Monday, January 19, 2009

Leo Rosten

Leo Calvin Rosten was born in Lodz, Russian Empire (now Poland) and died in New York City. He was a teacher, academic and humorist best remembered for his stories about the night-school "prodigy" Hyman Kaplan (first published in The New Yorker in the 1930s, and later reprinted in two volumes—The Education of Hyman Kaplan and The Return of Hyman Kaplan, under the pseudonym Leonard Q. Ross).

He is also well-known for his encyclopedic volume The Joys of Yiddish (1968), a guide to the Yiddish language and to Jewish culture (as well as a source for anecdotes and Jewish humor). It was followed by "O Kaplan! My Kaplan!" 1976, and Hooray for Yiddish! (1982) , a humorous lexicon of the American language as influenced by Jewish culture.

Among his other works is a large volume titled Leo Rosten's Treasury of Jewish Quotations. Among his own many quotations are: "A conservative is one who admires radicals centuries after they're dead," "Truth is stranger than fiction; fiction has to make sense," "We see things as we are, not as they are," and "I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all."

Rosten was a successful screenwriter. He wrote the story for The Dark Corner, a film noir starring Mark Stevens; and Lured, the Douglas Sirk-directed period drama featuring Lucille Ball. He is listed as one of the writers for Captain Newman, M.D. adapted from his novel of the same title. Other films: Mechanized Patrolling (1943) (as Leonard Q. Ross), They Got Me Covered (1943) (story) (as Leonard Q. Ross), All Through the Night" (1942) (story) (as Leonard Q. Ross), The Conspirators (1944) (screenplay), The Velvet Touch (1948), Sleep, My Love (1948) (novel) (screenplay), Double Dynamite (1951) (story), Walk East on Beacon (1952), and Mister Cory (1957) (story).

At a tribute dinner to fellow humorist W. C. Fields, a youngish and reportedly nervous Rosten came up with the unscripted remark about Fields that "anyone who hates babies and dogs can't be all bad!" This statement is often misattributed to Fields himself.

In 1935, Rosten married Priscilla Ann "Pam" Mead (1911-1959), sister of anthropologist Margaret Mead. They had two daughters: Madeline Rosten and Margaret Ramsey Rosten, and a son, Philip Rosten (1938-1996), who in turn had 6 grandchildren, Josh and Ben Lee (Madeline), Seth Muir (Margaret), and Alexander, Carrie and Pamela Rosten (Phillip). Carrie followed in her grandfather's literary footsteps and has authored three books including a young adult novel, "Chloe Leiberman (Sometimes Wong)"