Monday, May 4, 2020

The Mysterious Dolgov-Part Five

In the 1950s, what is now called the East Village began to attract writers, artists, beatniks, and bohemians, especially from Greenwich Village to the west. It may have been a natural place for an artist like The Mysterious Dolgov to land, if he wasn't already living there. The East Village was also once considered a part of the Lower East Side, a place in which Russian-Jewish immigrants settled during the late 1800s and early 1900s. I'm pretty sure that Dolgov's family were both Russian and Jewish. In addition, the East Village was home to the Yiddish Theatre District or Yiddish Rialto of the early twentieth century. That last fact leads us to another Dolgoff.

Lewis Benjamin "Lou" Dolgoff was a comedian and master of ceremonies who performed on radio and stage in the Yiddish Theatre District and other places around town during the early to mid twentieth century. He was born on June 29, 1892, in Manhattan to Benjamin Dolgoff (1848-1920) and Lena (Golub) Dolgoff (ca. 1856-1953). He was a regular at the Village Grove Nut Club in Greenwich Village (1920s), also at Kernel Lew Mercur's Nut Club in Miami, Florida (1940s). Dolgoff had engagements at the Swing Club, Arabian Nights, Boery (sic) Cafe, B and B Nut Club, and Sir Jimmy Dwyer's Sawdust Trail in New York. If I read things right, Dolgoff was also on the radio on WMCA, WPAP, and WPCH, all in the same city.

When he registered for the draft in 1942, Dolgoff was employed by the New Fulton Royal Restaurant in Brooklyn. He may have alternated between New York City and Florida, specifically Miami, at the time. It looks like Dolgoff divorced his wife Sally in early 1953, married Bertha Zeitlin in Dade County, Florida, sometime that year, then was widowed when she died the following year. He had emceed at the Red Barn in Miami prior to that and--who knows?--maybe after that, too. In any event, Dolgoff followed his wife to the grave on October 11, 1956, and was buried at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, New York, with his parents. His stone is marked "Dear Uncle."

So, that's an awfully long way to go following somebody who might not have had anything to do with The Mysterious Dolgov, but we're still chasing leads. I have just one more: I found an Oscar Arthur Dolgoff, later known as Oscar Dole, who, in the 1930 Federal census, while living in the Bronx, gave his occupation as advertising artist. He was born on November 29, 1911, to Philip and Bertha Dolgoff. In 1940 he was unemployed. I don't know anything more about him except that he died on February 17, 1980, and is at buried Mount Lebanon Cemetery in Glendale, Queens County, New York. The surname and age are about right, as are the place and occupation, but why would Oscar Dolgoff have gone by the name Boris Dolgov when he was already going by the name Oscar Dole? It just doesn't add up. What we should consider, though, is that "Boris" or "Dolgov" or "Dolgoff" was not the Weird Tales artist's real name or birth name, and that's why he has been so hard to find. Maybe, too, he was an only child or never married or never had any children, and so there aren't any remaining Dolgovs to set us straight. There is one thing available to us, though, that might clear all of this up:

New York City Death Certificate Number 23513
Name: Boris Dolgoff
Age: 48
Date of death: November 4, 1958
Place of death: Manhattan

Are you listening, RAE?

The Village Grove Nut Club was a landmark in Manhattan for drinkers, nightclubbers, partygoers, and other bon vivants. Here is a photograph from the exact date of February 18, 1933.

Located at 99 7th Avenue South, "In the Heart of Greenwich Village," the Village Grove Nut Club might have been a little too far west to be a part of the Yiddish Theatre District (I'm a Midwesterner with absolutely no knowledge of New York City, or its neighborhoods, culture, or history). Nonetheless, it must have been an attraction for Jewish performers and clientele from all over. (Above: A wine list from 1943.)

One of those performers was Lou "Judge" Dolgoff (1892-1956), whose parents, Benjamin and Lena Dolgoff (or Dolgov), were Russian-Jewish immigrants who spoke Yiddish and/or Hebrew as their native language. His father was a clothing presser. Lou escaped that by becoming a comedy performer and master of ceremonies. Here his name appears in a newspaper advertisement for Kernel Lew Mercur's Nut Club, from the Miami Herald, December 17, 1941.

One of my points in showing these images is that bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and other entertainments and businesses in New York City, as everywhere, would have needed art, cartoons, and illustrations, thus providing opportunities for young artists. It might help, too, if a young artist had a friend or relative who already worked in those industries. A foot in the door, an introduction, a kind word: "My brother's kid draws. How about if I bring him around this weekend and he can show you what he's got?"

I can't say that Boris Dolgov and Lou Dolgoff were related, but it might be instructive to look at the paths taken by the children of European-Jewish immigrants in early twentieth-century America: the first generation were laborers--Kirk Douglas' father was a ragman, the Marx Brothers' a tailor--who escaped the Old World into the New. The second made their own escape from common labor into entertainment and the arts. Could that have been Boris Dolgov's path, too? Unfortunately, we don't know and we're left with a lot of speculation in the absence of evidence. For now The Mysterious Dolgov remains so.

Text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

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