Author David Freeland, one of our Untapped writers (and one of our favorite people to boot) was recently featured in a great segment on the NBC Show “Who Do You Think You Are?” featuring Rashida Jones, who was tracing what happened to her grandmother during the 1920s and 30s in the bustling, gilded-age city of New York.
Rashida’s grandmother, Rita Hetty Rosenberg (later known as Rita Benson) immigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1926 at the age of 13 and married in 1941–leaving a gap in the history that Rashida and her family wanted to dig into. [Rashida is the daughter of Peggy Lipton and Quincy Jones]. The process brings revelations about anti-Semitism in the United States despite its open doors to immigrants, highlighted by the changing of her grandmother’s last name as part of the naturalization process, a paradox Rashida describes as the “parallel American dream.”
It’s known that at some point, Rita worked as a taxi dancer in New York, and Rashida meets with David Freeland at The Paramount Hotel in a wonderful decaying ballroom and nightclub in the basement of the hotel. It was once Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe, opened in 1938 and David calls it one of the greatest nightclubs in New York City history.
David kindly provided us with this great vintage program from 1940 and tells Untapped that many of the Horseshoe’s design elements you see in the episode, such as the glorious ceiling, actually date from the Paramount Grill, which opened in 1928.s
The journey takes Rashida to Ireland, where she discovers the Latvian roots of her family, then to Latvia where she traces her family back 6 generations to 1786, but also learns of a terrible tragedy in the family. I won’t spoil it as the episode is fascinating, propelled forth by the incredible research by everyone involved in the project and Rashida’s keen observations. Calling herself lucky, she says at the end, “I feel like its the duty of someone who is a very lucky descendant of people who made it through to keep telling the story.”
Watch the full episode.
Get in touch with the author @untappedmich. Check out David Freeland’s Book, Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville: Excavating Manhattan’s Lost Places of Leisure. And here at Untapped Cities we’re big fans of Rashida Jones, check out Untapped contributor and Grantland writer Rembert Browne’s article “How to get Rashida, by Rembert.”