You Were: The Comedienne
December 8, 2010
Your tale starts with tragedy and ends in triumph. If you were anyone else, I’d warn you to stick with the story until you reach the end. But I already know you’re the kind of lady who would.
When you were twenty years old, your beloved husband was killed in WWII. He left you with a tiny son, a one-room apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and a pile of bills. Your neighbors would have done anything to help you make ends meet. But those were hard times, and few had a dollar to spare. Still, everyone on Ludlow Street stopped by to offer their condolences. Much to their surprise, they all left laughing.
It’s not that you weren’t devastated. You mourned your first husband for the rest of your days. But you were also a girl who met heartbreak with humor. All you had to do was walk down Ludlow Street to see life was a battle. Some people fought it with their fists. Others depended on their wiles. You knew the best weapon was a good, naughty joke.
When the debt collectors began to call, you needed to find a way to support your son. So you turned to the one skill you’d had the chance to develop. You visited every talent agent in New York, hoping one could find work for a comedienne. Unfortunately, you met with a ridiculous prejudice that exists even today. Pretty girls can’t be funny, all the agents informed you, even as they laughed at your jokes.
You tried to disguise your good looks with wigs, glasses, and unflattering makeup. Nothing worked. Finally, you figured out a way to make the agents see you for who you really were. You wouldn’t let them see you at all. You stopped meeting agents in their offices and started sending greeting cards instead. They weren’t just any cards, of course. You designed them yourself, and each came with a handwritten joke inside.
One agent howled so long that he lost control of his bladder. Another opened your card on the street and was so blinded by tears of laughter that he was nearly hit by a bus. Still, no one would find you a job, and by the spring of 1945, even you couldn’t find much to joke about. Then the president died. You never figured out what inspired you to send a card to Eleanor Roosevelt. Or why she would choose your card to open. But she said it was the first thing in weeks that had made her laugh. Fortunately, she said it to a reporter from the New York Times.
A year later, you were running your own greeting card company. The debts were paid. You had a nice apartment and a nanny for your son. And the whole world seemed downright hilarious.