“She was driven, passionate and unstoppable. It is uncanny to me how alike she and LB were in sheer determination…”
It dawned on me recently as I looked at photos of my grandmother Mitzi and my great-grandmother Ida Mayer Cummings that I was looking at me in a few decades. The resemblances are uncanny in some photos, and for a child who grew up with a redheaded mother with green eyes and a step-father who looked nothing like me, it’s no wonder that I find this DNA expression fascinating.
This photo of Ida, shown here with Gertrude Berg (aka Molly Goldberg) and Bob Hope, was taken long before I was born. And yet, I am looking at my future. Gives me chills. But it also makes me think of the lives that were…
A lot has been written about my mother’s family due to my uncle Louis B Mayer’s fame as founder of MGM, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the Academy Awards, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and so forth.
But much less has been written or is known about his sister, my great-grandmother Ida Mayer Cummings, who could have been LB’s twin in terms of chutzpah and the ability to galvanize support for a cause, which in her case was fundraising for Jewish charities, mainly the Jewish Home for the Aged (JHA) in LA. In fact, an event she began around the same time as her brother established the Oscars, the IMC Auxiliary Gala Lunch is still held annually – and in the same venue – the Beverly Hilton Hotel eight decades later.
Ida was one of two older sisters of five children – Yetta, Ida, Louis, Rubin and Jeremiah. And eventually, all of the siblings ended up in LA (though I think Yetta mainly lived in New York and I have been unable to find any of her descendants.)
At some point
Ida became involved in fundraising for the JHA and from the outset involved her brothers. As LB’s star rose, and stars were created at his studio MGM, she integrated them into her events. The rich and famous were not only VIP guests, they were expected to give, and give they did – very generously. Mary Pickford, screen legend and one of the four founders of United Artists, became one of the Home’s biggest donors. She also became one of Ida’s closest friends. In their photos together the affection they share with each other is heartwarming.
In 2007 I visited LA and met the then director of the IMC Auxiliary, Harriet Zeitlin. I hadn’t visited the Home since I was a child and I found this visit particularly painful as the last time I had been there I was saying good-bye to my grandfather, who was in the hospital wing of what is now a massive site.
My husband and I had decided our eight month old daughter was old enough for the long trip from Australia to visit my parents in New Mexico. On the way back to Australia we spent a few days in LA. On our last trip to the Home’s hospital I sat with my grandfather and we both knew these were our last ever moments together. He had been my rock and my favorite person all my life. Even today, 20 years later, this memory brings tears to my eyes.
During the visit to the JHA in 2007, Harriet showed me folders and folders of Ida’s letters (to and from) some of the world’s most powerful people of her time. As I flicked through these, now yellowed and brittle, I had a tangible connection to how hard my great-grandmother worked – tirelessly and selflessly. She was driven, passionate and unstoppable. It is uncanny to me how alike she and LB were in sheer determination.
Through Ida’s efforts and the Auxiliary of the many dedicated and special women, hundreds and thousands of dollars were raised. And at least one star was born as the story goes that it was Ida who discovered a young comedian, Bob Hope who became the annual gala event’s MC. He had a soft spot for the tiny Jewish woman who made people of all backgrounds and faiths empty their pockets to ensure LA’s Jewish elderly lived and died with dignity. What a legacy.
Bob Hope and Ida are shown in the main photo with Gertrude Berg, whose radio program The Goldbergs was such a long lasting hit that she was universally known by the character she played, Molly Goldberg and thus the typed notation on the photo shown.
The thing about these legends – and there were a handful in my family – is that they can cast both a shadow and a glow.
Gertrude “Molly” Goldberg biography:
Something on My Own: Gertrude Berg and American Broadcasting, 1929-1956 (Television Series)
Bob Hope biography:
Bob Hope: A Life In Comedy
Copyright Alicia Mayer 2012.