Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Edith Elliott Lindeman Calisch (21 March 1898–22 December 1984), journalist and lyricist, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Sidney Oaks Lindeman and Mae McIntyre Elliott Lindeman. Her father's work as a salesman kept the family moving frequently when she was young, but in 1908 they settled in her father's hometown of Dayton, Ohio. The Lindemans were Jewish and the Elliotts were Christian, but Mae Lindeman converted after her marriage and in June 1911 Edith Lindeman was confirmed at the Dayton synagogue. In March 1913 a flood destroyed Sidney Lindeman's business, and the family moved to Richmond, where he had business contacts. Edith Lindeman attended Virginia Randolph Ellett's school (later Saint Catherine's School) for a year and then matriculated at John Marshall High School. In 1916 she entered the Collegiate School for Girls, where a teacher recognized her writing ability and encouraged her to attend Barnard College in New York City. In 1917 Lindeman enrolled in Barnard to take prejournalism courses but left in 1919 after four semesters.

In Richmond on 3 May 1920 Lindeman married A. Woolner Calisch, whom she had known since high school. They had one son and two daughters. In 1924 they moved with her parents to Greensboro, North Carolina, where her father managed and her husband was a vice president of a business distributing products for the Delco Light Company and the Frigidaire Corporation. Calisch wrote advertising booklets for both companies. The business was hit hard by the Great Depression, and in 1931 the family returned to Richmond.

At the request of her father-in-law Edward Nathan Calisch, an eminent rabbi, she wrote two books, Bible Tales for the Very Young (1930) and Bible Tales for Young People (1934), for use in Sabbath schools. Calisch also published a one-act play entitled The Jews Who Stood by Washington (1932), a collection of Jewish legends for young people entitled Fairy Tales from Grandfather's Big Book (1938), and Three Score and Twenty: A Brief Biography of Edward Nathan Calisch (1945). In 1933 she became the Richmond Times-Dispatch's part-time motion picture reviewer and during the next thirty years reviewed more than 6,000 films. Calisch became an editor for the children's page in 1934 and editor of the entertainment pages the following year. She also established herself as a respected drama critic. Deeply interested in theater, she promoted local efforts as well as those of the Barter Theater, in Abingdon. In 1956 Calisch suggested that the Barksdale Theatre, in Hanover County, offer dinner along with the evening performance. This practice provided needed additional revenue for the new theater, and in adopting her suggestion Barksdale may have become the first dinner theater in the country.

Early in the 1950s Calisch became a songwriter. She wrote lyrics under her maiden name of Edith Lindeman, and Carl Stutz, then an announcer at WRVA radio station, composed the music. They wrote more than a dozen songs together. An early effort, "Cling to Me," did not attract much attention, but the next attempt was a big success, although several publishers initially rejected it. Kitty Kallen's recording of "Little Things Mean a Lot" on the Decca label climbed to the top of the music charts, was the number one song in the country for nine weeks in 1954, and was voted the year's most popular song in polls taken by the music industry. Other stars who recorded the song included the McGuire Sisters, the country singer Margo Smith, and the rhythm-and-blues artists Billy Ward and His Dominoes. Calisch and Stutz's "Blackberry Winter," written in 1952, was recorded by Mary Higdon "Sunshine Sue" Workman, of WRVA's popular show, Old Dominion Barn Dance, but it was most successful as the "B" side of Mitch Miller's 1955 top-selling recording of "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Perry Como recorded their song "I Know" in May 1959, and it reached number forty-seven on the music charts. British singer Tom Jones reprised the tune nearly a decade later. In 1953 Calisch and Stutz composed a western ballad, "Red Headed Stranger." Originally intended for Como, the song achieved its greatest success in 1975 when the country music singer Willie Nelson used it as the title track and thematic basis of the best-selling album that established him as a top recording artist.

In 1959 Calisch's friends at the Barksdale Theatre held a surprise party for her. Guests from the entertainment world included representatives from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the composer Johnny Mercer. In 1964 Calisch retired, although she still occasionally contributed articles to the newspaper. She remained active in Congregation Beth Ahabah throughout her adult life. In 1977 the Songwriters Hall of Fame recognized her work at a ceremony in New York, and in 1984 the Barksdale Theatre dedicated to her a history of its first thirty-one years. Edith Elliott Lindeman Calisch died on 22 December 1984 at a Henrico County nursing home and was buried in Hebrew Cemetery in Richmond. A Richmond Times-Dispatch obituary singled out for special commendation her "tremendous contribution to the cultural life of this community" and the "strong coverage she provided for the area's regional theaters in their formative years."

Sources Consulted:
John Simons, ed., Who's Who in American Jewry (1939), 3:154; Durward Howes, Mary L. Braun, and Rose Garvey, eds., American Women (1939), 3:141; transcript of autobiographical oral recollections, 14 July 1975, for Congregation Beth Ahabah Museum and Archives, Richmond (copy in Dictionary of Virginia Biography Editorial Files, Library of Virginia); Generations: Journal of Congregation Beth Ahabah Museum and Archives Trust 3 (Oct. 1990): 1–6 (portraits); Marriage Register, Richmond City, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; information provided by daughters Frances Calisch Rothenberg and Virginia Calisch Fairman; Muriel McAuley, Nancy Kilgore, and David Kilgore, Going On…Barksdale Theatre: The First Thirty-One Years (1984), 3, 12, 18, 47; William Bien, "'Little Things . . .' Mean a Lot to Two Tunesmiths," Virginia and the Virginia Record 76 (July 1954): 16–17; feature articles in Richmond News Leader, 6 Jan. 1962, 24 Mar. 1987, and Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3 May 1971, 24 Mar. 1987; obituaries in Richmond News Leader and Richmond Times-Dispatch (quotations), both 24 Dec. 1984, and Washington Post, 26 Dec. 1984.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Donald W. Gunter.

How to cite this page:
Donald W. Gunter,"Edith Elliott Lindeman Calisch (1898–1984)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2001 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Calisch_Edith_Lindeman, accessed [today's date]).

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