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Kaufman’s Brooklyn: Two photos of ‘People in pairs’

June 17, 2020 Phil Kaufman
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My father, Irving Kaufman (1910 – 1982), was a professional photographer who started in Brooklyn in the mid 1930s working for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He captured thousands of images of Brooklyn through the 1950s. I have recently digitized a great many of them. My father’s profile can be found here.

This week’s theme:

A few weeks ago I displayed a selection of pictures called “People, one at a time.” It featured shots of individuals in various settings and circumstances. (Click the link at the end of this or any other Kaufman’s Brooklyn post for the index if you want to go back and take a look through previously posted images.) I knew I’d follow that at some point with pictures of two people together, and this is that point: “People in pairs.”

I’ve tried to provide a variety of settings and circumstances, like I did with the individuals. But as you’ll see, there are a number of photos of people in entertainment. For some reason, in the ’40s and into the early ’50s, my father did a lot of business with agencies that handled entertainers — particularly jazz and big band artists. I have photos of most of the big names from that post-war era, either in rehearsals, performances, studio sessions or business settings. They’re not always in pairs, of course, but many are and I’ll show a few of them this week.

Today’s photos:

In August of 1939, as the Germans were poised to begin World War II by invading Poland, Hitler and Stalin agreed to a mutual non-aggression pact.

The pact lasted until Hitler broke it by invading the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Hitler’s goal was to conquer western Russia and exploit its people and resources while providing “living space” (lebensraum) for the German people. Within a few weeks, in New York, a group of anti-Nazi activists formed the Russian War Relief, Inc. It became the largest American charitable agency of its kind.

From that point until the end of the war, the “RWR” raised money, clothing, medical supplies and other material to send to the Soviet Union. Many well-known entertainers were active supporters. My father was hired for a time to photograph some of their activities and the well-known people involved. There is an extraordinary amount and variety of artistic talent on display in today’s two pictures.

Many talents, early 1940s

I have no details about this scene. The negative came from a small batch of envelopes labeled “Russian War Relief.” I don’t know who the guitar player is or how to explain his connection to the man on the right, Paul Robeson. My guess is that Mr. Robeson is in costume for a role as Shakespeare’s “Othello,” a part he was well known for. Perhaps this was a benefit performance for the RWR, with both an excerpt from “Othello” and some guitar-accompanied singing, among other things, on the program. But that’s just a guess. Regardless of the specifics, the combination of the guitar (singing), the costume (classical dramatic acting) and RWR (political activism) provides a pretty good profile of Paul Robeson.

I think that Paul Robeson (1898 – 1976) is insufficiently recognized for his contributions to American life. There is no way to adequately summarize his accomplishments briefly. Robeson was twice a first team all-American football player at Rutgers, where he graduated phi beta kappa and valedictorian; a graduate of Columbia Law School, while also playing in the early pro football leagues; a renowned performer in concerts and musicals with a stirring bass voice; a versatile and acclaimed dramatic actor, from O’Neill to Shakespeare; and, all the while, a dedicated political activist, with a dignified but assertive allegiance to causes of social justice in all its forms. Those are a few highlights, by no means an adequate summary of his accomplishments.


Recycling some clothes, early 1940s

Yes, Paul Robeson is a hard act to follow, but these two can hold their own for musical talent and accomplishment against anybody. This photo also came from that batch of Russian War Relief negatives. It finds the married musical couple Andre Kostelanetz and Lily Pons in their bedroom, where (as other pictures show) they have scoured their closets and bureaus for clothes to donate. They maintained a 20-year marriage, from 1938 until their divorce in 1958.

Andre Kostelanetz was a prolific arranger and conductor of light classical and Broadway theater music, with a long career that lasted from the 1920s through the 1970s. He led the NY Philharmonic through dozens of recordings and concerts of light classical and popular musical selections. He commissioned many original works from accomplished composers like Aaron Copland and Jerome Kern as well as many newcomers, and usually debuted them in the concert hall and recorded them for a wider public. A “partial” discography for him includes well over a hundred albums between 1950 and 1979, among them many operas, classical standards and his familiar light classical and popular selections.

Lily Pons (1898 – 1976, remarkably the same years as Kostelanetz) had a singing career that spanned well over 40 years from the late 1920s until her retirement in 1973. She was a specialist in coloratura opera roles, most famously “Lakme,” “Lucia di Lammermoor” and Gilda in “Rigoletto.” Most of her career was spent with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where she averaged 100 performances a year from her debut there in January, 1931 through her final appearance in a gala performance in December, 1960. She also appeared as a guest artist in many top opera companies around the world. And off the opera stage, she made a few musical films in the mid 1930s and appeared on many of the most popular television musical and variety shows in the 1950s.

An index of Kaufman’s Brooklyn posts may be found here.

Irving Kaufman’s profile may be found here.

I invite you to submit comments, memories, images of Brooklyn, and especially any additional background information you can supply about the photos posted here to [email protected]. I’d also be glad to supply information about buying prints of any of the images seen here. Many of my father’s images are also available for viewing and purchase at All prints purchased will be the product of professional scanning and editing.

Weekly collection 7: Photos of ‘People in pairs’

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