RSB Books

RSB Books

Richard Schwartz
Writer, Historian

Speaking Dates | Biography | Links | Email Richard

Click on the book title to be taken to its home page

RSB Books
Eccentrics, Heroes, and Cutthroats of Old Berkeley
Earthquake Exodus, 1906
Berkeley 1900
The Circle of Stones

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Richard Schwartz's latest book:

The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty
: The Extraordinary Rise and Fall of Actor M.B. Curtis

On April 10, 2018, the book was awarded the Bronze Medal for Biography by the Independent Publishers Book Awards

Ollie Media



Publicity Contact: Tricia Hedman

Tel: 619-277-0121






A Journey of Fame & Suffering, Perseverance & Dreaming


“An outstanding new biography of one of the most talented characters of his time.”

—Barry Moreno, historian & author, the Bob Hope Memorial Library at Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty National Monument





In his latest endeavor, The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty: The Extraordinary Rise and Fall of Actor M.B. Curtis (RSB Books, April 2016, $29.95 HC, Distributed by Heyday Books), author and historian Richard Schwartz delivers the fascinating life story of immigrant actor M.B. Curtis.

As the Statue of Liberty stood unlit and unloved by American politicians in 1886, one of her saviors was creating a theatrical sensation at New York’s Fourteenth Street Theatre. Actor M. B. Curtis, who had achieved overnight success in Sam’l of Posen, a groundbreaking play that transcended the common stereotypes of Jewish characters at the time, was basking in public accolades at every curtain call when he came to Lady Liberty’s aid. Curtis, the immigrant, jumped up to become the only private citizen in our nation’s history to pay for lighting the Statue of Liberty’s torch while Congress dodged the funding issue and international embarrassment.

Curtis’s rise to the top of his profession and his resulting fall from grace is a dramatic arc that rivals anything created for the stage. Actor, producer, real estate developer, promoter, hotelier, benefactor, and murder suspect, M. B. Curtis’s life encompassed the highs of celebrity and fame as well as the lows of failure, illness, and a faltering career.


The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty rescues M. B. Curtis’s story from the silent archives of forgotten history and reexamines an actor whose creativity and cultural influence still resonate invisibly today.

“How rich in colorful characters America’s history must be if
someone as picturesque, self-invented, dynamic, contradictory, and
influential as M. B. Curtis could have been so largely forgotten. And
how fortunate we are to have Richard Schwartz stumble upon him,
wash away the dust of neglect, put color in his cheeks, a glint in his
eyes, and a spring in his step, and have him stride the stage once again.
I applaud Curtis for the amazing life he led, and I applaud Richard
Schwartz for having rescued him from undeserved obscurity.”
author and publisher emeritus of Heyday Books
“In this outstanding new biography of that remarkable immigrant
thespian M. B. Curtis, Richard Schwartz gives readers a lost episode in
the story of the Statue of Liberty and her torch—that it was none other
than Curtis himself who helped pay for Miss Liberty’s first electric lighting
bills in November 1886. This is just one of the many absorbing episodes
in this biography of one of the most talented character actors of his time.”
historian and author, the Bob Hope Memorial Library at Ellis Island,
Statue of Liberty National Monument

The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty has been chosen by the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences Margret Herrick Library
to be included in their

The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty is now on sale at all the stores at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island National Monuments

mbc port

Hardcover, 332 pages,
with 61 black-and-white images
ISBN: 978-0-9678204-5-3, $29.95

(510) 549-3564
Fax (510) 549-1889

For individual purchases contact your local bookstore or Heyday Books

The book is also available through Ingram and Baker & Taylor book distributors

"I cannot tell you enough how important your work has been, and continues to be, to the city of Berkeley. No one else is doing it and no one else could do it with your skill, knowledge and passion!"
Former Mayor of Berkeley Shirley Dean
January 24, 2018

A Sampling of Reviews of “The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty”

“Schwartz’s rags-to-riches-to-rags chronicle of Curtis’ life and times is engrossingly written,
and includes numerous illustrations from that era...Schwartz brings readers the life of a
way-famous performing artist of whom most of us have likely never heard--a trailblazing
actor for his time, and a media celebrity before that label became common currency.
Making M. B. Curtis’s acquaintance is indisputably worth a reader’s time.”, Dallas Public Library reviewer Cathy Ritchie

“I came so close to passing on an opportunity to talk with Richard Schwartz.
It is one of the most phenomenal books I have ever read. Phenomenal story of
the guy who wrote it. Unbelievable story about the guy who is the subject of
the book.
And how can a guy be universally known in 1900 and unknown in probably 60
years later, certainly a century later nobody knows M. B. Curtis.
...It is written by a guy who is a construction worker. Who has such great
command of the English language that after reading this book I wouldn’t
I don’t even have the desire to challenge a book. I wouldn’t even begin to
try and write a book.”

Dan Manly, Radio Broadcaster WMST, Mount Sterling, Kentucky

In this well-researched, in-depth biography, historian Schwartz (Berkeley 1900)
traces the meteoric rise and slow fall of M.B. Curtis, a Hungarian Jewish actor
who thrived on American stages from the 1870s to 1890s, then sank into obscurity…
Schwartz’s intriguing portrayal of celebrity, status, and desperation illuminates the
underbelly of an exciting, rapidly changing time. (BookLife)

Publishers Weekly

“This is a fascinating book of someone in history I had never heard of until
I started reading the book. And just fascinated by this guy...
He has been dead for a hundred years but his influence is invisibly
affecting us still...We do now know of M. B. Curtis thanks to the book...
That’s what’s amazing- the resilience [of M.B. Curtis]...Its an excellent
read and leaves you wanting more...and hopefully we’d love to see this on
the big screen because its such an impactful story...
Its an excellent book.”

Ric Bratton, Host, This Week in America

“M. B. Curtis stares at you from the page- he’s still so full of life...he seems
he might just open his mouth and speak to you off the page...Having

read it you take up for the guy...Here is the original is the
pioneer stepping off the Mayflower and doing the funny walk with the big
shoes...laughing with us not laughing at us...this is the guy...{he} really
was a folk hero really deserves to be remembered and he is remembered here,
lovingly, in this wonderful book The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty...M. B.
Curtis- he is really worth knowing- what more could you ask for in a book.”

            Dean Karayanis, Host, The History Author Show

Theater history ignored the incredible biography of M.B. Curtis until Berkeley
author/historian/builder Richard Schwartz unearthed the tragedy during two decades
of meticulous research for his well-paced Heyday Book, “The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty”.
Schwartz is known for his archeologically nuanced books focused on the many eccentricities
of Berkeley, but clearly this oddball East Bay character needed his own volume.
M.B. Curtis’
 life was so complex, there’s no space in this book report to delve into the story
 behind Schwartz’ provocative title – a primary indicator of the actor’s widespread
fame in one century but total lack of it in the next. However, reading “The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty”
is certainly its own reward and Richard Schwartz deserves every accolade he receives for recalling
history’s attention to this incredible Nineteenth Century trouper and local misfit.

Jamie Jobb’s Backstage Pass, An Inside Peek at Performance.

“Some of the best histories ever written have been written by amateurs, including Thucydides,
Tacitus, Edward Gibbon and, in our own time, Barbara Tuchman, Shelby Foote and David McCullough.
 And Schwartz is another one.

He isn’t a history professor; he’s a building contractor…

Martin Snapp, The East Bay Times

“Philadelphia native Schwartz does a good job of bringing Curtis to life…”

Andy Gotlieb, The Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia

Berkeley author Richard Schwartz delivers a colorful biography of Curtis, who befriended Mark Twain and became a producer in the silent film industry. “

Georgia Rowe, East Bay Times

 “His book recounts the rise and fall of actor M.B. Curtis, a Jewish immigrant-turned-actor in 19th-century New York.
Curtis achieved overnight success for his role in the play “Sam’l of Posen,” and went on to further heights in the emerging
silent film industry and in Berkeley as a real estate developer (he built the Peralta Park Hotel, near the Berkeley-Albany border)
 before hitting the skids. Old photos, poster illustrations and drawings enhance the narrative.”

Jewish News of Northern California

Richard Schwartz is a well-known local historian who has written numerous books about Berkeley’s characters.
Now he may have discovered one of the most colorful people to have ever lived in Berkeley: the world-famous actor M.B. Curtis.
After 20 years of research, Schwartz has published
 The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty: The Extraordinary Rise and Fall of Actor M.B. Curtis
M.B. Curtis is quite a character. I had never heard of him, nor did I realize what a significant role he played in building up Berkeley in the 1890s.

Francis Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside

Richard Schwartz held the audience in rapt attention when he spoke to the San Leandro Historical Society on June 17, 2017 about the remarkable
story of M. B. Curtis. Schwartz knows how to tell a good story, and he is the kind of researcher who dives in to discover and follow the fascinating
details and side trails of his subject.

           Cindy Simons, President, San Leandro Historical Society

“Richard Schwartz kept our Commonwealth Club audience entertained while informing them about a missing piece of history:
the 19th century actor and entrepreneur M.B. Curtis’s fascinating life on stage and off.  Schwartz rescues this once-famous man
from the dustbin of history, where he did not belong.  Curtis hobnobbed with other celebrities of the time, but was a man of deep
substance as well.  Schwartz makes it all clear with a storytelling style that matches his 19th century topic.”

George Hammond, ‎Chairman of the Humanities Forum at The Commonwealth Club of


"If Berkeley had the good sense of the Japanese to recognize outstanding citizens as national treasures, Richard Schwartz would get my vote. Professionally a building contractor, Schwartz somehow finds time to explore Berkeley's past via its newspapers, archives, and maps. He has returned from that foreign land to self-publish gracefully written and handsome books filled with period illustrations of his discoveries. Those books not only reveal to us a place we thought we knew but are testimony to Schwartz's deep love for his adopted town. I am grateful for his generousity in sharing his wealth."

Dr. Gray Brechin, Historical Geographer, University of California, Berkeley
author of "Imperial San Francisco, Urban Power, Earthly Ruin and
Farewell, Promised Land


"I admire your work."
"Just the other day, I cited your work as an example of the golden age of local history we are currently experiencing in California."
The late Dr. Kevin Starr, California State Librarian, Emeritus
University Professor and Professor of History
University of Southern California

""Both of your books are wonderful contributions to California and local history. The City of Berkeley is most fortunate to have you. I quite agree with Gray Brechin's statement that Berkeley should declare you a living treasure. Both titles will be added to the permanent collection of the State Library's California History Section."
Gary F. Kurutz
Principal Librarian
California History Section, Special Collections
California State Library

"It's so COOL!  And fun to browse through. What an epic journey! I've been reading it tonight. So much scandal, blood and gore, Fires! I love it!"
The Milagro Bean Field War author
John Nichols, (born in Berkeley) commenting upon reading Berkeley 1900
(The Milagro Bean Field War book was adapted into the film directed by Robert Redford)


The San Francisco Chronicle selected Berkeley 1900 as a Holiday Gift Book of the Year choice in 2000, "Fascinating," Regan McMahon, Chronicle staff


"You have done an awesome job creating your books...You are a superb example of a scholar publisher tradition that I have always aspired to!"
    The Late Phil Wood, owner, Ten Speed Press

"Buy the book. It's a winner."
as reviewed in California Historian published by the Conference of California Historical Societies
by Mary-Ellen Jones, The Bancroft Libray, Retired
                                 click here to see the California Historian review                         


Since its initial publication a
decade ago, Berkeley 1900: Daily Life at the Turn of the Century
has captivated readers with its unprecedented blend
of serious history, fascinating images and heartfelt
storytelling. Its eyewitness accounts and unique views
of Berkeley a hundred years past show how profoundly
the landscape, culture, economy and social values of
modern Berkeley have been shaped by what came
before. In this special tenth anniversary edition,
readers will discover a wealth of new source quotes and
nearly 200 additional photos, making Berkeley 1900
more than ever the definitive account of a pivotal time
in the life of one of America’s most beloved cities.
Berkeley 1900: Daily Life at the Turn of the Century, 2nd Edition,
By Richard Schwartz

8.5 x 11 inches; 330 pages; 320 images, Paperback
ISBN: 0-9678204-4-6; $24.95, Published September 2009
Distributed by Ingram, Baker and Heyday Books


Buy it Now


ISBN 978-0-9678204-2-2 $24.95 Trade paper edition

ISBN 978-0-9678204-3-9 $39.95 Cloth edition

Eccentrics, Heroes, and Cutthroats of Old Berkeley

Press Release

Reviews and Article

Eccentrics, Heroes, and Cutthroats of Old Berkeley was picked by the San Francisco Chronicle as a Holiday Gift Book of the Year.

Harlan Kessel, Alameda County Historical Society

Treat yourself to what is  probably the most enjoyable California historical joyride of the decade.

Richard Brennaman, Berkeley Daily Planet

...a guiltless pleasure, a delightful collection of tales about some of the city's most fascinating and wrongly forgotten characters...Schwartz is a passionate..approaching his discipline with both passion and rigor and crafting his words with affection and humor coupled with the more orthodox demands of accuracy and attribution...Infectious enthusiasm combined with the larger-than-life natures of many of the characters he profiles prove an irresistable combination.

Malcolm Margolin, founder Heyday Books

Combining the research skills of a careful historian with the flair of a yarn-spinner, Richard Schwartz brings early Berkeley alive with such vibrancy and immediacy that you might imagine he had witnessed it first-hand. What an informative, engaging, ultimately thought- provoking exploration of our Berkeley roots!

David Crosson, Executive Director, California Historical Society

All modesty aside, we common sort can be pretty fascinating. If you want proof of this simple truth, all you have to do is pick up Richard Schwartz's collection of stories on Berkeley... In this small book of stories on a single community, Schwartz touches all of the abstract themes that you will find in grand histories: class struggle, ethnic conflicts, economic greed, and political intrigue.

Click on the book title to be taken to its home page

RSB Books
Eccentrics, Heroes, and Cutthroats of Old Berkeley
Earthquake Exodus, 1906
Berkeley 1900
The Circle of Stones