Adventures of a Jazz Age Lawyer
Adventures of a Jazz Age Lawyer is the lively story of legal giant Nathan Burkan, whose career encapsulated the coming of age of the institutions, archetypes, and attitudes that define American popular culture. With a client list that included Charlie Chaplin, Al Jolson, Frank Costello, Victor Herbert, Mae West, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, Arnold Rothstein, and Samuel Goldwyn, Burkan was “New York’s Spotlight Lawyer” for more than three decades.
The book tells stories of dramatic and uproarious courtroom confrontations, scandalous escapades of the rich and famous, and momentous clashes of powerful political, economic, and cultural forces. Out of these conflicts, the United States emerged as the world’s leading exporter of creative energy. Adventures of a Jazz Age Lawyer is an engaging look at the life of Nathan Burkan, a captivating history of entertainment and intellectual property law in the early twentieth century, and a rich source of new discoveries for anyone interested in the spirit of the Jazz Age.
THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK
It was Nathan Burkan who devised the strategies and spearheaded the legal battles—in all three branches of government—that set the stage for a revolution in the American popular music business, transforming it from a somewhat disreputable purveyor of sentimental ditties and ethnic novelties, sold as sheet music to home musicians, into the powerful economic engine behind the first golden age of the American popular song, heard worldwide on records, over the airwaves, and at the movies. In a career filled with ambitious causes and notable achievements, the establishment of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers was Nathan Burkan’s magnum opus, a feat that required the full breadth of his legal knowledge, his political acumen, and his force of will.
THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOLLYWOOD
Photoplay dubbed Nathan Burkan the “Chief Justice of Celluloidia.” “If there is any lawyer in the theatrical or photoplay business who has ever occupied so unique a position as Nathan Burkan, we’d like to know it.” Hollywood columnist Louella Parsons wrote that “many of Hollywood’s most famous stars have good reason to remember Burkan, whose wise counsel played such a part in their success as well as in the success of this industry.” Foremost among those stars was Charlie Chaplin, who once said of Burkan, with tongue only partly in cheek, “I love him, but I’m afraid of him. We would be such good friends if he were not a lawyer.” Burkan guided Chaplin’s rise from contract player to powerful auteur and extricated him from multiple career-threatening predicaments, while serving many other stars and directors, and playing a key role in establishing the Hollywood studio system.
NEW YORK CITY’S SPOTLIGHT LAWYER
As trusted counselor to the famous, wealthy, and powerful, Burkan often found himself enmeshed in cases that probed the tawdry, prurient underbelly of show business, café society, and the nouveau riche. “One or two newspaper writers,” it was said, “can always be found mulling about for any crumbs that may be picked up from under Burkan’s polished mahogany desk.” As circumstances required, he could be a hardboiled enabler of a powerful cad with feet of clay, a chivalrous knight in shining armor for a discarded wife, a merciless avenger of a cuckolded husband, or a tenacious defender of a third-party in an amorous triangle.
At the moment of her death in June 2019, it could fairly be said that Gloria Vanderbilt, at the age of 95, had been a celebrity longer than anyone on earth. Adventures of a Jazz Age Lawyer recounts the remarkable, heart-rending events, including the custody battle of the century, that first made Gloria Vanderbilt famous.