Friday, June 18, 2021

Rubin "The Voice" Weiss and His Wife Elizabeth "Woman of a Thousand Voices"

Elizabeth and Rubin Weiss rehearsing.

Rubin Weiss was born sometime in 1921 in Detroit, but no public record was recorded in Wayne County. He may have been born at home which was more customary in those days. As a child, he performed in Yiddish skits and plays within Detroit's growing Jewish community. Rube attended Northern High School and earned a master's degree in English while attending Wayne State University.

In December of 1941, Weiss entered the United States Army and fought in the European theater of World War II and rose to the rank of captain. At war's end, Weiss decided to try his hand at acting in New York City, but after a year of struggling, he decided to return to his family in Detroit and landed a job as an English teacher at his high school alma mater from 1946 through 1952. To supplement his modest teaching income, he picked up what radio and advertising work he could get. As soon as he was sure he could make a living in radio, he quit his day job.

Early in Weiss' WXYZ-Radio career, he specialized in playing "bad guys," much to the disappointment of his mother. His voice was much larger than he was at five-feet, five inches. His voice was versatile, and Weiss often played four or five roles in a single fifteen-minute episode. He was a featured player on popular Detroit radio shows like The Green Lantern, Challenge of the Yukon, and The (original) Lone Ranger, where Weiss met his future wife Elizabeth Elkin in 1948.

Later in Rube Weiss' career, he would run into people randomly who had no idea who he was until he spoke in his distinctive, resonant voice. Not only was Weiss' voice familiar because of his work in radio and television, he was the raucous announcer for "Saturday, At Detroit Dragway" heard on pop radio stations all over the Detroit and Windsor airwaves in the 1960s. What many Detroiters do not realize is that Weiss played Santa for sixteen years at the Hudson's Thanksgiving Day Parade. When fans would meet Weiss in person, they often remarked, "You sound taller on radio," his retort was, "I'm six-five when I stand on my money."

Rube Weiss said the most fun he ever had in his long career was being a regular on Soupy Sales' WXYZ-TV evening show at eleven o'clock. Rube and a talented cast of radio performers took their schtick to the small screen. His characters included big game hunter Colonel Claude Bottom, loudmouth pop tune composer Shoutin' Shorty Hogan, detective Charlie Pan, and The Lone Stranger's sidekick Pronto.

Weiss was a much sought-after freelance pitchman for Detroit and national brands. A short list of the brands he lent his voice talents to are Kay's Jewelers, Velvet Peanut Butter, Midas Mufflers, Chrysler Corporation, Kellogg's Special K, Lincoln Continental, and Marlboro cigarettes. 

Rubin Weiss passed away from an "internal infection" on April 25, 1996 at the age of seventy-six in Huntington Woods. Weiss' professional awards are too numerous to mention. Suffice it to say he won an American Federation of Television and Radio Actors Guild (AFTRA) Gold Card Award and several Emmy and Clio awards for his extensive work in radio. He is buried at Clover Hill Park Cemetery in Birmingham, Michigan.


Rube's wife Elizabeth was no less distinguished in her career than her husband, while also giving birth and being the proud mother of five children. Elizabeth Elkin was born in Detroit in 1925. Her talent as an artist and actor got her into Detroit's Cass Technical High School where she majored in Commercial Art. During World War II, Elizabeth became one of the youngest draftswomen in Detroit drawing plans for fighter airplane parts.

After the war, Elizabeth returned to the stage at Wayne State University performing in classical plays like Taming of the Shrew and Oedipus Rex at the Bonstelle Theater which was originally the Temple Beth El on Woodward Avenue (Piety Row) when it was built in 1902. Elizabeth honed her acting skills and landed a job doing summer repetory theater in New York City where she earned her Actor's Equity card. While appearing in The Importance of Being Ernest with the Actor's Company in Detroit, she became reunited with Rube Weiss, who was directing the play. They fell in love and married at Workman's Circle in 1949.

Elizabeth thought her regular voice was ordinary, but she could do dialects, foreign accents, or whatever a role required. A Detroit newspaper profiled her as The Woman of a Thousand Voices for her countless radio and television commercials.

Elizabeth and Rube's home was a gathering place for actors, artists, scholars, and comedians, where she became the hostess and gourmet cook. The Weiss home became so popular that the family was dubbed the Jewish Waltons. The family led a rich social life grounded in Elizabeth's love of Jewish culture.

Later in life, she performed in many Jewish Ensemble Theater Yiddish language productions. Rube would regularly appear on Detroit television celebrating Jewish holidays. Both of them were active in their synogogue and the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit. Elizabeth taught an Institute for Retired Professionals (IRP) Yiddish language group for many years.

Elizabeth Weiss was a lifetime member of the Screen Actor's Guild and AFTRA. She received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Alliance for Women in Media, and she was inducted in the Silver Circle of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Like her husband, Elizabeth received many professional and community service awards too numerous to list here.

But without a doubt, Elizabeth was most proud of her large and devoted family of five children, sixteen grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren who continue to be inspired by her example. Elizabeth Elkin Weiss passed on at the age of ninety on September 18, 2015. Her funeral was held at the Ira Kaufman Chapel, and her remains are interred beside her husband at Clover Hill Park Cemetery.

SATURDAY, At Detroit Dragway

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Ottawa War Chief Pontiac (Obwandiyag) Attacks Fort Detroit

No images of Pontiac are known to exist. This engraving is from 1879.

During the French and Indian War (1754-1763) against the British, most of the Great Lakes Native American tribes allied themselves with the French, whom they regarded as brothers. When the British defeated the French in Quebec, New France (Canada) in 1760, control of Fort Pontchartrain was surrendered to British General Jeffery Amherst. The fort changed from a French trading post to an English military stockade with a strong military presence. The French fleur de lis was replaced with the British Union Jack flag, and the fort was renamed Fort Detroit.

French settlers and trappers developed relationships with their tribal neighbors. They hunted and trapped together, shared food, traded beaver pelts and Indian artifacts for European goods, intermarried, and collected their annual tribute from their Great White Father--French King Louis, the XV. A stipend was paid to the tribes for trapping and hunting rights on Indian land which drew Indians in large numbers to Fort Pontchartrain. There were several peaceful Indian encampments near the fort.

The new British commander General Amherst considered these payments bribery and discontinued them. Unlike the French, Amherst placed restrictions on trading gunpower and ammunition which the Indians needed to hunt so they could feed and clothe their families. To add insult to injury, Amherst made it quite clear to the tribal leaders that they were now British subjects living on British land.

Rather than treat the Indians like equals as the French had done, these Englishmen considered themselves superior by every measure. It was clear to tribal leaders that the British intended to drive the tribes from their ancestral lands and hunting grounds. With English rule, it was only a matter of time before the empire builders and the inevitable flood of aggressive settlers would overrun the land.

The Ottawa, Potawatomi, Huron, Ojibwa, Wyandot, and Chippewa formed a loose confederation to confront their new reality. Ottawa War Chief Pontiac rose to prominence among the Great Lakes tribes for advocating the overthrow of their white overlords. He was the most outspoken tribal leader in favor of driving the British from their land.

On April 27, 1763, Chief Pontiac held an Intertribal War Council ten miles south of Fort Detroit near where the Ecorse River spills into the Detroit River in present day Lincoln Park (Council Park). Over 500 Great Lakes Indians and the heads of nearby French settlements gathered. Chief Pontiac urged the tribes to join the Ottawas in a surprise attack on the fort. The overall strategy was for the tribes to breech the British forts in the Northwest Territory, slaughter the soldiers, and lay waste to the undefended settlements.

The attack on Fort Detroit by Frederick Remington.

The attack on Fort Detroit began under the cover of darkness on May 7, 1763. A war party of about 300 Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibwa warriors approached the fort from the waterfront in 65 canoes and surrounded the stockade, but the garrison commander Major Gladwin was warned of the attack by an informer, so his soldiers laid in wait and repelled the attack. The fort remained under siege for the next 153 days.

When news of Pontiac's attack on Fort Detroit spread, his example was the spark that instigated widespread Indian uprisings throughout the Northwest Territory west of the Allegheny Mountains. On May 25th, Potawatomi warriors overwhelmed soldiers at Fort St. Joseph on Lake Michigan, while on June 2nd, the Chippawa captured Fort Michilimackinac in St. Ignace, Michigan killing most of the inhabitants. Pontiac's early successes won him prominence among the Great Lakes tribes and notoriety among the British.

By mid-June, Fort Detroit's supplies and munitions were running low. Major Gladwin sent an urgent appeal to Fort Pitt for emergency provisions and reinforcements. On July 29th, Captain James Dalyell broke the blockade of the fort by arriving at night with twenty-two barges, 260 Redcoat soldiers, several small cannon, and a fresh supply of provisions, ammunition, and gunpowder from Fort Niagara. As the flotilla made its way slowly upriver to Fort Detroit, warriors from a Wyandot and Potawatomi village opened fire on them killing fifteen Redcoats.

The day after Captain Dalyell's successful relief expedition, the young officer wanted to exact revenge for the attack and killing of his men. Dalyell asked his new commanding officer Major Gladwin for permission to lead a night attack on Pontiac's encampment located two miles from the fort. Against the major's instincts and better judgement, Gladwin approved the mission.

Redcoats in marching formation

At 2:00 a.m., a raiding party of 160 Redcoat infantrymen marched toward the Indian encampment two-abreast carrying rifles with fixed bayonets along a road now known as East Jefferson. Two oar-powered flatboats mounted with small cannons followed the soldiers along the shoreline for added firepower.

Pontiac was forewarned of the attack by sympathetic French settlers. His warriors set up several defensive embankments and hid behind the natural cover and wood piles. As the soldiers quietly marched toward them, the barking dogs of French settlers heralded their approach.

The Redcoats halted before the Parent's Creek Bridge at Captain Dalyell's command. Just before dawn, an advance guard of twenty-five soldiers made it halfway across the bridge when the Indians opened fire on them. The British surprise attack was a dismal failure. The gunboat crew fired their booming cannons towards the skirmish with little effect.

Dalyell rallied his troops several times to renew their attack, but each time they were repulsed. Dalyell ordered his troops to retreat towards a nearby French farmhouse for cover. A small party of Indians were inside the house and opened fire on the soldiers killing Dalyell and many others. The survivors fought their way back to the fort after six hours of tactical retreat.

Redcoats break formation

The British lost four officers and nineteen enlisted men with thirty-nine wounded. Four hundred Native Americans fought in the battle losing only seven warriors with twelve wounded. The dead soldiers were thrown into Parent's Creek, thereafter known as Bloody Run because its waters ran red that day. The battle occurred on the site of present day Elmwood Cemetery.

One eyewitness to the battle and its aftermath was teenager Gabriel Casses dit St. Aubin. His most vivid memory was seeing the severed head of Captain Dalyell stuck on a picket fence post. When Major Gladwin learned of the death and decapitation of Captain Dalyell, he offered a two-hundred pound bounty for the head of Chief Pontiac.

By September, Pontiac's loose tribal confederation was beginning to fall apart. The Potawatomi made peace and returned to their villages to help with the harvest and hunt wild game to provide for their families during the harsh winter months. Pontiac sent Major Gladwin a message that he was abandoning his siege and open to peace talks. The larger war continued through 1766.

When Pontiac was unable to persuade the Western tribes to join the rebellion and realized the French would not come to their aid, Chief Pontiac travelled to New York to negotiate an end to the frontier war. Though Pontiac's larger plan was successful--eight of eleven British forts fell--Pontiac and his warriors were not able to defeat Fort Detroit, which led to the chief's loss of stature. Fort Pitt and Fort Niagara also were able to hold out against Indian attacks as well.

British officials were keen to end the war because it was costing the Crown dearly in supplies and manpower. Not understanding the decentralized nature of Indian warfare, British Superintendent of Indian Affairs Sir William Johnson formally ended the war on July 25, 1766, with the signing of the Treaty of Oswego with Chief Pontiac.

When Pontiac agreed to peace talks, he claimed to hold more authority over the Intertribal Council than he actually held. This fueled resentment among the tribal leaders who felt the treaty was a capitulation. On May 10, 1768, Pontiac sent word to British officials that he was no longer recognized as chief by his people. He retired to Illinois to live peacefully with his relatives.

Unbeknownst to Pontiac, a Peoria Indian council in Illinois met secretly and agreed that the former chief was to be executed for an attack several years before on Black Dog, a Peoria chief. A Peoria warrior who was related to Black Dog clubbed Pontiac from behind and stabbed him to death on April 20, 1769, outside the French town of Cahokia, Illinois.

Murder of Pontiac

Historians note that Chief Pontiac was an Ottawa war chief who influenced a wider revolt against the British to drive Great Lakes Indians from their ancestral land. But how did Pontiac's name echo through history?

Famed British officer Captain Robert Rogers claimed to have met Pontiac in 1760 when he and his Rangers took control of Fort Pontchartrain from the French and again when he was a participant in the Battle of Bloody Run in 1763. Capitalizing on his war fame as an Indian fighter, Rogers wrote a play in 1765 named Ponteach (sic): The Savages of America, which became popular in Europe making Chief Pontiac the most famous American Indian of the eighteenth century.

Cadillac Establishes Fort Pontchartrain in 1701