Rosten, Leo Calvin

views updated


ROSTEN, LEO CALVIN (1908–1997), U.S. humorist. Born in Lodz, Poland, Rosten was taken to the U.S. as a child. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1937. He had a distinguished career in the U.S. government as a consultant to the secretary of war and as a social scientist but was best known as a writer. Under the pen name of Leonard Q. Ross, he was the creator of one of the most famous characters in modern American fiction, Hyman Kaplan, a pupil at a night school for immigrants. Kaplan's existence outside this setting is never described and he is nowhere identified specifically as a Jew, but the matter is never in doubt. In his struggles with the English language Kaplan expresses the Jewish immigrant's effort to integrate himself into American society and culture, his aspirations, and his sense of freedom and wonder in a new environment. Such matters are treated hilariously in both The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N (1937) and its sequel, The Return of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N (1959), where Rosten deals with the interesting pupil-teacher relationship. Under his own name, Rosten wrote studies of journalism and Hollywood and a novel about an army psychiatrist, Captain Newman, M.D. (1962). In 1968 he published The Joys of Yiddish, an amusing and informative survey of the Yiddish language and its influence on everyday speech. In 1976, O K*A*P*L*A*N! My K*A*P*L*A*N! was published.


R. Newquist, Counterpoint (1964), 522–36; S.J. Kunitz (ed.), Twentieth Century Authors, first suppl. (1955).

[Irving Fineman]