If America has been the melting pot, New York occupies the front burner. Inevitably, ethnic groups mix, and when that happens, it is not long before star crossed lovers (in this instance, a Jewish Star and Catholic Cross) take center stage. Not all such encounters end like Romeo and Juliet. In 1922, Abie’s Irish Rose opened on Broadway. The play revealed the tensions and eventual happy resolution when Abie, a nice Jewish boy, fell in love with Rose, a nice Irish colleen.
In 1926, Universal Pictures produced The Cohens and Kellys. The playwright sued the film company for copyright infringement.
In an opinion by Judge Learned Hand, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the filmmakers, stating:
The only matter common to the two is a quarrel between a Jewish and an Irish father, the marriage of their children, the birth of grandchildren and a reconciliation.
If the defendant took so much from the plaintiff, it may well have been because her amazing success seemed to prove that this was a subject of enduring popularity. Even so, granting that the plaintiff’s play was wholly original, and assuming that novelty is not essential to a copyright, there is no monopoly in such a background.
Nichols v. Universal Pictures Corp., 45 F.2d 119, 122 (2d Cir. 1930).
The New York Times, January 5, 1929. Copyright The New York Times
Theatrical release poster for Abie’s Irish Rose, a 1928 Paramount Pictures film. Promotional image by Paramount Pictures
Lobby card for Abie’s Irish Rose (1928), featuring actors Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Nancy Carroll. Promotional image by Paramount Pictures