KHAYIM GUTMAN (DER LEBEDIKER) (December 20, 1887-July 18, 1961)
He was born in Petrikov, Minsk region, Byelorussia. His father, Elye, well known as “Elye the shoreman,” came from an elite family in Pinsk. They had barges by the “shores” of the Pripet River and engaged in trade with the largest Russian commercial centers. His older brother Borekh was a followers of the Jewish Enlightenment, wrote stories, and published correspondence pieces in Hatsfira (The siren). Until age thirteen, Khayim Gutman studied Tanakh and Gemara in religious primary schools, later studying on his own. He acquired secular knowledge with private tutors, including Russian and German, later leaving to pursue his studies in Pinsk and Vilna. At the age of nine, he was already writing Hebrew verse. For a brief period, he held a job with a town’s communal administration, where he transcribed the local births and deaths. He was also a petition scribe. Late in 1904 he emigrated to the United States, where he stayed with his uncle (on his mother’s side), Shmuel Ofenhenden, a farmer in Woodbine, New Jersey. In the winter of 1905 he entered the Baron Hirsch Agricultural School in Woodbine. But the hard work did not fit his disposition and his physical strengths. In the summer of 1905, he moved to New York. He worked in a paper factory, and that year he published his first piece, a poem in Fraye arbeter shtime (Free voice of labor). From that point he published stories in the Forverts (Forward) and in the weekly Der arbayter (The worker) which was under the editorship of Dovid Pinski and Y. Shlosberg. For a short time he ran a store selling Yiddish books in Brownsville. He published a weekly newspaper which he alone wrote with news, editorials, stories, features, and even a “letter box.” In 1909 for the first time he published epigrams in Der tunkeler’s Der kibetzer (The joker), and he signed them with the pseudonym “Der lebediker” (The live one), which would remain his pen name. He became the leading contributor to this humorous magazine. His short poems and parodies, epigrams and human-interest pieces became a byword of American Yiddish journalism. When Der kibetser discontinued publication for financial reasons from time to time, Yankev Marinov snatched him away for his magazine Kundes (Prankster). Later, after “Der tunkeler” (The shady one) left Der kibetser, Gutman served as its editor from 1911 to 1914. After Der kibetser seized publication, he became one of the most important contributors to Kundes, for which he wrote a weekly feature. In 1915 he started publishing in Kundes his weekly feature “Afn literarishn yarid” (At the literary fair), and he followed this up with a series of philosophical-satirical essays entitled “Azoy hot geredt pompadur” (Thus spake Pompadur) which he had begun in Der kibetser. During the theater seasons, he wrote about performances in the Yiddish theater. He published treatises on literature, “feder shpritsn” (squirts of the pen), aphorisms, and humorous sketches. Together with caricaturist Lola, Zuni Maud, and Shoyl Raskin, he gave the art of caricature a grounding. At the same time, he contributed to: Fraye arbeter shtime, Der arbayter, Dos idishe folk (The Jewish people), Idisher kemfer (Jewish fighter), Di glaykhheyt (Equality), Gerekhtikeyt (Justice), Roman-tsaytung (Fiction newspaper) in Warsaw, Amerikaner (The American), and Literatur un lebn (Literature and life). He wrote for the Forverts from 1913 to 1919. Afterward, as Varhayt (Truth) ceased publication in 1919, he moved over to Tog (Day) in which he published once each week a feature piece under the general heading “In krig mit der velt” (At war with the world). In 1920 he became a regular contributor to the Labor Zionist newspaper, Di tsayt (The time). In 1922 when Di tsayt discontinued publication, he became a regular contributor to Morgn zhurnal (Morning journal), where under his pen name “Der lebediker” and other pseudonyms—such as R. Khayim, R. Yat, Zhivoy, Inkognito, Regidebl, and the like—he wrote weekly features, reviews of theater and film, every Friday a rhymed feature, and served as editor of the weekly humor page “Zol zayn lebedik” (should be alive). He continued in Morgn zhurnal his weekly feature “Afn literarishn yarid” in which he succinctly responded to what he found in newly published books, magazines, periodicals, and often even to individual stories, essays, and poems. In these feature pieces, he frequently in just a few words would characterize a writer, evaluate a work, and with a special delight draw attention to talented writers who had been overlooked.
Among his books: Azoy hot geredt pompadur (New York, 1918), 235 pp., which later appeared with the Warsaw publisher Aḥiasef under the general title Humoristishe shriftn (Humorous writings) (1928), 184 pp.; Azoy lakh ikh (That’s how I laugh) (New York, 1918), 268 pp.; 100 taynes tsu amerike (100 complaints for America) (Warsaw, 1928), 286 pp.; Shpil un lebn (Play and life) (Warsaw, 1928), 207 pp.; Pisem un ramses (Pithom and Ramses) (Warsaw, 1928), 309 pp.; Di ferte vant (The fourth wall) (Warsaw, 1928), 211 pp.; Di eybike milkhome (The eternal war) (Warsaw, 1937), 194 pp.; Yidn oyf der vogshol (Jews in the scales) (Warsaw, 1937), 213 pp.; Pompadur (Buenos Aires, 1957), 330 pp. He also translated F. M. Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (Y. Der idyot) in three volumes (New York). He was also the author of a comedy in two acts, Meshiekh af ist-brodvey (The messiah on East Broadway) which was staged several times. On the occasion of his fiftieth birthday, a collection of his, entitled Der lebedike, was assembled and published in 1938, edited by Dr. A. Mukdoni (New York), 249 pp., with contributions from over twenty writers. After the discontinuation of Morgn zhurnal, he became a contributor to the joint Tog-morgn zhurnal, where he continued his weekly feature “Afn literarishn yarid,” while also publishing in Fraye arbeter shtime a new series entitled “Azoy hot geredt pompadur.” He placed writings as well in Di goldene keyt (The golden chain) in Tel Aviv and in other newspapers and periodicals in the United States and overseas. He was living in Miami Beach, Florida.
“Der lebediker is thus an exception, in that he is a humorist whose humor is never reckless,” noted B. Rivkin. “…. A joke for him is born naturally. It jumps out at you with good reason, a fillip before the reader’s forehead or nose, but it arrives like a natural support for an idea…. Der lebediker always has a moral and a reason, and he will not abandon them, even when he had to break off a joke. This places the seal on his brand of humor…. His humor is on a mission from his writerly vocation.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon (Vilna, 1928), vol. 1; N. B. Linder, in Tog (New York) (February 5, 1932); Z. Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (Warsaw, 1934); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Morgn zhurnal (New York) (May 8, 1935); Mukdoni, In varshe un in lodzh (In Warsaw and in Lodz), vol. 1 (Buenos Aires, 1955), p. 290; Bikher nayes (Warsaw) (April 1938); Toyznt yor pinsk (1000 years of Pinsk) (New York, 1941), pp. 360-61; D. Ignatov, in Tsukunft (New York) (December 1944); N. Mayzil, ed. and comp., Amerike in yidishn vort, antologye (America in the Yiddish word, an anthology) (New York, 1955), see index; M. Yafe, in Fraye arbeter shtime (New York) (August 28, 1953); M. Yordani, Intervyus mit yidishe shrayber (Interviews with Yiddish writers) (New York, 1955), pp. 44-52; Mukdoni, in Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (January 1958); Mukdoni, in Tog-morgn zhurnal (New York) (January 12, 1958); Sh. Slutski, Avrom reyzen biblyografye (Avrom Reyzen bibliography) (New York, 1956), nos. 4951, 5039; Kh. Pets, in Fraye arbeter shtime (January 15, 1958); Mukdoni, in Tog-morgn zhurnal (January 12, 1958).