Morton Wishengrad (1913-1962), Papers.

  • Dates: ca. 1944-1962
  • Size: 1.65 linear ft.
  • Number of Boxes: 2
  • Languages: English
  • Location: Special Collections Reading Room, Jewish Theological Seminary Library.
  • Restrictions: Reproduction of fragile items is not permitted; consult the archivist about literary rights.
  • Gift Of: Tess Wishengrad Siegel and Nina Wishengrad
  • Date: June, 1998
  • Related Collections: R.G.1, General Files, and R.G. 11, Communications Department Files, each contain material about "The Eternal Light," the Seminary radio program for which Morton Wishengrad was a scriptwriter. The bulk of the "Eternal Light" records remain unprocessed.

JM, 7/1/98

Table of Contents:

A Note on Folder Headings

Individual folders are identified in the following way on the left side of each folder: Name of Collection, box #/folder#, as in Ben Zion Bokser Papers, 4/22. Please use this format in citations and when referring to files for any other reason.

Biographical Note

Morton Wishengrad was a writer for radio, television, film, and the stage. In 1944 he became the first scriptwriter for The Jewish Theological Seminary's "Eternal Light" radio program, writing approximately 150 scripts. In 1957 Wishengrad's play, "The Rope Dancers," was produced on Broadway with Siobhan McKenna and Art Carney in the lead roles. The play was based on Wishengrad's 1948 radio script for the "Cavalcade of America," radio program. He subsequently redeveloped it as an "Eternal Light" script, "Lizzie and the Whiskers," (1949) before rewriting it for Broadway.

In the political world of the 1950s, Wishengrad positioned himself as a liberal anti-Communist, first in the labor movement, where he began his career, and later in the entertainment industry.

Wishengrad was raised on New York's Lower East Side and in Brooklyn. Although he was the son of an Orthodox father (his mother died when he was nine) he early lost interest in Judaism. After graduating from Brooklyn College in 1935, Wishengrad became the educational director of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) where he remained until 1941. In 1942 Wishengrad accepted a wartime position as the AFL director of the joint AFL-CIO Shortwave Bureau, broadcasting to organized labor in Europe. He wrote his first radio script for the Textile Workers Union in 1942, one in an NBC series titled "Labor for Victory," thus beginning his career as a scriptwriter. His career continued with a stint, 1943-1944, as a writer for the NBC University of the Air.

In 1944 Wishengrad began writing scripts for The Jewish Theological Seminary's radio program, "The Eternal Light." "The Eternal Light," which began that year, was one of several outreach programs developed by Louis Finkelstein, the Seminary's president. Wishengrad was associated with the Seminary's radio program, and later its television program, "Frontiers of Faith." Wishengrad's association with the Seminary, and in particular with its president, Louis Finkelstein, led to something of a personal Jewish renaissance for him. See the videotaped interview with Louis Finkelstein (Marjorie Wyler Papers, 4/13) for Finkelstein's description of their first meeting. For Wishengrad's account of this meeting, and an analysis of his relationship with things Jewish, see his speech, "Jewish Culture in America," delivered for the Jewish Center Lecture Bureau (1/52, pages 8-9).

In 1957 Wishengrad's play, "The Rope Dancers," was produced on Broadway. It was directed by the English director Peter Hall, and its cast included Siobhan McKenna (who also appeared on "The Eternal Light"), Art Carney, Joan Blondell, and Theodore Bikel (also an "Eternal Light" performer.) The play was well received by critics and colleagues, as letters in this collection attest.

In addition to his work for the Seminary and his Broadway play, Wishengrad worked as a freelance. He wrote for labor unions, radio drama series, Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Committee, ORT, and the National Council of Jewish Women; the National Council of Churches of Christ; corporations, including Seagram's; and Hollywood. Among his notable works were "The Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto," "The Jeffersonian Heritage," a series of documentaries for ORT, "With These Hands," a documentary for the ILGWU that was nominated for an Oscar, and the controversial "Communism - U.S. Brand," 1948, for which he won a Peabody Award, but was castigated by left-wing critics, some of whom were his own friends and colleagues. See Wishengrad's correspondence with ABC Vice-President Robert Saudek for more on the program, including reactions to it (1/17).

Wishengrad became a socialist and anti-Communist while still a Brooklyn College student. He subsequently went on to take part in, as he put it, "a number of excursions against Communist infiltration or domination of the American Labor Movement." Once established in broadcasting, Wishengrad jousted with Communists in the Radio Writers Guild.

Starting in the mid-1950s Wishengrad began to turn his attention to his own creative work. In 1955 he applied for a Guggenheim fellowship (which was turned down) to write a play about Emma Lazarus. "The Rope Dancers" was a product of this era. And he spent time in Hollywood working on film scripts.

It was at this point that Wishengrad's life fell apart. In 1958, still in his forties, he had a cerebral embolism; soon after he was divorced from his second wife. Although his talent had been recognized and rewarded, Wishengrad's personal life had not been easy. Both his parents died when he was young (his father when he was sixteen) leaving him to be raised by an older sister. His first wife, Rose, with whom he had two children, also died early. Wishengrad initially recovered from the embolism, but died in 1962 at the age of 49, leaving four children and much unfulfilled promise.

Collection Description

The files in this collection have been maintained as Wishengrad kept them himself. They contain mostly correspondence and also include drafts of scripts, contracts, clippings, and a few photographs. This material mostly documents Wishengrad's writing career, but some personal and family matters and Wishengrad's anti-Communism are documented. Sensitive material about his family has been restricted (except to members of the Wishengrad family).

These papers provide a window into the several intersecting worlds that Wishengrad inhabited. As a writer for "The Eternal Light" Wishengrad participated in the ecumenical/public education efforts that Jewish organizations such as the Jewish Theological Seminary made during the forties and fifties. As a member of the entertainment industry who was prolific in several media, Wishengrad went to Hollywood, lived through the blacklist era, and witnessed the shift from radio to television. Wishengrad's early work in the labor movement is not documented here, but some of his later connections with unions are. See, for example, Wishengrad's letters to Morris Novik (in the "N" file) about his plan to write a film about Samuel Gompers, and his proposal for a film department at the AFL- CIO with himself as head, 1956.

Wishengrad's correspondents are: employers and potential employers, theater and film producers, actors, directors, writers, agents, lawyers, backers, foundations, publishers, rabbis, fans, friends, and family. Some correspondence is in lettered files (box 1, folders 1-16) at the beginning of the collection. Files for I and Q were found empty, and there are no files for X-Z. In some cases, where last names are missing, the filing of these letters is a clue to their writers' identities. Included in the lettered files is correspondence with: Daniel Bell, Rabbi Arthur Chiel, Harold Daniell (at length about Wishengrad's script on Uriah Levy, 1954), Ossie Davis, Zelda Fichandler (of the Arena Stage asking him to submit a play, 1958), Louis Finkelstein, Yasha Frank, Lewis Funke, (drama editor of The New York Times), Milton Krents, Sonya Levien (of George Sidney Productions, Hollywood), Bernard Mandelbaum, Virginia Mazer (Wishengrad's sometime collaborator), Norman Podhoretz (concerning contributions to Commentary), playwright Sylvia Regan, Gilbert Seldes, Irene Mayer Selznick, Dore Schary, his sister Min (filed in "K") concerning her financial support of his work, and others.

Much of the material concerns specific projects. Included in these files are letters, contracts, notes, ideas, and drafts of scripts.

Wishengrad's affiliation with The Jewish Theological Seminary is documented in his correspondence with Bernard Mandelbaum, Moshe Davis, Louis Finkelstein, Milton Krents, Rosamund March, and in two files headed "Eternal Light" (1/36, 37).

The writing, casting, production, and critical and box office results of "The Rope Dancers" are partially contained in three files (1/80, 81, 82). Included here is correspondence with Dorothy and Raymond Massey, Michael Redgrave (who turned down the opportunity to direct), Charles and Thelma Schnee, Ivan Tors, Dore Schary, and others. Drafts of the script are also included. For more on the play see correspondence with director Peter Hall (mostly about casting) and actress Siobhan Mckenna. Comments on the play, and congratulations Wishengrad received when the play opened, can be found throughout.

Wishengrad's anti-Communism is documented in letters throughout the collection. See, in particular, the files for the Radio Writers Guild. For responses to "Communism - U.S. Brand," both positive and negative, see the files for ABC, Anton Leader, Norman Rosten, Milton Steinberg, and the editor of The New Republic (in "N" file). Wishengrad expands further on his political views in letters to Moshe Davis, Saul Blackman (in Webb Kelley file), and Paul Milton (with whom he discussed his belief that anti-Communists in the radio and television industry were being blacklisted, 1952 - in "M" file). In 1955 Wishengrad and his colleague Morris Novik defended Sam Jaffe, presumably against a charge of Communism, in a telegram addressed to Francis E. Walter, chair of the House Un-American Activities Committee (in "J" file). See also the file on the blacklisting of actress Jean Muir which contains Wishengrad's letter to The New Leader defending Ms. Muir against a charge of Communism, 1950.

In addition to his writing career, Wishengrad taught courses in his craft at Hunter College and Columbia University. See the files for these colleges. Wishengrad also lectured frequently, mostly before Jewish groups - a by-product of his work on "The Eternal Light." See the files for the American Jewish Historical Society; Temple Emanuel, Paterson, NJ; Women's American ORT; Westchester Reform Temple; and the Jewish Community Centers of Cleveland, among others. Of note is the text of a talk, "Jewish Culture in America," prepared for the Jewish Center Lecture Bureau, in which Wishengrad analyzes at length his relationship to Judaism, describing, among other things, his encounter with Louis Finkelstein at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Letters from Wishengrad's friends provide insight into their own lives as well as Wishengrad's. See, in particular, a substantial file of letters from Milton Steinberg, rabbi of New York's Park Avenue Synagogue and an author, ca. 1945-1950, which consist mostly of praise for Wishengrad's work and ideas and suggestions for "The Eternal Light" and other projects. Manny Rubin ("R" file), a writer, complains at length about the frustrations he experienced working in Hollywood, 1957-1961. Rubin describes his work on the film "Joseph" with the director Frank Capra and comments gloomily: "There is a sense of petrified sterility along the corridors of Columbia."

Box List

Box  Folder(s)  Description 
  I. General Alphabetical Correspondence Files:
1 1 A
 2 B
 3 C
 4 D-E
 5 F
 6 G
 7 H
 8 J
 9 K
 10 L
 11 M
 12 N
 13 P
 14 R
 15 S-T
 16 V-W
  II. Correspondence Files (Also Including Contracts, Scripts):
 17 American Broadcasting Co., "Communism, U.S. Brand," 1948-1949; 1955
 18 American Jewish Committee, Tercentenary, 1954
 19 Ashley, Ted, Associates (agent), 1953
 20-22 Bible series, Raymond Massey, 1950
 22a Biographical information
 23 Blurbs and reviews 1944-1953
 24 Capezuto, Herma (typist), 1961
 25 Clippings, ca. 1940s-1960
 26 Columbia University, teaching appointments, 1943-1946
 27 Contracts, 1940s-1950s (additional contracts can be found throughout these files)
 28 Copyright documents, 1949, 1950, n.d.
 29 Crown Publishers, publication of "Eternal Light" scripts, 1961
 30 "Dateline," notes, script drafts
 31 "Dateline in Transit," "The Valley of the Shadow," drafts and notes, ca. 1962
 32 Davis, Moshe, Jewish Theological Seminary, "The Eternal Light," 1946-1962; n.d.
 33 Dawson, Ronald, Associates (agent), 1953-1963
 34 Dramatists Guild, 1947, 1956, 1957 (assessments due on "Rope Dancers")
 35 Du Pont Co., Cavalcade of America, "Juliet in Pigtails," script, 1950
 36 "Eternal Light" script ideas and possibilities, 1949-1961
 37 "Eternal Light" scripts - "Andrea's Room," 1960, and "The Mark of Cain," 1954
 38 "The Fifth Season" royalties, Mind Your business & Co., 1954-1955
 39 Franklin, Rosamund (March), assistant to Marjorie Wyler, Public Information, JTS, 1961; n.d.
 40 Gelber, Michael, concerning Levi Yitzchak script, 1960
 41 Goldin, Grace, letters, 1959, 1961, manuscript, and clippings of published writings
 42 Goldin, Judah, "Some Reflections on Religion and Learning," address delivered at Pennsylvania State University, 1956, and story by Robin [Goldin]
 43 Goldstone, Jules, Agency, 1953
 44 Guggenheim Fellowship application, 1956
 45 Hall, Peter, director of "Rope Dancers," 1957-1958
 46 Hallmark Hall of Fame, "The Wiley Wilby," by St. Clair McKelway
 47 Hazen Foundation, National Council of the Churches of Christ, Broadcasting and Film Commission, 1953-1957
 48 Herberg, Will (clipping of review)
 49 Hunter College, teaching, 1962
 50 "The Jeffersonian Heritage," publication by Beacon Press, 1952-1953
 51 Jewish Book Month Committee award, 1949
 52 Jewish Center Lecture Bureau, 1956-1959
 53 Jewish Community Center of Milwaukee, Bleich Institute, 1962
 54 Katz, Aaron, 1951, n.d., script ideas and synopses
 55 Kelley, Webb, MW on Kelley resolution on Korea, 1955
 56 Kratz, Charlotte Eleanor, re immigration, 1958
 57 "L' Affaire Look - New Yorker - Forcier," 1954
 58 Leader, Anton, 1948, 1956, n.d.
 59 Lincoln, Abraham, ideas, 1950
 60 MCA Agency, 1957-1961
 61 McKenna, Siobhan, 1956-1957, n.d. (letters and clippings)
 62 Miner, Worthington, National Telefilm Associates, 1956, 1961
 63 Moore, Victor, "Deuteronomy Katz," 1946
 64 Muir, Jean, blacklisting, 1950
 65 National Council of Jewish Women, "A Small Triumph," n.d.
 66 New Dramatists Craft Discussion With Elia Kazan, 1957 (transcript)
 67 Notes, ideas, drafts, many on psychological themes
 68 ORT, 1954-1957
 69 ORT, "Eliahu's House," script drafts and notes
 70 ORT, "Mellah" script notes and related material
 71 Official Films - "The Singing Theater"
 72 Outlines
 73 Photographs
 74 Princeton Film/Television Center, 1955-1959
 75 Probst, George, "The Independent Mr. Jefferson," 1953
 76 Radio Writers Guild, 1947-1954
 77 Radio Writers Guild, "Anti CP Fight," 1950; n.d.
 78 "Recuerdo," script, about Edna St. Vincent Millay, n.d.
 79 Rochement, Louis de, film publishers, concerning work for The House of Seagram, 1956
 80 "The Rope Dancers," letters, 1954-1957, n.d.; notes, financial data, clippings
 81 "The Rope Dancers," draft and "Eternal Light," "Lizzie and the Whiskers," 1949
 82 "The Rope Dancers," correspondence with Jenny Hecht, Len Forbes, and George Banyai and Sallie Wilensky on Gilbert Miller stationery.
 Unfoldered   "The Rope Dancers" scripts (2)
2 Unfoldered "The Rope Dancers," scripts (3)
 1 Rossen, Robert, "The Octopus," 1957
 2 Rosten, Norman, 1948, n.d. (including dispute over communism)
 3 Samuel, Maurice, 1960
 4 Schedule of programs, ABC-TV religion series, 1960, and Eternal Light, 1961?
 5 Shaarey Zedek, Detroit, Centennial Celebration, 1961
 6 Siegel, Sol, Productions, 1955
 7 "The Sin of Virtue - A Story of Rabbi Israel Salanter," script drafts
 8 Singer, Howard, 1961
 9 "The Song of Berdichev," drafts
 10 Steinberg, Milton and Edith, 1945-1950
 11 Stern, Harold, attorney, 1947-1961
 12 Syndicate (backers, "Rope Dancers"), 1955-1957
 13 Theater Guild, 1959
 14 "They Came This Way" series, 1944
 15 Thomas, Norman, 1949-1954
 16 Ulmer, John, about "Rope Dancers," n.d.
 17 Universal Pictures/Fund for Adult Education, "A Cup of Hemlock," 1953
 18 Universities, applications, 1858; 1961