The Educational Alliance: Springboard for the Famous

Millions of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe came streaming into the United States starting in the 1880s. They had no money, didn't speak English, and had no idea what American culture was about. As such, these new arrivals very often stuck out as impoverished foreigners. The Educational Alliance (www.edalliance.org) in the Lower East Side was established to help immigrants and their children assimilate to American culture.

Mark Twain sat in an audience of eight hundred children at the Educational Alliance's performance of the play made from his book, The Prince and the Pauper. Twain was so impressed with the Alliance that he said of it "It's like living for a lifetime in Buffalo, eighteen miles from Niagara, and never going to see the Falls. So I had lived in New York and knew nothing about the Educational Alliance" (quoted in The New York Times, April 15, 1907). Twain lectured and read from his works at the Alliance.

Many prominent Americans began their careers at the Alliance. Here are two examples:

Arthur M. Teichman was born in 1895 to Austrian-born parents who operated a bakery in East Harlem. As a boy, he later recalled, "I was tall, gawky and extremely shy." His life changed when he took classes in ballroom dancing at the Educational Alliance. Arthur developed into a great dancer and started giving dance classes. As his classes became more and more popular, he dropped his last name and used his middle name, eventually starting The Arthur Murray Dance School (www.arthurmurray.com). In 1965, he sold the company, which then had 350 franchised dance studios, including nearly 50 in foreign countries. The company's annual volume of business was between $25 million and $30 million at that time

Jerry Stiller was born in 1927. His grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe, and his father was a bus driver. He grew up during the depression and would watch Eddie Cantor perform at the Educational Alliance. Jerry saw how Cantor was able to transform a "depressed" crowd into a happy laughing bunch. He too decided that he would like to make people laugh. He did his first stand-up comedy act at the Educational Alliance when he was fifteen years old. He achieved stardom by being part of the comedy team of Stiller and Meara, working with his wife Ann Meara. In the 1990s, he came back into the limelight through his role as Frank, George Costanza's father on Seinfeld. He also appeared on television as Arthur Spooner in The King of Queens. Today people also know Jerry as the father of Ben Stiller, the popular actor and comic.

If you would like to take a Lower East Side tour that includes The Educational Alliance, please contact Timeline Touring.

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