Authors: Jerome Weidman

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist, short-story writer, and playwright

Identity: Jewish

Author Works

Long Fiction:

I Can Get It for You Wholesale, 1937

What’s in It for Me?, 1938

I’ll Never Go There Anymore, 1941

The Lights Around the Shore, 1943

Too Early to Tell, 1946

The Price Is Right, 1949

The Hand of the Hunter, 1951

Give Me Your Love, 1952

The Third Angel, 1953

Your Daughter Iris, 1955

The Enemy Camp, 1958

Before You Go, 1960

The Sound of Bow Bells, 1962

Word of Mouth, 1964

Other People’s Money, 1967

The Center of the Action, 1969

Fourth Street East: A Novel of How It Was, 1970

Last Respects, 1972

Tiffany Street, 1974

The Temple, 1975

A Family Fortune; 1978

Counselors-at-Law, 1980

Short Fiction:

The Horse That Could Whistle “Dixie,” and Other Stories, 1939

The Captain’s Tiger, 1947

A Dime a Throw, 1957

My Father Sits in the Dark, and Other Selected Stories, 1961

Where the Sun Never Sets, and Other Stories, 1964

The Death of Dickie Draper, and Nine Other Stories, 1965

Drama:

Fiorello!, pr. 1959 (libretto with George Abbott; music and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock)

Tenderloin, pr. 1960 (libretto with Abbott; music and lyrics by Harnick and Bock)

I Can Get It for You Wholesale, pr. 1962 (libretto, music by Harold Rome; adaptation of his novel)

Cool Off!, pr. 1964 (libretto; music by Howard Blackman)

Pousse-Café, pr. 1966 (libretto; music by Duke Ellington)

Ivory Tower, pr. 1968 (with James Yaffe)

The Mother Lover, pr. 1969

Asterisk! A Comedy of Terrors, pr., pb. 1969

Screenplays:

The Damned Don’t Cry, 1950 (with Harold Medford)

The Eddie Cantor Story, 1953 (with Ted Sherdeman and Sidney Skolsky)

Slander, 1957

Teleplay:

The Reporter, 1964 (series)

Nonfiction:

Letter of Credit, 1940 (travel)

Back Talk, 1963 (essays)

Praying for Rain, 1986 (memoir)

Edited Texts:

A Somerset Maugham Sampler, 1943

Traveler’s Cheque, 1954

The First College Bowl Question Book, 1961 (with others)

Biography

Of Jewish background, Jerome Weidman (WID-muhn) was the son of Joseph and Annie (Falkovitz) Weidman. His father was an Austrian immigrant; his mother was from Hungary. Because his parents knew hardly any English, Weidman did not speak that language fluently until he was five years old. He married Elizabeth Ann Payne, a writer, in 1943. Among their children are Jeffrey and John Whitney.{$I[A]Weidman, Jerome}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Weidman, Jerome}{$I[geo]JEWISH;Weidman, Jerome}{$I[tim]1913;Weidman, Jerome}

Weidman attended City College (now City College of the City University of New York) from 1931 to 1933, Washington Square College from 1933 to 1934, and New York University Law School from 1934 to 1937. His military and wartime service included work in the U.S. Office of War Information from 1942 to 1945. Before becoming a full-time writer, he worked at various jobs such as soda jerk, newsboy, stenographer, mail clerk, and accountant. He was a member of the Authors Guild and the Dramatists Guild of the Authors League of America, of which he was president from 1969 to 1974, and the Writers Guild of America, East.

When Weidman graduated from high school, the Great Depression was at its height. He read for entertainment and held a job in the New York City garment district for a weekly salary of eleven dollars. His writing career was spurred by ten dollars he received when a magazine accepted a short story he wrote and submitted. His first novel, I Can Get It for You Wholesale, was written as a result of a contest he entered; he wrote a chapter each night. The novel portrays its Jewish protagonist as ruthless and traces his path from upstart to ambitious manufacturer who is unable to find happiness in life. Although the novel did not win the contest, it was eventually published, and critical response was very positive. The book was successful enough that Weidman followed up with a sequel, What’s in It for Me? The sequel continues to depict the protagonist as a man unable to love, a despicable human being, lacking any sensibilities.

With the success of his first novel, Weidman quit law school at age twenty-four to become a full-time writer. He was compared by critics to writers such as Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. Weidman was ultimately prolific. During his literary career, he produced a vast body of works, including novels, short stories, dramas, screenplays, and even a television series. He proved himself a disciplined and skilled storyteller and observer of modern life and Jewish immigrant culture in the United States. In many of his works, ambitious characters are successful at first but are defeated in the end because they sacrifice their morality and integrity to gain financial rewards. Some of his characters fail to differentiate between ephemeral material happiness and real human sensibilities. All these concerns reflect Weidman’s personal experience of the Depression years and the lack of material wealth around him during his youth. Weidman portrayed these dislocations in human greed and desire with meticulous accuracy.

Along with his ethnic roots and childhood experiences, Weidman’s travels in North America, the Mediterranean region, and England inspired him and provided material for his works, which have been translated into many languages. Interestingly, his parents read his books in Hebrew because of their lack of English comprehension. Weidman earned a number of prestigious awards such as the Pulitzer Prize in drama, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and the Tony Award in 1960 for the musical play Fiorello!, which ran for 795 nights on Broadway. A musical version of I Can Get It for You Wholesale ran for 300 nights and was later made into a feature-length film in 1951.

Not all critics were kind to Weidman’s works, and the author took the negative reviews seriously. He was, in fact, somewhat hurt and surprised by them, because he thought he worked hard as a storyteller and had something serious to contribute to the literary world and to his readers. His response was to continue writing.

As a first-generation Jewish American writer, Weidman never discounted his roots and humble background, always finding ways to work autobiographical details into his books. His reminiscences include those of seeking cultural identity, the generation gap, stereotypes in the Gentile world, and getting away from the urban ghetto. His stories reflect this unique American immigrant experience with a Yiddish flare and a cadenced English dialogue. As a writer, he also had a special talent for drawing material from Eastern European tales and legends, especially in his short stories. He also was a keen observer of mundane details, turning them from banalities to insightful and interesting facets of everyday life in his stories. Though his literary fame wavered from time to time during his fifty-year career, Weidman retained his audience with a prolific body of works because he was good at storytelling. His works are still read widely and continue to be studied seriously.

BibliographyBannon, Barbara A. “Authors and Editors.” Publishers Weekly 196 (July 28, 1969): 13-15. Uses the publication of Weidman’s The Center of the Action as a starting point for a treatment of his literary career. The article discusses aspects of the relationship between Weidman’s fiction and his life. Accompanied by a photograph of Weidman.Barkham, John. “The Author.” Saturday Review 45 (July 28, 1962): 38-39. This interview, concerning Weidman’s fiction and theater work, accompanies a review of Weidman’s novel The Sound of Bow Bells. Barkham’s essay examines some of Weidman’s ideas about the way stories should be written and treats Weidman’s daily schedule as a writer. A photograph of Weidman accompanies the review.Blicksilver, Edith. “Jerome Weidman.” In Twentieth-Century American-Jewish Fiction Writers, edited by Daniel Walden. Vol. 28 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1984. Entry on Weidman’s life and prolific body of works.Hawtree, Christopher. “Chronicles of the Lower East Side.” The Guardian, October 20, 1998, p. 22. A brief sketch of Weidman’s life and literary career; concludes with a comment on his story “Monsoon,” which he compares to a story by Eudora Welty in its treatment of racism.Liptzin, Sol. The Jew in American Literature. New York: Bloch, 1966. This volume discusses Weidman in the context of American literature. Liptzin briefly compares Weidman to Budd Schulberg in connection with their treatment of “the Jewish go-getter” and of “unpleasant Jewish money-grubbers.”Sarafin, Steven R., ed. “Jerome Weidman.” In Encyclopedia of American Literature. New York: Continuum, 1999. Overview of Weidman’s writing career.Sherman, Bernard. The Invention of the Jew: Jewish-American Education Novels, 1916-1964. New York: Yoseloff, 1969. Treats Weidman’s I Can Get It for You Wholesale as a rogue-hero novel. Sherman places the work in a tradition beginning with The Rise of David Levinsky by Abraham Cahan and running through Haunch, Paunch, and Jowl by Samuel Ornitz and What Makes Sammy Run (1941) by Budd Schulberg.Weidman, Jerome. “Interview with Jerome Weidman.” Interview by John Barkman. Saturday Review 45 (July 28, 1962): 38-39. Weidman discusses his literary career and his intent as a writer.Weidman, Jerome. Interview by Lisa See. Publishers Weekly 230 (September 12, 1986): 72-73. Uses the publication of Weidman’s autobiographical volume, Praying for Rain, as a point of departure for surveying his literary career. Also treats some of Weidman’s ideas about composition. Includes a photograph of Weidman.
Categories: Authors