Nanette Dembitz, Glenn Beck and Clive Cussler

13Jan12

There doesn’t appear to have been research done of Brandeis lately, but I have found 3 Brandeis-related items worth relating.

Another Brandeis relative on the bench

My colleague Kurt Metzmeier is a collector of, among other things, political campaign buttons, and as a result found this button on eBay:

"Yes Yes Nanette Dembitz" campaign button

Nanette Dembitz was the daughter of Abraham Lincoln Dembitz, who was the son of Louis D. Brandeis’ beloved uncle Lewis Dembitz. This would have made her Brandeis’ second cousin (according to the New York Times anyway–genealogy is completely beyond me.) Like Brandeis and his daughter Susan, Nanette also went to law school, graduating from Columbia in 1938. Like many other women law school graduates of the time, she had difficulty finding a job at first, but she persevered, eventually becoming a judge in the Family Court in Manhattan, where she became known for her outspoken and sometimes very liberal views. The campaign button is from her attempt to be elected to the New York Court of Appeals. She didn’t win.

The New York Times has posted a very informative obituary on her on their website.

Glenn Beck and the Zionist Organization of America

There are a couple reports going around on the web that the Zionist Organization of America gave its 2011 Louis D. Brandeis Award to Glenn Beck. This isn’t quite true. The award actually went to father and son William K. and Mark Langfan, who are both prominent modern day Zionists. Beck merely gave the keynote speech at the awards dinner. (Fellow “Christian Zionist” Michele Bachmann also spoke at the dinner.)

Many liberal followers of Brandeis would probably be appalled at the thought of Beck giving a speech at an awards dinner featuring Brandeis’ name, but it’s impossible to say with any certainty what Brandeis would have thought about it. He was a passionate Zionist and he was certainly willing to work with anyone when it came to raising money for Israel and for the ZOA.

More details on the dinner can be found in the ZOA’s press release. (I particularly like the bit where the ZOA’s vice-chairman Steve Goldberg made the following tribute to ZOA president Morton Klein: “All of the ZOA’s past leaders, including Louis Brandeis and Abba Hillel Silver pale in comparison to Mort Klein.” While Klein has done a lot in restoring the fortunes of the ZOA from its near moribund state, he still has a long way to go before he can fit in Brandeis’ shoes.

Does Clive Cussler own Brandeis’ car?

Besides being a best selling novelist, Clive Cussler is also an antique car aficionado. He apparently owns over 55 of them, many of them on display in a specially built museum in Colorado. They are also on display in a book called Built For Adventure. One of the cars he owns is a rose colored 1931 Marmon V16 Town Car that he claims was once owned by Brandeis. According to Mr. Cussler, Alice Brandeis bought the car for him for his 75th birthday but he was so appalled by the color of the car that he refused to ride in it. I love this story but I’m a little skeptical about it. Brandeis was not an “early adopter” when it came to technology and I don’t think he ever learned how to drive. In fact, he was known to drive a horse and buggy on the streets of DC as late as the 1920’s. On the other hand, he had to get around somehow and the family might have hired a driver to drive the car.

I’m going to try to contact some family members to see if I can verify any of this. In the meantime, you can see pictures of the car and read about its pedigree at the Cussler museum’s website. (Update: The website no longer seems to feature the car. Maybe Mr. Cussler read this blog…)

Update: I spoke to Brandeis’ grandson, Frank Gilbert, who stated that he has no memory of Brandeis ever owning a car. He says he has a vivid memory of being driven to a park in a car with his grandfather and a driver named James. In the article “Justice Brandeis: A Law Clerk’s Remembrance” former clerk Paul A. Freund (Volume 68 no. 1 American Jewish History, pp. 7-18) says this about Brandeis’ relationship to cars:

He never owned a car, for example, using the rented services of a driver to take him to and from the Court. Automobiles he regarded as a moral misfortune. Not only did they divert much needed public revenues away from education and into road-building, but they fostered the pernicious growth of personal debt. I recall the indignation aroused in him by an advertisement for automobile tires, reading, “Nothing down. Pay as you ride.”

That pretty much settles the issue. It looks like Mr. Cussler got sold a bill of goods.

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