As a playwright and actor, Clara Lipman enjoyed a long and accomplished career in show business. A prolific writer with many stage credits, Lipman proved herself worthy of a powerful place in the not-so-woman-friendly New York theater world at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Born on December 6, 1869, in Chicago to Abraham and Josephine (Brueckner) Lipman, Clara attended public schools in Chicago and New York, as well as being educated by private tutors. She began acting in ingenue roles and quickly joined A.M. Palmer’s venerable New York theater company. After a stint touring Europe with English and German classical companies, Lipman returned to New York and married fellow actor Louis Mann.
She starred with her husband in many plays, often lightweight comedies on Franco-American themes, with titles like Girl from Paris, All on Account of Eliza, Julie Bon Bon, and Marriage of a Star. In 1903, one journalist explicitly related Lipman’s and Mann’s success to their ethnicity. “Mr. Louis Mann is a comedian of a unique sort, who is thoroughly a Jew,” the reporter wrote. “His wife Miss Clara Lipman is a Jewess. Miss Lipman, a beautiful woman, is indeed one of the beauties of today’s stage, and her features are distinctly Jewish. She is also a comedian ... she has the rich idea of humor that is innate.” Lipman never denied being perceived as Jewish, but the identity was not central to her career or commitments.
Due to an accident in 1902, which left her arm broken, and messy contract disputes with her managers, Lipman was forced to take a long absence from the stage. In 1906, anxious to get back into theater, she single-handedly persuaded the Shuberts to let her produce and perform in Julie Bon Bon under their management. A New York Herald reviewer wrote that Julie Bon Bon “is not great but [Lipman] is quite chic and Mr. Mann is most amusing.” Marriage of a Star, another play with French flair, was a “most refreshing bit of sane wholesome comedy,” affirmed one reviewer. However, another critic panned the play, denouncing it as “the most dreadful example of bad dramatic construction you can imagine.” Despite the scathing comments, Lipman continued to attract audiences. Throughout her career she wrote eleven plays herself, including Marie de Fleury and The Wolf at the Door, and collaborated on fifteen more with playwright Samuel Shipman, including Flames and Embers and The Good-for-Nothing. She continued to write and perform until 1927.
In 1919, the New York Star cited Lipman as a featured hostess at a table for a dinner supporting the Woman Suffrage Party; she was one of only two actors who attended. Her engagement in a political cause specific to women was no doubt connected to professional struggles she faced because of her gender. In June 1952, Clara Lipman died at her home in New York at age seventy-nine. Forty-six years earlier, in 1906, a Chicago interviewer had asked Lipman if she felt women were really more determined than men, to which she had replied, “In business they will accomplish more in a day than the average man in a week. I believe in woman, and if she is given half a chance, she will succeed.”
AJYB 6 (1904–1905): 142, 24:173; BEOAJ; JE; Lipman, Clara. Clippings file. Robinson Locke Collection, vols. 238, 318. New York Public Library Center; Obituary. s.v. “Mann, Clara L.” NYTimes, June 23, 1952, 19:5; UJE, s.v. “Mann, Louis”; WWIAJ (1926 addenda and 1938); WWWIA 3.
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Siegel, Michele. "Clara Lipman." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 22, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/lipman-clara>.