Stories With a Yiddish Tam

By Ann Rabinowitz

Montague Israel Glass (1877-1934)
Many times, genealogical researchers depend on old records, family stories, and relics of family life as well as old newspapers.  These are all well and good, but the fictionalized lives created by Jewish writers can add much to one’s knowledge of Jewish life and times. 
A group of such stories with a real Yiddish tam (taste) was written by Montague Israel Glass, who was born in Manchester, England, July 23, 1877, the son of James David Glass and Amelia Marsden.   His father took his family to new business opportunities in New York in 1891 and there began Montague’s emersion into the lives of American immigrant Jews and the development of his unique perception of them.
Known for his humor and wit, Montague, was a playwright and humorist, former lawyer and music lover, who wrote about the situations around him with a telling, deft and knowledgeable touch.  One reads the stories and they create an image of a life and time far removed from us now, but so familiar and intriguing.  One of the enduring stories that Montague wrote was about the business pair of Abe Potash and Mawrus Perlmutter. 
Their colloquial dialogue which thrummed with a Yiddish intonation was a masterpiece of what to readers and audiences came to know as the Jewish immigrant experience.  They became watchwords for interesting and comic business dealings when Montague first published an article about them in the New York Post in 1909 and then in book form in 1910 and finally, he took the characters to Broadway as a play which was produced in 1913.  He collaborated with British-born Jewish playwright Charles Klein on the 1913 play which was not long before Klein met an untimely death by drowning in 1915 in the sinking of the Lusitania.  Other collaborators with Montague in later plays were Roi Cooper Megrue and Jules Echert Goodman.
In addition, Hollywood latched onto the popular business pair when Samuel Goldwyn produced a silent film in 1923 with a further two sequels in 1924 and 1926.  The cast for the 1923 movie was Alexander Carr, Barney Bernard, Vera Gordon, Martha Mansfield, Ben Lyon and Edouard Durand.  You can watch the film for free at the following site:  In the 1924 film sequel, well-known actresses Norma and Constance Talmadge appeared as themselves.
One of the additional wonderful things about the books is that they have remarkable illustrations by Henry Patrick Raleigh (1880-1944).  See a fine example below from Potash and Perlmutter.
Another fine illustration from The Competitive Nephew follows:
It is fortunate for researchers today that the stories of Montague Israel Glass, whilst they are to be found in some libraries, they are now available online for our reading pleasure all over the world.  One can enjoy reading about Potash and Perlmutter or The Competitive Nephew through the Gutenberg Project and many of Glass’s works are available in the same manner on site such as Readbooksonline:, BooksShouldBeFree:'t-Win-by-Montague-Glass and also Google Books
In addition, there is good discussion of Glass’ writing history in the Introduction to his book “Potash and Perlmutter:  Stories of the American Jewish Experience” by S.T. Joshi:  
A great Broadway resource is the IBDB Internet Broadway Database which provides information on all of his plays and when they were produced.  Also, the works of Glass are also available for purchase as eBooks for a minimal fee for those who want to read them on their eReaders.
To learn more about Montague Israel Glass, one can read an article about him from the New York Times:

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