Have you ever heard of Louis Weitzenkorn? No. Me either. He came to my attention the other day when I was writing “This Day in History.”
Weitzenkorn was a newspaperman and playwright who made his home in Wilkes-Barre. According to his obituary that appeared in the paper 75 years ago today – he was born in Wilkes-Barre in 1893, he graduated from Columbia University, worked for sometime at the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader but then moved on to work at the New York Times, New York Tribune, the New York World and the New York Evening Graphic. During World War I, he served in the 302nd Tank Battalion in France.
While working at the newspaper, Weitzenkorn started writing plays. His first play, First Mortgage, was performed on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre in 1929. His next play, Five Star Final, was a hit on Broadway. It opened at the Cort Theater on December 30, 1930 and would run until June 1931. The play centers around an editor at a tabloid newspaper who is “asked” by the paper’s publisher to rehash a 20 year old murder case to help sell newspapers. The articles caused ripples through society that leads to suicides. In September 1931 the play was turned into a motion picture starring Edward G. Robinson as the editor and Boris Karloff as the reporter. The film was nominated for Outstanding Production (now known as Best Picture) by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1931/32. It lost out to Grand Hotel.
Five Star Final would be remade in 1936 by Warner Brothers. This version was called Two Against the World and it starred Humphrey Bogart and Beverly Roberts.
Weitzenkorn also wrote the screenplays for the films – 24 Hours (1931), Ladies of the Big House (1931), Men of Chance (1932), The Devil is Driving (1932) and King of the Newsboys (1938).
Weitzenkorn died tragically in a kitchen fire at his home in Wilkes-Barre on February 7, 1943. According to his obituary, he returned from an early morning walk and decided to make a pot of coffee. It is believed that he accidental caught his clothes on fire and he tried to use a towel to smother the flames but it caused the flames to spread. Police reported that his wife, Ilse Lahn Lichtbau, found him slumped in a chair with the burnt towel on his badly burned face.
According to his death notice in the February 27, 1943 edition of Billboard, Weitzenkorn was buried on February 9 at the B’nai B’rith Cemetery in Lee Park section of Hanover Township. He was survived by second wife, two sons – Joseph and William, and sister Mrs. Mortimer Schwager.
Trailer for Five Star Final