‘Eddie’ tells story of Truman partner who changed history


According to David McCollough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, President Harry S. Truman in May of 1948 had become exasperated with the constant pressure from Zionist and other Jewish groups to recognize a Jewish State after the British Mandate expired. So he ordered his staff not to allow any more telephone calls or White House visits on the subject. But Eddie Jacobson, who had served in Truman’s unit during World War I, and who was his business partner in a failed haberdashery in Kansas City, risked his lifetime friendship with the President to persuade him to meet with Dr. Chaim Weizmann for one more discussion of the idea of an independent Israel.

With great reluctance Truman agreed to the meeting with Weizmann, a conversation which historians agree was the crucial factor in convincing Truman to recognize Israel after it proclaimed its independence on May 14, 1948.

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Eddie, an original play based on the story of Eddie Jacobson’s historic friendship with Harry S. Truman, written by longtime writer friends Bob Feinberg and Marvin Starkman, will be coming to St. Louis for one performance only, sponsored by Traditional Congregation of Creve Coeur, 3 p.m., Sunday, May 3, at the Ethical Society of St. Louis.

In phone interviews last week, Starkman of Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., and Bob Feinberg of Long Meadows, Mass., described the origins of the project as well as the synopsis of the play. Starkman will play Eddie Jacobson in the local production, which will be directed by Max Daniels.

The play takes place on Armistice Day, 1949 in the barroom of the famed Muehlebach Hotel in downtown Kansas City, Mo., at 10:30 a.m. The boys of Company D, having completed their march through downtown Kansas City, have retired to the hotel’s barroom, which has been reserved for them and their wives and sweethearts for an annual reunion. Starkman said that he and Feinberg selected 1949 as the date of the action, “because if we got up to 1950, we’d have to talk about Korea, and we wanted to stay focused on Truman’s recognition of Israel and Jacobson’s role in the decision.”

Starkman added that Truman at the time was placing a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, while Jacobson and Truman’s other former army buddies were in Kansas City at the annual reunion, where Jacobson was elected to be the master of ceremonies.

“Eddie never wanted to be the center of attraction,” Feinberg notes. “But he was unanimously elected to be the emcee because he had the gift of gab.” For the next 75 minutes, Eddie, in his too-tight khaki tunic, shares with his buddies what has taken place in his life, their beloved Captain Harry Truman (now President Truman), and the world they have known since their last get-together.

Jacobson, the New York-born son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, grew up in Missouri, where he befriended young Harry Truman, with whom he served in the Artillery during World War I. “Truman was Jacobson’s commanding officer in the Great War,” said Starkman. “The two men made a pact to start a business after the war. Their men’s haberdashery in Kansas City was short lived, but their friendship lasted a lifetime.”

Starkman was impressed with the strong character and integrity of Jacobson, and believed it had the makings of a powerful drama. “When I read David McCollough’s biography about Truman, I just knew that this was a story that had to be told dramatically,” he said.

Feinberg agrees. “I had always heard that Harry Truman had been something of a bigot or an anti-Semite in his younger days, and when I read about this episode it leapt off the page.”

Starkman said that he and Feinberg consulted several other books in addition to McCollough’s, including Truman’s daughter’s book. “She (Margaret Truman) actually denied that Eddie had anything to do with influencing her father; she said that’s a myth.”

Starkman said that in the course of their research, they came across references to the late Rabbi Samuel Thurman of United Hebrew Congregation in St. Louis, who had befriended Truman through their activities as Masons. Rabbi Thurman offered a benediction at Truman’s inaugural on Jan. 20, 1949, and he is also believed to have positively influenced Truman’s decision to recognize the State of Israel 11 minutes after it was founded.

Both Starkman and Feinberg are impressed that Truman recognized the State of Israel over the strong objections of then Secretary of State George C. Marshall who threatened to resign if Truman went forward. Truman told Marshall that he did not want him to resign, but he would not go back on his promise to Weizmann to recognize Israel, which took place during the meeting arranged by Eddie Jacobson. As it turned out, Marshall did not resign, “and Truman had the backbone not to cave in to his threat,” said Starkman.

The play’s action unfolds in Eddie’s dialogue, much of which has been drawn from letters written by Jacobson, from personal interviews, archival material at the Truman Memorial Library and other published works. Says Starkman: “Eddie’s story has enormous appeal to audiences of all faiths — it is a true story of loyalty, integrity and grit in the face of a monolithic establishment, the U.S. State Department. The triumph of honor over politics, justice over policy and humanity over pragmatism, inspires as well as entertains.”


When: 3 p.m., Sunday, May 3

Where: Ethical Society of St. Louis, 9001 Clayton Road, Ladue

Cost: $10 at the door

More info: Call event sponsor, Traditional Congregation, at 314-576-5230