THE SALOME ENSEMBLE
A Documentary Limited Series
Four women join forces to create a best-selling novel and a Hollywood movie in the 1920s. A political activist, a novelist, a screenwriter, and an actress. They begin as poor, Jewish, immigrant, women. They win fame, fortune, and social change. And then fade from popular memory. Until now.
Four women immigrate to the United States at the dawn of the twentieth century, from separate Jewish enclaves in the Russian Pale of Settlement and The Netherlands. This is a history, previously untold, of women’s power, resilience, and solidarity in the face of great obstacles. A true story long buried, unknown, overlooked, and misunderstood.
Inspired by his grandmother, who at age 100 encouraged and advised him on this project, Alan Robert Ginsberg set out to study the America she entered through Ellis Island as a teenager in 1922. Among the annals and artifacts of mass media and popular culture of that time period, he unexpectedly found
A fascinating, forgotten story.
A small group of creative women coalesced around a 1923 popular novel and then a 1925 Hollywood movie, both called Salome of the Tenements.
They helped themselves, and they helped each other. Moreover, their legacy today still benefits those who have never heard their names. Ginsberg pursued a decade-long labor of love to write his book, The Salome Ensemble.
Rose Pastor Stokes is the role model. Anzia Yezierska writes the novel. Sonya Levien writes the screenplay. Jetta Goudal plays the lead. Rose, Anzia, Sonya, and Jetta. A political activist, a novelist, a screenwriter, and an actress. They and the character they created were a volatile mix of demure Cinderella and seductive Salome.
All four became famous and influential, but they faded from popular memory in the many years since. Their friendships, personal and professional entanglements allowed them to help each other, and challenge the status quo.
Generations that have never heard their names still benefit from their legacy of political activism, promotion of women’s and labor rights, precedent-setting legal battles, journalism, books, and films.
Their alliance was evanescent. They were a disorderly collection, informal, impermanent, and loosely bound by common purposes and empathy. A soft solidarity. An airy, elective affinity.
The release of the film in 1925 marked the culmination of their collaboration. Each had achieved what she could from their cooperation. They had told and retold a story, changing it to suit their individual needs. They parted amiably and went their separate ways.
From very similar beginnings, they reach very different endings. The film and the novel to which they contributed proceed from similar beginnings and reach very different endings. Both versions begin with a poor, young immigrant who marries the wealthy American man of her dreams. Yezierska’s novel ends with a woman’s liberation from a stultifying marriage, a declaration of independence and self-reliance. Levien’s screenplay turned that into a happily-ever-after story in which a wife surrenders to her forgiving husband and they achieve wedded bliss. The novel’s ending recalls Yezierska’s annulment and divorce, and presages the ending of Pastor Stokes’s marriage. The movie’s ending reflects the experiences of Levien and Goudal.
This series tells the stories of these four women and presents their connections as windows into the early the melting pot of New York City at the start of the 20th century.