Roots of a Radical Chick
No one comes into this world alone – even a radical chick like Liza, who became part of two generations of Americans seeking to escape their past.
In a letter she wrote later to Allan Ginsberg, she claimed he knew her by a different name, and he had.
Born Elizabeth Lehrman, Liza changed her name several times over the course of her life, from Elizabeth Lehrman growing up in Greenwich Village to Liz Lehrman, who as an artists hung out at the lofts with the Beats on West 21st Street, later to marry in South Africa where she must have been Liz or Liza Rubens long enough for give her son that last name, only to return to America with the pen name Liza Williams, although in a 1967 marriage to Robert Edmund Gold, she became Liza Gold – a name she apparently held onto for only four brief years until they divorced in 1971.
She was probably named after her paternal grandmother, a Russia refugee like her husband, Morris, who fled Tsarist harassment of the Jewish population.
Born in 1871, she arrived in the United States 21 years later – the same year Morris applied for his naturalization, two years after which, she and Morris were married in 1894.
Born in 1866, Morris came to American in June, 1882, where he started a career as a druggist. After the abuses inflicted on the Jews back in Russian, Morris seemed to take comfort in America, where he could make a living in relative freedom.
He and Elizabeth took residence in a Jewish enclave in Brooklyn, where their first two sons, George and Alex – Liza’s father – were born. Leo, the third child, was born in 1900 after the family apparently relocated to another Jewish enclave in The Bronx. At some point over the next decade they moved into Manhattan on Bradhurst Avenue where Morris and later Elizabeth after his death in the 1920s would continue to live.
By 1910, Morris owned his own drug store.
Their father’s profession must have made an impact on two of the boys, Alex and Leo since both would later pursue a career in teaching chemistry, although in many ways, Leo and Alex were starkly different in their approach to the world.
Both boys would attend City College where they earned their degrees and eventual teach. But Leo far exceeded his brother in almost every aspect. He was a star on the City College swim team in 1918 as a freshman and continued to earn accolades through out his college career, written up in the New York papers for his achievements. He would later earn his PhD from Columbia and go on to become the head of the Analytical Chemistry Department at CCNY and honored by the American Chemical Society in the 1950s for his contributions to the field.
Leo would be included in the American Men and Women of Science, a director
of leaders in science in its 1971, and 1976 editions. He would also be
included in the 1972 and 1976 editions of Who’s Who in World Jewry, a directory
of outstanding Jews.
While Alex would attain some success, and was even managed a listing in Who’s Who of World Jewry in 1972, his life turned out far different.
Liza called him ‘a melancholy man,” someone who often gave her thumbnail pieces of advice such as not to take any wooden nickels – referring to worthless tokens that were issued by carnivals and other establishments in the late 1800s, he also would warn her to look out for the police.
Stories from the old country had to have influenced Morris’ sons to some degree; they seemed to take root in Alex more than Leo or George – who later became an extremely successful accountant.
Alex seemed to take the old stories to heart, and being impressionable at a time when Marxism appeared to be the solution to the abuses of Capitalism, he was also old enough to become disillusioned when the Revolution finally came to Mother Russia, and it was hijacked by Stalin, who later went on to kill Alex’s apparent hero Trotsky in Mexico.
Alex also appeared to have learned some hard lessons when he serviced in the military during WWII – which eldest son, George did not do, and Leo was too young for until the war ended in 1918.
Unlike his two brothers, Alex appeared restless, moving frequently after he met Elizabeth’s mother, Hattie a Manhattan Jew, who settled down with him briefly in the Bronx Jewish community long enough to give birth to Liza, at which point, they moved from place to place, all within the confines of New York.
It appears that Alex married twice. He met his first wife, Hattie, in the mid-1920s, may have married around 1927, after which they took their honeymoon in Europe to return to live in Bronx, where Liza was born in 1928 and they still lived in 1930 after which at some point they relocated to Greenwich Village. Just when Hattie left to live with another man – an engineer – in Mexico is uncertain, but probably at a point after Liza graduated high school and started college, but prior to when she met the Beats in 1950. It is possible that Hattie went to live with her sister, Florence, who moved to Mexico City around that time.
While Liza claimed she grew up in Greenwich Village, she seems to have ended up there at 11 or 12 in 1940 when Alex finally moved to the family to West 15th Street. For a brief time in 1931, he moved the family back into mother’s house on Bainbridge Avenue, then moved to 43 rd Street. West 106th Street, West 74th Street and possibly other addresses. By the time he registered for the draft on July 26, 1944, he seemed confused about which address he lived in, crossing one out to write another until finally writing down the West 15th Street address – at which time he was still employed at City College on Convent Avenue.
I have no description of Leo, although from his exploits he must have been slim and possibly taller than his two brothers and his father, all of whom were short.
George at 5 foot 2m inches tall, was listed at 150 pounds in his 40s, with brown hair, brown eyes and ruddy complexion. This differed sharply from his 1918 which claimed he had red hair and gray eyes.
Listed at 5 foot 7 inches tall in both 1918 and 1944, the first claimed he had gray eyes, the second blue, both claimed he was 150 pounds and had light brown hair.
From all indications, George and Alex were close, even though they were polar opposites. George was a very successful capitalists, taking frequent trips with his wife Lillian to Europe and the Caribbean, while Alex – except after his wife left him for some engineer in Mexico somewhere around or prior to 1950 – barely escaped New York, and if Liza’s account can be believed, followed her to the west coast, although he eventually returned to New York where he died.
Liza recalled a letter her father wrote three days before his death, in which he claimed he remembered her visiting him in the hospital.
“Perhaps I did,” she said.