The International Workers Order and Bela Lugosi by Sander Feinberg
Bela Lugosi and my grandfather Carl Schwartz (aka Kalman Marki) were close friends in the 1930s and 1940s. My grandfather and grandmother were in the center of the Hungarian cultural and progressive political community in NYC. It was a close-knit community of immigrants and exiles which in many ways was egalitarian and open to people of all walks of life and economic status.
My grandfather, Lillian Lugosi and Bela as seen in my family film in 1947
I have no information on how they met, but I have many pictures from that time showing them together at events and gatherings. As you will read in my article, I was quite astounded to find an old family movie which includes Bela and his wife Lillian. I hope you enjoy this little bit of both family and political history. The links in the article on my website include a little more about other members of the Hungarian community who also were close friends of my grandfather and at least acquaintances of Bela.
Since all the principals have passed away, I don’t know much about the last few years of Bela and Carl’s friendship. My father hinted there was a falling out. I do know that when Bela was down and out my grandfather sent him some money. Bela left him two plots of land in Lake Elsinore in his will. I just discovered that this land was practically worthless at the time of Bela’s death and that he also left similar bequests to others in his will.
* * *
Family Home Movies
16mm Ciné-Kodak Kodachrome film box
I recently transferred some old home movies from 16mm to digital. In compiling them I looked at the box the film came in and was surprised it did not have my Dad’s return address since he took all the other movies (Perhaps you young folks don’t know that in the “olden days” exposed movie film was sent back to Kodak for developing!). The name on the package was Anton Schlussel. I was able to find someone with that name who was the right age, but I have not found much more info about him yet. Below is a photo of him.
Who was Anton Schlussel?
The film was shot in color in 1947 with a popular movie camera called the Ciné-Kodak.
When I looked inside the box flap I found the message you see in the photo below which mentioned Bela Lugosi (spelled “Lugosy”). I couldn’t wait to get the film transferred. When I watched the film it appeared to be a dinner in honor of my grandparents. And sure enough there were Bela and his wife Lillian, sitting next to my grandparents. Bela and my grandfather were best friends for many years. They were both Hungarian actors and at one time Bela lived in NYC where there was a large Hungarian cultural community. My grandparents were at the center of the community. This is a long and fascinating story which I will tell some other time when I will post personal photos I have of Bela and my grandfather.
I sent a photo of the box flap to my cousin Ervin in Budapest and he translated it for me: “I.W.O April 26, 1947. Kalman Marki is participating at the soiréee given by Bela Lugosi.” Well that helped explain a bit. But what in the world was I.W.O.?
What was the I.W.O.?
The I.W.O. was The International Workers Order, which, according to Wikipedia(1), “was a Communist Party-affiliated insurance, mutual benefit and fraternal organization founded in 1930 and disbanded in 1954 as the result of legal action undertaken by the state of New York in 1951. At its height in the years immediately following World War II, the IWO had almost 200,000 members and provided low-cost health and life insurance, medical and dental clinics, and supported foreign-language newspapers, cultural and educational activities. The organization also operated a summer camp and cemeteries for its members.”
A flier from the International Workers Order Records, Kheel Center, Cornell University
In her article “Contraceptive Equity, The Birth Control Center of the International Workers Order,” (2) Elizabeth Temkin explained, “For 35 cents a month per family or 25 cents a month per individual ($4.36 and $3.11, respectively, in 2007 dollars), members in New York City had unlimited access to the district physicians contracted by the IWO to provide care in their office or on house calls.”
Another small tidbit: The International Workers Order’s post-1940 logo was drawn by Rockwell Kent, a famous artist whose etchings were hanging in my parents’ home. He became a member of the Harlem Lodge of the International Workers Order in 1939. (3)
I will refrain from editorializing about the idiocies of the McCarthy era hatred which deprived 200,000 working class people and their families of insurance and medical treatment. If you do not know about that sad era in US history I urge you to educate yourself.
A political cartoon entitled “Reaping the benefits” as featured in Fraternal Outlook, 1947, from the New York Public Library.
Hungarian Connection to the I.W.O.
Now on with my final interesting connection. In its history of the International Workers Order, the Early American Marxism website (4) relates that “In the Summer of 1932, the Hungarian Workers’ Educational and Benevolent Society merged through the decision of a convention of its membe[r]s and subsequent referendum. 4,000 members of that organization were thus established as the Hungarian Section of the IWO.”
Connecting the Dots
I have no documentary proof (yet!), but to me this connects up the dots. My grandfather supported many causes and organizations, especially those helping Hungarian immigrants and also those still in Hungary after WWII (yet another story to be told). I believe that he and Bela and their friends were members of the Hungarian Section of the I.W.O. And I now believe that the photo below is a meeting from the late 1930s or early 1940s of that group. And I may be imagining this, but could it be Anton Schlussel in the back row (check out those big ears!).
Back row: Rose Weinstock, Hugo Gellert, Louis Weinstock, Julia Schwartz, Unknown, Jenny Bachner. Middle of front row: Carl Schwartz; Max Bachner.
I found the photo among a collection of papers and photographs donated to the Tamiment Library Wagner Archives of New York University by the family of Louis Weinstock, one of my grandfather’s best friends. You can read more about Louis Weinstock on my website. The photo (used with permission of Louis Weinstock Photographs Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University) was taken by Gabriel D. Hackett. In his “Lugosi: His Life in Films, on Stage, and in the Hearts of Horror Lovers” (McFarland & Company, 1997), Lugosi biographer Gary Don Rhodes wrote that one of Bela’s favorite photographers was “Gabriel D. Hackett , whom he said always caught his best side. Hackett and Lugosi met as early as 1928 and remained friends for many years. The two often spoke of a mutual interest: photography.”
One crazy footnote is that Bela and my grandfather were mentioned in Senate testimony for helping Hungarian citizens after WWII. More on that in my next article.
* * *
If you have any information on any of these personalities or organizations, I would be so grateful to hear from you. And if you want to follow developments in my detective story, please subscribe to my newsletter at http://sanderfeinberg.com.
* * *
About the Author
I began my career in business and non-profit management. Since the early 1980s I have been involved in both systems development and developing leadership and technical training materials. Recently I have added videography to the mix.
I have been taking photographs obsessively since I was 16 and used a Rolleiflex. Now I am 100% digital. My wife and I spend a lot of time at costume events, dance and music performances, traveling to far-reaching places and in nature in the beautiful Pacific Northwest where we live.
My interests in photography and history intersect as my wife and I seek out vintage photos from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Please visit my website http://sanderfeinberg.com to see stories about our adventures from the last 7 years as well as my research into the areas of history which fascinate me.
* * *