RSB Books

RSB Books

Richard Schwartz

Writer, Historian

richard

Home | Speaking Dates | Biography | Email Richard



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

RSB Books

The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty

Eccentrics, Heroes, and Cutthroats of Old Berkeley

Earthquake Exodus, 1906

Berkeley 1900

Circle of Stones


Subscribe to our events email list here

May, 2022. Richard Schwartz has been named an "Affiliated Research Scholar" at

U.C. Berkeley's Joseph A. Myers Center for Research on Native American Issues.

Josepsh A Myers

Richard will also help teach a research project at the Myers Center in the fall of 2022: 
As described on the Myers Center's Website:


The Joseph A. Myers Center works in concert with existing research centers—both university-based and non-profit organizations—that engage in projects examining issues of Indian country. The center focuses on the issues that confront Native communities, both reservation and non-reservation, and is driven by a desire to address both practical problems and large policy issues. In order to improve conditions and reverse negative trends, Native communities need relevant tools and analyses. The Center is dedicated to providing expertise that will build the capacity of tribal communities to address health, safety, governance, and welfare issues.

San Francisco bay area cultural heritage management database

The San Francisco Bay Area is the ancestral homelands of several Native American tribes that include Ohlone, Coast Miwok, Bay Miwok, and Patwin peoples. These peoples built and maintained polities, towns, villages, camps, food processing and tool production areas, etc. that have left physical traces on the landscape. Some of these sites are very prominent, such as the shellmound at Coyote Hills Regional Park, but many of them in the urban spaces of the SF Bay Area have been damaged or built over, leaving only small traces and hints from historical newspaper articles as to where they are located. Without updated site information, location, or condition assessments, many of these sites are under threat of being further disturbed by urban development.

Though much of the information about these sites is obscure, Richard Schwartz, a historian, independent researcher, and author in the San Francisco Bay Area, has diligently studied and retrieved information from archival repositories for over 30 years and successfully located many sites by conducting surveys on the ground throughout the Bay Area; he has also found hundreds of previously unknown sites. The product of these surveys is original notes, maps, and photographs cataloging and documenting the present-day location and condition of these sites.  The Richard Schwartz Collection is invaluable to the preservation efforts of the California Historic Resources Information Center (CHRIS), lead agencies, archaeologists, and tribes who are and will be working to preserve these sites for future generations. This project will create a database of the Richard Schwartz Collection to assist in formatting and submitting this information to the CHRIS for cultural site protection purposes as well as to facilitate future research.

Project Team:

Co-Principal Investigators:

 

Graduate Student Researcher:

 

Richard Schwartz's latest book:

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

The book was awarded the Bronze Medal for Biography by the Independent Publishers Book Awards


Bronze Medal for Biography

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

The Man Who
        Lit Lady Liberty

 Paperback Edition ISBN 978--0-9678204-6-0
$19.95 list price

mbcHC

        Hardback Edition ISBN 978-0-9678204-5-3   
$29.95 list price

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 Theater. 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 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."
—MALCOLM MARGOLIN,
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 episodesin this biography of one of the most talented character actors of his time."
—BARRY MORENO ,
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
collections

"Yes this is a very charismatic man with magical eyes.
Your book is wonderful. I read it in a flash...It's also a feat of archival research...Bravo for a great book!
It would indeed make a great movie."
—DR. HARLEY ERDMAN
Chair, Department of Theater
University of Massachusetts at Amherst

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


SEE CURTIS'S 1910 Silent Movie Fragment (click on the phrase to the left to see the film yourself), Courtesy of The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center Has Done a phenomenal job of restoring the 1910 silent movie fragment that was donated to them (three minute duration) titled "Samuel of Posen." It stars none other than M. B. Curtis as the movie industry wanted to capitalize on the success and fame of this theatrical play by making a movie based on the play with the original cast.


The Library of Congress Nation Audio-Visual Conservation Center website can be reached by clicking on this sentence.


Samuel of
                    Posen


mbc port


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

 
The
                  Man Who Lit Lady Liberty Poster

Richard and the San Francisco Public Library, Main Branch mounted an exhibit (May 18-August 22, 2019) about M. B. Curtis.


FOR WHOLESALE PURCHASES CONTACT HEYDAY BOOKS
Orders@heydaybooks.com
(510) 549-3564
Fax (510) 549-1889

The book can also be ordered wholesale through IPS Direct, Publishers Group West and Ingram

For individual purchases contact your local bookstore or Heyday Books

"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"

"An impeccably researched, skillfully written, deftly organized, accessibly presented b iography of an inherently interesting man whose accomplishments had faded into obscurity, "The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty: The Extraordinary Rise and Fall of Actor M. B. Curtis" is a simply fascinating read and highly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as both community and academic library American Biography collections."

---Midwest Review of Books, September 1, 2018

"You've probably never heard of him, but the actor M. B. Curtis (1849–1920) was a superstar in his heyday. His portrayal of immigrant traveling salesman Samuel Plastrick in George H. Jessop's Sam'l of Posen made him spectacularly wealthy—so wealthy, in fact, that he paid for the Statue of Liberty's torch to be kept lit for the entire time he was in New York, headlining a new play. (This was just after Lady Liberty was erected, and the U.S. government had made no plans to keep the torch lit beyond the official opening-day ceremonies.) Curtis also sank some of his wealth into real estate, and, in the early 1890s, was put on trial for murder, a charge he vehemently denied. He was eventually acquitted after multiple trials, but the damage to his reputation and career was massive. A revival of his traveling-salesman character repaired some of the damage, but alcoholism and a derailed movie career, in addition to the stigma of being an accused killer, kept him from achieving new successes. After his death in 1920, he sank into obscurity. Thankfully, Schwartz does a magnificent job of resurrecting Curtis, reintroducing readers to a man who was, in his time, one of the theater's biggest stars. A well-researched, lively biography of an actor who deserves a better reputation than history has accorded him."

— David Pitt, Booklist Online. American Library Association, August, 2108

"I was reading it last night, and I think I have one more chapter. Utterly fascinating to me. I'll be sad when the book is over."and, "I read Schwartz' account of M.B. Curtis' life with rapt attention, fascination and wonder. How had I not heard of this man Curtis? I felt lucky to have gotten to read about his life. In my humble opinion, Schwartz succeeded in resurrecting Curtis. I recommend this book to anyone interested in history."

--Joshua Najacht, Custer County Chronicle

"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."

TheaterJones.com, Dallas Public Library reviewer Cathy Ritchie

"It is one of the most phenomenal books I have 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

"As recounted in Schwartz's book, Curtis's entire life and his most iconic role [Sam'l of Posen] typify the American immigrant experience…Curtis's legacy lives on in the flame that greeted millions of newly arrived immigrants entering the country as he did years before. Had Curtis not stepped in to keep Lady Liberty's torch glowing, we all might have been left in the dark."

 

PJ Grisar, Dec. 20, 2018

 

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. If it wasn't for Curtis's prompt actions, would the Statue of Liberty be lit today?

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' 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' story from the dusty archives of forgotten history and re-examines an actor whose creativity and cultural influence still resonate invisibly today.

Schwartz has written a compelling biography, one that also functions as an incredibly moving memorial to M.B. Curtis. In a way, Curtis is resurrected and his forgotten life story Schwartz intends to make unforgettable. 

Readers can examine Curtis' immigrant experience, his career portraying positive immigrant characters on stage, his philanthropy, his detractors, as well as how immigrants were perceived in general. A comparison to our current national debate on immigration is unavoidable. I read Schwartz' account of M.B. Curtis' life with rapt attention, fascination and wonder. How had I not heard of this man Curtis? I felt lucky to have gotten to read about his life. In my humble opinion, Schwartz succeeded in resurrecting Curtis. I recommend this book to anyone interested in history."

Joshua Najacht, August 21, 2019, Editor, Custer County Chronicle, Custer County, South Dakota

"...the book has value for its exploration of the significance of Curtis's one of the first Jewish figures in American literature to transcend common stereotypes and stand on stage as a fully-realized human being. Schwartz also provides valuable insights into the conditions of American show business before the advent of radio, film and television, when building a national reputation depended on ceaseless touring with a single vehicle."

 

John Brennan, Jewish Book Council

"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 guy..here 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 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 California 



                                                                                                                                          


"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 generosity 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"

Berkeley 1900


"At many instances in my book on Anne Brigman, which is forthcoming from Yale University Press next spring, I have relied on your excellent research and writings on Berkeley at the turn of the century." Kathleen Pyne, Professor Emerita of Art History, Department of Art, Art History and Design, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ind. Her new 2020 book is titled, Ann Brigman: Photographer of Enchantment.

A special 10th anniversary edition of "berkeley 1900" with hundreds of new additional photos, many of which have never been published before, is now released and is available on the web and in bookstores

 

"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 the late Mary-Ellen Jones, The Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley 

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

 


ECCENTRICS, HEROES, AND CUTTHROATS OF OLD BERKELEY

 

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 irresistible combination.
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 irresistible 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

The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty

Eccentrics, Heroes, and Cutthroats of Old Berkeley

Earthquake Exodus, 1906

Berkeley 1900

Circle of Stones