George Gershwin, Kay Swift & Family History
Katharine Weber does not just hold the fascinating family secrets. She digs for more and shares them. Her family is the stuff of legend. Katharine’s grandmother is the groundbreaking first woman to write the score for a Broadway musical and she shared a long and loving affair with George Gershwin. The intrigue does not stop there. Katharine’s great grandfather was the architect of the Federal Reserve. Her grandfather advised and feuded with FDR and her father’s erratic, communist chummy behavior earned him a thick FBI file. Plus Fritz and Weezy are recommending High on the Hog, Flack, Home Before Dark and The Vanishing of Harry Pace.
Louise Palanker (00:00:06):
Welcome to Media Path. I'm Louise Palanker.
Fritz Coleman (00:00:08):
And I'm Fritz Coleman.
Louise Palanker (00:00:09):
Coming up, we've got a fantastic guest for you. She is bestselling novelist Katherine Weber, who was probably told throughout her life, you should really write a memoir. Why? Because her family is fascinating. And so she did, and she's here to talk with us about it. But first, Fritz and I have been running media recon missions for you, and we've got some intel. Fritz <laugh>, what do you have
Fritz Coleman (00:00:31):
For her? My, my first one is a Netflix documentary called High on the Hog, how African American Cuisine Transformed America. Now it's based on a James Beard Award-winning book by Jessica B. Harris. And just to set the tone here, the term high on the hog comes from the best cuts of pork and those coming from the upper part of a pig's legs and their backs. Now, these parts were saved for the masters on the plantation or the upper classes. So the term living high on the hog means you're living large. This is four episodes long that trace black cuisine from Africa to Texas. It's really beautifully done. It combines historic cuisine with historic events. The host is chef and writer Steven Satterfield. The first episode is called Our Roots. It goes back to Africa to the country of Benin, and we learned that okra and yams come from the western areas of Africa before they came to the United States.
And we get to solemnly walk through the gates from which enslaved people departed to make their transatlantic trip. This is the most touching part of the series. It's really quite beautiful. It's solemn and quiet and beautiful. Episode two is called the Rice Kingdom. The crop was even bigger than cotton in the Carolinas was rice. And we learn of the human cost of the rice trade back in the 17th and 18th centuries. We also get treated to the delicious work of a chef who specializes in black culinary traditions. Episode three is, this is, this is really interesting. Our founding chefs, this talks about mac and cheese and Virginia Ham being the work of the very celebrated enslaved head chefs of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. They were James Hemmings, who was the brother of Sally Hemmings, the enslaved lover of Thomas Jefferson, mother of four of his children, and George Washington's chef Hercules. These men are so influential in American cuisine that we visit a restaurant which still concentrates on keeping their recipes alive. Episode four is the most timely. We visit Texas and we learned that the first cowboys in America were black cowboys, and we get treated to a meal that would've existed to celebrate the original Juneteenth when enslaved people were finally freed in Texas two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, it was just deemed a holiday last Friday. It is beautiful. It is sumptuous. It's touching. Wonderful history, wonderful cooking, great show.
Louise Palanker (00:03:10):
Wow, that sounds really cool. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I'm gonna check that out. So there's a show on Apple plus good show for the family. It's called Home Before Dark. From the co-author of Crew Ella and the director of In the Heights Child journalist Hildy Lisko moves with her family to her father's childhood cozy Lakeside Village. The Sleuthy Hildy quickly begins unsettling towns folk by unearthing shocking cold case crime solving secrets. This is a fun family viewing type of show. It's very well done. Brooklyn Prince carries the show well as Hildy Home Before Dark on Apple Plus
Fritz Coleman (00:03:43):
How many episodes?
Louise Palanker (00:03:45):
I'm not sure we were, we started season two. It's one of those things where you watch it and you think, okay, that was nice, and then all of a sudden, you know, half a year later, season two Oh, and then you have no idea what happened in Season one. <laugh>. I think there was a crime. Did someone go missing? Oh yeah. And then, you know, you have to remind yourself. It's like all the shows we watch, it's like we suddenly know 10,000 additional people <laugh>, and we have to keep up with their names and their storylines.
Fritz Coleman (00:04:08):
All right, good one. Well, I got a show called Flack. This is on Amazon Prime. So far two seasons are streaming. A Flack is a public relations operative. Now, this show is about a flack that works for a PR office in London named Robin, played by Anna PackMan. It's a British production, mainly a British cast. I, I like it because it's kind of like a female Ray Donovan, but with a sense of humor, Anna's character specializes in crisis management. She has the ability to get high profile ill behaved celebrity clients outta trouble, like getting caught with an extramarital lover or a pound of cocaine in a shrunk or whatever. Again, Ray Donovan, darker and funnier <laugh>, the leads are all women and they argue and dish and commiserate about female topics, and it's hysterical. The only thing that's hard is the writing is really crackling, fast-paced, but it comes at you so fast. With the British accents, you have to really pay close attention. The only one who's a hundred percent understandable is Anna and her Scottish intern Fun show falls under the category guilty pleasure <laugh>, after you watch you feel so bad, while you feel so good, <laugh>.
Louise Palanker (00:05:19):
Excellent. I will check that out. Ritz, do you listen to Radiolab?
Fritz Coleman (00:05:23):
Louise Palanker (00:05:24):
Yeah. So Radiolab has a new series called The Vanishing of Harry Pace, and I love Radiolab. I love podcasts. Documentary style podcasts are sort of like a documentary, but without the visuals. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> cuz you get, it's much safer to listen in your car than actually, you know, watching a documentary in your car, which you have to do very cautiously.
Fritz Coleman (00:05:44):
They, they, they were it against that.
Louise Palanker (00:05:45):
Grab the wheel. Okay. So this show delves into the fascinating story of Harry Herbert Pace, the founder of Black Swan Records, which 100 years ago was the first African American owned and operated record label with widely distributed output Pace launched the careers of Ethel Waters and Louie Armstrong. He coined the term rock and roll inspired Ebony and Jet Magazines, and desegregated the south side of Chicago in an epic supreme court battle. Then he disappeared. But why? The Vanishing of Harry Pace is a series about the phenomenal but forgotten man who changed America. It's a story about betrayal, family hidden identities, and assigning rightful ownership of an art form. So much great stuff here. The vanishing of Harry Pace from Radiolab and the team behind Dolly Parton's America, which is another great podcast series, Jad Arod and Sherra Oli. I,
Fritz Coleman (00:06:39):
It sounds amazing. As you know, the, the history of African American music is something really special to me mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I and didn't know about it. I'm so happy to learn about it. Cool.
Louise Palanker (00:06:47):
Yeah. You're gonna find a lot of overlapping storylines with what you already know to be true. It's just great stuff. Also, it, you know, coincides a lot with the, uh, jazz documentary Ken Burns, Burnson, all these different layers of music, American, uniquely American music. Right now it's time for us to welcome our guest, Katherine Weber. Katherine Weber's, six novels and a memoir are all highly praised, some award-winning, and they have made her a book club favorite, her newest novel. And seventh book is still Life with a Monkey, although she's got an even newer one coming out in Moments. Katherine's previous novel True Confections, the story of a Chocolate Candy Factory in Crisis was published in 2010. Her sixth book is a memoir called The Memory of All That Colon, George Gershwin Kay Swift, and my family's Legacy of Infidelities. This book explores the mysterious and captivating branches of Katherine's family tree, including her father's thick FBI file and her grandmother's long and loving affair with George Gershwin. Katherine was the Richard L. Thomas visiting professor of creative writing at Kenyon College for seven years. She taught creative writing at Yale University for eight years and was as an adjunct assistant professor in the graduate writing program in the School of the Arts at Columbia University. For six years. She has taught at various international writing workshops from the Paris Writers Workshop to the San Miguel Dilane Writers Conference and the West Cork Literary Festival in Ireland. Welcome, Katharine.
Katharine Weber (00:08:11):
Great to be here.
Louise Palanker (00:08:12):
I can't believe you're home,
Fritz Coleman (00:08:14):
<laugh>. You've got amazing, amazing time to talk to us.
Katharine Weber (00:08:16):
I've been stuck for quite a while, pandemic wise. Right. Uh, I'm desperately missing, um, two grandsons who are, um, who are, who live in London and are on the wrong side of the Atlantic Ocean. Oh
Louise Palanker (00:08:29):
Katharine Weber (00:08:31):
So what the little one, I mean, FaceTime is fantastic, but the little one, um, is one and a half now. When I last saw him, I held him in my arms and he was a, an infant, and now he probably thinks I'm a show <laugh>. And then we do get back together. He, he might be excited that I'm, you know, actually live in person. I dunno. Oh
Louise Palanker (00:08:51):
My Got her. You're three dimension up.
Katharine Weber (00:08:54):
This is awesome. Exactly, exactly.
Louise Palanker (00:08:56):
So your book, the, the book, the Memory of all that, which we're gonna talk about mostly today, your book carefully unfolds layer upon layer of family intrigue, and the reader quickly learns to absorb one astonishing detail while bracing for the next. This all must have dawned on you in fits and starts as you were growing up. Are we re-experiencing your own growing awareness of your remarkable family history?
Katharine Weber (00:09:18):
Well, I do begin with, um, sort of wade into this ocean with me. Uh, and I actually also end, um, in, in an ocean. Um,
Fritz Coleman (00:09:28):
And I must say right from the outset, that is such a beautiful passage for anybody who is a father of a daughter. It's so touching and it, the, the, the opening piece in your book, it grabs you immediately and you just feel all of your emotions and you trying to figure out your father's emotions. It was quite beautiful. Go ahead.
Katharine Weber (00:09:48):
Well, thank you very much. It's, it's, uh, it's touching and also I think a bit alarming mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, but, um, but I wanted you to be there with me. So I I appreciate your, your read of that alarm
Fritz Coleman (00:10:00):
Because it was the first time you ever saw your father in a bathing suit.
Katharine Weber (00:10:03):
Louise Palanker (00:10:04):
It was like, it was like what? Whatever. She said he was gonna go ahead and do the opposite. This guy had no instinct or awareness of what people in the world needed from him. He did whatever the hell he wanted to do. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And that was kind of your awareness of like, I'm not really safe with this guy. He's on his own path. <laugh> mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Right. I better buckle
Katharine Weber (00:10:23):
In what my, my memory of it is being frightened because every time I said I wanna go in, he would say, you know, oh, you wanna go further into the water? No, I wanna go out. Oh, you wanna go out to sea? And, um, obviously I didn't drown cuz here I am and I have, but I, I end that passage with, I have absolutely no memory of not drowning. Um, what I, what I remember is the fear, the fear of it. Oh, wow. But the memory of all that, a phrase I trust you to recognize from one of the great Gershwin songs. Sure. That can't take that away from me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, you know, the memory of all the way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea, the memory of all that. They can't take that away from me. Um, all that, uh, encompasses a great deal.
Um, but I suppose if there's a thesis to the memoir, um, it's that my grandmother's romance with George Gershwin and the choices she made, um, are like a rock dropped in a pond and the ripples are still coming. And I think it, it's the center of the story. Even though I spend a lot of time talking about other people, other aspects of my family, I don't think my mother would've married my father if it weren't for George Gershwin in her childhood. And, um, and the ways that in some odd odd, in some odd senses, I think I can make the case that my father was like a version of George Gershwin. And, and that may have been part of my mother's, uh, fascination with him. That,
Fritz Coleman (00:11:53):
That answered my question.
Katharine Weber (00:11:54):
Smart boy from the streets of Brooklyn, you know, <laugh>. Yeah.
Louise Palanker (00:11:57):
Fritz Coleman (00:11:57):
Yeah. And, and, and your father was Stanley Kaufman.
Katharine Weber (00:12:01):
Fritz Coleman (00:12:01):
Sidney, Sidney Kaufman. Sorry. Yes. And, and, uh, um, I love that comment that you made, uh, uh, the connection between, uh, your mother allowing Sidney into her life because of what she watched with your grandmother and George Gershwin. But, but Sidney always had a struggle in his life, your father, uh, to, uh, try to attain the fame and accomplishment of everybody else in the family. Right. So that must have been difficult for you and your mom and everybody.
Katharine Weber (00:12:34):
I think I said in the book at some point that his life's work, uh, because he was kind of a crazy person in the film business, the man who brought the world a Roma Rama among other things, that was one of his more successful ventures. And it wasn't a success, but he, he dwelled at the corner of making it and making it up, you know.
Fritz Coleman (00:12:55):
Katharine Weber (00:12:56):
Every nickel he made probably cost my mother a dime. <laugh>. So,
Louise Palanker (00:13:01):
So your, your mother was the daughter of Kay Swift. And I think we should start with, uh, your description of your grandmother. Who was she in the world and what was her impact on the
Katharine Weber (00:13:14):
World of? She was a marvelous grandmother. She was a, a, an enthusiast. She was just one of the warmest people who ever lived. Um, she was an incredibly talented musician. She was a child prodigy. She was on a path, uh, as a classical composer and a pianist. Um, she was playing with a classical trio, uh, who were the hired entertainment for an afternoon tee, um, at, uh, the Louisans Country House and the Adirondacks and their, their, their Warburg cousins heard them play. And so then the next thing was that the Edith Ruble Trio, um, also known as the Musical Arts trio, they, they all got together at what is now called Juilliard and was then called the Institute of Musical Arts. Um, they were then employed to play at the, the afternoon Tea at the Warburg's. And their Jimmy Warberg walked in and, um, first laid eyes on his future wife, who was at the piano being beautiful and charming and talented.
Uh, and they were a couple who, um, very attractive dashing couple. He was, uh, working his way up in the Family Bank. And I should say that, um, the Family Bank, the International Acceptance Bank, his father was president of the Manhattan Bank, which went on to merge with Chase and become Chase Manhattan. His grandfather, um, I'm s sorry. My, my grandfather's father, Paul Warberg, um, was the architect of the Federal Reserve. Uh, so, uh, this is very scattershot, but I'm just trying to sort of fill in, in the big picture. My grandmother, who came from entirely English background, um, her parents actually met, um, on a, on a crossing of the Atlantic when her father had been sent by a New York newspaper to cover the opera opera season in Paris in London. And then was returning where he met, um, his future wife, who was from Ashby de La and she was coming to America for the first time to visit family.
Uh, so my grandmother was entirely British Episcopal, um, unencumbered by money of any kind, but very cultured people. Um, my great-grandfather went to Penn. Um, and I, I, I don't know that many people who have great-grandparents, um, who aren't, you know, just complete blue bloods mm-hmm. <affirmative> who have college degrees. Yeah. Um, and I should mention that I do not have a college degree, but that's a different story <laugh>. But, um, when, when Kay Swift, when Katharine Faulkner Swift married James Paul Warberg, it was a mixed marriage. It was the first marriage of its kind for both sides of the family. Um, and it seemed to be a very successful marriage. They had, um, one little girl, two little girls, three little girls. They were living in a beautiful double townhouse on 70th Street. Um, and then, uh, and, and mixing in circles, you know, sort of the Algonquin crowd, um, the New Yorker crowd, um, having marvelous parties by all descriptions.
And then, uh, a birthday party for Yasha Hys. And his sister Pauline brought George Gershwin as a date. And that is apparently the, the legendary moment of, you know, sort of the two of them meeting. Um, I don't know if they played the piano together that first time they might have. Um, but apparently everyone in the room felt it and saw that there was this incredible connection between George and Kay Katharine as she was then known. Um, it was George who started calling her K Oh, really? Um, and, well, her name was Katherine Swift Warberg. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And in fact, the earliest I manage her state of music. Right. The earliest copyrights, the earliest songs that she and my grandfather, her lyricist wrote, um, were, um, Kay Warberg, Katharine Warberg, um, and it was George who said, um, Kay Swift, that's your name, use it. It's, it's the, it's the great show biz name for you. George Gershwin had this predilection. He also told his friend Vladimir Dukowski, that Vernon Duke would sound better. <laugh>.
Louise Palanker (00:17:32):
And, and what's Gershwin's
Katharine Weber (00:17:34):
Original last name? Um, well, it was, it was, um, Gersh Find Gertz Gersh find, you know, there are various members of the family, but once he went with Gershwin, um, most of the family then fell in behind and began spelling it the way he did. Mm-hmm. But, um, it's one of those names, uh, where there are probably people, if you looked in the Manhattan phone book and you saw people named Gersh Wind or Gersh Vine, they might be cousins of some kind. Okay. That would be my guess.
Fritz Coleman (00:18:01):
And Kay, um, um, with this great musical talent, uh, was the first woman ever to compose a hit Broadway show, fine and Dandy. Right.
Katharine Weber (00:18:12):
Which, which is really the path that she was diverted to, um, by her connection with George, because she knew popular music. She admired popular music, but it wasn't what she was writing. Um, and George not only introduced her to the music of all of his colleagues and his own music, but, uh, the really interesting little leap in 1928, here's this banker's wife presiding over this beautiful household with her family, uh, suddenly is hired to be the rehearsal pianist for the Rogers and Hart Musical Connecticut Yankee. So there she is going across town to some rehearsal hall, you know, probably, you know, driven by the chauffeur, um, to this world away where she was the rehearsal pianist, you know, so she'd be pounding out. Um, and, and, and working with changes and site reading and changing keys both for the rehearsing of the dance numbers and for, you know, the, the, the songs.
Um, and needing to really be able to pick it up very quickly and, and do it again, and do it again. And there was nothing spoiled and fancy about that. That was a, that was the backstage world. Yeah. You know, and she loved it. And, um, she and she had begun to write some songs just in that time period. And my grandfather, the banker, um, I suspect, first of all, he was a very gifted poet of Light Verse. He also was competitive. Um, he also would've, at that point, been competitive with George Gershman for her attentions. And it wasn't really quite clear what was going on there. So he became her lyricist. Um, and for, you know, for a banker, he wrote really good lyrics. Um, can't We Be Friends, was their first hit song, um, in the 1929 Little Show when Libby Holman sang it to Clifton Webb.
So they had songs in the nine 15 Review. They had songs in the Gar Galles in those days, many shows, um, were reviews. It was how a lot of people got their start, whether it performers or writers. Um, and there would just be one number after another, um, al almost coming out of Vaudeville as a, as an approach. So even the earliest book musicals still had some aspects of the review, where there'd be someone suddenly standing in front of a curtain with a spotlight doing a number in one, as called it. And that might be because they were frantically changing scenery behind the curtain. But it was also because here's a number for this person to sing this ballad. Um, that is her big number. It's, you know, it's <laugh>. And so a lot of shows were still structured as reviews, so it was easy for people to break in, um, in a way that it certainly isn't now.
I can't imagine that it would be to break into Broadway or anything like it with a song or a couple of songs because, um, these days, that's just not, not what happens, but building on the hits that they had particularly, can't We Be Friends? Um, it became inevitable that they could write an entire score. And Joe Cook, the comedian, um, wanted to do a show. Uh, he had had the great success of, um, the movie Rain or Shine, uh, very, very early. Frank Capra movie, 1928. Um, and, uh, just today, a a good friend of mine who's writing a book about the, um, songwriter Vincent Humans was digging around. He's also the music <laugh>, the artistic advisor to the K Swift Trust. And we work on a lot of K Swift projects. He just discovered an announcement that was completely erroneous, that Fine and Dandy was going to have a score by Vincent Humans and a book by George S. Kaufman and Ring Larner <laugh>. And, you know, it's like, well, that's a show that never happened. Wow. So, but that tells you that in July, in June, I guess it was June, this article ran in June of 1930, that was what they thought w was happening. And that show opened fine and Dandy, that huge hit show opened in September. So they wrote the score and, uh, Donald Duggan Stewart wrote the book in a matter of, you know, a few weeks, really, just a couple months.
Louise Palanker (00:22:38):
And your grandfather used a, uh, a stage name for hit writing because it would've been not respectable for a banker to be writing a Broadway musical. Correct.
Katharine Weber (00:22:48):
Exactly. And his father was quite concerned about this. So, James Paul Warberg, uh, not wanting to use the name Warberg in general, and his name in particular, didn't wanna alarm the investors or have it seem sort of vulgar or, you know, too downtown <laugh>, uh, was Paul James. Uh, it's funny when you think of it, because I could imagine bank people at the flocking to invest with someone who was the author of fantastic lyrics. Like, can't we be friends? <laugh> <laugh>? Um, it seems to me you wouldn't be putting people off at all. Now if, if you admitted to having this, you know, life After Dark, that was completely
Fritz Coleman (00:23:24):
Different. <laugh>, you said your grandfather would have been competitive with Gershwin for the attention of your grandmother. Was he aware of the affair?
Katharine Weber (00:23:33):
I think at a certain point, um, to Lamond was aware of the affair. I think he thought it would blow over. I think, I think he too, was enthralled by George Gershwin, who started off just as this entertaining character who was around a lot. And then he was around a lot, a lot. And he and Kay would go to art galleries. They would go to concerts. Uh, she had this incredible background, uh, uh, and training. So for instance, um, she knew Opera Deeply. He really didn't. So she took him to Rosen Cavalier, and it was the first time he had heard Rosen Cavalier. Um, it also is, is pertinent to what he went on to write, uh, PO Best in 1935, that they would also very often go to Harlem and listen to jazz and blues. And he was, he just loved to go and hear that sound.
And they would also go to churches and sit in the back and, um, be just so admiring of the way the entire congregation clap on the backbeat <laugh>. And, uh, just really, you know, it was something they just loved to do together. At a certain point, um, it became clear that this was a, a, a, a tremendous connection that had gotten sort of deeper and deeper. But I think, I think as much as anyone can know what happened wasn't right there and wasn't one of those people. Um, I think she always loved my grandfather. I don't think she fell out of love with my grandfather. And I don't think she was involved with Gershwin as a reaction to anything at all with my grandfather, who I have every reason to think had been completely faithful to her up to this point. Uh, she definitely had never strayed in any direction at all.
She had three little girls, one after the other. She was, you know, <laugh>. She was married very young. She had three daughters, uh, you know, one in 19 19, 1 in 19 22, 1 in 1924. When was she having romances when she met George in 1925? You know, it just, it, um, it's not as if this was just another affair. It's not as if they had what people never used the phrase in those days, it's erroneous to say that they had an open marriage, although that was the way the story got told retrospectively, I think out of a desire for my grandfather to save face mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, we had an open marriage, and then her head was so turned by George, you know? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, maybe a more comfortable way to tell the story.
Louise Palanker (00:26:15):
Your book is, your book is so deeply researched. What did you learn that surprised you even about your very unusual family?
Katharine Weber (00:26:24):
That's a great question. I learned a lot of things, and I think it's very important when you set out to write either a family memoir or a biography, this is really a mix of a memoir and research biography. It's a sort of hybrid, um, kind of writing. Um, you might have a thesis, but you have to be prepared to, um, be willing to be surprised. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> be willing to adjust. Um, so two, the two biggest troves of document, um, other than just endless rummaging, uh, what would've been microfiche 30 years ago is now, you know, sit at home in your pajamas and it's the internet. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But especially if you have Lexus Nexus and Js store and access to all kinds of archives, um, you can find a lot that appeared in newspapers, you know, more appears all the time that gets sort of scanned in and, you know, didn't exist.
And now it's there in, in an accessible way. The two biggest trashes of, of, of documentation were my father's F B I records over 800 pages, which I requested so long before I got them, um, so many years before I got them, uh, repeated requests. And finally, um, the, with intervention from my congressman, um, who was then Joe Lieberman of all people <laugh>, um, the f b I began coughing them up. Wow. Um, and I have to say, as recently as a year ago, I received a, a manila envelope from the CIA with three more pages, mostly redacted. Oh, wow. It's all redacted. It's
Louise Palanker (00:27:55):
Still all redacted.
Katharine Weber (00:27:56):
It's redacted city. It's hilarious sequence. I mean, well, it's not all redacted, but what I mean, it's, most pages have blots all over, you know, and now
Fritz Coleman (00:28:05):
Talk about why that even happened. Your father was trailed and investigated by the F B I and J Grover for like 40 years. Why did that happen? My
Katharine Weber (00:28:12):
Father was investigated by the F B I beginning in 1936, when he was 26, because somebody said that his movie reviews on W Q X R radio sounded a little communist pink
<laugh>. Oh boy. And so, a file was opened what is utterly hilarious and upsetting my tax dollars and yours at work were that from the beginning, they confused him with another Sidney Kaufman born in the same year in Brooklyn, who was in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and fought in the free Spain movement. That was not my father. But many things in my father's records are this other Sidney Kaufman. And I think that the chances are, if I were a different kind of writer with more tenacity than even I have for dealing with the F B I, um, I would bet that the odds are high that the other Sidney Kaufman's records are full of my Sidney Kaufman's stuff. But it means that the f b I couldn't even tell two people apart, even though they were two different people in two different places at the same time. So even as the other Sidney Kaufman was, and this is documented fighting in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, we have the F B I reporting on my father's activities in New York and in Hollywood.
Louise Palanker (00:29:37):
But your dad was so erratic in his movements that I could see the F B I saying, why is he over there? What
Katharine Weber (00:29:47):
Is he up to?
Louise Palanker (00:29:48):
To Yeah, it is, yes. I I don't wanna use the word suspicious, but peculiar.
Katharine Weber (00:29:53):
Oh, everything he did was peculiar and suspicious. Why did we have all these East German typewriters piled up in the garage until they rusted the reef <laugh>? Um, because he took them when someone owed him money and didn't have the money, but could pay him an East German typewriter. So of course, we had a garage full of East German typewriters. And then the f b I observed him going into the Yugoslavia Embassy with six, and he came out empty handed. What was that about? What it was about was that he was trying to figure out who on earth would want these typewriters that did not have query keyboard <laugh>. They had the other kind of European keyboard. Uh, so he did a lot of things that seemed suspicious, but it, it became very evident even reading through the redactions, reading around them, reading different documents where they were not redacted, um, consistently.
Mm-hmm. So names are blacked out in one that I could read in another. Right. And the names that were blacked out were absurd. Like the name of my father's first wife, which is Common Knowledge, her name was Fran Heflin. She was an actress, van Hef Lin's sister. Um, but she also was considered a communist and was also being investigated. Um, and was, it was blacked out, but then it wasn't. Um, but I, I could discern beyond the shadow of a doubt that in my childhood, growing up in New York City, in the suburb that is Forest Hills Gardens, our phone was tapped, our mail was tampered with, and our neighbors were door stopped. Wow. And I think that the, um, travel agent on Austin Street in Forest Hills reported to the F B I every time my father booked flights to go anywhere.
Louise Palanker (00:31:28):
Katharine Weber (00:31:28):
Okay. I think there's no question. Uh, but, you know, imagine you're, you're the travel agent, F B i, men come in, stand in the door, they're the feds, and they're saying, are you a good American? Are you a loyal American? Then you do this. But, uh, I
Louise Palanker (00:31:42):
Don't even think it's, I don't think it's, are you a good American? I think it, if you're questioned, Fritz and I have both been a witness at the same high profile trial, and they came to his house first and I said, I'm not letting them in. And he said, it's a court case. They have a right to interview you. So I think if the FBI is interviewing you, I think you kind of have to answer the questions whether or not you're a good American. It's just, I think, the law.
Katharine Weber (00:32:06):
Right, right. I think, I think they were intimidating, but, but I also was able to figure out in a very, some very subtle ways, maybe a little bit intangible, but there were all these friendships my parents spoke about that had taken place, had occurred before I was born, and all these people had sort of faded away. And I now realize that half of them became informants whether they wanted to or not. Um, and maybe the other half, um, you know, if the F b I keep questioning you about who was at the dinner party, who was at the party, who were you with, what did they talk about? You might not be so eager to spend more time with my family.
Louise Palanker (00:32:44):
Oh, for sure. I mean, it was a tricky time to have an opinion for sure. Yeah. In the fifties. Yeah. But I'm, I'm wondering if you're kind of dismissive that the fbi, I didn't find anything about my dad, and it was a big waste of time. Can you believe they shared all these memos and spent all these time typing them up? But isn't it possible that they maybe overheard a conversation that led them to someone who led them to someone who could have been
Katharine Weber (00:33:05):
Maybe he, he was in a lot of other people's files. He crossed he was the, the zeig of Communists <laugh>. He, he knew a lot of important communists. He knew a lot. He knew half the Hollywood, 10 he'd had a big affair with Martha dod, who was a spy, who fled just before she was gonna be arrested. And, you know, lived the rest of her life behind the Iron Curtain. Um, he was, but he was small fry. He would've been so gratified to know that he actually was being followed around in Wiretapped, because I think he thought he was, but it was also an ego thing. Um, he was never, he was never arrested. He was never charged. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But he re the last documents I saw really were, um, I think just a year before Hoover's death. I mean, so it was really the entire arc of Hoover's career. Uh, and Hoover was copied. There was this long list of people copied on every memo, and his name was always there. Um, there were memos that consisted entirely of all the names and addresses of people in my father's Address book. I wonder how they got that. Wow. Uh, you know, it just
Fritz Coleman (00:34:15):
<laugh>. The irony is that didn't your father make propaganda films for the United States government for World War? Yes,
Katharine Weber (00:34:21):
He did. He was in the OSS <laugh>. He was in the oss. Yes. The other thing, well, here's something the F b I never noticed that I think is fantastic. One of his earliest gigs when he was a teenager, um, was making a documentary film about a camp for workers', children that was in upstate New York, that was Camp Cheka, which was like Workers' Children, camp <laugh>. And it was consciously lefty and, and mixed race. I mean, it, it was, it was, uh, very consciously wanting to have this be a, a a sort of marvelous utopia for workers' children. And he made a documentary about it and not a peep from the F B I about this. Wow.
Louise Palanker (00:35:11):
<laugh> <laugh>. So who knows what they were after. But, so what
Fritz Coleman (00:35:14):
Was your relationship with your father? I mean, I'm sure he changed over time, but Well, before you got into the research of his life,
Katharine Weber (00:35:21):
He did stop speaking to me, um, and never met his grandchildren. Um, but he also died very unexpectedly. So the clock ran out before that could be repaired. Um, it's, it's a semi uncomplicated, yet tedious story, but he was an erratic man. He was a thin-skinned bully. Aren't most bullies also thin-skinned? Um, so here's the, the biggest surprise from the F B I records, and maybe it was the thing I had always held out, hoped for, which was that maybe there was another family. Maybe my father had a complete other family, other wife, other children somewhere else, and they were his real family, you know? Wow. Like, like Lindbergh <laugh>. So I nev they didn't mention this at all. So I was looking for something that wasn't there,
Louise Palanker (00:36:12):
But was a relief not to find it. It wasn't just that he didn't care that much for us. It was
Katharine Weber (00:36:17):
No, it wasn't a relief. I just think it, the f b I didn't find it. I, I, I don't, I'm not saying that's proof that there was another family. I'm saying I actually was expecting something like that, and then it, it wasn't there. No, it was like a joke with no punchline.
Louise Palanker (00:36:32):
Right, right, right. It's just like, what would explain this guy something more please.
Katharine Weber (00:36:36):
And that's what the F b I, I think that's why they persisted, sort of throwing good money after bad. It's like, he's gotta be up to something. I mean,
Louise Palanker (00:36:44):
You, you'd think at the F FBI that they would factor mental illness into some kind of explanation in, uh, in, in human behavior that Right.
Katharine Weber (00:36:52):
Delusional grandiosity. Sure.
Louise Palanker (00:36:54):
I mean, we talk about, you know, nowadays you talk about the useful idiot, but at least the idiots doing something for Russia. Right. You know,
Katharine Weber (00:37:01):
No, he wasn't being handled. Um, I just think he wandered in and out. Um, you know, there is a memo. Subjects wife gave birth to female child 12 November, 1955. You know, that's me. Um, subjects <laugh> wife gave birth to female child, you know, so my, you know, if only they had known, they could have used that as a birth announcement. <laugh> <laugh>. It's pretty
Fritz Coleman (00:37:25):
Great. I wanna go back to one of your earlier comments. You think the ripple in the water description that you did, that your, uh, grandmother and her relationship with Gershwin precipitated your mother marrying Sidney Kaufman. I do. What was it about him that makes you think that
Katharine Weber (00:37:44):
He was brilliant? He actually had a physical resemblance, which I think I lined up some photos in the book that kind of make that case. He was, was from a very, very similar background. Um, and I suppose he was someone completely unsuitable, um, which also would've been very appealing. Um, but my mother was the child George Gershwin was closest to in his short life. And, um, her, her closeness to him, I think really was, I think she and her mother had this bond, which may be why she was the closest of the three daughters to her mother. They mourned George Gershwin for the rest of their lives. Uh, and he just played this, this central role. And I think my father was like a faint echo of so many of the ways that George Gershwin simply occupied a room. And I make no case for my father being talented or productive, like, like George Gershwin. But, um, there was something there.
Louise Palanker (00:38:49):
He just felt like home. Sometimes we look for someone or we're drawn to someone who feels like home and he felt like home. But it was maybe kind of a myth, you know? Cuz there wasn't no depth there.
Katharine Weber (00:38:59):
Yes, yes, yes. Uh, you know, mark Twain said, history doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Right. And, you know, there was something there that rhymed. But the other pile of documents that was really revelatory for me as I was writing the book, going on a completely different direction, my grandmother, after Gershwin's death when she had been staff composer at Radio City when it opened writing numbers for the Rockettes, then she became director of light music at the 1939 World's Fair. Met a cowboy who was with a traveling rodeo that was connected in some loose way to the World's Fair. And she eloped with him after knowing him a couple of weeks, and went off and lived with him on his ranch in Oregon. And while she was there, um, there was only a party line, and it was wartime. You couldn't get a new telephone.
Um, and she wrote letters to her closest friend in the world, Mary Lasser, as you might know of her. She was then Mary Reinhardt. They had gone to Reno together to get their first divorces together. They were always pals from the time of, they were teenagers, I think. Um, but Mary Lasser married Albert Lasser and became this incredibly in, uh, generous philanthropist with a, a lot of interest in medical research. Um, and, and became this very grand personage. But in those days, um, Mary and Kay simply wrote letters almost every day. And my grandmother did not save letters. She always said letters are for today and would tear them up and throw them away. She, um, famously in certain circles, um, destroyed everything from George and asked Ira Gershwin to destroy everything of hers that w that was in George's possession at the time of his death. So there are no letters between Kay and George that certainly did exist. There are also almost no photographs of them together. And I think that she also destroyed those. She, she, it was private. It was her business. She destroyed them.
Louise Palanker (00:41:07):
But talk about that for a second, because in the book you just kind of explained that that's what happened. But I'm wondering if she was worried about Scandal or if, because she knew she was destroying history. She knew that this was, this person had made his mark on the American musical landscape and
Katharine Weber (00:41:23):
That Yes. And I think she knew that people would be interested. And I think she also thought it was nobody's business. Wow. And it was her. So in her attempt to control the narrative we call it these days, she did herself a disservice. I think it was her right to do it. I look, I think it was Nabokov's right. To say, please destroy all my unpublished manuscripts. And I also think it's fantastic that Dimitri Ov said the hell we will <laugh> and published them. You know?
Louise Palanker (00:41:49):
But then, but then Katharine, the curious thing is that she spends the rest of her life celebrating and forwarding his musical works.
Katharine Weber (00:41:56):
Keeping the candle lit. Yes. But that's the public side. Okay. I think she felt that what she and George had was just theirs and nobody else's. But what she inadvertently did, and maybe wouldn't have cared about it, but she had faced herself from the story because Kitty Carlisle had letters from George. I think she may have slept with him a couple of times. It wasn't, I mean, George Gershwin was never <laugh> monogamous <laugh>. And, uh, but also, how could he ask my grandmother, how could my, my grandmother impose monogamy on him? You know, demand that of him when she's still sleeping with her husband. Sure, sure, sure.
Fritz Coleman (00:42:34):
Was was first when married at the time
Katharine Weber (00:42:36):
Of his affair? No, never married anybody. Oh, okay. No. So there are women who have letters from George. If that's all that's left now, then that makes them more important than someone who, you know. Well, everyone says they had this big romance for 10 years and he gave her all these amazing things and dedicated the songbook to her. But where were the letters? There were no letters. You know, so she kind of erased herself from the story to a certain degree, especially the story immediately after his death. I do think marrying a cowboy and leaving town and going to live on a ranch in Oregon was a fantastic exit strategy for her in
Louise Palanker (00:43:13):
1930. Yeah. That part is quite a twist.
Katharine Weber (00:43:16):
Yeah. So now she wrote letters to Mary, the Mary saved her letters. They are all there in Butler Library at Columbia University in the Mary Lasker archive. Oh wow. And those letters, which I quote from in the book.
Louise Palanker (00:43:30):
Yes. And I love it. So dishy and the
Katharine Weber (00:43:32):
Voice, the voice is so marvelous when she writes to Mary and it's, you know, new Year's Eve this year was so cozy and we were in bed by nine o'clock wearing, you know, three layers of flannels cuz the house is freezing <laugh>. And just think this time a year ago, you know, you and I would've been dolling ourselves up, preparing to go out while some emotional problem in pants waited for us in the next room.
Louise Palanker (00:43:57):
<laugh>. You know what it reminded me of, and I'm not sure if you're aware of this history, but Carol King does pretty much the same thing. At the peak of her fame. She just marries a cowboy and gets the hell out of, out of Los Angeles and lives on a hill in Interesting. Yeah. Digging, you know, their own plumbing. So sometimes that's
Katharine Weber (00:44:16):
Just the letters.
Louise Palanker (00:44:17):
It clears the, it clears the head.
Katharine Weber (00:44:18):
The letters made something evident to me that was not the family's version of the story. Okay. Oh, mother married her cowboy, or she ran off with this cowboy. Yes, she did. She really loved him. And she was pregnant twice wanting to have his child. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, she was really in it. And no one in the family spoke about that in any but the most cynical way. But it was, it was real. And I never knew that I met him, and I never knew that. And he was an alcoholic. I think he became violent. I think it was a marriage that she had to leave. But for those first years, it was the real thing. And that was very moving to me. And she, she miscarried both times. She was in her forties. He thought she was in her thirties. She lied about her age. He thought she was 10 years younger than she was, and he was <laugh>. And so every now and then, I imagine the phantom, you know, wouldn't that child have been an interesting experiment? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> half, you know, cowboy from Oregon, half Kay Swift, something in me thinks he would've been a man and he would've, he would now be in his late seventies. He'd
Louise Palanker (00:45:33):
Be Roy Rogers.
Fritz Coleman (00:45:34):
How many siblings did you
Katharine Weber (00:45:35):
Fritz Coleman (00:45:35):
<laugh>. How many siblings did your mother have?
Katharine Weber (00:45:38):
My mother had, um, an older sister and a younger sister. And then when her father remarried for the second time, his third wife, they had kids who are my contemporaries. So my mother, when she was having her own children, also had two half-brothers and two half sisters who are my age.
Fritz Coleman (00:46:00):
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Oh. I'm just curious about how the rest of the family reacted When the Gershwin affair started to drip into family lure. Did the children resented or did they, were they angry at their
Katharine Weber (00:46:12):
Mother? I think, I think my mother's older sister was old enough to see exactly what was going on and, and, and resent it and be very unhappy about it. I think my mother's little sister was little, um, didn't really like George. And she once said to me, he would, I asked her, what didn't you like? And she said, he gave her the creeps. He once bent down and sort of squatted and looked at her eye level and said, why don't you like me? I want you to like me. Which is actually not, not a good gambit, you know, with,
Louise Palanker (00:46:44):
I've tried that with many people of various ages. It never works. <laugh>. Now we need to talk about Dr. Iberg because we just, we just billboard. We just do. Yes. So, um, yes. How many lives did he harm? How was he able to gain hi this access to important and talented people? Was he like a Rasputin type of person, do you think? Charming, controlling.
Katharine Weber (00:47:05):
He was like a Rasputin or a Bengali. Okay. D Dr. Gregory Zor was this Russian so-called self conferred title psychoanalyst, I wanna say it's very clear to me some of the research I did. And it built on some research that a distinguished psychoanalyst in California did. And published a paper, which I quote from, you know, which, which is about the treatment and death of George Gershwin. Dr. Zibo had falsified his credentials. He did not have the training he claimed he had in Russia. So when he came to America, he was given courtesy appointments and he was considered an md. He was considered a doctor. He was a training analyst at the New York psychoanalytic, although he was uncredentialed. And interestingly enough, he was never licensed in New York, yet he was this distinguished character who managed to worm his way in with, um, I, I don't think he had patients who weren't rich and famous. Um, whether it was Lillian Hellman or Moss Hart, lady in the Dark. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, or, um, my grandmother, my grandfather, George Gershwin most famously in some ways, you know, Lillian Hellman. Um, and I think he gossiped about his patience with his patients. Well, he
Louise Palanker (00:48:30):
Pit pit, he pitted them against each other. He manipulated, they
Katharine Weber (00:48:33):
Pitted each other. I think he had sex with any number of them.
Louise Palanker (00:48:35):
He threatened them to reveal their secrets. It was such crazy.
Katharine Weber (00:48:39):
He, he held my cousin, my late, charming, marvelous cousin Edward Mm. Warberg, um, known for his contributions in founding what became MoMA, you know, sort of the foundation of Harvard Art Society. Um, and also, um, with Lincoln Kirstine, um, you know, bringing balancing to America and founding that ballet company. Wow. But Eddie was an analysis with Gregory Zor for 26 years. Oh my God. And, um, he was held hostage. He, uh, zor made him pay his taxes. Eddie talked to me about this. He said he would, he would lie on the couch and say, I think I'm getting Mary a mink coat. And Z Borg would say, you get my wife a mink coat also. Oh my gosh, no. In the, in the files of the New York psychoanalytic, which I'm not supposed to have seen. So I don't know why I know this. Hmm. Um, there were charges against him by someone with no connection to anybody, um, who said that Zil Borg had demand. When he saw the man wearing a beautiful new watch, he demanded that the patient give it to him. And that sure does ring true to me, based on everything. I,
Louise Palanker (00:49:53):
So he, he, he was attracted to your grandmother. And then he, he told George Gershwin that these headaches that he was having were just him being dramatic. This hysteria dramatic
Katharine Weber (00:50:04):
On George's medical record, George died in California. He and Ira had gone to the West Coast. He and my grandmother were, as we would say these days, taking a break. I believe Gershwin was encouraged forcefully by Zil Borg to go away to go to California, try your hand at writing film scores. Maybe that will be successful after the not success of Pogi and Bess, and, you know, start a new chapter, start a new life, get away from her. I really believe that, that Zil Borg worked against her because he was her analyst. First. She was referred by my grandfather, Jimmy Warburg's, sister Patina, who was herself a psychoanalyst. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, he was her training analyst. She referred her sister-in-law to him. Um, you know how sisters-in-law can be, I wonder what kind of gift that was supposed to be <laugh>. But, um, my grandmother went to him because of this dilemma.
A really, it was a dilemma. It was a growing problem that was just haunting her. Now she was in love with two men at the same time. Right. What to do. Right. How could she live with this? And now she's in analysis, in analysis with, with Zibo, who, um, is forcing her to have sex with him in those analytic hours for which she paid. And in her words, to me, he was the only man I ever had sexual intercourse with, to whom I was not physically attracted <laugh>. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Wow. And it's tragic. Yeah. It's just tragic. I mean it, she said it with a little, with a little laugh, but it was awful. So she, I believe this precipitated a crisis. I believe there's the possibility that she was pregnant that summer. Mm. Um, and would not have known whose it was. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I think she went to Mexico and had an abortion.
That is what I pieced together from things in the letters and things I know in other ways. And I think she resolved the, she didn't know what would happen with George, but she needed to d have be divorced. She needed to clarify. So she and my grandfather divorced in the end of that year, 1934. December, 1934. They are divorced. She then had some, a couple of years with George, where they certainly spent huge amounts of time together. But there was no sign that he was gonna marry her. It's not clear that she wanted to marry. I think if they had married, they could have ended up, it would've run its course and they could have ended up divorced, but mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, there were those who think he never would've married her. Um, his mother didn't like that she wasn't Jewish. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And she, first, she didn't like her cuz she was married and not Jewish.
Then she didn't like her because she was divorced and still not Jewish. <laugh> <laugh>. So, um, you know, it, it, nothing, there was no forward movement there. But I think it would be unfair to say she divorced my grandfather in order to marry George. I think she divorced my grandfather in order to get clarity. But meanwhile, George and Jimmy were both so impressed with her newfound sense of direction that they both went into analysis with Gregory Zor. Oh, wow. And she, he had threatened, Kay, if you leave, which she wanted to do, and she did, I will turn them against you. And he did, I believe Zil Borg very successfully Oh my. Turned George and Jimmy against her. Uh, my grandfather remained an analysis with him for a another decade or more after that. And I believe that he was the architect of the, um, revised history of what happened there. Um, that really tarred my grandmother as a silly, um, you know, promiscuous socialite, which is not what she was at all.
Louise Palanker (00:54:03):
Well talk about, uh, her contribution to Pogi and, and Bess after, after the death of George Gershwin,
Katharine Weber (00:54:11):
Well before the death of George Gershwin. Right. Her contribution to the writing of Pogi and Bess. She was there. She wasn't there every minute. She wasn't there when he went down to Folly Beach. But in the Library of Congress, you can see the original manuscript of Best. And there are bars of music in her handwriting. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, she was there, um, when he was writing it. Um, there's a marvelous description at the end of, um, that year. So she had just divorced my grandfather. It's her first Christmas, you know, so December, 1934, when Richard Rogers' wife was on bedrest with a high-risk pregnancy, and he described this in his memoir, Christmas Eve, 11 o'clock at night, the doors burst open and in came George and Kay, like the Magi. And they went to the piano and they sang and played this work in progress, most of Pogi and Bess.
Um, um, and it was just this, this magical night. She was part of it. She was part of the casting. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. I met, um, Anne Brown, the original Bess. Um, and there, there was a Gershwin symposium in 1998 at, at the, um, library of Congress. And she was part of it. And I, I was actually part of it. Um, many major people were part of it. Uh, but she told me we went for lunch. And she told me that my grandmother was there during a lot of the casting and during almost all the rehearsing. And she said that my grandmother had a graceful way of giving you a note that was so graceful you didn't even realize it was a note. You thought it was praise. And then you thought about it and you realized it was a note <laugh>.
Louise Palanker (00:55:51):
But the, but it didn't, it didn't meet with great reviews before George died. And then afterwards,
Katharine Weber (00:55:57):
She no, it, it, it, it, it met with very mixed reviews and shame, shame, shame forever. And Virgil Thompson who talked about, um, uh, what was it, I mean, you made this really antisemitic remark about it. Um, and now I'm forgetting what it was. It was so offensive. Um, something Yeah. Who needs this hilta fish orchestration?
Louise Palanker (00:56:18):
Right, right, right.
Katharine Weber (00:56:19):
Mm-hmm. It was, it was considered neither fish nor foul. And I think from then to now, is it a musical? Is it an opera? Is it high? Is it low? What is it? It confounded people. And in his lifetime, it wasn't a resounding success. And he, he had another opera in mind. He wanted to write something possibly about Uncle Tom's cabin. He was still interested in that part of life. I swear he would've written the Juneteenth Opera if he'd lived long enough. <laugh>. Yeah. Um, and, um, he, he was very discouraged by that, which I think was another reason he went to the West Coast and had the tremendous success with those film scores. The, the, uh, a stair and Roger's films. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> Um, but after his death, my grandmother toured with Pogi and Bess, um, revivals gave lectures. Re really was sort of a leading authority on Pogi and Bess, and was really in harness to the Pogi and Bess <laugh> business, you know, for mm-hmm. <affirmative> for years I've seen the contract. She was employed and not for very much money, and they often argued about whether she was going to be reimbursed for her wardrobe <laugh>, but I think it was at the expense of writing her own music.
Louise Palanker (00:57:33):
Yeah. Yeah. I, I, yeah, I mean, she was certainly extraordinarily gifted, just a natural musician, you know, like, like song just sprang from her. She was
Katharine Weber (00:57:43):
At, and what she did write was really good. Yeah. And they're also, it's a history of near misses because she also wrote songs for shows that didn't get off the ground. She wrote songs for pilots that didn't get made for television. She ended up doing industrials. She wrote some of the best music you've ever heard for Elsie Vaka, for the Borden's Pavilion at the World's Fair in 1964
Louise Palanker (00:58:06):
When you're, you're telling that story of your, your grandmother as she's kind of, um, succumbing to a bit of dementia and your, your daughter is at the piano playing fine and dandy. She doesn't quite recognize the tune, but in her core, you know, from, from her very core outpours flourishes and counter melodies, it just, she could,
Katharine Weber (00:58:26):
She could support this interesting melody this child was playing. She could start playing, you know, sort of harmonies and accompanying Absolutely, yes. And I'm convinced she didn't recognize it,
Louise Palanker (00:58:35):
But that's just who she was. She was music. So
Katharine Weber (00:58:38):
When she was in her final months, she was in an Alzheimer's facility because she no longer knew where she was. And I was walking with her in this facility, and we got back to her room and she had a roommate. And the, the names were in these sort of, you know, slots like an office, you know the name, you know, one name, another name for who's in this, who lives in this room. And as I didn't even know she knew her name was on the wall there, but as we walked back into her room, she pointed at her name and she said, look, top billing
Louise Palanker (00:59:09):
<laugh>, I love that story.
Katharine Weber (00:59:11):
Louise Palanker (00:59:12):
Katharine Weber (00:59:12):
So that was, you know, in her fi I, you know, I don't think she lived another month after that, but it was, you know, she was, she was at her core also, um, on, and I don't mean fake or phony mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but I just mean sort of, you know, ready to broadcast, ready to receive, ready to be connected to the world. Ah, always.
Louise Palanker (00:59:31):
So now you talk about how your mother, was the child in the family best suited to receive George Gershwin, and then you were the child in your family best suited to receive your, your family legacy, your grandmother. You were the one
Katharine Weber (00:59:47):
Who I was geographically on the spot when cousins, you know, lived thousands of miles away. Um, I was named for my grandmother. I am Katharine Swift, myself. Um, yeah, I, but don't you think every family has the designated historian mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, the, the one who's interested? Yeah. The one who is the keeper of, you know, the, the, the memorabilia, but also, you know, the emotional memorabilia. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, the one who's interested in the story. And I don't mean to be interested in a sense of dwelling only on the past. I mean, I'm, I'm a novelist. This isn't, we're you, and you and I today are talking about this book I wrote, that's a memoir, but, you know, I have my seventh book of fiction coming out in March. I mean, I'm essentially a fiction writer. Right. Um, so this is not my main sort of purpose in life. And at the very beginning you said, you know, people said all my life, you know, you should write a book. It's true. People have said that since I was a child. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But they then started saying, you should write a novel about them. Hmm. And I never wanted to write a novel about Kay and George because the, the, the power and the meaning of it isn't that, it's people like Kay and George. It is Kay and George. Yeah.
Yeah. And that's not a novel. Right,
Louise Palanker (01:01:02):
Right. Right. It's, it's the truth. Yeah.
Fritz Coleman (01:01:04):
Well, your book is full of so many great little historic tidbits. Your grandfather Warberg, the one who was responsible for being the architect of the Federal Reserve,
Katharine Weber (01:01:16):
Great grand grandfather, Paul. Great.
Fritz Coleman (01:01:18):
I'm sorry. And he's the one that predicted the stock market crash of 29, but nobody believed him.
Katharine Weber (01:01:24):
The Cassandra of Wall Street. Yeah. Yeah. Wow. <laugh>
Louise Palanker (01:01:30):
Talk about some of the myths and the, uh, conspiracy theories cuz you were able to debunk all of them. I, I'm kind of vaguely aware that this stuff exists. Some somewhere in the, in the ether. This kind of, well,
Katharine Weber (01:01:40):
In the ether try YouTube. Yeah. Try look up. If you look up Farhan, Paul Warberg, you can see Farhan tell a throng of cheering people. How while Paul Warberg was staying in the finest hotels of Europe, um, profiting from IG Farbin, um, what can I say? I think he might have been on the board of IG Farbin, um, in the twenties. Um, I mean, Siemens also is a company that lives on, I mean, many companies were then involved in the war and were, you know, involved in, in the Third Reich for sure. But I would, I, I'd like to point out when he talks about how little babies were being gased by the Germans, and Paul Warberg was staying in the finest hotels, it's a neat trick because he died in March of 1932 <laugh>. So it's just, it's just false information. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But when
Fritz Coleman (01:02:36):
You're, when talking about is he was the, he, he and guys like Henry Ford, the notorious anti-Semites, thought that he was the ringleader of the so-called International Jewish Banking conspiracy.
Katharine Weber (01:02:47):
Yes. Yeah. So not only is there an international Jewish banking conspiracy, but my family is at the heart of it. And Paul Warberg was the ringleader, and I've said this before and I'll say it now, if that were true. And again, he died in 1932. He was actually the one in the family who in effect was devoted to public service because of the Federal Reserve Board. Um, so he stepped out when his brothers continued to make a lot of money, and he didn't because he was in public service. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Uh, if that were true, then where the hell is my money? <laugh>? That's all I wanna say is like, you know, why are we not just, you know, so rich, if we are these, you know, <laugh>, I mean gangsters is, they called
Louise Palanker (01:03:33):
These anti-Semitic. There's
Katharine Weber (01:03:34):
Something about the name Warburg that, that it, it's like a lightning rock. Well, there could be, I don't even know why.
Louise Palanker (01:03:38):
I mean, there, there's, there's equally industrious, wealthy Gentile families about whom these myths are not being created. So these mm-hmm. <affirmative>, these anti-Semitic tropes have gone on for centuries, and it's just, you know, he's conveniently slotted it into playing the roles of the role of the villains, your grandfather and your great-grandfather. But yes, this is stuff Yes, this is stuff that is isn't new to this century, even unfortunately.
Katharine Weber (01:04:04):
No, no, it's not. And, um, the protocols of the elders of Zion, which I think, I think there are certain congresspersons from the state of Georgia who probably read it every night before bedtime <laugh>, um, what can I say? I, it's always, what was it, Mankin who said nobody ever went broke, underestimating the American public <laugh>. Right, right. It's amazing what people will believe. And to debunk it is to perpetuate it If, if certain people hear about
Louise Palanker (01:04:36):
It. Well, I, I mean, I think that what people will believe, no matter how crazy is what people wish were true because it somehow aligns with their prejudices or some, or, or their fear, it's proof or their fears or what have you. So it's like QAN is
Katharine Weber (01:04:50):
Like, it's lunging for confirmation bias.
Louise Palanker (01:04:52):
Yeah. So qan on is this is, you know, conspiracy that says, you know, Jewish elites and, and Democrats eat babies. So now it's not just okay to hate them, it's your civic duty to hate them because they're baby eaters. So it's just giving people permission to feel the way they already felt. That's kind of the way I feel about all this stuff. But I wanna end on something much more positive because you, you're, you're about to come out with your next book, and we wanna, well,
Katharine Weber (01:05:17):
I just finished today re responding to the brilliant copy editing that I'm very grateful for. The book doesn't come out till March next year. Okay. Um, but it's a, it's a novella with stories that are somewhat linked. The entire book is a flow of stories that then culminate in a novella. And although they're manifestly different stories, there are a lot of echoes from first page to last of it turns out, although some of these stories appeared in early forms, you know, in my first fiction in print was in the New Yorker in 1993. Uh, it turns out I've been writing about the same thing over and over my whole career. Even if it isn't manifestly the same thing, it really kind of is the same. I'm telling a lot of the same stories, making a lot of the same gestures, um, over all these years.
Louise Palanker (01:06:07):
So, and with a broad stroke, what is that same thing
Katharine Weber (01:06:12):
That there are always more, more hidden sides to a story than you will ever know. Mm. And there is only, there is only ever the parallax view, there is always the limit to what you know about anyone else or, or yourself. Wow. Or your own history.
Louise Palanker (01:06:28):
I love that.
Katharine Weber (01:06:29):
So the, the story of the novella, which is the title piece of the book, is about two children who break into houses in their neighborhood. It's set in the eighties, break into their houses in their neighborhood, and roam around and take little souvenirs and are just in their own little world. Um, and then they discover, um, in a, in a backyard, in a shed, um, the entrance to a forgotten bomb shelter.
Louise Palanker (01:06:54):
Katharine Weber (01:06:55):
Wow. And they make that their headquarters.
Louise Palanker (01:06:56):
Oh, wow. All right. Well, we will look forward to that. <laugh>. You can find, uh, Katherine Weber, uh, tell us how to find you on Twitter.
Katharine Weber (01:07:05):
Uh, Katherine Weber. But
Louise Palanker (01:07:08):
There's an underscore,
Katharine Weber (01:07:08):
An underlying thingy. Weber. Yeah,
Louise Palanker (01:07:10):
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Katharine Weber (01:07:11):
Um, and I'm Katherine with an A, right, like Katherine Hepburn, um, like Katherine Swift, um, <laugh>, and I'm katherine Weber.com. I actually also pay for katherine Weber.com in case you type it wrong. You'll still get to my website.
Louise Palanker (01:07:26):
<laugh>. There you go. Now you're
Katharine Weber (01:07:28):
And, and k swift.com for news of various exciting, swift projects. There's a play adaptation inspired by my book, the Memory of All That, that is a play with music about, about Kay and George and Jimmy, and the writing of Fine and Dandy. And it's kind of consolidated to that moment. Mm. It's a, it takes place in the Warburg's Living Room. The piano is in the middle of the stage, and the Kay Performer and the George Performer play the piano. And that is where the, so it's a play with music. It's not a musical, it's by David Coddle, and it's called Duet for Three.
Louise Palanker (01:08:05):
Oh, I'm coming to see that. And
Katharine Weber (01:08:06):
We, we were, we were going like gangbusters developing this. It had a, a workshop. It had three public performances in New York, and then came The Pandemic mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So we sort of ground to a halt with that. But I'm hoping that Duet for Three has a new a, you know, a new start. Oh,
Louise Palanker (01:08:22):
Absolutely. I think it will. Which is
Katharine Weber (01:08:24):
This story that we have just been talking about.
Louise Palanker (01:08:26):
Yes. I need to c I'll come to New York to see that. So here come your closing credits. We would love for you to join us online on Instagram and Twitter, where we are at Media Path Pod, and on Facebook where we are. Media Path Podcast. You can find full episodes with all kinds of bonus visual content on our YouTube channel Media Path podcast. We would love to know what media you've been enjoying. You can contact us at our social media or email us at Media Path email@example.com. We wanna thank our wonderful guest, Katharine Weer. Our team includes Dina Friedman, Francesco Demond, John Maddox, Sharon Beo, bill Fiac, Thomas Hubble, and you. Our theme music is by me and John Maddox. I am Louise Lanker here with Fritz Coleman. And we'll see you along the media path. And now Fritz has more to tell you.
Fritz Coleman (01:09:09):
And if you enjoyed this episode of Media Path, it would help us greatly if you would, uh, sort of push us toward being more discoverable by potential new listeners. If you leave us a quick review on Apple Podcasts, and if you're new here and this is your first time with us, please check out our back catalog. You may even find some binge-worthy stuff in there. We've got Diane Warren and Tony Dow and Bill Mumey, and the Cows Sills, and Gary Puckett and Henry Winkler and Keith Morrison. Tons of interesting people from all spectrums of life. Thank you for spending an hour with us, and we would be overjoyed if you took a moment to share your thoughts with us or recommend us to a friend
Louise Palanker (01:09:45):
And subscribe, subscribe, subscribe. That was so off. That was awesome, Katharine.
Fritz Coleman (01:09:50):
That was just great, Katharine. Thank you.