Greater Syrian Diaspora at 78RPM: Edward Abdo
Edward or Eddie, as he was called by friends, became a naturalized US citizen in May 1927. On his naturalization forms, Abdo noted that he used the name Edward Abdo, Edward Urban, and Abraham Abdo.
In April 1930, Edward performed a series of “Arabian Concerts” at the Century Club in Reno, Nevada. He traveled back to New York and from 1930 to 1937, he sang with the Toronto Opera Company in Ontario province, Canada. On May 4, 1933, Eddie married Marie Balady, a Syrian-born Canadian, who worked as a dressmaker and early fashion designer. Because Edward earned a living as a singer, he traveled quite regularly.
In late 1936, a rare opportunity arose for Abdo. His siblings were all living in southern California and while visiting family he earned a part in the motion picture “Ali Baba Goes to Town” starring Eddie Cantor. Abdo gained the role of a muezzin in a number of scenes throughout the movie. The film, as might be expected, is crammed with Orientalist stereotypes about the Middle East, Arabs, and Africans, which became standard fare in Hollywood films of this type, as Cantor played a character who fell asleep on the set of a film and is transported back to tenth-century Baghdad. “Ali Baba Goes to Town” opened in theaters in 1937.
Shortly after filming “Ali Baba Goes to Town” in Los Angeles, Abdo caught the eye of wealthy-widow Mrs. Edith Gaines and the two started an affair. Mrs. Marie Abdo suspected her husband of having an affair and hired private investigators to look into the matter. In a San Francisco apartment Gaines and Abdo rented together, Marie Abdo, accompanied by two private detectives, confronted the couple and had the two arrested on morals charges. In a scandalous trial with nation-wide coverage, Mrs. Abdo then sued Mrs. Gaines for $100,000 for stealing her husband. Mrs. Gaines, all the while, claimed her interest in Edward Abdo was only business and investment-related. Even with eye-witness testimony from Gaines’ housekeeper, proof that the two shared a room although not a bed when they traveled, the judge ordered Gaines to pay Marie Abdo $2500 in damages.
Edward Abdo performed very little after the trial. The negative and far-reaching news of his affair should have made his several aliases all the more useful, but accounts of additional film or concert appearances by Abdo disappeared from the press. On Thursday, June 8, 1961, a brief story in the “Pasadena Independent” noted the death of the “well-known sports fisherman” Eddie Abdo Urban. The column mentioned Abdo Urban had been born in Douma, Lebanon, and his funeral services were to be held at the Saint Nicholas Syrian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles. The article contained no mention of Abdo’s singing or acting career, however, the story did mention his surviving relatives: four brothers, three sisters – all married, and a wife living in San Diego named Edith G. Abdo Urban.
Richard M. Breaux is an Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse from Oakland, California. His courses and research explore the social and cultural histories of African Americans and Arab Americans in the 20th Century.
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