Famous Freemason: The Man Who Owned Broadway

George-m-cohan-1.jpgWe all know the Fourth of July as the annual celebration of the birth of our nation, a day to enjoy the presence of our loved ones and the reflect on our history. However, July 4 is also the birthday of one of our famous Masonic Brothers. This past Tuesday, Brother George M. Cohan would have celebrated his 139th birthday! Bro. Cohan, born in 1878, was a famous American actor, playwright, comedian, composer, and producer.
Born in Providence, Rhode Island, to travelling vaudeville performers Jeremiah and Hellen Cohan, Bro. Cohan spent much of his life on the circuit and took to the stage as soon as he was able to walk. Cohan, his sister and his parents, formed an act titled The Four Cohans which toured for more than a decade from 1890-1901. In between tours, Cohan spent summers in North Brookfield, Massachusetts, with his grandmother. It was during these summers that he was able to enjoy childhood activities like sandlot baseball and biking with friends. These summertime experiences later became the inspiration for his 1907 Musical 50 Miles from Boston.
Brother Cohan was a pioneer in the musical industry and is widely regarded as the father of American Musical Comedies. Cohan wrote many famous plays such as The Man Who Owns Broadway, The Yankee Prince, and Seven Keys to Baldpate. In 1919, he disappeared from the industry after a dispute with the Actors’ Equity Association, and did not return until 1930, in a revival of The Song and Dance Man; A tribute to both vaudeville and his father.
Bro. Cohan was married twice, first to Ethel Levey from 1899 to 1907. Levey and Cohan had one daughter, Georgette Cohan Souther Rowse, who later became an actress. In 1907, the pair divorced and Cohan married Agnes Mary Nolan a year later. Together they had two daughters and a son. The first daughter, Mary Cohan Ronkin, helped compose music for her father’s plays. Helen Cohan Carola, the second daughter, was a film actress who also appeared on Broadway with her father. Their son, George M. Cohan Jr., served in the entertainment corps during World War II, and reinterpreted some of his father’s songs on recordings.
Brother Cohan was a life member of Pacific Lodge No. 233 in New York City. He was raised on November 16, 1905. He received his 32° on February 3, 1906 and was a life member of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. Cohan was also a member of Mecca Shrine Temple, in New York City.
George M. Cohan died on November 5, 1942, due to complications with cancer at the age of 64. He was buried in Woodland Cemetery in New York.
Brother Cohan lived a life full of music and adventure, far more than what could be put in this article. If you’d like to read more about Bro. Cohan and his escapades, click here.

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