Morris Gest

Morris Gest
Morris Gest, 1923

Morris Gest (March 15, 1875 - May 16, 1942) was a Jewish-American theatrical producer of the early 20th century.


Early life

Born in Vilna, now Lithuania, the son of Leon and Elizabeth Gershonovitz. Through his mother he was a member of the middle-class Michliszanski clan which included his cousin, later renamed as Bernard Berenson, the art historian.

His niece, Anya Teixeira, recalled that the family story went that as a teenager his antics in imitating the Rabbi had embarrassed his devout parents as told to her friend and executor, J. L. Gordon in 1961. Fortunately, a couple were emigrating to Boston and agreed to take him with them in 1890. Later, he attracted the attention of Mr. Thompson, for whom he worked in the library of the United States District Court who saw to it that he went to school.


The theatre, was by his account, the first job that came his way and he gained experience of most of the skills involved. Some years later he went to New York and worked for Oscar Hammerstein at the Manhattan Opera House and was promoted to foreign representative. He also produced Broadway shows such as Morris Gest's "Midnight Whirl" (1919) with music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Buddy DeSylva.

After some false starts in production by himself, he teamed up with F. Ray Comstock and in the 1920s made his reputation by the import of Russian productions from the post-Revolutionary regime. In 1922 and 1923, Gest and Comstock presented Nikita Balieff's company "La Chauve-Souris". They also presented the Moscow Art Theatre directed by Stanislavski which reigned over New York drama despite the handicap of Russian dialogue. In 1923, he organised the last U.S. tour of Eleanor Duse.

In 1924, he brought Max Reinhardt from Germany to stage The Miracle to which Gest brought his own talents in publicity and casting. These were well needed as the heavy costs of the sets, costumes, and cast of 175 could have meant financial disaster.

Later life

The Great Depression and the parting from Comstock seem to have curbed his productions for five years but there was a last production, Lady Precious Stream in 1936. The same year marked the onset of a nervous breakdown. However he recovered sufficiently to be involved in the "Morris Gest's Little Miracle Town: with the world's greatest midget artistes". This was in connection with the 1939 New York World's Fair. He died in 1942, leaving Reina, daughter of David Belasco, his widow. She died in 1948.


Gest (left) with Russian actor Fyodor Chaliapin.
  • The Dearborn Independent (hostile Henry Ford tirade) 22 January 1921
  • Interview with Morris Gest, The American Hebrew, 29 December 1922
  • Charles B. Cochran, Secrets of a Showman, William Heinemann Ltd, 1925 p. 178, 179, 249, 266, 375, 417
  • Vladimir Nemirovitch-Dantchenko, My Life in the Russian Theatre, Geoffrey Bles, London, 1937 p. 277, 281
  • Stanley Appelbaum, The New York Stage-Famous Productions in Photographs ("The Miracle") Dover Publications, New York, 1976, p. 66
  • Diana Cooper, Autobiography (Michael Russell, London 1979), p. 233, 240, 245, 250, 252, 257, 260, 275, 279, 286, 288, 289, 313
  • Philip Ziegler, Diana Cooper: The Biography of Lady Diana Cooper, Alfred A. Knopf, New York (1982) p. 129, 130, 132, 139, 140, 142, 146
  • George Freedley and John Reeves, A History of the Theatre, Crown Publishers, New York 1941, p. 334.
  • William Weaver,Duse- A Biography, Thames and Hudson, London, 1984, p. 349,350-8
  • Gottfried Reinhardt, The Genius: A Memoir of Max Reinhardt, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, p. 38, 40-41, 57, 162, 170, 248, 291
  • Letter from US Passport Office, 8 June 1964 on emigration date and change of name
  • Anya Teixeira on her uncle Morris Gest, in conversation with J. L. Gordon 1960-1992

External links

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