using, “Diana Dale.” She’s at the bottom of this clipping.

“The paintings on the Birdland walls are from the easel of Diana Dale.” Not a big mention, but still.

I am finding more and more little tidbits so at some point I might backtrack a bit. For now, I am moving forward.

In addition to studying and working on her paintings, Diana held survival jobs in NYC. Here is a photo of her from 1951, when she was working at Walgreen’s.

It looks like ads for camera film are above her head. I’m not sure what is in the forefront of the photo. Or the details behind her. She was 29 here.

She also worked at the world-famous Stork Club as a cigarette girl. Whenever I think about this job, I remember the commercial from my childhood, “Cigars, cigarettes, Tiparillos?”

In addition to her job as a cigarette girl, she was a hat check girl at the Stork Club. She much preferred this job because the tips were fabulous. She earned $20 and $50 bills from many wealthy customers, including celebrities, such as William Powell.

It is possible that she worked at this job in 1952 because it would explain her license as a “wardrobe checker.”

Although I don’t think I have a photo of her at work at the club, I do have a few mementos she saved.

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.

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.

* Updated info on Diana’s birth name. While her Hebrew name was Dina(h) Leah, her Canadian name at birth was Dina Shulman, according to her birth certificate.

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.