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The Jewish Philosopher
1 C. Israel Lutsky, the Jewish Philosopher
2 The Philosopher's Magazine and League
3 Lutsky on Carnation Milk
NPR Documentary
The Jewish Philosopher, the documentary about the first advice-giver of the air. (12:14 min.)

Lutsky and the others featured in this documentary.  

The Philosopher answers listeners' letters:

"My brother-in-law, the business genius."

C. Israel Lutsky, the Jewish Philosopher

Before Dr. Laura, before Dr. Ruth, there was C. Israel Lutsky, the Jewish Philosopher. From 1931 to the mid-'60s, Lutsky took to the air daily with letters from listeners seeking advice. He replied with spoonfuls of folk wisdom and dollops of abuse.

Charlatan or sage, Lutsky was one of the most beloved and listened-to figures from the golden age of Yiddish radio. No other radio personality delved so deeply into the personal lives of his listeners. From men lamenting overextended family business to women bemoaning no-good children, Yiddish-speakers of all stripes solicited Lutsky's counsel on issues too sensitive for the ears of friends and relatives. His pronouncements on their fate veered in tenor from the singsong melody of Torah study to the gravity of an Old Testament patriarch in no way averse to sputtering rage. That the letters he expounded upon were written by his copywriter never diluted the strength of his convictions, or his determination to see his advice followed to a T.

Short, pugnacious, and dapper to the point of risibility, the cigar-chomping Lutsky was an entertainer above all else. The "C" in his name stood for cantor, a role in which he had early success before going on to become an amateur pugilist, a vaudevillian, a socialist organizer, a cub reporter, and ultimately a radio personality. In this long-lived function he demonstrated a hypnotist's talent in bringing his correspondents to life in listeners' minds, turning private grief into public catharsis and transforming platitudes into pearls of wisdom.

In short, the Jewish Philosopher was a snake-oil salesman, and as such knew it wasn't enough to gather a crowd. He needed to sell, sell, sell -- and he did it with cantorial fervor. His longtime sponsor, Carnation Milk, was so pleased with his impassioned promotions they awarded him a pension at his retirement.

But shilling for sponsors was only the tip of the iceberg. Lutsky launched the Philosopher's League, a kind of lonely heart's club devoted to spreading his teachings. And he went multimedia, publishing a magazine dedicated to himself.

Next Page: The Philosopher's Magazine and League »


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