Madame Bertha Hart Variety Show 

(WCNW, Brooklyn, December 21, 1936) 

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Photo Courtesy Steven Lasky 

Photograph: David Weider 

Bertha Hart(né Mahler) was born on the 14th of October 1887 in the town of  Chortkov in Eastern Galicia, Poland. Her theatrical parents started her on the stage as a toddler so, by the age of seven,  she was already starring in children's roles touring across Europe until 1903 when she came to America she began performing on the variety theaters on the Bowery.  In order to join the powerful Hebrew Actor's Union and be able to work in New York, Hart was obliged, along with her actor husband Sidney, to tour in the provinces until finally awarded her union card in 1919. Bertha Hart enjoyed significant performance stretch between drama (she was a regular in Maurice Schwartz's Yiddish Art Theater ) to musical comedy (i.e. she was in the cast of I Would If I Could  the 1933 musical which introduced the song Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn, (Below) and appeared in a number of Yiddish films including The Power of Life (1938) Kol Nidre (1939) and Motl der Opreyter (1940) [From Zylbercweig's Lexikon Fun Yidishn Teyater 1: 587) 

Just four episodes of the Madame Bertha Hart program from the years 1936-1937 survive  (listing, below, right) are all informal and bare-bones bolstered by Bertha Hart's generous enthusiasms for her musical guests. The grassroots/modest budget nature of the programming is evidenced in her announcing performer's addresses and phone numbers and that the locations of the advertising businesses are all within a few blocks of each other.   The razor-thin financial margins in which the station functioned is evidenced in the Bertha Hart show which is nearly evenly split between programming and advertising.

This episode, however,  is unique in that, in addition to the usual amateurs,  the program features professional musician Brooklyn fiddler/bandleader Abe Gubenko. 

New York Daily News October 8, 1933 

Abe Gubenko (1880-1976) born in Ekaterinoslav, Ukraine and had already learned the fiddle before he came to the US in 1922 and who, under different names ("Abe Gubenko's Radio Novelty Orchestra,"  "The Abe Gubenko Little Symphony Orchestra," etc.) played weddings, banquets and bar mitzvahs.  On radio, from 1931-1932,  Gubenko hosted his own 15-minute Yiddish music show on station WLTH (below L) and, by 1934,  had the same slot (as "Abe Gubenko's Jewish Orchestra") on rival WCNW.  

This only known recording of Gubenko may also feature his son Julius (b. 1924) who would later become famous as jazz vibes player,Terry Gibbs. 

The music  Gubenko plays — here aided by outstanding klezmer clarinetist (possibly Max Epstein)  —reflects the core working repertoire of professional New York klezmer musicians of the era,  a seasoned mix of traditional dance tunes and instrumental versions of Yiddish theater songs played in dance (not concert) tempos. Klezmer music was not found on the larger stations which had Jewish programming   (like WEVD, WBNX)  but was a staple on all the smaller/low power, more heymish stations. 

 

Brooklyn Times Union August 6, 1931 

Gubenko family, Brooklyn, 1936. Abe (standing R, rear,) Julius (Terry Gibbs), (standing R, front) 

Wcnw started life in 1926 as experimental radio laboratory WMIL,  becoming WCNW around 1932 just prior to their participation in the ambitious new  "Amalgamated Radio Network" founded by comedian Ed Wynn. The quick failure of the network left the station with extremely weak wattage and saddled with an unwelcomed and clumsy frequency sharing arrangement with station WWRL  who also aired the same kind of Yiddish programming competing for the same local audience.  The listing (below) including the Bertha Hart program , shows how dizzyingly diverse were the station montage of quarter hour programs: from philately collecting to rambling cowboys to Yiddish shower stall singers all in about an hour! WCNW, along with the other low-power/high frequency Brooklyn stations  (WBBC, WLTH, WARD) were forced into a station consolidation in 1942 as station WBYN which itself, went off the air in 1947.

Brooklyn Times Union February 26, 1936 

Part 1

00:00 / 23:23

"Good evening my dear listeners, we bring you another evening of true pleasure, one hour of great enjoyment which we will shortly present.  And now we'd like to bring to the microphone, our beloved, Mister Gubenko and his orchestra 428 E. 93rd Street in Brooklyn and they play a Yiddish selection [among them: "Shvartse Natasha," "Gubenko Hora,"  "Rumshinsky Bulgar."]

 

We get such pleasure out of hearing Mister Gubenko and his fine orchestra, the music was so good that we were dancing. And speaking of dancing I bring you greetings from Metz's Photographer 1552 Pitkin Avenue right at the corner of Saratoga Avenue on the first floor.  Metz does not have to advertise because their photographs speak for themselves especially to the bride and groom especially at the wedding ceremony which you will get tremendous ceremony photographs and will offer you a guarantee of their work which, of all photographers, is the lowest priced. And another thing:  mention my name and get a 10% discount for each party so don't forget to mention my name. 

 And now we'd like to bring to the microphone our dear  Dvoyrele Wasserman who has been asked to once again sing  "Vi Iz Mayn Khusin?/Where Is My Groom?")  [set to the music of "Papirosn" HS.] 

For a New Year's you'll long remember,  go to Park Plaza Catering Hall at 1530 Pitkin Avenue corner Saratoga Avenue in Brooklyn and you will get a kosher 16-course banquet dinner, New Year's noisemakers, plus a Broadway orchestra and a floor show with a famous Broadway personality as MC all for an amazing price. Though Park Plaza exudes a Spanish atmosphere it is under the strict observance of a kosher caterer while everything is new and kosher for an anniversary, a bar mitzvah a wedding, go to Park Plaza  1530 Pitkin Avenue corner Saratoga Avenue in Brooklyn and make our reservation now mention you heard this announcement and you'll get a special rate.

Sam and Max, the well- known clothing store at  1738 Pitkin Avenue are having a "removal sale" to their new location 1541 Pitkin Avenue and you will only now be able to get such bargains on suits, overcoats, tuxedos a reduction of over 45% For example suits, overcoats, tuxedos which usually cost $45 now can be had for the low price of $21.75, $25.75 and $27. Bargains like this happen once in a lifetime. Don't delay: only those who show up will be able to choose from among the best clothing. Merchandise which usually costs $75 is now $45. The sale begins on shabbos December 5 Sam and Max Clothing Stores so please write down this address: 1738 Pitkin Avenue in Brownsville and stores are open until late at night and every sabbath.  

And now we will hear ourdarling Mister Gubenko and his famous  orchestra plays "Der Farzorgter Husid." ("The Worried Khusid") 

Big news in Brownsville Brooklyn as everyone is talking about the great theatrical production is this season's great theatrical sensation "A Vayb Far Yeden" (Everybody's Woman) at the Parkway Theater Eastern Parkway and St. John's Place. Plays every Friday, Saturday and Sunday matinees and evening and Saturday afternoon matinees .35, .50 and .75 cent seats, the best in the house.  "Everybody's Woman" features the entire artistic company of the Parkway theater such stars as Nathan and Rosa Goldberg, Jacob and Betty Jacobs, Louis and Minnie Birnbaum, Peter Graf, Mildred Black, Seymour Rechzeit, Thelma Jacobs, William Schwartz, and Paula Lubelska. Don't miss the golden chance to see a heartfelt piece with eight sweet musical numbers. It's a first-class theatrical company in the comfortable and expansive Parkway theater. 

Dvoyrele sings again this time in Russian "Staratanya" with words by Mrs. Kaplan. 

A great reduction sale in Block's Junior Wear store 1569 Pitkin Avenue where you will get the best bargains. If you've ever dealt with Mr. Block you'll know he's reliable. He has the best clothing  If Mister Block is giving a sale, you can be sure it's a 100% honest sale. Listen to this radio special: the big bargain in winter coats only 500 coats sizes 7-15 usually sold for $15 now going for $10 a coat. I guarantee it's the best bargain. Come by and see for yourself, and  I'm sure you'll agree with me. We have a big sale of snowsuits guaranteed excellent material plain and plaid and Woolrich material in all sizes and colors with long scarfs and hats to match usually $11.98 is now $7.98, party dresses the best you can find in every color and style and size; regular they sold for $5.98  now sells for just $3.98 Every garment, dress and coat made by Mr. Block. Mr. Bloch favors his customers with a 100% satisfaction guarantee so you'll be sure of every garment. Block's Junior Wear store can be found at 1569 Pitkin Avenue corner Herzl Street in Brownsville. And please mention my name when you shop there. It won't do you any harm. Thank you. 

Part 2

00:00 / 21:42

English ad Shimmy's Clothes Shop

Madame Bertha Hart: We will shortly hear our beloved Gubenko at the microphone but first I'd like to say a few words [ the same commercial for Shimmy's in Yiddish. ("positif di faynste material, stylish a la Broadway")] 

And now you will hear Abe Gubenko and his orchestra who will play a bulgar  [NOTE: The piece is called Der Shtiler Bulgar/The Quiet Bulgar] and would in 1938 achieve  cross-over hit status as "And the Angels Sing" first as an instrumental for Ziggy Elman and then the next year  

a song for the Benny Goodman Orchestra with Martha Tilton.] 

Mister Gubenko our Brooklyn neighbor together with his famous orchestra are what you know you want this kind of art for your celebration so call them at DIckens 2- 2851 and his address is  428 E. 93rd Street in Brooklyn. I am certain you will reach an agreement. 

And now I have the great honor to bring to the microphone Der Umid Kinstler/The Synagogue Artist"  Cantor Alter Levine who will sing  "Parnose"  ("A Living") something which we all ask of God. 

And now I'd like to tell you something important to me;  January 7 at the Parkway Theater....Mr. Louis Brinbaum knew that I wanted to reserve the theater for myself to stage a memorial to my late husband Sidney. So, when I told him that, Mr.Birnbaum said we will take you in with our entire company to stage a blessed remembrance of our beloved Sidney. So Mr. Birnbaum gave me my own tickets (he has his tickets at the theater) mine are available at Metz's Photographers at 1552 Pitkin Avenue as the sole outlet for my tickets.   What will be playing will be a dramatization of a serialized novel in the Forverts, "Seventh Avenue" starring Louis Birnbaum, Rosa Goldberg, the usual leading lady of the Parkway Theater who has stepped aside to allow me to take the leading role. And that's not all. There'll also be a concert afterward featuring Menashe Skulnik and Itzkhok Feld. We will soon tell you about the other stars who will positively show up. Every ticket is worth five dollars so buy them at Metz's Photographers on Pitkin Avenue and do not be disappointed to join us on the 7th of January at the Parkway Theater and my tickets are available azt Metz Photographer on Pitkin Avenue.  I thank you. 

Cantor Alter Levine will now sing "Ovinu Malkeynu".

You just heard our beloved Cantor Alter Levine so remember if you need a good cantor for a celebration call Cantor Levine who will bring an extra special element to your life events.  Call him at Applegate  6-7614 his address is 355 Schenck Avenue in Brooklyn, New York.  

This Saturday night we had a director's meeting of the sisterhood of the Beth-El Hospital during which we learned that Mr. and Mrs. Culter at 607 Carroll Street married off their youngest daughter to a nice young man named Mr. Berkowitz and in honor of that have set up a number PResident 3 3716 and are grateful for every cent you offer to help us. We thank you. 

 And now you will once again hear our dear Gubenko and his orchestra will now play for you a "Czardia"

And you just heard Mister Gubenko with his orchestra and so remind you that if you are planning a celebration or a wedding call up Mr. Abe Gubenko at DIckens 2- 2851 and his address is 428 E. 93rd Street in Brooklyn. 

Don't forget: tell your friends. Anyone who has talent, if you sing or whatever, please come here to our studios every Sunday morning for an audition. Big or small. 10-11. But please bring Yiddish words and Yiddish music.

Abe Gebenko again  a "Czardia"

I want to remind you, listeners, to tune in Thursday 6-8.  And also remember January 7 my theatrical evening with my tickets at Metz Photographers and now want to wish you a good night."

© 2020 by Henry Sapoznik

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