Leo Rosten Biography

Famous for crafting Yiddish lexicon, Leo Rosten is well known for acquainting Americans with the Jewish culture and language. This biography provides detailed information about his childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline.

Quick Facts

Famous as: American humorist

Nationality: American

Birth Date: April 11, 1908

Died At Age: 88

Sun Sign: Aries

Born in: Łódź

father: Samuel C. Rosenberg

mother: Ida Rosenberg

Spouse/Ex-spouse: Priscilla Mead (m. 1935–1959)

children: Madeline Rosten, Margaret Ramsey Rosten, Philip Rosten

religion: Jewish

Died on: February 19, 1997

place of death: New York City

More Facts

education: London School of Economics, University of Chicago

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Cite This

Leo Calvin Rosten was a Polish-born American author, teacher and researcher. He is branded as a comedian in the sphere of screenwriting, stories, journalism and lexicography of Yiddish, a standard German language of Ashkenazi Jewish origin. He was a language connoisseur who familiarized Americans with terms and expressions of a different lingo. He brought into light the distinctive Jewish culture, their concepts and beliefs through his work in Yiddish; and how it has augmented the present day English. Through his writings, he reflected the nuance world of meanings profoundly buried within a tale, joke, idiom or other modulations related to it. His writings never failed to reveal his humoristic approach. He was a voracious reader with a broad array of intellect. He is best-known for his stories about the night school ‘prodigy’ Hyman Kaplan, written under the pseudonym Leonard Q. Ross and his encyclopedic ‘The joys of Yiddish’, is full of Jewish anecdotes and humor. His witty style of writing is quite apparent in critically acclaimed ’Hyman Kaplan’ which has been compared to the comic characters of Dickens and Shakespeare by the critics. It is one of the most-read classic works of American humor.

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Leo Rosten
Childhood & Early Life
  • Rosten was born into a Yiddish-speaking family in Lodz, Poland to a trade unionist couple, Samuel C. Rosenberg and Ida Freundlich Rosenberg. They immigrated to Chicago, USA when he was just three.
  • Raised in Chicago, he grew up in a working-class Jewish milieu where both English and Yiddish were spoken. Books and language fascinated him since childhood, and he began writing stories when he was just nine.
  • In 1930, he graduated from the University of Chicago and received his doctorate from the same institution in 1937. He completed his post graduation from the London School of Economics.
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  • Unable to find work during the Great Depression, he taught English for recent immigrants at night, which later became a source of inspiration for his most famous work ‘Hyman Kaplan’.
  • He held a series of wartime government positions including deputy director of the Office of War Information and chief of the office of War Information’s motion pictures division.
  • In late 1940s, he worked for the Rand Corporation, a non-profit institution offering research and analysis to the United States armed forces.
  • In 1949, he joined the staff of ‘Look’ magazine in New York where he worked till 1971.
  • He also taught at Yale University, Columbia and the New School of Social Research, New York City. He was a visiting professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley in 1960.
Major Works
  • He wrote many fiction and nonfiction throughout his career, but was best known for his book “The Education of H Y M A N K A P L A N, inspired by a former night-school student from his own teaching days. It was published in 1937 under the pseudonym Leonard Q. Ross and inspired one of the most unforgettable comic characters of 20th century fiction. However, its two sequels, ‘The Return of H Y M A N K A P L A N (1950)' and O K A P L A N! My K A P L A N! (1976) were not received well in literary circles.
  • He is also popular for his other work ‘The Joys of Yiddish’, which was published in 1968. It is an abounding glossary of Yiddish, Hebrew and Yinglish words encountered in English. It also gives a sneak peek at Jewish culture including habits, holidays, history, ceremonies, folklore, cuisines et cetera. It was later expanded to ‘The Joys of Yinglish’ in 1989.
  • He was an excellent screenwriter of numerous screenplays, including ‘The Dark Corner’, a film noir starring Mark Stevens; ‘Lured’, featuring Lucille Ball; ‘Captain Newman, M.D.’, ‘Mechanized Patrolling’, ‘They got me covered’, ‘The velvet touch’, ‘All through the night’, ‘The Conspirators’, ‘Sleep, My Love’, ‘Double Dynamite’, ‘Walk east on beacon’, and ‘Mister Cory’.
Awards & Achievements
  • In 1938, ‘the education of H Y M A N K A P L A N’ was a close second for one U.S. National Book Award. ‘The return of H Y M A N K A P L A N’ was one of eighteen "National Book Awards for Fiction" finalists in 1960. In the same year, he largely influenced the formation of Social Sciences division of Rand Corporation.
  • He was also the recipient of ‘Rockefeller Foundation Grant’ (1940), ‘Freedom Foundation Award’ (1955) and the George Polk Memorial Award in the same year.
Personal Life
  • He married Priscilla Ann ‘Pam’ Mead, a fellow graduate student at University of Chicago in March 1935. The marriage ended in divorce in 1959. He is survived by two daughters, one son from this marriage.
  • On January 5, 1960, he married Gertrude Zimmerman, who passed away in 1995.
  • He was the one and only 20th century writer who always wrote his stories in Yiddish.
  • He loved reading English books and wearing English clothes. Apart from this, he was a part of London theatrical circle and an active member of many gentlemen’s clubs in London.

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How To Cite

Article Title
- Leo Rosten Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com
Last Updated
- November 02, 2017

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