Obscurity of the Day: Potash and Perlmutter


Montague Glass was a lawyer who spent a lot of time in court listening to the trials and tribulations of the clothing tradesmen in New York City. He came to have an intimate knowledge of the retailers and wholesalers, mostly Jewish,  how they spoke and the sorts of business dealings that landed them in court. 

In the 1900s Glass set aside his law books and began writing humorous short stories about the people he’d come to know so well. He came up with a pair named Potash and Perlmutter, Jewish businessmen in the “cloak and suit” business, and wrote of their “co-partnership ventures and adventures” to wide acclaim. Soon there was a book, then a hit Broadway play, then travelling theatricals and movies. 

According to historians, Potash and Perlmutter were embraced by Jews because they seemed entirely authentic to them; non-Jews liked them because although the works were sprinkled with Yiddishisms, Glass did not go hog wild with heavy dialect, keeping the stories understandable to the goyim.

Potash and Perlmutter were still a going concern in the 1920s, though now referred to as “old favorites,” They were appearing in the occasional silent film, and McClure, then Bell, distributed weekly newspaper text and illustration series. In 1926, either Bell or Glass came up with the idea of adding a comic strip to the mix. A new play was about to debut on Broadway, with the pair entering the detective business, so it was decided that the strip would debut around the same time and work the same general plot. 

The strip debuted on September 13 1926* with art by Joe Irving, who had recently also taken over illustrating duties on the weekly stories from Milt Morris. Irving’s drawings get the job done, but not much more than that can be said in his favour. For readers who already liked Potash and Perlmutter, the stories were more of the same, and probably actually written by Glass himself. 

Evidently most newspaper editors weren’t overwhelmed with an itch to buy the new comic strip, because it debuted in a very modest number of papers. It did outlast the play, though, which closed after only forty-some performances. The strip might have limped along for quite awhile, but Joe Irving either quit or was fired, his last signed strip appearing on July 16 1927. An anonymous cartoonist took over (perhaps Milt Morris), but it was basically just to latch the shutters and lock the doors. The strip ended on August 13 1927**.

* Source: Jeffrey Lindenblatt based on New York Mirror

** Source: Yonkers Statesman

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