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October 02, 2008 - Image 90

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2008-10-02

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


Arts & Entertainment

Diary Of Old Is New Again

In New York, even trash is full of treasure.

Sandee Brawarsky
Special to the Jewish News

New York


ne fall morning in 2003, Lily
Koppel left her Riverside Drive
apartment building, a bit late for
work at the New York Times, and was struck
by the sight of a large dumpster outside the
Piled high were about 50 old steamer
trunks plastered with vintage labels of styl-
ish hotels and cruise lines. Her curiosity
drove her to climb right into the dumpster.
She soon was excavating clues to life among
a certain set in the 1920s and '30s.
Koppel pulled out what she could, called
the Times to send a photographer and then
tried contacting the New York Historical
Society, aware that trash collectors would
soon be coming for this unburied treasure.
Amid the chaos, a building porter told her
that he had found a young girl's diary and
gave her the small book with its crackling
leather cover and chrome lock. None of her
scavenged items affected her like the diary;
the young girl's voice transported her to
another era, yet was strangely familiar.

The diary sat on Koppel's night table for
several years, and she'd read it often. The
diarist, whose name, Florence Wolfson, was
inscribed inside, received the book on her
14th birthday and wrote a few lines in it
every day from 1929 to 1934.
To Koppel, Wolfson seemed more sophis-
ticated than her years, overflowing with
passion, daring and intense feelings, full of
literary ambition and craving adventure and
romance. This potent whiff of another life
reminded the young Chicago-born reporter
of her own experiences in getting to know
New York. "I felt like we almost could have
been the same person, separated by 75
Through an encounter with a private
investigator, who contacted Koppel after
a story of hers appeared in the Times, she
was able to trace the writer to her winter
residence in Florida. Three years after she
first climbed into the dumpster, Koppel
called Florence Wolfson Howitt and told her
that she thought she had some things that
belonged to her.
After they met, Koppel wrote a story about
the diary for the Times, which generated calls
from literary agents and editors who sug-
gested that Koppel write a book.

Working with the diary entries and long
interviews with Howitt, Koppel has crafted a
textured and intimate coming-of-age story
and a very uptown portrait of Jewish life,
The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life
Through the Pages of a Lost Journal (Harper;
Florence's prose "possessed the literary
equivalent of perfect pitch',' Koppel writes.
The book presents a meeting of selves
between the younger and older Florence.
The daughter of immigrant parents — her
father became a prominent doctor, her
mother a sought-after dressmaker — the
beautiful and independent Florence went to
lunch and tea at Schrafft's and dancing at
the El Morocco and the Hotel Pennsylvania.
She rode horseback in Central Park; sum-
mered in the Catskills; wandered for hours
at the Metropolitan Museum; attended
Hunter College, where she served as edi-
tor-in-chief of the prestigious publication
the Echo; and hosted a literary salon in her
parents' apartment, with Delmore Schwartz
and John Berryman among the group.
After receiving her master's degree, she
sailed to Europe, where she had a romance
with an Italian count.
While she rebelled against her parents'

Lily Koppel and Florence Wolfson Howitt

expectations — they wanted her to marry a
nice Jewish doctor — she did end up fulfill-
ing many of their wishes. In fact, she eloped
with her husband just as he finished dental
school. They first met when she was 13 and
on a summer vacation in the Catskills, where
he was working. His father, a rabbi, came
from her mother's village in Europe. Their
first kiss is mentioned in the diary

e ws




Nate Bloom
Special to the Jewish News

Film Premieres

A number of films with a Jewish con-
nection open Friday, Oct. 3.
The bio-pic Flash of Genius stars
Greg Kinnear as
Robert Kearns
a Wayne State
University professor
who invented the
intermittent wind-
shield wiper. The
Aaron Abrams film chronicles his
decades-long battle
with automakers for payment for
his innovation. North Toronto native
Aaron Abrams, 30, has a supporting
role as one of Kearns' lawyers.
Next year, Abrams can be seen in
a much bigger role as aviator Amelia
Earhart's navigator in Amelia, star-
ring Hillary Swank. Ironically, Abrams
told a Canadian Jewish publication

dlo October 2 • 2008

that he was late for his own bar
mitzvah because of his mother's
"erratic and wrong-way driving."
An American Carol is a rare
animal: a conservative political
satire. The film's publicity release
describes its plot: "An anti-American
Hollywood filmmaker sets out on
a crusade to abolish the Fourth of
July holiday. He is visited by three
spirits who take him on a hilarious
journey in an attempt to show him
the true meaning of America." The
writer-director is David Zucker of
the Airplane films.
Zucker is a real-life Republican,
and the cast is filled with other
Hollywood G.O.P. supporters: Kelsey
Grammar, James Woods, Jon Voight
and Dennis Hopper.
Political humorist and anti-orga-
nized religion "activist" Bill Maher,
52, is the writer of Religulous, a
documentary in which Maher travels
around the world interviewing people
about religion. The film's director is

Larry Charles, who
also directed Sacha
Baron Cohen's hit
comedy Borat.
Maher aims his
commentary at
the devout of all
faiths, including
Larry Charles
some Chasidic
Jews and some so-called Jews for
Jesus. Maher's late father was Irish
Catholic, and his mother was Jewish.
The comic was rigorously raised as
a Catholic and said, years ago, that
he did not even know his mother was
Jewish until he was a teen. Maher's
mother (who died late last year) is
interviewed in the documentary, and
I'm curious whether she will shed
light on why she hid her background
from her children.

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist,

directed by Peter Sollet (Raising
Victor Vargas) and the recipient
of very good reviews at the recent
Toronto Film Festival, is adapted

from a popular young-adult novel
of the same name by Rachel Cohn
and David Levithan. Michael Cera
(Juno) plays Nick, the only straight
guy in a gay punk band. A young
woman named Norah Silverberg (Kat
Dennings) asks Nick to pretend to be
her boyfriend for a few minutes. The
few minutes turn into a whole night,
and a romance is born. Silverberg is
identified as Jewish in the film and
even explains the concept of tikkun
olam (repairing the world) to Nick.
Dennings, 22, has many film and TV
credits, including playing Catherine
Keener's daughter
in The 40-Year-Old
Virgin. Her original
last name is Litwack.
From Jewish direc-
tor Andrea Kalin
comes Allah Made
Me Funny, a concert
Kat Dennings
film following three
comedians on stage
and off as they reveal what it's really

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