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Spewack, Bella

SPEWACK, BELLA

SPEWACK, BELLA (1899?–1990), U.S. journalist, screen-writer, and playwright. Born in Transylvania, Bella Cohen emigrated with her mother to the Lower East Side of New York in 1903. After graduating from Washington Irving High School, she began writing for the socialist newspaper The Call and also worked as a press agent for various organizations. Among them was the Girl Scouts, where she is reputed to have invented the idea for the Girl Scout cookie. In 1922, Bella Cohen married Samuel Spewack, a newspaperman for the New York World, and they traveled together to Berlin and Moscow as foreign correspondents. While in Berlin in 1922, Spewack penned her posthumously-published memoir, Streets: A Memoir of the Lower East Side (1995) and also began writing short stories. "The Laugh," published in Best Short Stories of 1925, was one of more than 40 short stories she wrote in her twenties. Developing their talent in association, Bella and Sam Spewack wrote a number of successful comedies for stage and screen, including the plays Boy Meets Girl (1935), a satire on Hollywood which ran on Broadway for 669 performances; Clear All Wires (1932), a farcical newspaper melodrama; My Three Angels (1953); and The Festival (1955); and films such as My Favorite Wife (1940), starring Cary Grant; and Weekend at the Waldorf (1945), starring Ginger Rogers. Perhaps their best known works are the books they wrote for two highly successful Cole Porter musicals, Leave It To Me! (1938), and Kiss Me Kate (1948), which won the Tony Award that year. Spewack was deeply involved in the theatrical and intellectual world of mid-twentieth century New York City. Her papers, in the Samuel and Bella Spewack Collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia University, include correspondence with George and Ira Gershwin, George S. Kaufman, Thornton Wilder, Mary Martin, Lillian Hellman, Eleanor Roosevelt, and many others. In 1953 the Spewacks founded a sports club in Ramat Gan, Israel, for child victims of poliomyelitis.

bibliography:

J. Mersand, Traditions in American Literature, a Study of Jewish Characters and Authors (1939), 73–77; S.J. Kunitz (ed.), Twentieth Century Authors, first supplement (1955).

[Andrea Most (2nd ed.)]

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