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VINTAGE ALBANY: J.D. Gortatowsky

By   /   May 14, 2012  /   Comments


Young Gorty in 1903, Center: the painting Fete Nocturne,  Right: Ciro’s nightclub in NYC with Herman Hover Louella Parsons and J. D. Gortatowsky in 1955  

Jacob Dewey Gortatowsky was born in Albany in 1885, the son of Prussian (Germany later Poland)  immigrant Morris D. Gortatowsky and Mary Casper Gortatowsky of Griffin, Georgia, Morris had first married been married to Mary Plonsky who died shortly after arriving in the US. The family had left Prussia and come to America, settling in Georgia in 1874.

Young Jacob, called Jake, was one of several children in a family that played a large and successful part in many Albany businesses of the past. Jake’s brothers Issac and Adolph owned a theater (the Rawlings Opera House nee Liberty Theater) and an insurance company and later managed the Albany Theater. Two of his brothers managed the A.W. Muse Company on Broad. The family was an integral part of Albany in the late 1800’s and well into the 1900’s.  Jakes Father, originally a rag and hide dealer, managed to become a plantation owner here. The Gortatowsky family was also instrumental in bringing Turner Air Force base to Albany.  The entire family, each member in their own way, helped to improve their hometown.

Young Jacob attended North Georgia College at Dahlonega. After leaving school he became an unpaid cub reporter at the Atlanta Constitution. After a year in Atlanta Gortatowsky returned to Albany and worked for the Albany Herald. He then worked for the Macon Telegraph, the Atlanta Georgian and then the Birmingham News.  By the time Gortatowsky (also called “Gorty”) reached the age of 25, he had returned to the Atlanta Constitution as their managing editor.

While at the Atlanta Constitution, Gortatowsky criticized the King Features comics owned by William Randolph Hearst. Hearst told Gortatowsky that if he knew so much about comic syndication that he should come to New York and run the company (Southern Israelite).

Gortatowsky did indeed move to New York and became head of “King Features” the syndicated comics that brought the world such comic classics as Betty Boop, Popeye, Blondie and later on Spiderman and many more. “Gorty” built King Features into the largest comic syndication in the world, in circulation in more than 50 countries and including 33 comics at that time.

Gortatowsky eventually moved up and became general manager of Hearst Newspapers (Georgia Trend Magazine/Ed Lightsey.) Gortatowsky gave up that position in 1955 to Harold G. Kern, while William Randolph Hearst Jr. became Editor in Chief. Gortatowsky then became Chairman of the board of Hearst Consolidated Publications and remained in that position until his death at the age of 78 in 1964.

It was said that Gortatowsky’s Manhattan office at Hearst publications was so unassuming that it did not even have his name on the door and was tucked away in a back hall. The only thing notable about his office was a miniature American flag on his desk, which was common to all offices in the Hearst building. Gortatowsky was known for his ready smile and his unobtrusive manner. Because of his job with Hearst, Gortatowsky frequently rubbed elbows with the rich and famous. He was seen at the Ciro Club in NYC with the biggest stars of their day, Marilyn Monroe, Nat King Cole and many more.

During his tenure at Hearst publications, Gortatowsky was a frequent visitor to William Randolph Hearst’s famous San Simeon estate in California. On many occasions Gortatowsky had admired a painting by French painter Francois Flameng called, Fete Nocturne owned by Hearst. Every time he saw the painting he would remark that one of the three women in the painting greatly resembled his wife Sadie (Sarah Overand). Hearst gave the painting to Gortatowsky as a gift. After Gortatowsky’s death his nephew Maurice Gortatowsky gave painting to the Albany Museum of Art where it can still be seen today.



Betty Rehberg is the historian for the Albany Journal and maintains a group on Facebook called Vintage Albany Georgia.


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