Fanny E. Holtzmann
Fanny E. Holtzmann made waves as a lawyer for stars of Broadway and Hollywood as well as luminaries of world politics. Inspired to study law by her grandfather, a Talmud scholar, Holtzmann took night classes at Fordham University’s law school and was the only woman in her graduating class. In her law practice, she represented clients including Noel Coward, Fred Astaire, and George Bernard Shaw, and defended the Romanoff family in a libel lawsuit against MGM Studios. Aside from entertainment, she was the official counsel to the representative of the Republic of China at the founding of the United Nations, helped fund efforts to rescue Jews from Europe during World War II, and aided various causes supporting the newly established State of Israel.
“I don’t follow precedent. I establish it,” Fanny E. Holtzmann was quoted as saying. And she did. As a lawyer for some of the most famous artistic and political personalities of her day, she traveled the globe and lived what seemed to be a fantasy life.
She was a middle child in a family of seven children. Born in Brooklyn to Henry and Theresa Holtzmann, she grew up ignored by her busy family. Her close relationship with her maternal grandfather was crucial in encouraging Fanny, once labeled the “class dunce,” to complete three years of high school and enroll in night classes at Fordham University’s law school. During the day, she worked as a clerk for a theatrical law firm. The only woman to graduate in her law class of 1922, she opened her office half an hour after passing the bar.
Her clients included Gertrude Lawrence, Noel Coward, Fred Astaire, George Bernard Shaw, and the Russian Romanoffs, whom she successfully defended in a libel suit against MGM Studios in 1934. She was the official counsel to Chiang Kai-shek, the Republic of China’s representative, at the founding of the United Nations.
Before World War II, Holtzmann was active in the effort to help Jews escape from Hitler. After the war, she turned her attention to the newly established State of Israel, contributing both time and money.
She was always close to her siblings and their children. A few years before her death, her nephew, Edward Berkman, wrote a biography of her entitled The Lady and the Law: The Remarkable Story of Fanny Holtzmann (1976). She died of cancer on February 6, 1980. A few weeks earlier, in a bedside ceremony on January 18, Hebrew Union College awarded her an honorary doctorate in humane letters.
Berkman, Edward O. The Lady and the Law: The Remarkable Story of Fanny Holtzmann (1976).
Obituary. NYTimes, February 7, 1980, D1.
NYTimes Biographical Series 11 (February 1980): 222.