Guide to the Ben Gailing (1898-1999) Papers,
undated, 1924-1975

P-607

Processed by Rachel S. Harrison

American Jewish Historical Society

Center for Jewish History

15 West 16th Street

New York, N.Y. 10011

Phone: (212) 294-6160

Fax: (212) 294-6161

Email: reference@ajhs.org

URL: http://www.ajhs.org

© 2017, American Jewish Historical Society, Boston, MA and New York, NY. All Rights Reserved.
Electronic finding aid was encoded in EAD 2002 by Rachel S. Harrison in February, 2016. Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Ben Gailing
Title: Ben Gailing (1898-1999) Papers
Dates:undated, 1924-1975
Abstract: This collection contains the records of Ben Gailing (1898-1999), a Yiddish theater actor and radio host in New York and Boston. There are two Yiddish playscripts, "Yo a Mame, Nit a Mame" by Ben Gailing, and "Oy iz dos a Yingel" by Hershel Glick; Gailing’s book, Git a Shmeykhl; Yiddish sheet music; Yiddish theater programs; and photographs of Ben and Frieda Gailing and other actors and actresses from the Yiddish theater.
Languages: The collection is in Yiddish and English.
Quantity: 0.5 linear feet (1 manuscript box)
Identification: P-607
Repository: American Jewish Historical Society
Location: Located in AJHS New York, NY
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Biographical Note
Portrait of Ben Gailing (1898-1999)

Portrait of Ben Gailing (1898-1999)

Benjamin Gailing was born on December 25, 1898 in Krasnopol in the Suwalki province north of Bialystok. He had a traditional cheder education but also wrote poems and songs and performed in a choir at his shul. When he came to the United States in 1913, he had been planning to continue studying in a yeshiva, however a visit to the Lower East Side Yiddish theater inspired him to instead become an actor. He soon joined Maurice Schwartz’s Yiddish Art Theater, where he sang, danced, acted, and played the violin during performances. He also joined the Hebrew Actors Union and toured the Yiddish theater circuit, traveling to Philadelphia, Boston, Montreal, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Chicago, and Toronto. At the same time, Gailing wrote articles, poems, and humorous pieces about Yiddish comedy and theater in various periodicals in New York, Montreal, and Philadelphia. He also composed several plays and published original songs and Yiddish translations of American popular songs.

In the 1920s, while still living in New York, Gailing had a radio show on WABC and was a regular on the Socialist radio station, WEVD. These experiences would later inform his long-running Yiddish radio program in Boston. When Gailing realized that Boston did not have its own Yiddish theater troupe, he and his wife Frieda Letwin, whom he had married in 1921, moved to Boston. He directed and produced Yiddish performances at Boston’s Grand Opera House, John Hancock Hall, and the Franklin Park Theatre from the 1930s through the 1970s, with performers who were mainly from Boston and New York. Gailing also had a column for the Boston edition of the Forward, “Ben Gailing Shraybt” (Ben Gailing Writes) and was active in the Labor Zionist movement, working and performing at Workmen’s Circle camps around Boston.

In 1931, Gailing, calling himself the “freylekher kabtsn” (happy pauper) after a Yiddish comedic play, launched the weekly “Yiddish Radio Show.” The show featured live skits, songs, and editorials on current events, celebrity gossip, history, and politics, delivered in well-crafted Yiddish rhymes. He also read excerpts from his weekly humor column for the Forward, “Git a Shmeykhl” (Smile), which he wrote from the 1930s through the 1950s, and which was collected in a book, Git a Shmeykhl, a bukh fun laykhtn humor un satire far ale teg fun a gants yor (Smile, a book of light humor and satire for every day and all year), published in 1949. The show ran for sixty-eight years, until Gailing’s death, and served as a focal point for the Boston Yiddish-speaking community.

In the early 1960s, Gailing became the cantor at his synagogue, Temple Beth Abraham in Canton, MA, a position he held for twenty-six years. His wife, Frieda, died in 1988. Gailing moved to a nursing home in 1991 but continued to record the “Yiddish Radio Show” every Sunday until his death from pneumonia on March 27, 1999 at the age of 100.

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Scope and Content Note

This collection contains Yiddish playscripts, "Yo a Mame, Nit a Mame" (Yes a Mother, Not a Mother) by Ben Gailing, and "Oy iz dos a Yingel" (Oh, Is This a Boy) by Hershel Glick; a copy of Gailing’s 1949 book, Git a Shmeykhl (Smile) autographed to his parents; Yiddish sheet music; Yiddish theater programs from Boston performances that Gailing produced; and photographs of Ben and Frieda Gailing and other actors and actresses from the Yiddish theater.

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Arrangement

The collection has been arranged alphabetically in one series.

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Access and Use

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers by permission of the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society, except items that are restricted due to their fragility.

Use Restrictions

Information concerning the literary rights may be obtained from the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society. Users must apply in writing for permission to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection. For more information, contact:
American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011
email: reference@ajhs.org

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Related Material

The American Jewish Historical Society Library has a copy of Gailing’s 1949 book on Jewish humor, Git a Shmeykhl, a bukh fun laykhtn humor un satire far ale teg fun a gants yor. The American Jewish Historical Society Archives has the Theater and Film Poster Collection of Abram Kanof, P-978, which contains two Yiddish theater posters for plays that Gailing was in, "I Sinned and I Paid" and "For the Sake of a Woman." The YIVO Archives, in addition to numerous Yiddish theater collections, has the Records of the Hebrew Actors Union, RG 1843, which contains some of Gailing’s correspondence.

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Separated Material

There is no information about materials that are associated by provenance to the described materials that have been physically separated or removed.

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Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date (if known); Ben Gailing (1898-1999) Papers; P-607; box number; folder number; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY, and Boston, MA.

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Acquisition Information

Donated by Ben Gailing in 1988.

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Processing information

Processed by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation. The collection was refoldered.

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Access Points

Click on a subject to search that term in the Center's catalog. Return to the Top of Page

Container List

The following contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Click the box in the request column to open the form that allows you to request a box for onsite viewing in the reading room at the Center for Jewish History, New York, NY.

 

Ben Gailing Papers, undated, 1924-1975

BoxFolderTitleDateRequest
1 1 Smile - גיט א שמייכל 1949 request_box
1 2 Oh, Is This a Boy: a comedy in three acts - אוי איז דאס א אינגעל undated request_box
1 3 Photographs of Yiddish Actors undated, 1929, 1942, 1966, 1968 request_box
1 4 Photographs of Yiddish Actors undated, 1959, 1966, 1968, 1972 request_box
1 5 Yiddish sheet music 1924-1935 request_box
1 6 Yiddish theater programs 1966-1975 request_box
1 7 Yes a Mother, Not a Mother: a television play in three acts - יא א מאמע ניט א מאמע undated request_box
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