Yellen, Sherman. “Spotless Memories of a New York Childhood”, Moreclacke Publishing, 2017.
Behind the Scenes with Sherman Yellen
Sherman Yellen is a playwright, librettist, Tony nominee, and two-time Emmy Award-winning writer. In his autobiography, he shares the world of his impoverished forebears before World War I; writes about “his troubled, prosperous, mendacious father” and his beautiful, fashion-model mother and he tells us about his own New York childhood in the 1930s and 40s. Here we read about the lost world of a New York Jewish-American family during the Great Depression and World War II with candor and love.
Yellen grew up in New York under FDR, and he has watched with great sadness the rise in bigotry and the dismantling of social programs and social progress in this country. He is appalled by the heartlessness and greed that now passes for government policy and he believes it is the obligation of artists to speak out against the erosion of our democracy during these troubling times. Not only is this story it is also the story of New York City of the early 20th century and it is fascinating.
Yellen wonderfully recreates the Jewish-American immigrant experience and it is that much more interesting since he has written it with his trademark wit. He tells it like was and this is not always pretty but we need to know the reality of how things once were. Personally, I am in awe of how things have changed and I often think about that when I was growing up, there were not many people around who were my age today. There were even fewer college graduates. For me looking back is not so terrible but for others who lived poor lives it can be difficult to think about. Some may find Yellen’s depictions to be cruel but I find them to be honest. There is a theme here about compassion for the human condition and if that is all we have learned from the past, we can be satisfied. Because there is so much more here, it is that much more satisfying.