The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty

The extraordinary rise and fall of actor M. B. Curtis
Event detail

A photo exhibit on the life of immigrant M. B. Curtis (1849–1920) who became an actor in San Francisco in the 1870s, starring in Sam’l of Posen, a ground-breaking comedy about an awkward Jewish immigrant traveling salesman. The play was a run-away national sensation for decades, opening discussions about immigrants, traveling salesmen and Jews.

Curtis is the only citizen to ever personally pay to light the Statue of Liberty when Congress refused in 1886.

While Curtis was totally forgotten after he passed in 1920, in his day he was one of the superstars of his era, significantly influencing American culture with his play.

This exhibit includes the first public showing since 1910 of a three-minute clip of M. B. Curtis’s long-thought-lost 1910 silent movie Samuel of Posen. This early silent movie star influenced Chaplin’s portrayal of The Tramp and the work of the Marx Brothers.

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