Suzanne Wasserman (1957-2017)

The Gotham Center is saddened to learn of the recent passing of Suzanne Wasserman, our intrepid former director. During her tenure at Gotham she successfully organized and oversaw our public seminar series, all the while producing several documentary films on various aspects of New York City history. If you would like to learn more about these films, continue reading below.

Meat Hooked!

December 15, 2012

Meat Hooked! explores the history of New York City’s butchering industry, showing how an influx of European immigrants and growing middle-class demand for convenient meat in the 19th century laid the groundwork for the modern scene. The film also documents changes in the business over the last 150 years.

Alongside her own research, Gotham Center director Suzanne Wasserman features interviews with such notables as Julie Powell, author of Julie and Julia,and filmmaker John Sayles, as well as local butchers like Jeffery Ruhalter, a fifth-generation master butcher, and Jacob Dickson of Chelsea Market’s Dickson’s Farmstand.

Meat Hooked! premiered at the New York Food Film Festival, where it won Best Feature. It was later broadcast on the PBS series "America Reframed."

Sweatshop Cinderella

March 2, 2010


Gotham Center Director Suzanne Wasserman's new documentary about Anzia Yezierska, the Jewish immigrant writer, who led an extraordinary life, uses archival stills, letters, newspaper clippings, tape-recorded interview, and footage from the 1922 silent film Hungry Hearts to tell a fascinating story.

See the trailer.

Around 1890, ten year-old Anzia Yezierska came to America with her parents and eight siblings from the small Polish village of Plotsk. Defying her parents, she pursued an education -— earning a degree in home economics from Columbia University. She worked as a school teacher, married and divorced, married again, gave birth to a daughter, left her husband, moved to LA, returned to New York, divorced again –- and then her life began…

She started to write.

In 1917, Anzia met and fell in love with the world famous educator, John Dewey. Although their relationship was never consummated, he encouraged her give up teaching and devote herself to writing. Her short stories appeared in Harper’s, New Republic, Good Housekeeping, Metropolitan, Century, and Forum. In 1919, her story “The Fat of the Land” was named best short story of the year. The following year, she published Hungry Hearts and Other Stories.

Hungry Hearts received rave reviews and in 1922 The Samuel Goldwyn Company produced a silent film adaptation. Called “The Sweatshop Cinderella” in the media, Yezierska became disenchanted with Hollywood and returned to New York City to write, publishing Salome of the Tenements (1922), Children of Loneliness (1923), Bread Givers (1925), Arrogant Beggar (1927), All I Could Never Be (1932) and her memoir Red Ribbon on a White Horse (1950). Her work was re-discovered posthumously.

Review in Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues.

Documenting a Sweatshop Cinderella: Q & A with Suzanne Wasserman

Jewish Daily Forward: ‘Sweatshop Cinderella,’ Minus the Happily Ever After
She was “loud, coarse and demanding, constantly intruding her presence everywhere and taking up all the air in the room,” according to literary critic Vivian Gornick.

New York Examiner: "Local history through Jewish-American literature of the Lower East Side"
The media commonly referred to immigrant writer Anzia Yezierska as the “Sweatshop Cinderella.” If this irresistibly colorful moniker was only awaiting an accompanying biography, Suzanne Wasserman, director of the Gotham Center for New York City History, sponsor of the program at the Tenement Museum, has provided one.

Biographer's Craft: Dropping the Pen and Opting for Film to Tell a Life
Documentary film maker and historian Suzanne Wasserman thought briefly about writing a book about the popular Lower East Side Jewish writer Anzia Yezierska, but since there were several biographies already, she decided to make a short film instead.

Director, Producer, Writer: Suzanne Wasserman
Wasserman is an historian and award-winning filmmaker. She has a Ph.D. in American History from New York University. She is the Director of the Gotham Center for New York City History at the City University of New York, Graduate Center. Wasserman lectures, writes and consults about New York City history, especially the history of the Lower East Side. She has published widely on topics such as the Great Depression, Jewish nostalgia, housing, restaurant culture, tourism, pushcart peddling, silent films, 19th century saloons and 21st century street fairs. She was an historical consultant on Ron Howard’s, Cinderella Man. She is the co-author of Life on the Lower East Side, 1937-1950: Photographs by Rebecca Lepkoff (Princeton Architectural Press, 2006) Her 2003 award-winning film, Thunder in Guyana, is about her cousin, Janet Jagan, who became President of Guyana in South America. The film aired nationally on PBS as part of the Independent Lens series in February, 2005. Her second film, a short documentary, titled Brooklyn among the Ruins premiered at the Coney Island Film Festival in 2005 and was broadcast on PBS/WNET’s series REEL New York in August, 2006.

Director of Photography: Christina Alexandra Voros
Voros is a Brooklyn-based director and cinematographer, recently recognized by IFP’s Filmmaker Magazine as one of their “25 New Faces in Independent Film.” The only member of her family not to be born in Hungary, Christina was raised in Cambridge, MA, where she later attended Harvard University. Her careers prior to filmmaking have included that of a stage actor, restaurateur and nationally-ranked saber fencer. She was the recipient of a Dean’s Fellowship at NYU’s Tisch School of the Art’s Graduate Department of Film and Television, and a Graduate Assistantship in cinematography in 2006, teaching under Tony Jannelli- whom she has continued to assist on projects with Jonathan Demme and Martin Scorsese. Her first documentary short, “The Ladies”, received a Gold Hugo at the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival and Grand Jury Prizes at Slamdance, GenArt, San Francisco International, Seattle International, Expression en Corto, Ojai and Edmonton International Film Festivals in 2008. Ms. Voros’ recent projects include principal photography for “Let Freedom Sing”, a documentary on the music of the Civil Rights movement for PBS, as well as two of her own documentary features currently in production: Jogini: Sex or Culture – follows the journey of one woman’s efforts to end ritualized prostitution in rural Andhra Pradesh, and GARDEN IN TRANSIT: the movie – a portrait of the largest public arts project in the history of New York City.

Editor: Ron Eyal
Ron Eyal is a New York-based independent filmmaker and editor. He is a recent graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Art’s Graduate Film Program, where he was awarded a Graduate Assistantship from the Editing Department for his editing ability. Eyal has edited a number of narrative and documentary films, including The Pope’s Face, which won the 2007 Audience Choice Award at the Millbrook International Film Festival, Ruth and Maggie, which premiered at the 2006 Slamdance Film Festival, and the upcoming I Was Raped, a feature-length documentary directed by feminist activist and writer Jennifer Baumgardner. He was featured in Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film this year, and is currently editing his debut feature film, Stranger Things.

Composer: John Putnam
John Putnam is a guitarist and composer. He has recorded with artists including Madonna, Cher, Avril Lavigne, Melissa Manchester, Jimmy Cliff, John Denver, Manhattan Transfer, Southside Johnny, Desmond Child, Des’ree, Melissa Manchester, Angelo Badelamente, Darlene Love, and Richard Shindell. He collaborated on the score for “Methadonia,” an HBO film by Michel Negroponte, as well as “Inside Death Row” which aired in June of 2009 on National Geographic. He has also composed music for NBC TV shows “Friends” and “Joey.” He has played live with such artists as Tracy Nelson, Lucy Kaplanski, Donovan, Ben. E. King, The Bacon Brothers, Wayne Newton, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr, Brookes and Dunne, and Soozie Tyrell (of the E Street Band), David Johansen, Lee Ann Womack, Raul Malo, Carrie Underwood and Trisha Yearwood among many others.

May 6, 2008 — 6:30 p.m. — Suzanne Wasserman will discuss the film and Anzia Yezierska at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum — 108 Orchard Street
October 21, 2009 — 7 p.m. — Suzanne Wasserman will screen a rough cut of Sweatshop Cinderella at Eldridge Street Synagogue — 12 Eldridge Street 212.219.0888 x205 (Part of the Academic Angles Series on immigrant history)
May 5, 2010 — 6:30 p.m. — Premiere! The Gotham Center for New York City History/CUNY Graduate Center
June 8, 2010 — 6:30 p.m. — The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, NY, NY
July 11, 2010 — National Yiddish Book Center, Amherst, Massachusetts
September 16, 2010 — Pacific Lutheran University, Seattle, Washington
October 27, 2010 — NYU Polytechnic Institute, Brooklyn, NY
January 11, 2011 — CUNY Graduate Center, U.S. Teaching American History
March 31, 2011 — City College of New York
June 10 — 11, 2011 — Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Amherst, MA

Sweatshop Cinderella has been supported by:

The Leon Levy Foundation
The Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund, Inc.
Hadassah-Brandeis Institute

Women Make Movies, Inc. is the fiscal sponsor and distributor for Sweatshop Cinderella.
Women Make Movies is a 501 (c) (3) organization.

Brooklyn among the ruins

June 15, 2005


Paul Kronenberg, a New York subway buff ("rail fan" to the cognoscenti) knows all there is to know about the city’s subway. The 60-year-old, born-and-bred Brooklynite even has a life-size replica of a 1930s motorman's cab, which he built in his (tiny) bedroom in Sheepshead Bay.

In this short film, audiences capture a glimpse of his deep appreciation for the decaying system. And the producer, Gotham Center director Suzanne Wasserman, pays homage to New York City's indispensable subway, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2004.

Theoren HylandComment