Illustration by Art Seiden

Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America

World War II to the Present:


Jesse Louis Lasky: A Film Industry Pioneer

by Seymour "Sy" Brody

Jesse Louis Lasky was a pioneer and giant in the film industry. Together with his brother-in-law, Samuel Goldwyn, and Cecil B. DeMille, Lasky made Hollywood's first full length feature movie, The Squaw Man. The film was an instant success. Other full length films followed.

In later years, Lasky wanted his films to depict democracy in action. He felt that films were the best way to sell America to the rest of the world. While at Warner Brothers, from 1940 to 1944, he produced biographical pictures like Sergeant York, Rhapsody in Blue and The Adventures of Mark Twain. Lasky found Mark Twain, a barefoot boy who grows up to become a writer, to be a perfect example of the opportunities in America.

Lasky's life was not too far removed from that of Mark Twain. His grandfather crossed the plains in a covered wagon In 1850 and settled in California. Lasky was the son of Isaac and Sarah (Platt) Lasky. He was born on September 3, 1880, in San Jose, California. He attended San Jose High School. In his free time, he helped out in his father's store. He learned to play the cornet during this period. This helped him to earn money when finances became tight.

When Lasky was 20, his father died, leaving the family with little money. The family raised $3,000 to send Lasky to Nome to pan for gold. He was one of the first men from the West Coast to go to Alaska for riches.

Lasky lost all of his money panning for gold. He found a job playing his cornet in a cafe. The miners threw coins and sacks of gold dust at the women. Whatever coins and gold fell in the pit were Lasky's to keep. This was how he made his return fare. He was able to repay $1,500 on his family's investment.

Lasky found work playing the cornet in theaters. This led him to become a booking agent for theater acts. He made a fortune getting engagements for entertainers. He lost $110,000 producing stage musical Folies Bergere, in New York. Lasky introduced the word "cabaret" to America with this musical.

He became involved with movies in California in 1914. He formed the Paramount-Famous-Lasky Corporation in 1916. Lasky was a success story for 18 years. The movies industry had collapsed under the weight of its theater chains in 1932. Lasky lost all of his $12 million trying to save his company. The following year, Lasky became an independent producer. He was elected president of the (Mary) Pickford - Lasky Productions, Inc., in 1935. Once again, success was with him throughout the years.

Lasky was married to Bessie Ginzberg on December 11, 1909. They had three children: William Raymond, Bessie Dorothy, and Jesse Louis Jr., a screen writer. Lasky died on January 13, 1958.

Lasky was a pioneer in the film industry who participated in developing it from one reelers to full length movies, from silents to talkies and from black and white to color films. He used his talents to produce films that told the world of the opportunities that existed in America.

This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.

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