The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty: The Extraordinary Rise and Fall of Actor M. B. Curtis

Hardcover, 6 x 9,
332 pages, with 61
black-and-white images.
ISBN: 9780967820453.

Paperback, 6 x 9,
320 pages, with 61
black-and-white images.
ISBN: 9780967820460.

BUY from heydayBUY ON BOOKShop

By Richard Schwartz

As the Statue of Liberty stood unlit and unloved by American politicians in 1886, one of her saviors was creating a theatrical sensation at New York’s Fourteenth Street Theatre. Actor M. B. Curtis, who had achieved overnight success in Sam’l of Posen, a groundbreaking play that transcended the common stereotypes of Jewish characters current at the time, was basking in public accolades at every curtain call when he came to Lady Liberty’s aid. Curtis’s rise to the top of his profession and his resulting fall from grace is a dramatic arc that rivals anything created for the stage. Actor, producer, real estate developer, promoter, hotelier, benefactor, and murder suspect, Curtis reached the highs of celebrity and fame as well as the lows of failure, illness, and a faltering career. The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty rescues his story from the dusty archives of forgotten history and reexamines an actor whose creativity and cultural influence still resonate today.

Bronze Medal (Biography), Independent Publisher Book Awards


“Schwartz does a magnificent job of resurrecting Curtis, reintroducing readers to a man who was, in his time, one of the theater’s biggest stars. A well-researched, lively biography.”

—David Pitt, Booklist


“Schwartz’s intriguing portrayal of celebrity, status, and desperation illuminates the underbelly of an exciting, rapidly changing time.”



“[A] terrific tale of [the] world famous actor who transformed Berkeley.”

—Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside


“One of the most phenomenal books I have ever read.”—Dan Manly, radio broadcaster on WMST Mount Sterling


“Schwartz brings readers the life of a way-famous performing artist of whom most of us have likely never heard—a trailblazing actor for his time, and a media celebrity before that label became common currency. Making M.B. Curtis’s acquaintance is indisputably worth a reader’s time.”

—Catherine Ritchie, TheaterJones


“[Curtis] really was a folk hero, really deserves to be remembered, and he is remembered here, lovingly, in this wonderful book.”

—Dean Karayanis, host of “The History Author Show”


“Fascinating…an excellent read and leaves you wanting more.”

—Ric Bratton, host of “This Week in America”


“An impeccably researched, skillfully written, deftly organized, accessibly presented biography of an inherently interesting man whose accomplishments had faded into obscurity…a simply fascinating read and highly recommended.”

Midwest Book Review


“How fortunate we are to have Richard Schwartz to put color in M. B. Curtis’s cheeks, a glint in his eyes, and have him stride the stage again.”

—Malcolm Margolin, author and publisher emeritus of Heyday


“An outstanding new biography of one of the most talented character actors of his time.”

—Barry Moreno, historian and author, the Bob Hope Memorial Library at Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty National Monument


Richard Schwartz is a historian and the author of Eccentrics, Heroes, and Cutthroats of Old Berkeley; Earthquake Exodus, 1906; Berkeley 1900; The Circle of Stones; and The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty. An outdoor enthusiast and animal lover, he worked on a Pennsylvania Dutch farm before heading west to find higher mountains. He now lives in Berkeley, California, where he works as a building contractor and documents early Native American sites in the Bay Area. Visit his website at