November 19, 1995
By Bella Spewack
Feminist Press, 1995
In the early 1920's, Bella Spewack wrote an unsentimental, almost humorless
memoir of growing up a poor Jewish immigrant on the Lower East Side, but
did not publish it. At the time she was a young reporter based in Berlin
and did not know that fame and comfort awaited her as part of the husband-and-wife
team of Sam and Bella Spewack, who would write hit shows like “Boy
Meets Girl” and “Kiss Me Kate.” In her memoir, Mrs.
Spewack described airless, overcrowded tenements with boarders rotating
in day and night shifts, as well as a little girl's perplexing exposure
to a too-adult, sometimes violent world of sexual desire. She relived
the burdens and humiliation of being the oldest of three children of a
single mother, dependent for survival on the chilly and degrading generosity
of charity. She recreated the wearying hopelessness of that youth, but
also the wonder and possibility injected into it through the existence
of public libraries and public schools. Her voice is strong and individual.
Her executors did well to bring the story to publication now, five years
after her death at the age of 91.