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Meet the Jewish salon host in 1930s Shanghai who brought together Chinese and expats around the arts as civil war erupted and World War II loomed on the horizon.
Bernardine Szold Fritz arrived in Shanghai in 1929 to marry her fourth husband. Only thirty-three years old, she found herself in a time and place like no other. Political intrigue and scandal lurked on every street corner. Art Deco cinemas showed the latest Hollywood flicks, while dancehall owners and jazz musicians turned Shanghai into Asia’s top nightlife destination.
Yet from the night of their wedding, Bernardine’s new husband did not live up to his promises. Instead of feeling sorry for herself or leaving Shanghai, Bernardine decided to make a place for herself. Like other Jewish women before her, she started a salon in her home, drawing famous names from the world of politics, the arts, and the intelligentsia. She introduced Emily Hahn, the charismatic opium-smoking writer for The New Yorker , to the flamboyant hotelier Sir Victor Sassoon and legendary poet Sinmay Zau. And when Hollywood stars Anna May Wong, Charlie Chaplin, and Claudette Colbert passed through Shanghai, Bernardine organized gatherings to introduce them to their Shanghai contemporaries.
When Bernardine’s salon could not accommodate all who wanted to attend, she founded the International Arts Theater to produce avant-garde plays, ballets, lectures, and visual arts exhibits, often pushing audiences beyond their comfort zones. As civil war brewed and World War II soon followed, Bernardine’s devotion to the arts and the people of Shanghai brought joy to the city just before it would change forever.