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8 1 Early Life and the Thirties The Immigrant Background Many Jews left the Russian empire in the first decade of the twentieth century, escaping the pogroms in their homeland and looking for new opportunities in the cities of the northeastern United States. Binem (later Benjamin) Endfield (this surname was used on his immigration papers) was born in 1888 in the Polish city of Łódź, which was then under Russian authority. His original family name was Koniećpolski. In 1905 he journeyed to the United States via Britain, arriving in New York in February 1906 after an eight-day steerage passage on the Majestic from the port of Liverpool. His passage had been paid by his older brother Philip, who had left his homeland earlier and settled in London, where he married and had a child before spending three years in Brooklyn either side of his brother Benjamin’s arrival in New York. Philip Endfield then returned to Britain, where he lived until 1957.1 The eighteen-year-old Benjamin Endfield first lived with his brother in a rooming house in Brooklyn and earned a living by sketching expensive fur coats in the windows of Fifth Avenue stores, turning these over to an employer who made cheap copies of the coats.2 When the employer moved to Scranton, in northeastern Pennsylvania (a city built on the coal and transportation industries), Benjamin, whose occupation had been recorded as a tailor on his New York immigration record, moved with him and began learning the fur business before starting (in 1909, at age twenty-two) an establishment of his own. The 1910 census recorded him as a border in a lodging house in Scranton with other immigrants, but there is every indication that he was keen to acquire American citizenship: he applied for his naturalization papers in 1908 and gained them four years later. In early 1914 he married Lena Raker of Early Life and the Thirties - 9 Olyphant, a town five miles from Scranton. She was five years his junior and the daughter of Jewish Hungarian immigrant parents (her father was a tinsmith and hardware store owner).3 Cyril Endfield was the first of their three children, born on November 10, 1914; he was to have two sisters, Marion and Louise, who were born three and eight years subsequently. His father’s family responsibilities allowed him to successfully apply for exemption from war service when America entered the First World War in 1917. At a time of widespread anti-Semitism, he showed considerable ambition, moving his shop twice by 1927, and establishing it at 140 Washington Avenue, where it catered to a clientele that (as The Scranton Sun put it) included “many of the most prominent residents of the district.” The same source recorded that he was by then a Mason as well as a member of Fox Hill Country Club and the Chamber of Commerce. In 1920 Cyril’s father had been renting their home, but by the 1930 census he owned a house where he lived with his wife, their three children, and a young Irish woman employed as a servant.4 Scranton was a tough mining city where Welsh, Italian, and Polish immigrant groups competed with one another and civic corruption was a longstanding tradition. It was a town known for its speakeasies and red-light district during the Prohibition era. Cyril recounted years later, when he was known as Cy, how he and other boys used to “run up the alleyways waving and shouting at the ladies of the evening.” His early memories of growing up in Scranton in the twenties informed the musical—written with Debbie Reynolds in mind—that he and his wife, Mo, worked on in the eighties.5 This second generation immigrant was a bright, hard-working schoolboy in the Scranton public schools and a Boy Scout. His school report card for 1931–32, his high school graduation year, indicates consistently strong grades (above 90 percent) in science, mathematics, and history, with marks in the B plus range in English and mechanical drawing. Endfield was encouraged in his academic ambitions by an uncle, “an impecunious inventor” who had attended both MIT and Yale and who lived with the family. At this time the young man was also developing an early interest in and involvement with the theatre. In 1931 he played Ruddock in a production called Grumpy and then Sir Anthony Absolute in a staging of Sheridan’s The Rivals, both for the Thespis...


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