The Schmooze

Jewish Impostors, Past and Present

Although Shabbetai Zevi naturally gets most of the attention, Jewish history has been marked by a series of impostors. On February 16, Bloomsbury USA publishes a collection by the late New Yorker reporter St. Clair McKelway, “Reporting at Wit’s End,” which includes the complete 1968 book “The Big Little Man from Brooklyn” about the Jewish impostor Stanley Jacob Weinberg.

The Brooklyn-born Weinberg (1890-1960) had many aliases, eventually settling on “Stanley Clifford Weyman,” because, as McKelway points out, “he wasn’t entirely satisfied with his name or with himself.” To win fame and prestige, Weinberg pretended to be everyone from Rudolf Valentino’s funeral director to the personal physician of film star Pola Negri. Lawrence J. Epstein’s “The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America” claims that Weinberg may have even inspired Woody Allen’s “Zelig,” a chameleon who blended into various identities to seek anonymity. Yet as McKelway states, “The men [Weinberg] became were never obscure.”

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Jewish Impostors, Past and Present

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