Montague Glass and the “Potash and Perlmutter” Phenomenon

I’m pretty certain I have never heard a better name for a British-born Jewish guy than Montague Glass (1877-1934). Glass was the son of an English linen merchant; the family moved to New York when he was 13. He went on to study at CUNY and NYU Law, becoming a practicing lawyer around the turn of the century. Glass’s clients were often people like his father, Jewish manufacturers and tradespeople with issues and disputes related to their business. Glass found much of what he enountered comical, so he collected characters and moments from his experiences, and wrote a bunch of popular stories around the fictional Potash and Perlmutter, which proceeded to become a literary phenomenon not unlike Abie’s Irish Rose and the Cohens and the Kellys, only without the Irishmen — and P & P came first. It addition to Glass’s original books, there were also several hit Broadway stage plays, and several silent films. These vehicles naturally hinged on dialect humor and stereotype, as was popular at the time.

The books were Potash & Perlmutter: Their Copartnership Ventures and Adventures (1909), Abe and Mawruss: Being Further Adventures of Potash and Perlmutter (1911), Worrying Won’t Win (1918), Potash and Perlmutter Settle Things, aka Potash and Perlmutter at the Peace Conference (1919), and Y’Understand (1925).

The Broadway plays were written with a series of co-authors. The first, Potash and Perlmutter starred Alexander Carr and Barney Bernard and ran two years 1913-1915. This was followed by Abe and Mawruss (1915);  Business Before Pleasure (1917-1918);  His Honor: Abe Potash (1919);  Partners Again (1922) Potash and Perlmutter, Detectives (1926). Next came the movie version of Potash and Perlmutter (1923) with the original two stars. Bernard died in 1924 and was replaced in the two screen sequels by George Sidney; the films were In Hollywood with Potash and Perlmutter (1924) and Partners Again (1926).

The original play was revived in Broadway one last time in 1935 shortly after Glass’s death. Glass also wrote books and plays outside the Potash and Perlmutter universe but none as successful as his most famous creation.

For more on show biz history, please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.

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